Exactly 32 years ago, on the night of September 4, Ukrainian poet, translator, literary critic and human rights activist Vasyl Stus perished in the punishment cell of the Russian colony for political prisoners, known as Perm-36, not even reaching 48 years old.
Today, all Ukraine with bitterness remembers the hard life of the poet.
But the date is memorable not only because of this tragedy.
Active human rights defender
On such autumn day as today, but exactly two decades earlier, that is, on September 4, 1965, Vasyl Stus, at that time a graduate of the Donetsk Pedagogical Institute, a graduate student of the Institute of Literature, was among the participants of the first public demonstration in Kyiv of the film "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors".
A few days before the premiere in Ukraine, there was a wave of arrests of intelligentsia representatives. So the regime that came after a period of certain democratization caused by the Khrushchev thaw reacted to the growth of civic consciousness of thinking people.
Ivan Dziuba, now a well-known writer in the world and then a graduate student of Kyiv Literature Institute and Vyacheslav Chornovil, a well-known and, unfortunately, already deceased politician who at that time worked as a journalist decided to take advantage of the film’s popularity.
According to official program of the show, in its finale the author of the film, Sergei Paradzhanov held speech. After him, Ivan Dziuba appeared on the stage. However, after a few compliments to the film and its creators, the literary scholar urged the public to stand up against mass arrests among the Ukrainian intelligentsia and named all prisoners of dissidents by name.
Several people, among whom, of course, there were several KGB men, tried to push the speaker out of the scene. At the same time, Viacheslav Chornovil called on those present to rise from their seats in solidarity with the arrested.
This initiative, as Oles Serhienko later reported (witness and participant of the events, a political prisoner of the Soviet era), was supported by one third of the audience.
Then the floor was taken by Vasyl Stus, who, by the way, was not involved in the organization of the action.
He publicly supported Ivan Dziuba and Viacheslav Chornovil, saying that everyone should oppose, regardless of nationality, because if Ukrainians are seized today, tomorrow they will detain the Jews and then the Russians.
This way Vasyl Stus started his human rights activity, for which he not only was forced to terminate his scientist's career, but also persecuted and later convicted.
As it is known, in 1972 Stus was sentenced to five years in a strict regime camp plus 3 years of exile. The dissident was serving sentence in a concentration camp in Mordovia, and exile in the Magadan region.
After the full serving of the sentence, he lived in Kyiv, where in October 1979 he joined the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, for which he was again arrested.
In 1980, Vasyl Stus was again convicted: this time to 10 years of imprisonment and 5 years of exile. From there he did not come out.
Poet and family man
Vasyl Stus was the fourth child in a peasant family from Vinnytsa region, who moved to the Donbas to avoid forced collectivization. The boy went to school early and finished it with a silver medal, after which he entered the Stalin Pedagogical Institute. There Stus independently mastered Latin and learned German.
After the institute graduating, the future dissident worked for three months as a teacher of the Ukrainian language and literature in the village of Kirovohrad region, and then switched to journalistic activities. In everyday life, he also spoke exclusively in Ukrainian, and that’s why the poet sometimes had conflicts with his colleagues. Later, one of the witnesses in his case will say that he immediately identified in Stus as a "nationalist" when he heard the way Vasyl speaks. After that Stus served in the army in the Urals for two years.
During studies and service, he began to write poetry. He was a member of the literary association Obriy together with Vasyl Holoborodko. Then he discovered the German poets Goethe and Rilke and translated about a hundred of their works. But these transfers were subsequently confiscated and lost.
Stus was first arrested in 1972. He spent 9 months in jail: the poet was accused of conducting "anti-Soviet agitation".
According to party reviewers, the collections of poems of Stus (and at that time "Winter Trees" and "Merry Cemetery" were added to "Whirlwind") were decadent parodies of Soviet reality, and an impartial reader can only close them "with disgust".
Stus's poems were destroyed. To save at least part, his comrades learned dozens of works. So, now we have five collections of poems Stus ("Whirlwind" (1965) "Winter Trees" (1970) " Merry Cemetery" (1971) "The Time of Creativity / Dichtenszeit" (1972) "Palimpsests" (1971-77).
Death and Myths
The real circumstances of the death of Vasyl Stus are yet unknown for certain. For more than a month, the very fact of his death was being hidden from the family. The official version says a cardiac arrest was the cause of death. However, among the more probable reasons is the blow from the fallen 90-kilogram bunks (it is possible that it was made by someone's malicious intent) or hypothermia, which his organism, exhausted and after a serious stomach operation, simply could not bear.
It is also known that Stus repeatedly declared a hunger strike in protest against the atrocities of the leadership of the colony.
Stus left behind not only dozens of poems, but also a myth comparable in scale to Shevchenko's. Some of the people present at the exhumation in 1989 spoke of the imperishability of the poet's body (he was reburied in the Kyiv Baikove Cemetery). The literary critic Kost Moskalenko writes that Stus was identified with Christ, and someone finds divine elements even in his name (Chri-Stus) and a hint of The Last Supper in the way the poet treated his fellow inmates to tea. "He gave tea to the whole zone for goodbye", - recalled one of his comrades, escorting Stus to Kolyma.
In 1990, Stus was awarded the State Prize after T. Shevchenko, and in 2005 he got the title of Hero of Ukraine. All the rewards are posthumous.