How Soviets Oppressed the Ukrainian Language

In Soviet times, meeting a hail of bullets for defending the Ukrainian language was the fate of thousands of Ukrainian intellectuals

In Soviet times, meeting a hail of bullets for defending the Ukrainian language was the fate of thousands of Ukrainian intellectuals. One of those not on the ‘kill list’ was linguist Vsevolod Gantsov, who still spent more than 20 years behind bars — allegedly for being a member of the ‘Union for the Liberation of Ukraine’

“University lecturers were ordered to switch to Russian at universities. My grandfather did so. But his students asked him if he could meet them in a different place. He agreed. But then, one of his students reported it. My grandfather and his students were arrested,” said a granddaughter of Ivan Sharyi, Donna Wolansky.

Sharyi was one of the suspects in the so-called ‘case of the Union for the Liberation of Ukraine.’ This show trial was invented by the State Political Directorate in order to discredit the Ukrainian intelligentsia.

Even three years before Sharyi’s arrest, his young daughter Lyudmyla had to pretend that her family only spoke Russian.

“She was little. She was a 4-year-old (and had to go to kindergarten). Her mother asked: ‘Lyudmyla, do you love your mom and dad?’ She replied: ‘I do.’ ‘Do you want us to be with you?’ ‘Yes, I do.’– ‘In kindergarten, they will ask you what language you speak in your family. You must reply: ‘In Russian,’” said Wolansky.

At that time, it worked. But not three years later. Donna Wolansky’s mother was seven, when she saw her father for the last time. Sharyi was sent to a prison in Kyiv.

Later, his wife Marta learned that he would be transferred to Kharkiv. She managed to see him, but only from a distance.

“As you can see from the picture, he was black-haired. After those two weeks in prison, his hair turned gray. They tortured him and sent his blood-stained clothes to his wife. She washed it and sent them back to prison. She was not allowed to visit him. Only to wash his clothes,” Wolansky said.

Sharyi was shot dead in 1930 — just like other suspects in the so-called ‘case of the Union for the Liberation of Ukraine.’ This trial started a new large-scale wave of the Russification of Ukraine, which continued even after Josef Stalin’s death.

“Any kind of social mobility was only available for Russian-speaking people, while Ukrainian-speaking people could only become slaves in collective farms. To get a job at an enterprise or work as a janitor — a person had to switch to Russian,” said historian Oleksandr Khomenko.

Donna Wolansky, in turn, was free to speak Ukrainian, as her mom left the Soviet Union before her birth. When she was two, her parents moved from Germany to the United States. There, in America, she worked as a teacher of Ukrainian. Just like her grandfather, who was killed for defending his native language.

(c) UA TV

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