Alexander Gorobets: Will Ukrainian Helsinki group of veterans again go on barricades?

The other day, there was the 25th anniversary of the Ukrainian Human Rights Helsinki Group celebrated in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital city. The organization was founded in 1976, and is aimed to openly struggle for human rights. The overwhelming majority of its members were repressed – they have spent part of their lives in labour camps and exiles.

Having retired, they have largely stopped their active work, except some of the most active. Now, the situation with human rights in Ukraine again summons them to the barricades. Of the 49 people who were officially declared Ukrainian Helsinki Group members, 14 have already died. Those living were awarded with “convict medals,” honorary diplomas, and four rare files containing materials and documents of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. The official Kiev has not showed its interest towards the Helsinki group so far, although 25 years ago, US President Ronald Reagan declared a day in October to be the Ukrainian Helsinki Group’s Day. Mr. Reagan was backed by other European countries, which signed the Helsinki’s human rights agreement.

Nikolai Rudenko was one of the group’s founders. The group was founded in Moscow in October 1976. Two hours after the group’s creation was announced at a news conference held at his apartment in the presence of foreign journalists, bricks were thrown trough his windows. The group’s creation, which was aimed to fight against the totalitarian regime by legal means, was also necessitated by mass arrests made in 1973, Mr. Rudenko says. Mr. Rudenko himself was arrested 3 months after the group was founded. His wife was told that he would return in a hour. He and his colleague Alexei Tikhi were put on trial in the outskirts of the city of Donetsk, the area where foreign journalists were barred from entering. Raisa, Mr. Rudenko’s wife, worked as a secretary to the group. At the time of the trial, rumours were disseminated in Donetsk that those two persons worked at a meat factory and added broken glass to children’s sausages. This way, the authorities incited the people against dissidents. Later, Raisa herself was arrested. She served her term in political camps in Russia’s republic of Mordovia. The most popular clause in the Criminal Code for Ukrainian dissidents was No. 62, that is, “anti-Soviet activity and agitation,” implying 7 years in camps with a subsequent exile. When released, they would usually again find themselves in camps, serving much longer terms. Common people learned of the group’s activity and of human rights violations from the jammed radio networks of “The Voice of America,” “Radio Liberty,” BBC world service.

The groups founders knew what they were risking. However, they were not afraid of prison. After the group’s creation, a very important factor was working for it, that is, the world’s public opinion. The Ukrainian Helsinki group existed till 1988. At the groups’ 25th anniversary, the veterans spoke of the apparent need to resume their work. Such is the situation with human rights, democracy, and freedom of speech in today’s Ukraine. The authorities close unwanted media outlets and persecute journalists. “Now it’s not time for rest,” says Levko Lukyanenko, a member of the National Salvation Front, head of Ukraine’s opposition Republican Party.

It looks like the Ukrainian Helsinki group, which retired shortly before the breakup of the USSR, is going to soon become an important factor in resisting the ruling elite.

Alexander Gorobets PRAVDA.Ru Kiev Ukraine

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