Viacheslav Chornovil was a journalist, a sixtier, human rights activist and founding member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. He studied journalism in Kyiv, finishing his degree after some fits and starts in 1960. After working for a Lviv television station for two years, Chornovil returned to Kyiv, where he applied to do graduate work but was not admitted for political reasons. He instead went to work for Dnipro GES and then a local newspaper. In 1963, together with Alla Horska, Ivan Svitlychny, Ivan Dziuba, Yevhen Zverstiuk created the Club of Creative Youth in Kyiv, taking active part in the burgeoning sixtiers movement, disseminating and publishing samizdat, and organizing a number of literary and civic gatherings. In 1965, he, Ivan Dziuba and Vasyl Stus publicly spoke out against arrests that had taken place of a number of their fellow travelers, choosing as their venue of protest the Kyiv screening of Sergei Parajanov’s internationally acclaimed film „Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors.” As a result, Chornovil was fired from his job and subject to myriad searches and surveillance. He also refused to testify against the brothers Horyn’, calling the judges considering their case criminals, which resulted in additional punitive measures against him.
After publishing an account of these ongoing repressions abroad, Chornovil himself was tried and sentenced to three years of hard labor in 1967. He was amnestied and released in 1969, resuming immediately his activism, first in support of Ivan Dziuba, who was being pressured to recant the arguments outlined in his work Internationalism or Russification and later in the publication of 5 editions of the journal Ukrainskyi Visnyk (Ukrainian Chronicle), one of the most important samizdat publications in Soviet Ukraine, which also included regular reports of human rights abuses and unjust arrests and detainments. He wrote letters to the Ukrainian Central Committee in defense of historian Valentyn Moroz, after his arrest in 1970 and upon his initiative Ukrainian dissidents formed a committee in defense of Nina Strokata, a microbiologist, who was arrested that year as well.
Given his activism, and his ties to the Lviv dissidents, especially to Iryna and Ihor Kalynets, it is no surprise that Chornovil was arrested again alongside them during the wave of arrests that took place January 12-14, 1972. In response to threats against his wife and child, Chornovil went on an eight-day hunger strike. Ultimately, the courts handed out a severe sentence of 6 years of hard labor in Mordovia and 3 years of exile in Yakutia. While in exile, Chornovil actively corresponded with his compatriots, among them Iryna Kalynets-Stasiv, with whom he discussed parochial every day concerns alongside the legality of the work regimen forced upon GULag inmates. His lively, accessible and warm delivery are thought to be a unique contribution to our understanding of the Soviet penal system for political prisoners during the union’s decadent phase.Chornovil returned to Ukraine in 1985, resurrected Ukrainskyi Visnyk in 1987, worked to expand the Ukrainian Helsinki Group’s reach to a national and international level in 1988. He became a member of parliament in 1990, the following year ran for president of an independent Ukraine. After serving two more terms in parliament, he ran again for the presidency in 1999, dying in a suspicious car crash on the road near Borispil.
Date of death
Author(s) of this page
- Kulick, Orysia Maria