Nadia Svitlychna 1936-2006

Earlier this month we learned of the passing of Nadia Svitlychna, a staunch defender of human and national rights in Ukraine, who paid for her beliefs with imprisonment in the Soviet gulag. She was eulogized in Kyiv as a compassionate woman who loved Ukraine and its people, and risked her life for them.

Once the target of Communist Party authorities in Soviet-dominated Ukraine, she was praised by independent Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko, who underscored that "her views, the way she lived her life and passed along values to the next generation, have left footsteps to follow for millions of contemporary Ukrainian patriots."

Ms. Svitlychna became active in the Ukrainian rights movement in 1965, during the period defined by the work of the "Shestydesiatnyky," the literary/artistic group of the 1960s that rejected officially imposed "socialist realism" and fought against Russification. She was arrested in April of 1972 and charged with the infamous crime of "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda." After serving four years in Mordovian Labor Camp No. 3, she returned to Kyiv, where Soviet authorities continued to persecute her. In December 1976 she renounced her Soviet citizenship in protest.

Though not one of the original members of the Ukrainian Public Group to Promote the Implementation of the Helsinki Accords founded on November 9, 1976, Ms. Svitlychna joined the group soon thereafter, in January 1977, as an undeclared member working behind the scenes to disseminate "samvydav" materials.

After emigrating to the United States in November 1978 she became a member, along with Gen. Petro Grigorenko and Leonid Plyushch (and later others) of the External Representation of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group and continued her work in advocating human and national rights in Ukraine and protesting Soviet violations of the Helsinki Accords. That work - her calling - took her to far-flung places: from New York, to Vienna, to Washington and other venues. One of her first major appearances was at a demonstration at the Soviet Mission to the United Nations that was held at the conclusion of the third World Congress of Free Ukrainians.

And Ms. Svitlychna wrote and edited tirelessly, compiling the Ukrainian Helsinki Group's materials for release in the West - most of them collected in the Herald of Repression in Ukraine. As well, she readied for publication the literary works of dissident writers. Her articles about the rights movement appeared in many periodicals, including The Ukrainian Weekly.

We came to know Nadia Svitlychna from our work covering the Ukrainian human rights movement and its activists. Ms. Svitlychna was a valued source of information, and inspiration. She was a soft-spoken woman with a heart of gold, crystalline character and steely resolve, who never, it seemed, had time to rest. She was devoted to the cause she chose early in her life and never strayed from her chosen path.

We will remember her always. Vichnaya Pamiat.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, August 27, 2006, No. 35, Vol. LXXIV

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