Myroslav Marynovych was suspicious to the communist authorities in Ukraine even before he was born. Both Myroslav’s uncles were jailed for their allegedly bourgeois and Western ties (which in one case meant simply carrying the notes of the Ukrainian national anthem with him); his grandfather was imprisoned for being a Greek Catholic priest, a group the communists singled out as Nazi collaborators. Growing up his family proudly spoke Ukrainian and were called “banderowic” – a term meaning roughly ‘facist.’ Myroslav recalls the “spiritual violence” of his family being forced to covert to Russian Orthodoxy from Greek Catholicism—and how quickly the family converted back in the 1980’s during Gorbachev’s reforms. As a schoolchild, Myroslav dutifully wrote down the location of his cousins and other family members—in Australia, France, and the United States—earning him increased scrutiny from the communist government.
But all this suspicion made Myroslav very cautious of the KGB. So that when during his university years he was approached by secret police and asked to inform on his friends, he said no. “If you are not with us,” he was told by the KGB agents trying to recruit him, “then you are against us.” Myroslav replied, “OK, I will be against you.” After that point Myroslav’s closeness with other dissidents grew and his criticism of the Soviet regime increased. First, he was banned from traveling, which interfered with his job as a translator. Next, he was prevented from working outright and denied key government documents. After a short stint in the army, Marynovych was eventually arrested for his work with the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, a civil society group that worked to defend religious and artistic liberty in the Soviet Union. He was sentenced to seven years in the infamous Gulag labor camp system—the maximum term for the charges he faced.
Why the maximum sentence? “Because I didn’t repent,” Myroslav explains.
Control in the work camps was total. “Even when I went to the toilet, they tried to go with me,” Myroslav recalls. Work was hard and conditions in the Perm region in the Ural Mountains, where Myroslav toiled for a full seven years, were brutal. Cold and hunger were constant. Add to this the various means of psychological manipulation employed by the guards against prisoners—Myroslav remembers one friend who was told his wife was deathly ill and that the only way to save her children from a state-run orphanage was to sign an affidavit confessing to crimes he didn’t commit. Of course, the friend later discovered, his wife was in fact not sick and the children were in no danger.
After his seven years in prison, Myroslav had to live five years in exile in a remote village where he was required to check in twice a week with police. Three years into this sentence Gorbachev released some 200 political prisoners, including Myroslav.
Now Myroslav is vice-rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine, where he works to affect a “just reckoning with communist crimes – legally and ethically.”
“Forgetting communist crimes has put the world at the edge of the new Cold War,” Marynovych warns. Witnesses to the dark deeds of Soviet cruelty like Marynovych stand ready to tell the truth—will we listen?