The Trial of Vasyl Stus, 29 Sept.-2 Oct. 1980 (58.17)

«No 58 : November 1980»

In summer 1980 searches were carried out at the homes of exiles Yevgeny Sverstyuk (CCE 52, 55, 56) and Alexander Sergiyenko (CCE 52, 54, 55) in connection with the case of Stus (CCE 57). Letters were confiscated. On 26 June Stus’s investigator, KGB Major A. V. Selyuk, interrogated the wife of Yury Badzyo (trial, CCE 55), Svetlana Kirichenko (CCE 54, 55): the official reason was that copies of his letters from camp and exile in Kirichenko’s handwriting had been confiscated in a search of Stus’s home.

On 4 August a search was conducted at R[aisa] Rudenko‘s home in connection with the Stus case. A typewriter, a notebook and poetry written in the camps by her husband Mykola [Rudenko, 1920-2004], which had evaded the censorship, were all confiscated. On 7 August KGB Investigator N.P. Tsimokh (CCE 45, 53) interrogated Raisa Rudenko in connection with Stus’s case. She testified that she had seen Stus once, at a New Year’s celebration and she had liked him very much. He was a brilliant poet, she said, and he had not conducted any “anti-Soviet” or “slanderous” conversations while she was there.

On 17 August 1980 Investigator Katalikov of the Moscow KGB (CCE 54) interrogated Moscow resident N.P. Lisovskaya (CCE 54) in connection with Stus’s case. One of his questions: “Did you ask Stus to send to your address his statement of 19 November 1979 to the USSR Procuracy concerning N. A. Gorbal?” (trial, CCE 56); the reply was negative.


From 29 September to 2 October 1980 the Kiev City Court, presided over by Judge P.I. Feshchenko, heard the case of Vasily Semyonovich STUS (b. 1938), a member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group who was charged under Article 62, part 2 of the UkSSR Criminal Code (Article 70, RSFSR Code).

The prosecutor was Procurator Arzhanov. Despite Stus’s protests and objections, lawyer V.V. Medvedchuk (CCE 55) was appointed his defence counsel by the court and appeared for him at the trial.[Note 1]

Vasyl Stus reading

Stus was arrested on 17 May (CCE 57). During the pre-trial investigation Stus did not give any evidence. He was incriminated with letters he had written to [Andrei] Sakharov, Lukyanenko, Grigorenko and friends in Kiev, with a statement he made to the Procuracy concerning Gorbal, with poetry and “oral agitation”.

On 25 September (Thursday) Stus’s wife Valentina Popelyukh telephoned investigator Selyuk, but he told her nothing about her husband’s trial. Late in the evening of 30 September Mikhailina Kotsyubinskaya (CCEs 45, 46, 48, 49), Svetlana Kirichenko and Yevgeny Sverstyuk’s wife V. Andrievskaya received summonses to appear as witnesses at the trial on 1 October. It was only from them that Popelyukh discovered that her husband’s trial was already in progress but even on 1 October she was not allowed into the courtroom.


Speaking at the trial, Kotsyubinskaya called Stus a man with “a conscience laid bare” “incapable of ignoring the slightest injustice”. “One rarely meets such people, and I am glad that fate brought Stus and me together. I have to thank him for what I have in my life”.

“What could she say about Stus’s statement to the Procuracy concerning Gorbal?” the judge asked. (Stus had demanded that a case be instituted against the organisers of a cynical provocation), Kotsyubinskaya replied that this statement strikingly confirmed her description of Stus’s character: she too had been convinced of Gorbal’s innocence “ but she had only grieved over the injustice committed, while Stus’s reaction was immediate and sharp.

Kotsyubinskaya refused to comply with the Judge’s request for her evaluation of a letter Stus had written in 1977 to Kiev from his place of exile. In the letter Stus expressed his wish to join the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, urged people not to fear a tank though it might mercilessly crush every living thing in its path, and described the line of conduct he would adopt at his forthcoming trial. He would demand, he said, the presence of representatives of the World Congress of Free Ukrainians, failing which he would not take part in the trial but simply dot the eyes in a final speech. He would speak as a son of his people, a nation which lived in the terrible conditions of a spiritual ghetto. Kotsyubinskaya would not comply with the judge’s request because she was looking not at the original letter, but a copy: the case file contains only a copy of the letter in Kirichenko’s the hand-writing.

In reply to a request by defence counsel [Victor Medvedchuk] for a description of Stus’s political views Kotsyubinskaya noted the profound humanitarianism and democratism of his views, superficial nationalism was totally alien to him. If one understood nationalism in the sense that “one cannot love mankind without first loving one’s own mother”, however, then that was true of Stus. He was painfully aware of all the evils of the nation’s life and spoke out against them plainly and sharply.

Stus: Does the witness know that the Declaration of Human Rights [1948] includes the right to hold one’s own views?

Kotsyubinskaya: Yes.

Stus: What about the inviolability of private correspondence?

Kotsyubinskaya: Yes.

Stus: Does the witness know that Christina Bremer is a member of Amnesty International? (Stus was charged with being in correspondence with a nationalist from West Germany). Could she be a nationalist?

Kotsyubinskaya: As for nationalism — that’s absurd. I understand now why the investigator at the pre-trial investigation did not want to write down the fact that Christina Bremer is a member of the German Socialist Party. [SPD = Social Democratic party].

Stus: Does the witness know that during the pre-trial investigation, on 8 August, I was subjected to physical torture? He did it (Stus pointed at the Deputy Head of the KGB Investigations Prison standing by the door).

Kotsyubinskaya: I did not know that. But if Stus says so, then it’s true.

Kotsyubinskaya then described the difficult conditions in which Stus had lived in exile: he was made to live in a hostel, surrounded by drunkards.

The Judge interrupted her and said that these people were present in the courtroom (several people from Matrosovo settlement, Magadan Region, where Stus had served his exile, had been summoned to the trial to testify to his “oral agitation”); let her not slander the working class. Afterwards one of the Magadan witnesses was asked whether it was true that Stus’s neighbour, while drunk, had urinated in his teapot. The witness replied that he had not been present when it happened, but that there was in fact urine in the teapot. After the questioning was over, Kotsyubinskaya was forced to leave the courtroom.


At the beginning of her cross-examination Svetlana Kirichenko asked the Judge:

“I request the court to ask Stus whether he considers this trial legal.”

Stus: I do not.

Kirichenko: In that case I refuse to take part in the trial.

In reply to the Procurator’s demand that charges be brought against her for refusing to give evidence, and to similar threats from the Judge, Kirichenko said: “I will testify at a trial where Vasily Stus will be the prosecutor, not sitting in the dock,” and left the courtroom. Andrievskaya was asked about Stus’s letter from exile (see above).

She replied that she had read only the part of the letter addressed directly to her.

The following residents of Matrosovo settlement were questioned as witnesses of Stus’s “oral agitation”: the director of the mine where Stus worked; the head of the personnel office of the mine, Sharikov: several workers who lived in the same hostel: a nurse from the hospital where Stus was a patient, and some salesgirls.


The Procurator’s speech lasted over two hours. At first, he listed the achievements of Soviet Ukraine, which Stus had blackened, then he spoke of the crimes of the Bandera followers and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN).[10] Finally he listed Stus’s “crimes”: the letter from exile; the statement on Gorbal’s case; the letters to correspondents in West Germany (Christina Bremer, A. Horbatsch and H. Horbatsch)[17]; letters to A.D. Sakharov, Lev Lukyanenko and P.G. Grigorenko (the case file contained xerox copies of the letters); and the main crime, his oral agitation while in exile.

In his speech, the court-appointed defence lawyer Victor Medvedchuk said that all Stus’s crimes warranted punishment, but he asked the court to take into consideration the fact that, while working at enterprises in Kiev in 1978-1980, Stus had fulfilled his norm. In addition, he had undergone a serious stomach operation. After Medvedchuk’s speech the court hearing was cut short.

On 2 October, the hearing began with the reading of the verdict: Stus was thus deprived of his Last Words in court to which he was entitled by law. At this session, in addition to the “special public” V. Popelyukh, her sister //Rita Dovgan were admitted. 0n the morning of 2 October Svetlana Kirichenko was summoned to a police station in connection with “parasitism” and detained until the trial was over: she had not been working for 3½ months; only after 4 months’ inactivity is it permissible to prosecute. The court gave Stus the maximum sentence: ten years’ strict regime camp and five in exile. In addition, the judge imposed in Stus court costs of 2,300 roubles (mostly for the transportation of the Magadan witnesses).

The judge read out the verdict mumbling so quickly that neither dates nor names of witnesses could be heard distinctly. After he had finished reading, he said without a pause: “The trial is over,” and the ‘special public’ headed for the doors. “You murderers! You didn’t even let me make a final speech!” cried Stus and quoted Lermontov: “And all your black blood will never wash away the poet’s righteous blood.” Stus looked very ill; his face was deathly pale. During a visit from his wife after the trial he said he would never survive such a sentence.


In Defence of the Poet Vasily Stus

On 19 October 1980 Andrei Sakharov wrote the following appeal:

“1980 was marked in our country by many unjust sentences and by the persecution of human rights activists. Even against this tragic background, however, the sentence passed on Ukrainian poet Vasily Stus is distinguished by its inhumanity.

“The judicial apparatus has acted in accordance with its inhuman laws and subjected him to another 15 years of suffering. A man’s life has been irretrievably broken in reprisal for his elementary decency and nonconformism, for loyalty to his convictions and his own personality. Stus’s conviction is a disgrace to the Soviet system of coercion.

“I appeal to Vasily Stus’s colleagues, to the writers and poets of the entire world, his academic colleagues, Amnesty International, to everyone who values human dignity and justice: speak out in Stus’s defence! I appeal particularly to the participants of the [CSCE] conference in Madrid [Note 2] … Stus’s sentence must be repealed, as must the sentences of all those involved in the non-violent rights movement to defend the rule of law.”



[1] V. Medvedchuk is today a vocal and active politician in Ukraine. See “Ukrainian court ban on book about Stus trial gave Medvedchuk more than he asked for”, Human Rights in Ukraine, 20 October 2020

[2] As extensive arrests and trials of rights activists and dissidents such as Vasyl Stus took place in Russia, Ukraine and other parts of the USSR, a conference was due to assemble in Madrid to discuss observation of the 1975 Helsinki Accords by their 35 co-signatories, East and West.

It opened on 11 November 1980 and would continue to meet for almost three years. The gathering was called by the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE).

Translation and annotation,
John Crowfoot