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KGB archives: How the NKVD crushed young patriotic OUN members in Melitopol region

KGB archives: How the NKVD crushed young patriotic OUN members in Melitopol region
Article by: Yuriy Shchur
Translated by: Christine Chraibi
The Sectoral State Archives of the Security Services of Ukraine (SBU) are the largest open archives of a repressive government organ in the world. There are 224,000 files on the shelves. When access to KGB documents was granted in 2015, the archival administration was swamped with thousands of appeals. Journalists, relatives of the repressed and executed, and people, on whom the KGB had open files, wrote in to gain access to important historical data.

The archives are indeed changing national memory and allowing more and more Ukrainian citizens to learn what really happened to their family members under the repressive years of Stalin, the NKVD and the KGB.

Here is one tragic story of Soviet repression against a group of patriotic Ukrainian youngsters in the 1940s.  

Twenty years of hard labour – for the young man, ten years in a penal colony – for the young girls. This is how Soviet authorities dealt with the members of the youth branch of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) in Melitopol Raion, Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

In January 1945, the Soviet secret service arrested 20-year-old Yuriy Kurylo, who was serving on the front lines with the Red Army at that time. There were several reasons for the arrest, the main ones being belonging to a family of “traitors to the Motherland”, namely Yuriy’s father Ilarion Kurylo-Krymchak, member of the Melitopol Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, and Yuriy’s active participation in the OUN youth movement.

Decree for the arrest of Yuriy Kurylo dated September 30, 1944

During the German occupation of Zaporizhzhia Oblast, Mykhailo Vintoniv (call sign “Mykhas”), one of the organizers and leaders of the underground OUN movement in Melitopol region, was a frequent guest at the Kurylo family home. It was from him that Yuriy Kurylo received many books and leaflets and learned about the OUN fight for the independence of Ukraine.

In 1942, 17-year-old Yurko joined the OUN movement. His main mission was to conduct and organize meetings among his peers and involve them in patriotic activities.

Yuriy Kurylo

An OUN Youth Centre was established at the Melitopol Agricultural College. It functioned under the guise of a Ukrainian-speaking club called “Kozaky” (Cossacks), which was created to counter the Russian-speaking group “Dony”. Not all the members of “Kozaky” were active in the OUN underground movement. Some were simply Ukrainian-speakers who got together socially, others wrote poems for the magazine “Ukrayinsky Kolos” (Ukrainian Sheaf of Wheat).

After the Soviets returned to Melitopol, state security officers did not understand such nuances and proceeded to interrogate and then arrest all the active “Kozaky” as members of the OUN.

Yuriy Kurylo created another OUN youth centre in his native village of Voznesenka, not far from Melitopol. He convinced many of his peers to join the group, including Nina Lishchyna and Liubov Taranenko. The members were eager to learn: they read the literature they received from Vintoniv, in particular, books about Symon Petliura, Yevhen Konovalets, Stepan Bandera and the Decalogue of the Ukrainian Nationalist. By and large, no other political activities were conducted at the Centre.

Liubov Taranenko

Nevertheless, the Soviet state security authorities diligently and systematically liquidated the Voznesenivsky branch of the OUN youth movement. In the first months of 1945, Yuriy Kurylo, Nina Lishchyna and Liubov Taranenko were arrested and accused of treason and anti-Soviet propaganda.

The trial took place on April 16, 1945. All three youngsters were found guilty and sentenced to different terms of imprisonment by the NKVD Military Tribunal of Zaporizhzhia Oblast. Yuriy Kurylo was sentenced to twenty years of hard labour, stripped of his civil rights for five years and all his property was confiscated. Nina Lishchyna and Liubov Taranenko were sentenced to ten years in a penal colony and deprived of all civil rights for five years. The sentences were not subject to appeal.

After Stalin’s death in August 1954, the case of the OUN Youth Centre in Melitopol was reviewed by a senior KGB investigator in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. No attenuating circumstances were found. The following year, Yuriy Kurylo himself sent an appeal to the authorities. In some ways he was “lucky” – the sentence of twenty years’ hard labour was shortened to ten years in a penal colony. As the young man had already served ten years by 1955, he was eventually released.

Soon after Stalin’s death, the Soviet government launched the rehabilitation process, a procedure by which the Soviet regime tried to reclaim public confidence and legitimacy after having destroyed, through execution, imprisonment, deportation and exile, millions of innocent people. The relatives of the convicted members of the Voznesenivsky OUN Youth Centre appealed to the KGB. However, as of December 1990, all three were still considered criminals.

Copy of the Decision of the NKVD Military Tribunal for the release of Yuriy Kurylo dated October 25, 1955
Copy of the Decision of the NKVD Military Tribunal for the release of Yuriy Kurylo dated October 25, 1955

The three youngsters were finally rehabilitated in July 1991, just a month before Ukraine declared its independence on August 24, 1991.

Translated by: Christine Chraibi
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