On May 11 in an interview with Dziennik the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) chief Valentyn Nalyvaychenko, outlined how previously secret documents from 1917-1991 were being released that will reveal details about the "crimes of communism." Nalyvaychenko described the opening of formerly secret documents and plans to proceed with prosecutions as "the launch of a Ukrainian version of lustration." The documents reveal Soviet crimes against Ukrainians fighting for independence from 1917-1920, the 1933 artificial famine and the nationalist partisan struggle from 1942 to the early 1950’s. Nalyvaychenko also revealed that the secret documents exposed crimes committed against other nationals, including Poles living in Ukraine. These began in 1937-38 and those whom the NKVD did not then murder were later murdered in the Kharkiv prisons (and Katyn forest) in 1940.
The director of the SBU’s archives Volodymyr Vyatovych revealed that the SBU had already compiled 136 names of individuals involved in committing crimes against humanity during the famine. These included NKVD officers, senior members of the communist party and those who had signed documents. The manner in which the crimes were organized was the basis for the allegation that the famine was a pre-planned "genocide" against Ukraine (Ukrayinska Pravda, May 28).
Russia has counter-attacked the claims of "genocide" by using the argument that the famine was felt throughout the USSR and was an outcome of collectivization and severe weather. This view has long been prevalent within left-wing and pro-Soviet political and academic circles in the West. Nalyvaychenko replied to these Russian counter-claims by asserting that they had not studied the formerly secret documents made publicly available by the SBU. The SBU had requested its Russian counterparts to open secret Russian documents on Soviet repression, but this had been rebutted.
"At first the Tsulag was established in Ukraine and then later the Gulag that we all know about," Nalyvaychenko said. The Tsulag was established in 1919 in Ukraine and included 18 locations. On May 21, the official Day of Memory of Victims of Political Repressions, Yushchenko attended a commemoration at one the most infamous of these in the Bykivnia forest outside Kyiv. The area was established as a State Historical and Memorial Preserve by a resolution adopted by the 2001 Yushchenko government. The SBU had identified 14,000 names of the estimated 100,000 victims buried in Bykivnia.
Nalyvaychenko described how repressive Soviet agencies surrounded Ukrainian oblasts to prevent food entering them. These same units were also stationed on the Crimean border with Ukraine (then within the Russian SFSR). Nalyvychenko’s assurances that the SBU’s work on Soviet crimes was not directed against Russia will fall on deaf ears in Moscow, especially following President Dmitry Medvedev’s establishment of a special commission to "counteract attempts to falsify history." Nalyvaychenko revealed that a 226-page collection of materials showed how in addition to the deaths caused by the famine many others were shot, and these included "Russians, Germans, Jews and Ukrainians" (www.radiosvoboda.org, May 28). The SBU has also investigated the 1944 deportation of 300,000 Crimean Tatars and criminal cases against the Tatar nationalist Milly Firqa organization in the 1920’s (Channel 5, May 18).
The SBU chief believed that it would only require a short period of time to collect eye-witness accounts and launch criminal proceedings. These would investigate the repeated "actions of criminal groups and the crimes of repressive agencies in the first place against the civilian population" (Ukrayinska Pravda, May 28). Soviet repression included mass murder of the civilian population, mass deportations and placing the children of those sentenced or murdered into orphanages.
Launching criminal charges and lustration within Ukraine might be more difficult than placing this in the hands of the international courts. Ukraine’s judiciary and prosecutor’s office are highly corrupt and have not demonstrated sufficient competence in pursuing high profile cases, such as investigating the organizers of journalist Georgi Gongadze’s murder or Yushchenko’s poisoning. Parliament might also prove unsupportive. Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych described the SBU’s lustration plans for launching criminal charges in relation to the famine as "provocative and irresponsible" (Ukrayinska Pravda, May 27). Yanukovych condemned attempts by Yushchenko to play the nationalist card by using the famine to stay in power, potentially further dividing the country and worsening relations with Russia.
President Yushchenko replied to such domestic critics as individuals whose "dream is a gubernia where they would be uncontrolled lords," a place "without Ukrainian culture and without the Ukrainian language" (www.president.gov.ua, May 17). Nalyvaychenko replied to Yanukovych that Soviet repression and the famine had been most severe in the Donbas and Zaporizhzhia oblast, three regional strongholds. He pointed out that since 2006, Ukrainian legislation asserts that the famine was an "act of genocide against the Ukrainian people," prosecution for which falls within the criminal code. The Ukrainian Institute of National Memory had compiled nearly 900,000 names of Ukrainians who died in the famine. The SBU and the institute continued to work on the documents, collect eye-witness statements and locate mass burial grounds. "In this criminal case there is a serious possibility of success in court," Nalyvaychenko said (Ukrayinska Pravda, June 3).
The lustration of former communist officials has not been the norm in the majority of the 27 post-communist states. Different degrees of lustration were undertaken in Germany and within ten Central Eastern and Baltic states. The toughest lustration legislation was adopted in the Czech Republic and Germany. It is noticeable, however, from this list of countries that no CIS state including Georgia has undertaken lustration. This could now change with Ukraine following Central-Eastern Europe in launching the lustration of communist crimes against humanity.
The issues of nation building and historical memory have become a personal crusade for President Yushchenko. At his Bykivnia speech, Yushchenko called for the removal of all the communist "symbols of murder" (www.president.gov.ua, May 17). Following the disintegration of the USSR, Ukrainian democratization could never be divorced from nation and state building. Yushchenko’s crusade against Soviet crimes is intimately bound up with its democratization and integration into Europe. This explains Moscow’s hostility as it is in the throes of covering up Soviet crimes, and building an autocracy grounded in a synthesis of nationalism and Soviet rule.