Prison on Lonskogo Street
Curators have amassed 2,000 items since the museum’s opening in 2009. In addition to World War II propaganda from Nazi and Soviet forces, it holds the personal belongings of political prisoners and detainees—letters, personal documents, and samizdat publications used to prosecute dissidents, artists, and human rights activists in Lviv and its surrounding environs in the 1960s and 1970s. The latter is an ad hoc collection of about 50 items described in the rest of this entry, which includes embroidery, rosaries made out of bread, and other materials created by prisoners serving out lengthy sentences in Siberian labour camps under Brezhnev. Situated within the larger context of the museum-memorial’s holdings, these materials about Lviv’s dissidents is important for understanding the Soviet Union’s treatment of its most intransigent opponents well into the Brezhnev era.
Name of collection
The National Museum-Memorial to the Victims of Occupation “Prison on Lonskogo Street.”
Provenance and cultural activities
This museum-memorial’s archival fond was started from scratch in 2009, once the prison was designated officially a national museum-memorial. Due to the site’s historical significance, particularly the mass execution of prisoners that took place there in 1941, the founders argued that it was a necessary reminder of the brute force used by the Soviets, and other occupiers, to assert power in the western borderlands. Remembering the past crimes, especially those committed in the service of Soviet communism, was essential, in their view, for helping future generations of Ukrainians avoid repeating the tragedies of totalitarianism. The museum has a clear stake in Ukraine’s contemporary memory politics, which are particularly fraught given the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine and conflicting viewpoints within Ukrainian society about the legacies of communism. The permanent exhibition highlights the brutality of totalitarian regimes more generally, while rotating exhibits underscore the continuities between present and past struggles.
The creation of this museum-memorial was possible because of the shift in political climate that followed President Viktor Yushchenko’s election in 2004, which precipitated a change in leadership at the SBU and its archives. Support from then SBU chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko and the newly appointed head of the SBU archives Volodymyr Viatrovych was crucial for pushing this project forward. Viatrovych’s affiliation with some of the museum-memorial’s partner institutions, in particular the Center for Research of the Liberation Movement in Ukraine, has cast some of its activities in a controversial light. Yet, conversations with curators and other museum employees show that lobbying from the local community, whose awareness of what happened at the prison, was equally important for transforming the prison into a site of memory. In 2008, the SBU decided to make the prison into a museum, drafting its founding statute at the start of 2009.
The museum’s relationship to the government and state security services changed after Viktor Yanukovych’s election in 2010. Several museum employees were investigated for working with documents they should reportedly not have had access to. According to the SBU’s new leadership, they may have shared state secrets by making public materials that had been classified during the Soviet period. As historians, they were working with archival materials stamped as classified under the Soviets, a classification rendered moot after dissolution in 1991 and the rehabilitation of those who had been persecuted under the Soviet regime.
Transparency is a common issue in post-communist, post-Soviet societies, where questions remain over how much information to make public and whether total openness destabilizes countries in transition rather than helping them grapple with their difficult pasts. Ukraine only very recently passed laws on lustration in 2014 after the dramatic ouster of the Yanukovych government. As Cynthia Horne notes, the laws target corruption by contemporary leaders, and their comparatively late passage (23 years after the collapse of communism) means lustration as a mechanism of de-communization will have limited effect. Nevertheless, following the protests of 2013-2014, archives in Ukraine once again prioritized greater openness and transparency, which may allow Ukraine to confront its communist legacies through other means. The investigation into the “Prison on Lonskogo Street” was suspended, and rumors of its closing subsided. The SBU’s archives should be transferred to the Institute of National Memory, one of the museum-memorial’s partners, in the near future. As mentioned in the summary above, historians specializing in the World War II have expressed reservations about the selectivity of the museum’s representations of the OUN-UPA. It seems that researchers at the museum are attempting to mitigate these concerns through temporary exhibits and online content.
The curators at the museum-memorial use the existing archival collection in a number of ways. For instance, they held a workshop with school children, showing them the postcards children sent to their parents (Lviv dissidents of the 1970s), while they served out their sentences and exile in Siberia. Some were handmade, some mass-produced, while others were holiday themed. The museum curators then held a master class in which students made their own postcards, sending them to whomever they wish. For the most part, the eight-graders sent them to soldiers fighting in the Donbass. Iryna Yezelska is also conducting an independent project, collecting oral testimonies of the children of dissidents, whose parents were sent away to the camps. The aim is to understand how innocents experienced this kind of systemic state pressure and these interviews may eventually be published in a collected volume.
Description of content
Since the museum’s opening, archivists have collected nearly 50 oral testimonies of former prisoners, many of whom were involved in human rights activism after the war. Curators of the collection have also gathered and digitized approximately 2,000 photos and documents that deal with the history of the prison. Figuring prominently are materials related to the dissident movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Researchers and curators at the museum are also collecting additional materials that will allow them to expand the permanent exhibit to the second floor of the museum, where cells, interrogation rooms, washrooms and other facilities remain largely intact.
All of the archive’s materials are held in one general fond, which includes Soviet and Nazi propaganda materials from World War II, as well as those of OUN-UPA, documents and other artefacts donated by predominantly female OUN-UPA members after their return during the amnesties of the 1950s. A highlight is materials donated by Lviv dissidents, who were active in the city and the region’s cultural and intellectual life in the 1960s through the 1980s, and were routinely harassed and surveilled by the Soviet authorities.
As their weapon of choice was the word, most of the ad hoc collection discussed with curators consists of texts, letters, volumes of poetry, and samizdat used in court cases against them. Those materials, particularly the poetry written by Vasyl Stus and the Kalyntsi, challenged state-sanctioned socialist realism in form, content, and style. Rather than employing preferred Soviet themes—that the union was a place where everyone was “happy, safe and cared for”—many of these poems drew instead on national motifs, mythology, individualism and religion, all of which were forbidden. These works were of high artistic quality and reflective of dominant European trends from that time, despite the Iron Curtain and the union’s isolation. Stus translated poems of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Rainer Maria Rilke, Kipling, and Charles Baudelaire into Ukrainian, which broadened his horizons and made his “poetic world” more “complex.” Alessandro Achilli argues that Stus’ “intrinsically European, modernist, intellectual poetry is still awaiting its fully deserved recognition by international scholars.”
Many writers and artists affiliated with the Lviv dissidents were not necessarily nationalists, but became to be designated as such by the Soviet authorities, which left lasting imprints on our understanding of their complex poetic legacy. In fact, as Danylo Husar Struk observes, it was the “official and systemic abrogation of cultural heritage” by the Soviet authorities that prompted this generation of poets to become “obsessed with their cultural roots.”
Naturally, this poetry and other literary materials on these themes—national, modern, European, intellectual and individualist—were not officially sanctioned, and thus disseminated through samizdat circles. According to the authorities, penning or possessing these kinds of works violated Article 62 of the Soviet Ukraine’s criminal code, which classified these activities as engaging in anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda. The arrest and incarceration of so many of these “late sixtiers” or “poets of the seventies,” who were younger than the “sixtiers” that had emerged during Khrushchev’s “Thaw,” thus involved the confiscation of samizdat publications, which were included in the KGB case files against them. The “poets of the seventies” and their colleagues in the sciences, medicine, and the arts operated in a climate that had become significantly more repressive under Brezhnev, as evidenced by the harsh punishments meted out to those who were arrested in the early 1970s, which makes their uncompromising stance all the more remarkable in retrospect.
Taken together, this ad hoc collection of materials provides a window into the way in which state security services surveilled and persecuted this circle of Lviv dissidents in the 1970s. Hundreds of arrests were taking place throughout many of the union republics at this time, a phenomenon documented by the Chronicle of Current Events, a samizdat publication founded in 1968 that reported violations of civil rights and judicial procedure throughout the union until 1983. Yet, this ad hoc collection, which includes a number of artifacts (embroidery, dresses sewn to wear after they were released, containers inscribed with text to be smuggled out of the camps, rosaries made out of bread) created by these individuals while they served out their sentences in Siberia highlight what made the case of Lviv different. The intersection of religion, nationalism, anxiety over the Soviet Union’s westernmost border precipitated particularly harsh treatment from the authorities, an observation supported by the disproportionate number of Ukrainians in the harshest penal colonies for political prisoners.
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): unknown quantity
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 1000-
- photos: 1000-
Stakeholder(s) of the collection
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
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Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- completely open to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Kulick, Orysia Maria
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