A piece of family history was discovered recently in the village of Cherniyiv near Ivano-Frankivsk (Western Ukraine). A bottle containing old documents was accidentally found in a “kryyivka” (partisan dugout). It had lain there for more than 60 years. The pages are curled and yellowed, the ink is faded, but we can make out some lines written by a young girl called Hanna Tesla (call sign “Vesna” (Spring). A big story in a small bottle – about life in the forest, partisans, combat, death and love.
Serhiy Moroz is a driver and paramedic with the Hospitallers Battalion. These manuscripts belong to his deceased aunt.
One day, after another trip to the Donbas, Serhiy drove to see his relatives in Cherniyiv, and they told him about some strange documents they had dug up in the garden.
“My uncle found it. He was digging near the foundation and suddenly dug up a green bottle. He broke it with his shovel, and found all these papers inside. He didn’t give it a second thought, wrapped everything in a newspaper and put it on a shelf. Of course, I took it away because I’m very curious and want to know more about these papers.”
Serhiy says that his family’s entire history was in the bottle. His grandfather Mykhailo was in the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army), as was his grandfather’s younger brother. And now it appears that his grandfather’s sister Hanna also fought with the partisans…
Serhiy explains that he didn’t know much about his family’s involvement with the UPA as no one talked about these dark times. Grandma was afraid as the “sovoks” were everywhere (people with Soviet mentality-Ed). Serhiy and his brother began investigating their family’s history when Ukraine became independent. They discovered that his grandfather and his brother had fought with the Halychyna Division, and their unit had advanced as far as the Czech Republic.
“Then… they came back to Ukraine with weapons and went to live in the forest. There was a kryyivka in the courtyard of my grandfather’s house in Cherniyiv. The hidden entrance was in the forge. This was confirmed by a UPA veteran. After the war, the NKVD found out about it and organized a raid. My aunt Hanna ran out of the kryyivka, was captured and taken to prison in Stanyslaviv (now Ivano-Frankivsk-Ed). There was another boy hiding in the kryyivka – he detonated a grenade so as not to be captured alive. The documents were found very near to that place.”
Grandpa Mykhailo and his brother were also thrown into prison and tortured for several months. They were beaten, and then released to die at home, exhausted and sick with tuberculosis. They died within the year… and so did Hanna.
We look closely at the documents, but it’s hard to make anything out. The ink has faded or run. The writing in pencil is easier to read.
Twenty sheets of paper, maybe excerpts from the young girl’s diary – everything she saw, heard, and felt. Sometimes written in an infantile style, sometimes very passionately. As we sit in the comfort of a warm home, her words seem sublime, reflecting what was true and honest for the young people in those days – fighting the enemy, death, and freedom.
Hanna Tesla signed one of her poems with her call sign “Vesna”. She was most likely a liaison officer, delivering messages to different corners of the forest.
“I have to get out and study more territories. Once, I decided to approach the village to appease my hunger … … I got on the path and started running… Suddenly, I heard a muffled voice. Halt! Who goes there?! .. My heart sank, my hands dropped, but not for long. Suddenly, a new burst of energy and courage … I jumped into the thick green field of rye. Halt, I said! … A loud warning and a volley of shots in the dark. I gathered all my strength, and ran further into the green bushes. It was like this almost every day – hiding and sneaking about in the forest – because at that time the village was in the hands of the enemy.”
We continue reading… some serious reflection on patriotism, the Ukrainian spirit, an independent Ukraine, UPA partisans. We see how much she respects these ideas as every important word is capitalized:
“There will be no true Future or Truth until we win and proclaim an Independent Ukraine. Otherwise, lies and falsehood will rule the world! Our people’s Free Spirit lies smoldering under the ashes …”
“In these unforgettable days, I have come to know the Idea and the Ideal, and my oath of Loyalty to Them is carved deeply in my heart. Oh, no – no! I will never surrender to the enemy, those who are cursed by our mothers …”
She writes about meeting and talking with a very special man, perhaps a commander:
“… looking into his old, bright, black eyes, my heart was filled with joy. A feeling of immense Love envelopes my heart for this Man. I so wanted to show this true Brother of Ukraine my boundless respect for those willing to fight for our true cause.
I watched him for a long time. He stood strong and upright, then turned towards the young partisans who were laughing and joking nearby. To this day do I hear their words! To this day do I see their battles!… and the old giant figure dressed in a dark infantry uniform, his true dark Cossack eyes. This imposing figure will never leave me! And his words of wisdom and courage will never be lost!”
Hanna also writes about the “heroic death of a Ukrainian Insurgent”, probably one of her close friends:
“I saw Marko in the distance and I heard him cry these terrible words: “I will never surrender my weapon… not until the day I die! I love my Ukraine! I have fought for my Homeland and will die for her!” Marko’s words came true … His machine gun continued to pierce the night, as the enemy raged and stormed before such heroic deeds. Suddenly, a shot rang out, and Marko fell to the ground heavily wounded. His heroic head dropped to his chest and he breathed his last breath. On this memorable day I suddenly realized that our Freedom and our Will are the most priceless treasures in the world!”
There is Love, of course. A lovely drawing and under it, the story of how she last met with her beloved soldier in 1943. His company was sent out on a mission and no one returned. Hanna waited faithfully for her lover to her death.
“When cruel misfortune took You away… don’t forget that there is someone in this world who remembers You! Today, for the first time in my life I’ve been alone at night in the deep dark forest … Today, a passionate feeling of great love has surfaced from the depths of my grief-stricken heart.”
“… I cannot sleep because my heart dreams of all that happened long ago. The Moon floating among the clouds in the dark blue sky recalls that night… July 19th of 1943 … our last night of love. Our last night that we spent looking into each other’s eyes so filled with sadness. The last time I heard such endearing words … Be true to me. I will return! Wait for me. I’ll be back! Your last words … your last… I have not heard them anymore. Oh, fate… Oh, cruel fate…”
Today, Serhiy Moroz continues his family’s fight for freedom. He says it’s a combination of two combats. On his grandmother’s side – it’s a spiritual battle. Her brother was Archbishop Yosyf Savrash. On his grandfather’s side – it’s a ground battle. It’s a combination for Serhiy as he is a military chaplain with the Hospitallers and a soldier with the medical battalion. He smiles and says that he now knows who he gets it from. In the end, he adds that there are a lot of boys with patriotic genes fighting against the Russians – and it all comes from UPA grandparents or Cossack ancestors.
“Those members of my family, whom I never knew, fought for the same ideals we’re currently fighting for. History repeats itself. I’d like to know more about them, about their thoughts. They lived through very difficult times.”
As soon as the war is over, Serhiy plans to the study the history of his family in the UPA. He has just left for Eastern Ukraine again. He says it’s getting hot there and he should be there.