Political Writer, Daughter of Ukrainian Dissident, Detained and Charged in Ukraine

On August 16, 2016, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) made another step in the intimidation and silencing of Ukrainians with dissenting opinion – SBU searched the apartment of Myroslava Berdnyk, a popular blogger and political writer who openly criticizes the post-Euromaidan authorities and exposes Ukrainian nationalism. She was detained for interrogation and later released.

As with many other Ukrainians who refuse to join the anti-Russia crusade of the government in Kyiv, Myroslava Berdnyk now stands accused of undermining the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine.
Myroslava’s case is particularly significant and important because she is the daughter of Oles Berdnyk, a famous Ukrainian dissident who spent many years in Soviet prisons who was also a famous writer, writing many science fiction novels.

Oles Berdnyk was a big dreamer, who dreamed of a common world, based on cultural, spiritual, scientific values that transcended political, social, ideological and confessional differences. He was also a doer. In 1989, he founded Ukrainian Spiritual Republic, a free association, a fellowship of Ukrainians all over the world. Scientists, artists, writers, enterprises and collective farms joined his Republic. In July of 1990 at the World Assembly of Spiritual Ukraine, over 100,000 delegates came to the town of Kolomyia in Western Ukraine. Oles Berdnyk was touring Ukraine, talking about love, harmony and humanity’s common responsibility to preserve the Earth. Conference rooms and halls were full. People stood in hallway listening to Oles and his ideas of ecologically responsible evolution, which were incorporated into the principles of the United Nations Environmental Program.

An offer not to be refused was made to Berdnyk – he would receive aid in creating offices of the Ukrainian Spiritual Republic in all countries of the world where Ukrainians live. He would get financial support and become a lifelong nominal director. But there were strings attached – the central office had to be located in New York. Berdnyk could not accept that, as his daughter, Myroslava Berdnyk recalls. He believed that Ukraine should not put any hope into the Western democracies. He believed they would not help Ukraine because they had strong interests in making Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan economically weak, a source of raw materials for the West. Ukraine should rely only on itself.

Ukraine had a choice: to become a nation of creators or a nation of destroyers, believed Berdnyk. In 1993, when he wrote these words, Ukraine was devastated by social, cultural and economical catastrophe, caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the decision by Ukraine’s political rules to turn the country’s accumulated social wealth over to a rising capitalist elite little interested in the country’s development. Berdnyk wrote that Ukraine found itself atop a gigantic world dump and Ukrainians were destroyers. Prophetic words, prophetic vision.

In the new, post-Soviet country after 1991, Ukrainians failed to become creators. The first pro-Western ‘revolution’ of 2004 split the country irreversibly into two camps. The second such one – the ‘Revolution of Dignity’ of 2014, a Euromaidan coup d’état – was praised by the West as a popular uprising against a corrupt president. But it merely brought to power other corrupt politicians and oligarchs, ruining the economy and igniting the flame of right wing nationalism, the tragic outcome of which has been the May 2, 2014 massacre in Odessa and a fratricidal war in Donbas. Thousands of pro-Russian Ukrainians have been thrown in jail for their views. The Kyiv regime has been threatening and silencing opinion leaders who dare to criticize rotten Ukrainian politicians and their president/oligarch leader, all the while elevating World War 2-era Ukrainian nationalists quilty of serious crimes into the status of national heroes.

Myroslava Berdnyk was detained by the SBU because she shares the views of her father, making her, ironically enough, a new dissident of the family name, this time in post-Euromaidan Ukraine. Like her father, she believes that Russians, Ukrainians, and Byelorussians are branches of the same people and that Ukrainian nationalism, Bandera style, is criminal and pernicious for Ukraine. For years, long before the ‘Revolution of Dignity”, she was researching the origins of this nationalism and exposing its crimes, including its collaboration with the German Nazi invaders during the Great Patriotic War. She continued to do so in post-Euromaidan Ukraine which has made Bandera nationalism into a state ideology. Berdnyk’s blog is one of the most popular blogs in the Russian-language segment of Live Journal, a social networking service where Internet users can keep a blog, journal or diary.

In 2015, Berdnyk published in Moscow a book titled ‘Pawns in Others’ Game: The Secret History of Ukrainian Nationalism’. The book has been banned, along with dozens of other books, by the Ukrainian State Committee on Television and Radio broadcasting as part of what Maidan Ukraine calls its fight against Russia’s “information war” and disinformation against Ukraine and Ukrainians. Russia and those who support is are accused of spreading an ideology of hatred, “Nazism”, xenophobia and “separatism”. Bureaucrats of the committee see in the banned books signs of attacks against Ukraine’s state sovereignty, constitutional order and territorial integrity. Distribution of such books in Ukraine is now prosecuted criminally under article 110 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine ‘Encroachment on the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine’.

Berdnyk’s book traces the history of Ukrainian nationalism from the run-up to WWI until today. It is based on archival documents. She is perplexed as to how a publication of historical documents can threaten the territorial integrity of Ukraine. “It is deeply symbolic”, she wrote in an article in July of 2016, “that my books are banned by the same people who in Soviet times banned books written by my father.”

In 1943, the 17-year old Oles Berdnyk volunteered to fight against the Nazis. He became a sapper (combat engineer), was wounded and hospitalized, and returned home after the war ended. As his daughter writes in the same 2016 article, “In the Great Patriotic War, Ukrainian nationalists were shooting at his back while he was demining critical infrastructure in Western Ukraine that had been mined by Germans and Banderites.”

The ideological successors of Bandera in today’s Ukraine are now going after Myroslava Berdnyk. On the morning of August 16, she left her apartment in Zaporozzhia, in southern Ukraine, where she had moved from Kyiv to avoid persecution by the SBU. She went to a medical appointment, as after several surgeries she requires constant monitoring by doctors. Not far from home, she was stopped by two SBU representatives. They took her back to her apartment and entered it with her. The SBU officers behaved according to protocol. After reading a search warrant, they searched the apartment for several hours and confiscated a computer, flash drives, phones and booklets on Great Patriotic war. They took several photographs in the apartment, including of a book of Orthodox prayers which they, themselves, placed on her laptop’s keyboard and a Saint-George ribbon (symbolizing the Soviet victory in WWII) which was pinned to a curtain. These photos were then posted on the Facebook page of the SBU with a comment saying this is how Ukraine’s police agencies unmask “Russists” and “vata” (pejorative names for Russians and pro-Russian Ukrainians who support the rebel resistance in Donbass and are favorable to Russian president Vladimir Putin).

After the search of her apartment, Berdnyk and her daughter were taken to SBU offices in Zaporizzhia for interrogation. Several Ukrainian media hurried to report that she had been arrested. It turned out not to be true – Berdnyk and her daughter were released later the same day.

The press-secretary of the SBU, Olena Hitlanska, wrote on her Facebook that an open-ended investigation is looking into Berdnyk’s involvement in the dissemination through her Live Journal blog of materials containing calls for a violent change of power and the overthrow of the constitutional order in Ukraine. The investigation has already established that Berdnyk received “organizational support” from what are termed her “Russian curators’, reported Hitlanska.

After the interrogation by the SBU, Berdnyk told in an interview to Ukraina.ru that she is charged according to Article 258, part 3: ‘Creation and financing of a terrorist organization’, that is, the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic. At the interrogation, the SBU told Myroslava that experts from Kyiv Languages University have analyzed texts on her blog and concluded that the texts contain direct and indirect calls for actions undermining territorial integrity of Ukraine, calls to disobey the authorities in Kyiv, and so on.

Berdnyk calls herself a pacifist, like her father. “I write about my dream – that the war in Donbas come to an end’, said Myroslava in her interview to Ukraina.ru. “I publish materials which are legally published in legal mass media. Can’t we do that here, in our Ukraine? Don’t we have freedom of speech and freedom of opinion?’ she asks rhetorically.

‘Freedoms’ in post-Euromaidan Ukraine come with a high price for overtly pro-Russian Ukrainians. Journalist Oles Buzyna paid the highest price – on April 16, 2015 he was shot in broad daylight in Kyiv near his apartment building by two extremist nationalists. When they were arrested, their ‘brothers’ from the so-called volunteer battalions rallied for their immediate release, chanting “glory” to the killers.

One day before Buzyna’s killing, Oleg Kalashnikov, a member of the former governing Party of Regions and an active participant in the Anti-Maidan movement in early 2014, was shot to death. He was the main organizer in May 2015 of the alternative celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Soviet victory in WWII but was killed before the event took place. That event very much went against the official, post-Maidan interpretation of Ukraine in WWII as a victim of a bloody conflict between two alien dictatorships – Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia.

Criminal investigations have been opened in both cases, but no official results have been announced so far. Ukraine’s officials try to cover up these murders, hoping that people will forget about it. Officials are not interested in the truth – they are afraid of trials because extreme nationalists routinely crowd into courts and intimidate judges to the point that judges will release suspected murderers, as in Oles Buzyna’s case, or refuse to release a suspect on bail, as in the case of the investigation of the Odessa massacre of May 2, 2014.

Euromaidan did not bring a European future to Ukraine. It brought economic downfall and a fratricidal war. Ukrainians allowed external players in the West to play Ukraine as a pawn in their geopolitical rivalry against Russia. The tragedy of Ukraine is that it does not have mature, self-reliant political elite that would place the interests of the country ahead of their narrow economic interests and put aside ‘court’ squabbles for the sake of national unity.
Ukraine will survive only if its people and politicians understand that democracy is about respecting the Other, trusting the Other, compromising with him or her. Myroslava Berdnyk’s voice is very important for today’s Ukraine because she personifies a Ukraine that existed before Euromaidan: bilingual, divided but not split, a Ukraine which feels close to Russia and at the same time values what it considers Western democratic freedoms. This Ukraine could return if Myroslava and others like her are able to continue living, writing and speaking out.

Halyna Mokrushyna, Ph.D., is an independent researcher and journalist. Her research interests include the challenges of the post-Soviet transition in Ukraine; social and economic inequality in the post-Soviet context; historical and cultural divisions within Ukraine; social memory and politics of memory; relations between Russia and Canada and the broader context of the post-cold war world and relations between the East and the West. Her articles on these subjects were published on Counterpunch, Truthdig, and Truthout websites.