Stepan Horechyi

“I am optimistic by nature. No matter how tough it was, I never had the blues…”

I was born on June 4, 1929, in the small town of Rava-Ruska. I had two older sisters, Vira (born 1925) and Ksavera (born 1927). My father, Mykhailo Horechyy, worked as a locomotive driver assistant. My mother, Anastasia Horecha, was a housewife.

At the age of 4, I entered zakhoronka, i.e. local kindergarten. Every day after the morning prayer and breakfast, there came a nun and we had classes in arts and crafts, like painting Easter eggs and making decorations for the Christmas tree, we mastered reading in Ukrainian, learned poems by heart, and practiced kolomyika dancing. We were often visited by a catechetical priest Illia Blavatskyi. He would explain to us that God had created every person to be unique and he taught us respect for the elders and each other.

As a child, I often stayed with my grandfather Sashko. During the Ukrainian-Polish war of 1918–1919, he took part in the battles for Rava-Ruska and he used to tell me of the Ukrainian national liberation movement. Once, he asked me to bring a birch broom. I did it. He said, “Now break it!” But I failed to do so. Next, he told me to break individual broom twigs, and I succeeded. Then he said, “As long as we stay together, no one can break us. They can only break us if we are apart.” I was told about the struggle with the Poles also by my uncle Ivan Kaminskyi – the centurion of the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen. I was fascinated by their stories.

I was raised surrounded by patriots. I kept company with Bohachevskyi’s family, namely, Yurko and Ihor. They had a massive library I took the books from. I read works by Andriy Chaikovskyi, Bohdan Lepkyi, a book entitled Son of Ukraine about a Cossack. We had bows, arrows, swords. I had a sword made of the hornbeam root. We arranged tournaments with our peers, the Poles, and enacted battles. Bohachevskyi’s place often saw gatherings of the Ukrainian intellectuals. The adults were discussing the events of 1918. We were among them, taking it all in.

Amateur drama club from Rava-Ruska. Stepan’s uncle Hryhorii is in the center above in the uniform of a Polish policeman. April 7, 1935.

Rava was home to a range of the Ukrainian societies and organizations, like The Prosvita Society, The Soyuz Ukrainok Ukrainian National Women’s League, The Silskyi Hospodar Farmers’ Society, The Ridna Shkola society, The Luh Society, The Sokil Society, The Ukrainian Sich Riflemen Grave Care Society, The Vira Bank Mutual Benefit Society. Both of my parents were active participants of the Prosvita Society; and my mother also participated in the Soyuz Ukrainok female society. We used to arrange cultural events with our adults. People raised the money and built Narodnyi Dim (“The People’s House”) with the amateur drama theatre, choir, tennis court, and childcare facilities. We, kids, along with the adults were staging Ukrainian performances, like Za Dvoma Zaytsiamy (“Chasing After Two Hares”), Ukradene Shchastia (“The Stolen Happiness”), etc. Every year after the grain harvest period, Prosvita and Soyuz Ukrainok following the priests’ initiative organized the so-called festyny (today’s festival). Rava hosted craftsmen from the neighboring villages, along with choirs and dancing groups. People set up sporting competitions, brought embroidery, gathered interesting souvenirs and sold them on the auction, spending the profit for the needs of the People’s House. The Polish police stayed away, though administered punishment for “political” activities, like the Heroes Day, the Shevchenko Evenings with the public speakers, bolstering the national spirit.

Children from zakhoronka (local kindergarten) after the Shevchenko evening. Stepan is in the second row, fourth on the right (in front of the portrait of Taras Shevchenko). Yuri and Ihor Bohachevsky are on the left next to him, 1935.

Before the war, the town was a home for various nationalities, Ukrainians, Jews, Poles, as well as Germans. There were the Greek Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant House of Prayer, 2 Polish monasteries, 4 synagogues, and the German church (kirkha). Kids went to 5 Polish schools and the Polish gymnasium. In 1936, I started primary school as well. I hankered to be admitted to Plast. I had to wait another year, but in September 1939 there broke the war. The German army entered to Rava…

At that moment, I was at my friends’, the Bohachevskyis’ place. We were sitting and saw the planes flying and throwing something lucent. Yurko said: “They must be throwing leaflets. Let’s run there and see”. We ran for about 20 yards or so. They were throwing bombs at the railway station – though, the bombs were small, they didn’t do much harm…

The Nazis have stayed in Rava for two weeks. They forced the Jewish to work – clean the city, sweep the streets with their hats. So when the “first Soviets” came, the Jews arranged the mass meeting: they were holding portraits of Lenin, Stalin, as well as banners “Long live the Soviet Union!”

With the Soviets came the fear, the general spirit was depressed. There was a popular motto, written on every wall: “Viva comrade Stalin!” We saw overwhelming propaganda from the Soviet militaries, like “We have everything”, “Our plants produce oranges” and so on. We saw this was a total lie, but there was nothing we could do. They started arresting local intellectuals. There were scores of people arrested in Rava. As regards our house, they have taken out our renters – a gymnasium teacher Yankovska (she was Polish in nationality and her husband was a military officer, who joined the army and was later killed in Katyn), as well as the family of judge Leshchiy (they were given 15 minutes to pack). Two families moved into their rooms (furnished with their property): the Russians from Leningrad – the Nikiforovs, and the Ukrainians from Poltava – the Kachalkas. Mr. Nikiforov was appointed the head of the Savings Bank, while Mr. Kachalka became a land surveyor. The intellectuals started running from the town. The families of Bohachevskyi (a lawyer), Karpevych (an engineer), Hotskyi (a doctor) moved to the West. Our family managed to escape persecutions as my father was a rail employee, who, in 1939, took a course for train drivers in Moscow.

The Soviets have closed the monasteries and almost all churches. In one monastery they’ve arranged a machine and tractor depot, in the German church – an eating house. The Greek Catholic Church became the Orthodox. Polish schools and gymnasium were closed as well. Two schools were transformed into the Soviet ones. For educational purposes, they brought teachers from Eastern Ukraine. I have once again started my second year in the Soviet school, as they said that the Polish failed to teach us anything. I proceeded with my education there untill the German-Soviet war.

The Horechyi family and their neighbors. The first row from the left to the right: Stepan’s sister Vira (the second one), Stepan, his sister Ksavera. Their mother Anastasia and grandmother Maria are standing behind. Stepan’s father, Michael, is looking through the window. Rava-Ruska, 1937.

In 1941, the Germans arranged in Rava a huge camp, known as Stalag 325, for the Soviet prisoners of war who were often walking along our street in columns. My mother once said: “They are hungry. Let’s help them”. She baked the bread and cut it into slices. When they were walking past our house, we threw the bread through the window. They started battering each other for the bread. The Germans run in and started striking on them. Then I saw one of them running through our fence door. I said: “Mom, there’s a German running to the house!” He would definitely shoot us down, but I managed to escape through the window and my mother has hidden in the hallway. Later the camp was used for the captured French, Italian, and Belgian soldiers.

There was also a ghetto in Rava’s town center. I have seen the Germans shooting the Jews. The Gestapo chief Hans Speth resided in the house at the corner of my street and the neighboring one. He often walked with his wife Gerda and went to the ghetto to shoot the Jews. They walk and see some Jewish man walking: bang! – and there’s no man. Once, I saw him intending to shoot the Jew, but his rifle failed. So his wife pulled a Walther out of her pocket and placed it on a stub: bang! – and the man was down. This was their way to entertain. The Jews from the Rava ghetto were taken to the Belzec extermination camp, where they were erased.

Twice I was about to be shot down by the Germans as well. I was riding my bicycle past the house of the Gestapo chief. Suddenly his dog jumped out onto the street. I had no time to react and knocked against it – so the dog whimpered. I got a fright and started running away, jumping behind the hedge. Then I heard shooting behind my back: the German leaped out and fired at me. But I ran away.

Another time, the German was shooting at my back as I refused to give him my skis. They were taking away good skis from people to equip their army. I had ones. This was a present. Once, boys and me, we went skidding from a hill and I saw two Germans walking from the field police. They were equipped with pistols but had no rifles. The boys were skidding one after the other, and the Germans stood and watched us. They saw me and on the instant: “Halt!” (“Stop!”). I didn’t want to give them my skis and told the boys to make way for me. I started to stream away. He runs after me and I have bent and skidded. If he shot at once, he might have hit me. But he thought he could catch me, and only later: bang! bang! – at my back.

In those years, there was a famine in the Carpathians. Loads of people were leaving those places and moving to Volyn to get some wheat. Once a week, the Nazis were making raids in Rava railway station. When the train came, they surrounded the station. All the people were forced out and their luggage was turned inside out as well. I saw an old lady, who was robbed of her bag with 10 or 20 pounds of wheat. She cried, asked a German soldier to give it back, but he bound her to a stake with barbed wire, dropped the bag, and started taking pictures of the lady. And then he took her wheat and gave it to his horses.

Our cultural life in the years of German occupation was a bit better than during the Soviets. People gathered in the People’s House for “tea evenings” to sing, show performances, and drink tea. During this time, my family joined the national liberation movement. Our house often witnessed gatherings of girls, discussing something with my elder sister Vira behind the closed doors. They were preparing to enter the OUN (the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) and learning the Decalogue (Ten Commandments of a Ukrainian Nationalist). And I was sitting under the door and listening. So I’ve learnt that Decalogue before they did. But I had to keep silent. The members of the underground movement often hid at our place. My sister Vira, a teacher of primary school, was a signalwoman under the code name Bila Kosa (“the White Braid”). My father assisted the insurgents as well. He helped them with railway workers’ overalls so they could avoid raids of the Nazi, who caught young people on the railway station and sent them to Germany for the compulsory labor. And then the undergrounders could safely follow to their destination on the father’s locomotive.

The German authorities closed all the schools and gymnasiums in Rava. Instead, there were trading schools and professional courses. Students studied there for a month or two – and the establishments were closed. I didn’t study at that time. The Germans used to catch teenage boys and force them to dig the trench lines. So my father made arrangements and I was employed as a cashier in the rail canteen where the German locomotive brigades were serviced.

The Horechyi family house, Vokzalna Street, Rava-Ruska, 1940s.

Since 1943, I have studied with a teacher Pavlo Bilyk who rented a room in our house. He had a very good education, he finished the gymnasium in Rava, graduated from the University in Lviv, and acquired the theology doctor’s degree in Rome. In the 1930s he came back to Rava with his wife. I was preparing to enter the Ukrainian Gymnasium in Lviv – so we thoroughly studied physics, mathematics, Ukrainian literature and Latin. But in a year Rava-Ruska found itself under the Soviet reign again and the school education system also changed.

They opened in Rava the Soviet school (desiatyrichka or ten-year secondary school). Pavlo Bilyk, who became a teacher of geography, recommended enrolling me in the eighth year of studying. In a few months, the Soviets have arrested the teacher and kept him in Zolochiv prison for about a year. After discharge, he continued teaching geography at school.

In 1947, when I was a 10th year pupil, out of 19 classmates only two were members of the Komsomol (the Young Communist League) – the Russian Shchetilin from Sakhalin and Pavlo Vyalyi from Poltava. When the Komsomol organizer came to us in her red beret, we were singing the Ukrainian song: “Zanadyvsia zhuravel…” (“Here comes a crane, to eat the old lady’s hemp, and we will fight the crane…”). And she had to walk away. So I was neither the Komsomol nor the Communist party member.

After school, I went to work as a cashier in the depot by the railway station. This is where I met the railroaders connected to the underground. In 1948, after the depot was closed, the same teacher Bilyk recommended me for the Head of the General Affairs Division of the District Executive Committee and I started cooperation with the OUN. We fought to escape deportations to Siberia. We were sent letters: one person did this, another person did that. We burnt down documents like that and warned persons who were to be deported. Once I learnt that the military commissariat called the guys allegedly for the training. In fact, that was a meeting where they would be forced to enter the Komsomol. I informed one of them. When the evening came, nobody was there. I was also selling “bofones” (shortened from the “fighting fund” in Ukrainian; paper currency, printed in the underground) to reliable people. In return, they made voluntary donations to support the national liberation movement. We obtained the texts for sambvydav (self-publishing), printed cards, booklets (like “Who are the Banderites and what do they fight for?”) and sent them with the train wagons all around Ukraine. Due to this, people from Eastern Ukraine could read and understand who we are. The money for bofones I used to pass to our secretary, Kateryna. She was a signalwoman, typewriting the texts in the font, not registered in the KGB (the USSR Committee for State Security). We were passing the printed literature to the head of typography Volodymyr Banakh.

One day, two men in civilian clothes came to the District Executive Committee and said I had to go to Lviv, to the Regional Executive Committee to look through some documents. I understood who they were. We didn’t walk to the railway station along Voksalna street as my neighbors could see me; we walked through the outskirts. They placed me to a special-purpose compartment wagon (they probably took hold of wagons like this) and brought me to Lviv. At the station there was the “paddy-wagon” car that took me to Sudova street, to the railroad division of the KGB. The investigation commenced. The investigator was major Sahayev. I didn’t tell them anything, but forgot about two bofones in my briefcase that I had to sell, but was short of time…

They started interrogating. It was mainly at 1 am that they took us to the investigation room, battered us, deprived of the morning sleep. To take some nap, we took a stand by the window, bumping up our arms against the wall, looked upward and slept standing up… Once they took me to the investigator’s office for a “face-to-face encounter”. And there I saw my secretary Kateryna – legs crossed, smoking a cigarette and telling: “Stepan, you did give me money for the sold bofones”. And I said: “I know nothing”. But they had enough evidence to condemn me. As it turned out later, the officers of NKVD (the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) had arrested her brother Andriy and then got their hands on her. I don’t blame her – when I went to the interrogation room at night, I heard poor girls screaming.

In late June 1949, the Military Tribunal found me guilty under the articles 20, 54-1 “a” and sentenced me to 25 years of imprisonment. The court hearing lasted for 15 minutes. There were ten of us concerning the case of the underground printing shop in Rava-Ruska: me, Kateryna, her brother Andriy, head of the printing shop and other concerned people from the printing shop and railway station. They read us the condemnatory judgement and gave everyone a chance to express our final pleas. I have declaimed the poem by Ivan Franko: “Sudit mene, suddi moi…” (“Judge me, my judges, without the false mercy…”). And the Soviet colonel responded to me in Russian, “You will definitely fester behind bars…”. After the trial, I’ve been kept for a while in Bryhidky prison, and then – in the transit prison No. 25.

When we were already sitting in the wagons on Klepariv railway station waiting for departure to GULAG camps, I saw my father about 10 yards away from the convoy. I yelled: “Dad!”. He saw me and started to cry. And then we departed. On the way over, we decided to break out of the train. When we were about to leap out, someone exclaimed: “Who’s got Verkhovyna!” This is the brand of cigarettes. It emerged that there was a sneak in the wagon. They stopped the train, conducted a search and our intention was uncovered. We got to Kengir camp, where I worked on the woodworking integrated plant: I axed trees and built the “Finnish” log houses. Once my friends and I tried to break out from the camp – so we were closed in the local prison where we’ve spent four months, eating less than 1 lb of bread and soup per day. We started thinking on the ways to leave that place. One of us was Polish, captain of the Armia Krajowa (the Home Army) Bolieslav Kozlovskyi. He suggested going on the invisible hunger strike – to drive your body to the condition of losing your consciousness. And if they took someone to the hospital, they never returned this person to the prison. The Polish fellow says: “I will be the first to go on hunger strike’. I wanted to be the first, but he disagreed. He went without food for 6 days, but wet his lips with a towel. I said: “Lie down, we’re gonna batter at the door and tell them you’re dead”. And they took him away. I went on a hunger strike. But in four days we were declared an amnesty. It emerged that the governor of custodial services was dismissed for offenses. So the commission came and we were released.

From the camp prison we were transferred to the reinforced security barrack (RSB) where another confrontation took place. The domestic offenders (so-called “bytovyks”) started taking away the goods of other people, and our fellows as well. Their leader was Antonov. When we were exiting the canteen, he told our friend Yevhen Horoshko: “Listen, take me another bowl of porridge”. The latter refused and that’s why Antonov hit him. We decided to teach the “bytovyks” a lesson for Yevhen and other guys. The next day we got prepared and when they were entering the barrack, we jumped over them from the upper plank-beds. The fight broke. In 15 yards from the RSB there was the commandant’s office. The prison keepers run in. The “crony” offenders caught a fright of being punished and returned to the prison again so they started yelling: “There’s no fight!” After that the camp knew that we’ve beaten the bandits in the RSB.

In a month, we were moved to the correctional labor camp in Spask where we’ve gotten to the closed barrack again. Spask was known as “the death camp” as they kept there disabled or seriously ill people. Despite the fact, everyone in this camp was working. At the morning, the brigades came to the rock and made there holes, and then the demolitionists came and exploded those rocks. The next day we climbed up and brought the stones down. Whoever was on crutches, placed a stone into his crutch and jumped down. The prisoners without arms had a box hanged on the neck where the stones were placed. We spent two weeks in Spask and were transferred to Aktas, where I worked on the mine. I was a scheduler of the trucks with sand and other materials driven by the independent workers. I noted the number of runs they’ve completed during a day. Later we agreed: I noted an extra run and they took my letters to the post office as we were allowed to write home only twice a year.

Once every 10 days we went to baths. One day we got new underwear and gave it away before entering the baths. When we came out, we received the old underwear with holes instead of the new one. The bath keeper was Chinese. I expressed my indignation and he tried to hit me. I sprang back and hit him. Other Chinese rushed at me. I started defending myself. Our fellows came to the rescue. After the fight we’ve returned to the barrack followed by the superintendent with handcuffs. He took me to the Chinese man. The latter confirmed that I started the fight. I was closed in the isolation cell for 10 days. There was a concrete floor and a narrow plank. They made me undress to the underwear and I was kept there like that. When I fell asleep at night, my leg was falling at the concrete. This way I’ve got my right leg chilled. When I left the isolation cell, I could fall while walking. The distance to the mine was above a mile. Other men were arming me to my working place. And this is how I worked there. When I had free time I’ve used the heap of hot sand at the building site to warm my leg up. And I got over it.

In Aktas we started thinking of the cultural resurrection. We’ve arranged a choir and were singing Ukrainian songs: Zakuvala zozulia (“The Cuckoo Started to Call”), Rozliahlysia Tumany (“The Fogs Have Stretched Themselves out”), Spovnylas Mira, Krov Brativ (“The Cup is Full, the Brothers’ Blood”); and formed a theatrical group, staging performances like Nazar Stodolia (I had the role of Hnat) and Svatannia na Honcharivtsi (“The Matchmaking in Honcharivka Village”). We weren’t afraid of anyone anymore. When another group of prisoners came – the hundreds of men were singing Khto Liubyt Ukrainy (“Who Loves Ukraine”) and the bandits (criminal offenders) told: “We won’t go there”. We had the embroidered “vyshyvanka” shirts and the “sharovary” trousers at every performance. The shirts were embroidered by the girls. They worked on the brickworks on the night shift. Leaving their working place, they left the shirts under the bricks. We used to work during the day, so we took those shirts and wore them under our overalls. The “sharovary” trousers were made of colored fabric, encasing the mattresses – yellow, red and blue.

From Aktas we were transferred to Karabas. There was a utility zone located by the camp with the warehouses where the guards’ sheepskins were stored. That was summer. We made a hole in the fence and took those sheepskins. We made ourselves hats at night. The tailors were shaping and we were sewing – and now had warm hats for winter.

In a few months we were transferred from Karabas to Saran, and then, via the transit prison in Krasnoyarsk, transported to Norilsk by the tow boat. There was the state special regimen camp – Gorlag. That was 1952. Having arrived there, we were “met” not only by the convoy, but with the men in the padded jacket like ours. We called them “suky” (“the bitches” – former thieves, sneaks who settled for a compromise with the regime and were performing administrative jobs). And they started beating us with sticks: on the shoulders, on the head. And the camp warden laughed and told in Russian: “Over there, there is Medvezhka. There are seventy thousand fascists laid down. And you’ll be there too”.

The portrait of Stepan Horechyi by the German Luftwaffe officer prisoner of war. Saran, March 26, 1952.

In Norilsk, I worked in a woodworking and painting shop. We used to glaze and then paint windows and doors. They were building a copper smelting plant and dormitories. They were not finished yet, so they settled us there. We resided in two-storied buildings. There was a stadium nearby. We had some time for leisure activities, so we played football. There were four columns, each of a thousand people. Each one had their own football team.

We were particularly brightened up with the news on the death of Stalin. We heard the sad music from the loudspeaker and were surprised as they usually broadcasted the Soviet patriotic songs like Shiroka Strana Moia Rodnaia (“My Native Country is Extremely Broad”). And then someone declared from the loudspeaker: “The citizens of the Soviet Union, we inform you of the death of the proletarian leader, comrade Stalin!” People started yelling, whistling. Everyone was in joy – the tyrant was dead. But there were some Russians who cried. 

In 1953, Norilsk saw an uprising. We were working and heard shooting sounds. The fifth camp was not far from the fourth one. At that moment, the train arrived and the driver told us that the guys were shot down. We all were agitated. What we had to do? We decided to stop working. Yevhen Hrytsiak from our camp undertook management of these things. We didn’t go to the work. The prison administration invoked through the megaphone: “Prisoners, do not listen to the Banderites. Exit behind the zone!” Nobody did. They made all sorts of provocations against us. They cut holes in the wire – wanted us to run away. I was said to protect the pass ways and the slots, to talk with soldiers under the watch towers. I asked the guards: “Whom you gonna shoot at?” It happened that they left the post. They knew on the threat of the military tribunal, but still they went away. 

Stepan Horechyi (the second from the left) with the Ukrainian political prisoners. Magadan, March 31, 1955.

We refused to comply with the camp administration directives and lodged the claims, namely: to shorten our working day from 12 hours to 8; allow sending and receiving letters; take off the numbers from the back side of reefing jackets; and punish the administration of Gorlag.

The negotiations lasted for several weeks. During this time, we’ve distributed obligations between all the prisoners: one goes to the bread cutter, the other one – to the kitchen, one is there, the other one is over there. And nobody stole anything anymore. We went to “kum” (the sneak) exclusively in groups of three. That’s why they didn’t know anything about us. Previously someone told something – and you were closed in isolation sell. And this time nobody wanted to tell anything.

They promised to fulfill our requirements. We took in and started working. Once the colonel Kuznetsov came again. Five our leaders, who took part in negotiations, were handcuffed and taken away somewhere. We switched the alarms and refused to work once again. It turned out that they were taken to Nadiezhda camp and they’re ok. They said us: if we don’t believe them, they will shoot everyone down. After this they brought us to the zone and made a split: a part was left there and we, prisoners from Karaganda group, were also transferred to Nadiezhda camp.

Over there, we have once taken a guitar from the cultural and educational unit, sat by the barrack and started singing. We were: Ivan Popovych (after discharge he was a member of Trembita choir), priest Yaroslav Prokopovych (he later became a priest near Novyi Rozdil), Mykola Bilous and me. Ivan was playing the guitar and we were singing our lyrical songs: Sontse Nyzenko (“The Sun is Low Down”), Choven Khytayetsia (“The Boat is Wavering”). Then we looked behind the zone and see (in about ten yards from us) a young lady near the house of the camp’s medical unit chief. She came from the house, sat on the chair and started knitting or embroidering. And we proceeded our performance. Finally she gave up and asked in Russian: “Tell me, who are you?”. We replied: “The Ukrainian nationalists. The Banderites.” And she said: “And my mother told me you’re bootleggers. But I don’t believe. The bootleggers don’t sing like that.”

In about a month, my friends and I were convoyed to the correctional labor camps of Magadan region – Kholodnyi and Yuvileynyi ones. At first, I worked at the gold-processing plant of Yuvileynyi where they were bringing us from Kholodnyi by the narrow-gauge railroad (sitting in the special-purpose cages, like the beasts). There I was elected a foreman. After a while, we started working on the mine in Kholodnyi. I once came to the brigade and saw the guys sitting and reading something. I asked: “What are you doing?” and they said: “Tomorrow we’re having exams for the mine locomotive operators”. I’ve looked through the manual, remembered something from school, some terms of physics and told them: “I could take those as well”. “So let’s go with us”, – they said. We went there and I passed an exam. I even have an AK 2 Locomotive Operator certificate.

We celebrated Christmas in Magadan. We’ve arranged the festive dinner: asked the cooks to prepare us “holubtsi” from porridge and cabbage they used to serve us. We had some herring. At those times, we were paid some money so we could buy something to our table in the shop. Besides, we’ve made the “shopka” (the Nativity scene installation): the German captive modeled the figures out of plaster, we found some straw and lit the bulbs on the inside. My co-prisoners prepared the “Vertep” (the Nativity play) performance. We took “Vertep” and “shopka” to every room, sang Christmas carols, invited all the nations to celebrate.

Christmas celebration in the forced labor camp. The 2nd half of the 1950s.

In spring 1955, I was discharged and returned home. In a year, I got married. The situation somehow became calmer. We didn’t have that fear anymore. Khrushchov started some criticism of Stalin.

I am optimistic by nature. No matter how tough it was, I never had the blues. I couldn’t find a good job in Rava as the KGB agents kept close track on me all the time. Therefore, my wife and I moved to Zhydachiv. Few times they called me allegedly to the military commissariat, but in fact for a talk with the KGB at that town as well. I wanted to start extramural training in the Forestry University in Lviv, but I failed as there was a competition and I lacked one point in chemistry. Next year I passed exams and entered the Polytechnic Institute, but they refused to enroll me as I mentioned in my autobiography that I did camps. Making the third attempt, I decided not to mention my prison past in the documents – so I was admitted. I also had employment problems. Once they learnt that I was a former political prisoner, it turned out that “they had no vacancies”. I was assisted by the head of the electric department Oleksiy Bohatiuk. He used to be a soldier of the Soviet Army, got captured, escaped and, during the Nazi occupation, served a priest in the town of Khodoriv. In the Soviet times, he graduated from the Polytechnic Institute in Lviv and obtained a job on the integrated plant. He gave me a position of an electrician. When I worked there, the chief power engineer of the plant hinted me that I would never get an engineer’s position due to my past. Besides, in early 1960s, the man I once knew, who was at that time diagnosed cancer, confessed following me by order of the intelligence agencies.

Certificate of release. March 22, 1955.

In Zhydachiv, we gave birth to a daughter Maria and a son Yurko. In 1984, we moved to Lviv. When I worked in Lviv Municipal Electric Networks company, they sent a car for me – “let’s go”. They asked me about my friends, acquaintances, wanted to recruit me. Once I said: “There are two of you here. If they asked the one to “sell” the other, would you do that?” – “Listen, he pulls the wool over our eyes. We won’t talk to him anymore”, – said one of them. After this they got off my back.

In early 1990s, Lviv witnessed revitalization of the public life. There were mass meetings, “veche” for the Ukrainian language by Ivan Franko University. In 1991, the Narodnyi Rukh (“the People’s Movement”, political organization) arranged for the “human chain”. We joined it. Our place was somewhere near Ternopil. We came there and saw all the cars with Ukrainian flags. I felt unbelievable joyance; felt that Ukraine was a single whole from the East to the West, that we were all Ukrainians and it we stuck together, nobody would break us down.

My old friend from Norilsk, Yurko Hrytseliak, invited me to join the Prosvita society and I did. In 1998, I took the lead of Prosvita division in Halytskyi district of Lviv. We responded to every social and political event in Ukraine. We addressed the international organizations, explaining our political themes; arranged the concerts, meetings, conferences, roundtables,  trips to historical places; held book presentations; made contacts with other organizations; and communicated with the friends from abroad. I devoted years of my life to this activity. Now I try to provide any financial assistance and lend moral support to our soldiers on the East of Ukraine.

Stepan Horechyy and Zenovia Horecha were married for 63 years. Mr. Stepan’s wife died in 2019. The couple have 2 children and 3 grandchildren.


The story was recorded from the interviews and conversations with Stepan Horechyy. The biographical data are true. The text of the above-mentioned memories was processed and arranged with preservation of the author’s style and opinion. The publication was agreed with an eye witness.

Recorded and processed by Liudmyla Levcheniuk

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