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On mentality of the Soviet “special” services

S. Bilokin

The French socialist Pierre Proudhon wrote: “It is strange that whenever one probes deeply into some matter, one ivariably runs up against theology. [217]” It is only natural that many a prisoner has reflected on the fundamental questions of existence. One such inmate, Maurice Chablais, recalled:

“I had never been religious. But here I also thought about God – in a strange and disjointed way. What I found painfully incomprehensible was the simultaneous existence of God and the DC”. [218]

“Where religion ends begins Bolshevism. [219]” Olexander Khakhulya bore in memory the words of his fellow inmate:

“A tiger doesn’t kill another tiger, but man kills man… […] O God! How fierce is Man whom Thou hast created! Has he really been created in Thine own image? [220]

Only too often, records of the former NKVD bring us face to face with situations where it is difficult to explain activities of this institution by the usual rational criteria. Thus, for some inconceivable reason the NKVD always wanted to create the impression that it was the victims and not their own agents and operatives who, before being shot or carted off to concentration camps, named more “suspects” to be arrested.

Also, for some reason the security service often demoted their prisoners in social status. We know that the authorities attached great importance to social statistics characterizing their quarries. On July 15, 1930 the Ukr.S.S.R. GPU issued guidelines for categorizing those arrested by social status [221]. But the information which the service submitted to the Party bosses was not wholly accurate. One example was Father Rman Kyslyi, a priest who until the end of 1936 served in a village called Mali Yerchyky and early in 1937 was left without a parish when his church was closed. However, in the NKVD records he is classified not as a priest but as a person “without definite occupation. [222]” In the questionnaire of the language scholar H. A. Sabaldyr, author of numerous textbooks, his investigating officer wrote for him “Unemployed. [223]” What was behind it? Was this designed to disguise the discrepancy between the declared policy of the Party leadership and the actual practices of its secret police? For the former was supposed to be dealing with common criminals, vagrants and suchlike, whereas the latter was actually persecuting innocent citizens many of whom chanced to be prominent Ukrainian figures.

As already noted, the regime took great pains to force its doomed victims – branded “enemies of the people” – to implicate their friends and relatives thus condemning them to a similar fate. This procedure guaranteed the maximum possible identification of persons belonging to professional and social groups earmarked for wholesale extermination. The cases of teachers of the Kamyanets-Podilskyi industrial arts school V. M. Hagenmeyster, M. I. Kasperovych, K. I. Krzeminski, and O. M. Adamovych, who were executed in 1937–38, can serve as an example. A supervisory report on one of these cases shows how it worked: “The indictment against Adamovych is based solely upon his own testimony and also that of Volodymyr Mykolayovych Hagenmeyster arrested in another case. [224]” Another report explains that “the indictment against Kasperovych is based on his personal testimony and the evidence of Konstantin Ippolitovich Krzeminski arrested in another case, a copy of whose interrogation record of [Sunday] October 17, 1937 is attached to Kasperovych’s case file. [225]” This links with an opinion on the case file of the said Krzeminski which continues the story:

“The indictment is based upon testimony of B. K. Pylypenko arrested in another case, as well as self-incriminating evidence of Krzeminski himself, which are recorded in the interrogation records in general terms and contain no references to sources of the information offered”. [226]

The painstaking investigator of the Bolshevist terror M. Rozhenko has traced a similar chain:

“Yushmanov was arrested 4/4/37 – several days after the execution of Saradzhev, who, as we now know, just before being led away to face the firing squad had named Yushmanov as his confederate in a counterrevolutionary organization”. [227]

O. Suvenirov demonstrated how “evidence” wrung from people who had since been murdered was used against other victims. A Division Commissar L. I. Bocharov was convicted, but his case was remitted for further investigation in the course of which it was found that

“seven defendants gave [hearsay] evidence against Bocharov quoting other members of the conspiracy. However, it has not been possible to hold a confrontation (requested by Bocharov) with the arrested persons who had incriminated him since they all were sentenced to SP [supreme penalty] – execution by firing squad – which sentences have been carried out”. [228]

It is curious that in their reports NKVD officers shifted the blame onto their victims.

Also, this makes one marvel, once more, at the psychological affinity of the two totalitarian regimes’ practices. Several years later, the Nazis, too, experimented with a procedure under which victims themselves were to decide which of them would meekly follow their captors to prison and beyond. At the Nuremberg Trial Otto Ohlendorf was asked: “In what manner did you determine which of the Jews were to be executed?” He explained: “This was not my responsibility, this was done by the Jews themselves, since the registration was conducted by the Jewish council of elders. [229]” So the Germans, too, found it convenient to resort to responsibility-sharing devices in perpetrating crimes against humanity.

Records have been preserved of proceedings in a case of 10 co-defendants, including archbishops of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church Yuriy Mikhnovskyi and Volodymyr Samborskyi [230]. Two of the accused were sentenced to 10 years in forced labor camps, and the rest were executed on October 16, 1937. The investigation file ends with a highly revealing document – so revealing, in fact, that we cannot resist the temptation to quote it in full:


City of Kiev, this 14th day of September of the year 1937. I, State Security Lieutenant Goldfarb, operative of Section 8, Department IV, Directorate of State Security, Ukr.S.S.R. People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs [NKVD], having examined Investigation File No. 625 pertaining to the case of Samborskii, Vladimir Ilyich [231] et al. [10 persons in all – S.B.] charged with participation in a Ukrainian fascist organization of churchmen,

have found

that the accused have mentioned in their testimony the following persons involved, in one way or another, in the said organization: Lipkovskii, Vasiliy; Kostelnyuk, Ivan Akimovich; Plokhoy Vasiliy; Trofimovich; Dulina; Khimich, Vasiliy; Shpachenko, Feodot Ivanovich; Grimalskii, Ukrainets; Krasnitskii, Ivan; Maksimyuk, Alexandr Terentyevich; Burdenyuk, Ivan Vasilyevich; Lyashenko, Vasiliy; Sinyavskii, Alexandr; Yankovskii, Anatoliy Felixovich; Doynatskii, Yezerskii, Ryndyuk; Abrosimov; Sinko, Ivan Kazimirovich; Loginov, Fedor Vladimirovich; Grinyuk, Stepan Kirillovich; Sharafan, Anton Pavlovich; Marinich, Sergey Maximovich; Atamasenko, Nikita Ivanovich; Marchenko, Zinoviy; Kompaniyets, Yefim Grigoryevich; Korobenko, Kupriyan Andreyevich; Dovzhenko, Dmitriy Ivanovich; Gritsenko, Zakhar Dementyevich; Striovskii, Galkin; Milosov, Mikhail; Zhelyashkevich-Korostyleva Nataliya Nikolayevna; Tishenko; Gaydukov, Yakov; Bovkun [total: 37 persons – S.B.].

Considering the fact that a further inquiry and examination of relevant information will be necessary for initiating proceedings against them and that places of residence of some of them need to be ascertained, I

hereby order:

That investigation records pertaining to the above persons be detached in copies from the present case for separate proceedings.

[Signed:] St.[ate] Security Lieutenant Goldfarb, oper.[ative], Sec.[tion] 8, Department IV, DSS [Directorate of State Security], NKVD of the Ukr.S.S.R.

CONCUR: [Signed:] St.[ate] Security Lieutenant Slavin, Ch.[ief], Sec.[tion] 8, Dept. IV, DSS, NKVD of the Ukr.S.S.R.

APPROVE: [Signed:] St.[ate] Security Jun.[ior] Lt. D. Pertsov [232] /Khatenever/, Asst. Ch.[ief], Department IV, SSD, NKVD of the Ukr.S.S.R. [233]

Thus, a case of 10 furnished 37 further names. A list of persons incriminated by the evidence of Volodymyr Karpeka given on July 25, 1938 contains 36 names [234]. A certain Eylenkrig was caught in the NKVD net in the general sweep of the so-called Trotskites. To get off the hook, he obligingly produced a list of 200 “confederates” and was set free. He was allowed to live in Kiev [235]. This provides an insight into the standard operating procedures of the regime’s secret police during the Great Terror. As we can see, the NKVD was prepared to handle further parties of victims multiplying at ratios of 37 to 10 already killed, 36:1, and even 200 to 1 released. A full year before these events, Viktor Kravchenko had written a letter to Ordzhonikidze: “If it went on like this, I warned him in my letter, soon there would be no more people left to work in industry in our district. [236]” The American historian Robert Conquest did his own reckoning:

“Investigators kept asking the accused – who are your accomplices? Thus, every arrest was automatically followed by several more. If the repressions continued for some more time, and every defendant named 2–3 confederates, a new wave would have engulfed 10–15% of the population and then 30–45%. [237][238]

Some idea of how this system operated can be gained from a report filed in June 1938 by a certain Ovchinnikov, operative of the 3rd Department, DSS, Ukr.S.S.R. NKVD: “Data on all persons referred to in the evidence of Vishnevskii, Eduard Stanislavovich have been transferred to separate investigation files. [239]” This was done by typing, in quadruplicate, a “List of Persons Incriminated by the Evidence of Suspects Arrested in Investigation Case No. 132509 of Department IX, 1st Directorate, Ukr.S.S.R. NKVD.” The list contained the following information:

Item Nos.:

Full names of persons incriminated by evidence:

Year and place of birth:

Employment and position:

Oth.[er] identifying data:

Source of evidence:

Nos. of case volumes and sheets:

Action taken /arrested or not/:

Note of 1st Sp. Dept. about registration: [240]

In the same memorable year of 1938, a State Security Junior Lt. Lysytsya from the 3rd Dept., DSS, Ukr.S.S.R. NKVD produced a “List of Persons Referred to in the Evidence of Arrested Suspect Kovalenko, Ivan Semenovich” (35 names). Here we find the following items:

Full name:

Year of birth:

Residence and occupation:

Charges: [Answer:] Participation in a c.[ounter]r.[revolutionary] Ukr.[ainian] military-ins.[urgent] org.[anization].

Present location:

If arrested or convicted, where and on what charges: (State one of the following: “arrested by NKVD of the Ukr.S.S.R.,” “wanted,” “located, not arrested”): [Answer:] Arrested 7/17/37 by 4th Dept., Kiev Special Directorate, as a Trotskite. Conv.[icted] in 1st Cat.[egory]. In 1938 sentenced to 15 years.

As a rule, however, only very inexperienced prisoners named many contacts. Vasyl Matushevskyi, a student of the Kiev Arts Institute, was arrested twice – on May 18, 1929 and on September 11, 1937. The first time (he had just turned 20 then) he was still so gullible as to tell his investigating officer that he was on friendly terms with his fellow students Yu. Yurkevych, O. Lavrentyev, V. Dubrovskyi, V. Kurenya, D. Bobyr, M. Pavlushkov, M. Levytskyi, and O. Kosynovskyi. As if these were not enough, he did not fail to mention that he had also discussed political subjects with V. Kovalenko, H. Antonov, B. Holubovskyi, Ye. Vykhrystenko, and B. Bondarenko who had visited him at home. By contrast, when asked about his close acquaintances during an interrogation conducted on October 10, 1937, after his second arrest, he gave this answer:

“I have no close friends, and nobody came to see me at home, and as to my mother [they had been arrested together so he knew that she, too, was under arrest – S.B.] was visited by her acquaintances Olga Petrivna Kryvenyuk, Izydora Petrivna Kosach, and Olena Ivanivna Ternychenko.”

It was characteristic that while the first time he had gotten away with a mere three years, the second time he was sentenced to 10 years in labor camps. It was also in perfect accordance with the perverted logic of those times that having been duly released after his first term he was never to be a free man again after his second conviction. On July 29, 1943 he would die in a Siberian camp near Tayshet, Irkutsk Region [241]. Mykola Kasperovych, an artist of Mykhaylo Boychuk’s school [242], named quite a few people, but as some of them were dead (O. Slastion, D. Shcherbakivskyi, S. Nalepinska, I. Padalka) and others were already in jail (F. Ernst), his evidence did not really harm anybody [243]. People knew that everybody mentioned during an interrogation would be arrested. A memoirist recalled:

“I knew Mikhaylov well since before the 1917 revolution. […] And I realized that if Mikhaylov as much as mentioned my name at an interrogation it would be sufficient for me, among other people, to become implicated in this ‘case’. This is why (in order not to have to get ready an ‘emergency kit’: a change of underwear, soap, towel, and some food for jail) I began to prepare to leave Moscow for some faraway place in the provinces. [244]

Investigators passed on their records to Department XI, Section 2, of the Ukr.S.S.R. NKVD. The section processed them and submitted recommendations on further arrests to Dept. III (Counterintelligence) [245]. The procedure worked in such a way that while arrest warrants were made out by the NKVD, it was those already under arrest who actually filled in the names. Although potential victims had already been identified through “special” registration and their personal data had been recorded in questionnaires and personal files kept by the “special” departments of countless civilian institutions and military units, the system kept producing more lists – for redundant reliability. Investigation files were designed to serve as mines of such information and unfailingly yielded more and more names for more and more warrants.

As arrests and executions snowballed, an increasingly wide use was made of extrajudicial procedures. A note in the investigation file of Olga Mikheyeva (she survived and I was closely acquainted with her) says: “In view of the fact that it is impossible to try the case in an open court since the principal witness [M. N.] Orlov (executed Nov. 23, 1937 [246] – S. B.) cannot be summoned, I concur with the case against O. V. Mikheyeva being referred to the Special Assizes at the NKVD of the U.S.S.R. [247]

One A. L. Nikitin wrote a book based on records of a group case involving his father. Being an amateur investigator, he complained about lack of systematization in the storage of investigation cases as a result of which

“with rare exceptions (what were they? – S. B.) investigation files […] are presented (and listed) as cases of isolated people (or groups) having no external links with one another, and are registered solely by the name of the person in question so that one (uninformed visitor – S. B.) can unearth them only if one knows his or her name and year and place of birth. [248]

On the other hand, the son of the NKVD/KGB terrorist Sudoplatov, who is far better familiar with the KGB archives, has gained a wholly different impression about the cross-linkage of cases:

“My father was associated, in one way or another, with many of the above-mentioned persons through his activities in the service. Even now, many decades after those infernal atrocities, whenever one brings to God’s light lists of these persons or other lists similar in their fatal fate, one suddenly has the feeling that all of them – firmly linked with one another and sequentially and logically driven by a common motor, one after another – are parts of a terrible mechanism operated at will by a single powerful liver from its one, ‘control,’ end and blindly destroying all life around it with its other, ‘work,’ end. Every name from this list drags more names behind it which drag more and more names – and it goes on for ever and ever! [249]

The very process of mass extermination was but a logical conclusion to, and culmination of the regime’s elaborate “special” registration procedures. Now all those lists were finally acted upon. At the same time, they were expanded and updated using information wrung from the victims themselves. How else can one account for torture widely used by the NKVD investigators to obtain such information? While for the rank-and-file any incriminating evidence would do, from more important prisoners an investigator was expected to get quite specific confessions of the kind wanted by his higher-ups. Extremely interesting patterns would emerge from processing of sufficiently large amounts of available records with formal classification of charges selected from the indictments and their chronological distribution.

The subject of the NKVD torture can hardly be avoided in a study concerned with the Great Terror. In addition to personal reminiscences, torture is also mentioned, if only seldom for obvious reasons, in official records of the “security” services. On May 27, 1940, one Anton Ivanytskyi, a senior accountant of the South-Western Railroad, complained in an appeal sent from a Siberian camp:

“I was beaten in the face and on the head, struck on the neck in a special way, beaten with hard objects on various parts of the body, and seated on the edge of a chair with my legs stretched forward, and then the chair would be kicked out from under me and I would fall on the floor with all my weight, and forced to stand on my feet for days on end until my legs swell and I lost consciousness. [250]

At his interrogation on August 17, 1939, Borys Belyavskyi, a former border guard from Yampil, testified:

“When during the confrontation I began to refute the evidence of [Viktor] Berezskyi, [the investigator of the Kamyanets-Podilskyi division of the NKVD] Krakovych led Berezskyi out and started beating me in the face, saying: ‘In two days you will see your wife here, and your children will be homeless.’ After that I said: give me the record, I will sign all. [251]

From the point of view of source evaluation the most valuable evidence is that furnished by NKVD officers themselves. One of them, Mikhail Belov,

“Tomin brutally beat the arrested in my presence with a bunch of wire and in this way forced him to confess […]. [252]

Outside the walls of jails, relatives of the arrested were also subjected to torture. Mykhaylo Plyuto, an employee of the Ukrainian Forestry Service, was arrested on March 20 (10?), 1938. That same night his wife died from shock leaving their 14-year-old daughter Halya alone [253]. After a surveyor Olexandr Balaba had been arrested, his wife was fired from her job and evicted from their apartment into a cold basement together with their three children one of whom was sick with tuberculosis. Some time after March 19, 1939, she complained to the Ukr.S.S.R. NKVD:

“At night I have to put the younger children in one bed with my sick child and they get warm from his high temperature. The elder child is very sensitive, and the children of NKVD officers keep pestering him and call him son of an enemy of the people […]. [254]


216. In 1989 the State Historical and Architectural Preserve "Ancient Kiev" organized an exhibition "Lost Monuments of Kiev."

217. Quoted by: Tserkovnyi Vestnik, Dec. 8, 1884, No. 49, Unoff. section, p. 5.

218. M. Chablais, "V dome predvaritelnogo zaklyucheniya," Novyi Zhurnal, Vol. XVI, New York, 1947, p. 270. DC ( detention center.

219. K. Petrus, Uzniki kommunizma, p. 235.

220. O. Khakhulya, B. Antonenko-Davydovych v pazuryakh chekistiv, Melbourne, Lastivka, 1987, p. 194.

221. Printed on the standard Form No. 20/USO "Questionnaire of the Accused" was a note: "The accused are to be classified by social status as per Guidelines of the GPU of the Ukr.S.S.R. No. 96153 of July 15, 1930" (see, e.g., CSAPAU, No. 18055 FP, Box 114, Vol. I, Sh. 3 rev.).

222. CSAPAU, No. 43178 FP, Box 914, Sh. 54 rev., 96.

223. CSAPAU, No. 43928 FP, Box 638, Vol. 1, Sh. 35.

224. CSAPAU, No. 58152 FP, Box 1452, Sh. 177.

225. Ibid., Sh. 178.

226. Ibid., Sh. 242.

227. M. Rozhenko, Trahediya akademika Yuryntsya, p. 142. A. Saradzhev was the last prewar director of the Philosophy Institute where M. Yushmanov was Learned Secretary.

228. O. F. Suvenirov, Narkomat oborony i NKVD v predvoyennyye gody, p. 31.

229. Nyurnbergskii protsess nad glavnymi nemetskimi voyennymi prestupnikami: Sb. materialov v 7 tomakh, Vol. IV, Moscow, 1959, p. 634.

230. S. Bilokin, "Rozstrilna sprava arkhyyepiskopiv UAPTs Volodymyra Samborskoho ta Yuriya Mikhnovskoho," Rozbudova Derzhavy, 1993, No. 3 (10), pp. 37(51.

231. The original document being in Russian, all names are given here in their Russian versions ( transl.

232. From Aug. 8, 1937 D. Pertsov had been assistant chief of the Secret Political Department (Dept. IV) of the Directorate of State Security which gave him sufficient authority for approving this order in lieu of Khatenever who had been acting assistant chief of Dept. IV also since August 1937 (Zolotaryov, pp. 531, 567).

233. CSAPAU, No. 61960 FP, Box 1637, Sh. 2771(272.

234. CSAPAU, No. 39829 FP, Vol. 3, Sh. 60(63.

235. CSAPAU, No. 58872 FP, Box 1498, Vol. 2, Sh. 44. Apparently, this was the same Eylenkrig who had earlier served as member of the Kiev Executive Council's auditing commission (Kievskiy kommunist, Feb. 8, 1919, No. 14 (22), p. 2, col. 4).

236. V. Kravchenko, Ya vybrav volyu, p. 215.

237. Retranslated from the Russian ( transl.

238. R. Conquest, Bolshoi Terror, [Book] II, Riga, 1991, p. 55.

239. CSAPAU, No. 51230 FP, Box 35, Sh. 15.

240. CSAPAU, No. 31081 FP, Box 177, Kontrolnoye delo, Sh. 65(67.

241. CSAPAU, No. 36396 FP, Box 316, Sh. 37, 47, 110 rev., 124(125.

242. BOYCHUK, Mykhaylo (1882(1939) ( an outstanding Ukrainian monumental artist. Born in Galicia and educated in Crakow and Paris, he was professor of the Kiev Arts Institute where he created a school of followers, called Boychukists. Died in a Russian concentration camp.

243. S. Bilokin, "Smert Mykoly Kasperovycha," Rozbudova Derzhavy, July 1992, No. 2, pp. 49(54.

244. M. Chablais, "V dome predvaritelnogo zaklyucheniya," Novyi Zhurnal, [Vol.] XVI, p. 254.

245. CSAPAU, No. 66182 FP, Box 1903, Vol. 2, Sh. 161.

246. CSAPAU, No. 58465 FP, Box 1474, Sh. 56.

247. CSAPAU, No. 50734 FP, Box 4, Sh. 71. The note is dated April 15, 1939.

248. A. L. Nikitin, Mistiki, rozenkreytsery i tampliery v Sovetskoy Rossii, p. 94.

249. A. Sudoplatov, Taynaya zhizn generala Sudoplatova, Book 1, p. 124.

250. CSAPAU, No. 47985 FP, Box 861, Sh. 124 rev.

251. CSAPAU, No. 31137 FP, Box 180, Vol. 2, Sh. 140.

252. CSAPAU, No. 52850 FP, Box 1170, Vol. 1, Sh. 236. The document is dated April 20, 1957. Tomin, Alexandr Sokratovich (b. 1901) then lived in Kiev and was registered at the CPU Stalinskyi District Committee.

253. CSAPAU, No. 51231 FP, Box 35, Materialy proverki, Sh. 3.

254. CSAPAU, No. 30310 FP, Box 149, Sh. 53 rev.