Days and Lives :: Prisoners

Danylo Shumuk

Introduction

Danylo Shumuk was born into a peasant family in 1914 in Boremshchyna, Volhynia region. Between the two World Wars, this region with its large Ukrainian population was part of Poland. After 1939, it was annexed to the Soviet Union. Shumuk’s involvement in underground Communist activity in interwar Poland led to repeated arrests, and he spent over five years in Polish prisons. He was sent to the front during World War II and became a German prisoner of war. He escaped and became a political instructor for the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), a nationalist group that fought against both the Nazis and the Soviets in the cause of an independent Ukraine. In December of 1944, he was captured by the NKVD, and sent to the Gulag camps at Norilsk, where he would play a leadership role in the famed 1953 prisoner uprising. He was freed in August of 1956. Just one year later he was arrested again and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. He was released in 1967, but was arrested again in 1972 for dissident activities in the cause of human and Ukrainian rights and spent yet another ten year term—this time including a stay in Perm 36—followed by five years of exile before finally being allowed to emigrate from the Soviet Union in 1987. He returned to independent Ukraine in 2002 and died there in 2004.

Arrest

“At the end of April 1933, the police arrested me for the fourth time. On the first three occasions I had been detained for a mere two days in the local police station in the village of Horodne. But this time I was sent to the district jail in Liuboml and detained for two months by order of the Office of the Prosecutor. I was imprisoned in a dirty, damp basement cell with one small window high on the wall near the ceiling. It had a depressing effect upon me. For the first time, I saw what a prison was really like and realized the value of freedom.”

Labor

“Upon my release from the isolator, I was again assigned to the quarry, but I went immediately to see the production chief. ‘Either assign me to the construction work in Melnyk’s night brigade,’ I told him, ‘or send me back to the isolator for another two months, before I transfer my belongings to the barracks.’ At this categorical statement, the production chief quickly raised his eyes and stared at me. ‘What the hell,’ he exclaimed finally, ‘I’ll put you wherever you want, as long as we have some peace and quiet.’ I didn’t really work in Melnyk’s brigade either, for after getting the approval of the brigades’ craftsman I worked at night as a watchman in recently completed buildings and spent my time reading books and newspapers.”

Suffering

At NKVD’s headquarters in Kiev, Shumuk refused to give more information than necessary. After being deprived of sleep for three days, they brought him in for a second interrogation. “Once again I was left on the stool until morning: losing consciousness and falling; sitting down again and then falling as soon as I was upright. In the cell it was the same; a warder stood at the door to make sure I stayed awake, and I was prevented from sleeping for five full days. This form of torture, which is just as exhausting as physical violence, is incomprehensible to those who have not experienced it.”

Propaganda

At NKVD’s headquarters in Kiev, Shumuk refused to give more information than necessary. After being deprived of sleep for three days, they brought him in for a second interrogation. “Once again I was left on the stool until morning: losing consciousness and falling; sitting down again and then falling as soon as I was upright. In the cell it was the same; a warder stood at the door to make sure I stayed awake, and I was prevented from sleeping for five full days. This form of torture, which is just as exhausting as physical violence, is incomprehensible to those who have not experienced it.”

Solidarity

“At the strict-regime camp I was assigned to a barracks which housed primarily Lithuanians, Latvians and Russians. Three Lithuanians took me under their wing and invited me into their circle, where they shared the food which they received from home or bought at the camp’s canteen. I was touched by their friendliness and hospitality. It showed that, no matter what the circumstances, one can always come across fine people.”

Conflict

“The investigation into our case dragged on. We demanded that it be brought to an end, but to no avail. Thus we decided to start a hunger strike. Fourteen of the seventeen prisoners who began the strike refused to eat for a full six days, and the prosecutor eventually promised that our case would be brought to trial in April. We decided to boycott the three political prisoners who had broken their fast on the third day of the hunger strike, and for an entire month no one spoke to them. This is a drastic punishment and not always appropriate, for it leads to a great deal of resentment among the prisoners which is difficult to overcome once the boycott has been called off.”

Guards

“On several occasions when the division’s convoy troops were escorting the prisoners from the camp to the work zone, the division’s commander Povstianoi, and his deputy, Nikiforov, ordered the prisoners to drop to the ground, especially when it was muddy. Those prisoners who did not obey immediately were fired upon until they plunged into the mud. The cruelty of the troops increased each day.”

Survival

In the camps of Kairkan. “The prisoners were put to work, and the conditions were horrible. The barracks were so cold that ice formed on the walls, we received no bedding, and there was no running water…After two months I had lost so much strength that I could not even lift my feet to cross the railway tracks. My legs refused to carry me, and I had to be supported when I was returning from work…Death often walked in circles around me, gazing into my eyes, and I often felt that if death took me then, nobody would ever hear of me, nobody would ever hear of what befell my fellow prisoners, and what befell my people.”

Fates

“Just then my name was called. For a few minutes I was anxious and my heart was beating strongly, but by the time I reached the commission’s office I had composed myself. Behind a table, in a fairly large office, sat an intelligent, pleasant-looking, middle-aged man who was the head of the commission and a member of the Central Committee of the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union). A procurator from the Procuracy General, with a dissatisfied, distrustful look on his face sat on the right, and a benevolent-looking elderly general sat on the left…“’We have no more questions,’ the head of the commission told me when they finished their discussions…’We’ve decided to free you and annul your conviction,’ the head of the commission told me, ‘although you’ll be deprived of your rights as a citizen’…on the next day we were summoned to the watch-tower and a guard opened the gates. A duty officer called us out according to the standard procedure and a pleasant feeling filled me soul, for this was the first time that we were passing through the gates without a convoy.”

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