The Death of Valery Marchenko (1947-1984)

Vesti iz SSSR, 1984 (19/20-1, 31 October).

Valery MARCHENKO died in Leningrad on 7 October 1984.

On 13 September he was flown from the Perm-35 camp for political prisoners to the penal system’s F.J Haass Hospital at 1 Khokhryakov Street in Leningrad. He was already in a critical condition: his kidneys had ceased to function and his heartbeat was irregular. Marchenko could hardly speak. Doctors at the Haass Hospital suggested moving him to an ordinary hospital which, unlike their institution, had a kidney machine. The KGB refused permission and soon Marchenko was dead.

Valery Veniaminovich MARCHENKO (b. 1947), a journalist, was first arrested in 1973 for “anti-Soviet agitation” (Article 62 of the Ukrainian SSR Criminal Code)[1] and sentenced to six years in a corrective-labour camp followed by two years’ banishment. The second time he was arrested for similar offences in October 1983. He was charged with publishing several articles in foreign periodicals and sentenced in March 1984 to ten years in a special regime labour camp,[2] followed by five years’ exile.

Marchenko suffered from severe kidney disease and high blood pressure. After his second trial he was transported in a critical medical condition, once again to Perm-35 [west of the Urals]. The journey lasted 55 hours. During that time prisoners, as usual, were only escorted to the toilet once every 24 hours, fatal treatment for someone with a severe kidney condition. At the camp Marchenko was forced to go out to work even when he was suffering a hypertonic crisis with blood pressure of 240/160.


Marchenko’s body was released to his mother at her request and she took it back to Kiev. On 14 October 1984 he was buried at Hatne village (Kiev Region) where his grandfather, the historian Professor Mikhail Marchenko, already lay.


In 2017, President Poroshenko awarded Judge Hrihory Zubets, who had presided at Marchenko’s second and final trial in 1984, the Order of Yaroslav the Wise. No explanation was forthcoming. This aroused indignation abroad and in Ukraine (see Halya Coynash, “Poroshenko honours judge who effectively sentenced Valery Marchenko to death”, Human Rights in Ukraine, 25 October 2017).

[1] The equivalent of Article 70 in the 1960 RSFSR Criminal Code. An offence investigated by the KGB rather than the police or the procurator’s office.

[2] The most restrictive regime in the corrective-labour camps of the late Soviet penal system, a camp of this kind, known as Perm-35, was located west of the Urals.


From an earlier report in the Chronicle of Current Events

“In other prisons and camps” (CCE 47.9), 30 November 1977

At the end of September 1977, Valery MARCHENKO and Ivan Svetlichny were in the hospital in Perm-35. In October Marchenko was taken to Kiev.

At the KGB they tried to persuade him to express repentance, and gave him a meeting with his mother, who, fearing for his health, also tried to persuade him to do as he was asked. In a letter written to his mother after the meeting Marchenko wrote that however painful it was for him to see her in tears, he cannot “cancel himself out spiritually for the sake of a biological existence near his mother”. He continues:

“As a teacher, you constantly taught us to be principled; you taught us the virtues which go to make up a decent person . . . You had, and will have, a son who loves his mother like no one else; a son whom this love and the qualities engendered by this love have helped to endure the most difficult moments, as well as in the struggle to acquire the right to call himself a man. This is your merit. It weighs incomparably more than the persuasive arguments which you brought to the meeting.”

(Translation from the Ukrainian)