Ukrainian Political Prisoners Day Date in the current year: January 12, 2024

Ukrainian Political Prisoners Day Ukrainian Political Prisoners Day is observed annually on January 12. It was established in honor of all Ukrainians who were arrested due to their political beliefs. The observance was initiated by Viacheslav Chornovil, a prominent dissident in the Soviet Union and politician in independent Ukraine.

Ukraine was the first Soviet republic were a national dissident movement emerged. Its emergence was a response to the Russification of Ukraine that intensified during Khrushchev’s leadership; by 1965, only 41% of books published in Ukraine were Ukrainian, and most students at schools were taught in Russian.

Viacheslav Chornovil was one of the most prominent Ukrainian dissidents in the Soviet Union. He was one of the founders and activists of the Sixtiers movement in Ukraine, which advocated the revival of Ukraine, its language, spirituality, and sovereignty.

Chornovil was arrested for the first time in 1967 for his book entitled Woe from Wit that documented the illegal imprisonment of Ukrainian intellectuals. He was charged with libel and sentenced to a three-year imprisonment. Chornovil was released in a year and a half under a general amnesty.

Following his release, Chornovil worked a number of odd jobs and continued with his activism. In 1970, he began to publish an underground magazine titled Ukraine Herald. It was what got him arrested for the second time in 1972. This time, Chornovil was sentenced to a six-year imprisonment followed by a three-year exile.

Chornovil came up with the idea of celebrating Ukrainian Political Prisoners Day in 1975, during his second imprisonment. The date of January 12 was chosen to commemorate the beginning of a mass wave of arrests of the Sixtiers in 1972.

The 1972 arrests of Ukrainian dissidents were nicknamed “Operation Block” by the KGB; in Ukraine, they are known as the “general pogrom”. During January 12–14, 1972, famous Ukrainian dissidents Vasyl Stus, Ivan Svitlichny, Yevhen Sverstyuk, Leonid Plyushch, Danylo Shumuk, Mykola Plakhotnyuk, Zynoviy Antonyuk, Oleksandr Serhiyenko and Ivan Kovalenko were arrested in Kyiv; Viacheslav Chornovil, Mykhaylo Osadchy, Ivan Gel, Stefaniia Shabatura and Iryna Kalynets were arrested in Lviv.

According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, 193 people were arrested in Ukraine because of their political views or religious believes between 1972 and 1974. The 1972 repressions essentially put an end to the Sixtiers movement in Ukraine, but they failed to kill the will to resist, and a new dissident movement emerged in Ukraine in the late 1970s.

Ukrainian Political Prisoners Day was originally celebrated by political prisoners themselves in their places of detention. Today, however, it is observed by people in independent Ukraine to honor those who were brave enough to resist political repressions and the cruelty of the Soviet regime.

The observance became especially poignant following the beginning of the Russo-Ukrainian War in 2014, which resulted in several dozen Ukrainians from the occupied territories, including filmmaker, writer and activist Oleg Sentsov, being arrested and imprisoned in Russia due to their pro-Ukrainian stance.

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Ukrainian Political Prisoners Day, observances in Ukraine, Viacheslav Chornovil, Ukrainian dissidents, Ukrainian political prisoners