Velikanova & Yakunin, November 1979 (54.1-1)


<<No 54 : 15 November 1979>>

A statement by the MOSCOW HELSINKI GROUP

The Group to Assist the Implementation of the Helsinki Agreements  in the USSR: Document No. 111 (3 November 1979) “A sharp increase in the persecution of the movement for the rule of law in the USSR”.

“On 30 October, Political Prisoner’s Day, Antanas Terleckas (aged 30) was arrested in Vilnius. On 1 November Tatyana Velikanova (aged 47) and Father Gleb Yakunin (45) were arrested in Moscow.

“On the same day as the latter arrests, searches were conducted in Moscow at the homes of Viktor Sokirko, Nina Lisovskaya, Victor Kapitanchuk, Lyudmila Regelson (Ivanova), Vadim Shcheglov, Larissa Poluektova and also Yakunin’s relative Lidia Zdanovskaya.

“The significance of these searches and arrests goes way beyond the limits of persecuting individual defenders of the rule of law, and the operation clearly has as its purpose the complete suppression of the human rights, national and religious movement in our country.


Tatyana Velikanova, 1932-2002 [note 1]

“Back in 1969, Tatyana VELIKANOVA was one of the organizers of the Action Group for the Defence of Human Rights and played an important role in the formation of the movement to defend the rule of law in the USSR.

“In 1974, together with Sergei Kovalyov and Tatyana Khodorovich, Velikanova publicly took upon herself the responsibility of trying, by every means possible, to circulate the Chronicle of Current Events — a legal uncensored source of truthful information about violations of human rights in the USSR.

“Tatyana Velikanova is known in our country as an honourable, selfless person who responds to every injustice and every evil. Freedom of expression is the only weapon that she has ever had. Her signature stands at the bottom of hundreds of documents protesting against violations of human rights. She has defended persecuted Crimean Tatars, Volga Germans, Jewish refuseniks, Baptists, Pentecostalists and members of other religious groups. She has raised her voice in protest against illegal arrests and politically motivated sentences. Thousands of prisoners of conscience and members of their families know her name. People from all ends of the country have come to see her and written to her, and for each one Tatyana Velikanova has found a warm word of concern, consolation and encouragement.

“During all the years of her human rights activity Velikanova has been subjected to threats and intimidation from KGB officials. She has been followed, searched, and summoned for interrogations, but nothing has been able to stop this woman, who has dedicated her whole life to the defence of human rights, the defence of the persecuted and humiliated.

“And now she has been arrested and thrown in Lefortovo Prison. She has been arrested for collecting and widely disseminating information, for her dissent, for freely uttering her convictions and for helping people.


Gleb Yakunin, 1936-2014

“Father Gleb Yakunin began his activities to defend the rights of believers back in 1965 with an open letter to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia about the lack of rights of the Church in the USSR and the violations of believers’ rights. For distributing this letter, which he composed with Nikolai Eshliman, they were both dismissed from serving in church.

“In December 1976 Father Gleb became one of the organizers and an active member of the Christian Committee for the Defence of Believers’ Rights in the USSR. His activities on the Committee, and also the large number of articles and appeals which he wrote in his own right to defend not only the Orthodox Christian Church, but also believers of all creeds, made the name of Father Gleb known throughout the world.

“In 1977 Father Gleb’s paper on the situation of believers in the USSR was read and discussed at the Second Sakharov Hearings in Rome.

“Openly espousing the defence of human rights, Father Gleb was subjected to continual harassment by the authorities, including threats and slander from the press.

“Father Gleb’s tireless, open activity on the Committee made it possible for the many instances of violations of believers’ rights in our country to be widely publicized. That is the reason for Father Gleb Yakunin’s arrest…


“The activities of all three arrested people, well-known dissenters, was carried out openly and within the framework of the law. Their arrest is a flagrant violation of the [UN] Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference.”

Yelena Bonner, Sophia Kalistratova, Ivan Kovalyov, Malva Landa, Haum Meiman, Victor Nekipelov, Tatyana Osipova, Yury Yarym-Agayev

(For the arrest of A. Terleckas, see the section “Events in Lithuania” CCE 54.18.)


Moscow, 10 November 1979

To the World Christian Community

The Russian Orthodox Church in the 20th century has gained lustre from the many names of martyrs and confessors who have suffered for Christs Church and for freedom and purity in religious life.

Among the Orthodox Christians of our time who have called on us to remember the Russian martyrs and confessors, to honour their great deeds and spiritually take part in them, is Father Gleb Yakunin.

He it was who, beginning with his open letter to Patriarch Alexy in 1965, fought zealously for the freedom of the Church and religion in our country; and now, after his arrest, he himself is in bondage for his confessorial service to the Church of Christ. They are accusing him, as they accused other confessors decades ago, of a state crime. In the face of the atheistic and anti-Church forces which consider themselves all-powerful in our country, he was not afraid to speak the truth, and for this they cannot forgive him.

Father Gleb is a deeply religious man. His whole activity, his whole life is devoted to one goal — the service of God and the Church of Christ. It is this which prompts him to fight for freedom of religion and to help all the faithful who have suffered from violations of their right to free conscience. We are sure that even in captivity Father Gleb will remain an ardently faithful servant of Christ and will render service with honour, wherever he may be.

It is our Christian duty to remember those of our brothers who are suffering for their faith and for their service to God. We appeal to Christians throughout the world to pray for Father Gleb, so that God will strengthen him in his service, protect and save him in j the trials which have befallen him.

We appeal to Christian pastors, to the heads of Churches and religious organizations: defend the I man who has defended Christ’s flock!

We appeal to Christian parishes and to all communities of believers, to the International Congress of Christian Trade Unions and other Christian unions, to all associations of the faithful and to each believer individually, to everyone to whom the freedom to believe ! in God and the freedom and dignity of human personality are dear: speak out in defence of Gleb Yakunin, do all you can to secure his release.

The arrest of Father Gleb and the house searches of other members of the Christian Committee in the USSR show that the authorities intend to use force to put an end to the activities of the Christian Committee and to suppress the circulation of truthful information about j the state of religion in the USSR. Many Christians, both Orthodox and those of other creeds, are expressing their readiness to join in the activities of the Christian Committee, to continue the work of members whose activities have been forcibly terminated. However, the extent to which the Committee can continue its work depends to a great extent on the support of international public opinion.

If one member suffers, the whole body suffers. Religion in the Soviet Union is the common business of all believers. In appealing to all people of good faith, and especially to our fellow-believers, we hope that our call will be heard, that every Christian community and every parish will treat this appeal as if it were addressed to them personally, and will not remain indifferent.


The priest N. Gainov, who joined the Committee immediately after the arrest of Father Gleb sent a letter of appeal to Patriarch Pimen:

“I have known him since 1967 and have found only good in him. Father Gleb is a deeply believing Christian, a sincere devout priest, an honest man incapable of slander, the crime of which he is accused.

“Your Holiness! I appeal to you as head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Do everything in your power to secure the release of Father Gleb Yakunin. Defend the man who has defended everyone!”



5 November 1979: Open Letter to the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet

“… Tatyana Velikanova is a person whose moral purity is an example to many, a person whose dignity and selflessness we much admire.

“At the root of all Velikanova’s activities lay her desire to publicise objectively facts about violations of human rights, her tolerance and her desire to help those whose rights were being violated.

Tatyana Velikanova’s arrest should not be seen as the persecution of an individual, although she was one of the best representatives of the movement to defend the rule of law. The history of previous trials of well-known defenders of the rule of law shows that the authorities made them responsible not for concrete actions but for the existence of the movement as a whole. Moreover, by prosecuting people like Tatyana Velikanova, a concerted attempt is being made by the authorities to repress those freedoms of thought, speech, and conscience which exist in our country, albeit in weak form …

“We openly declare that each one of us. like Tatyana Velikanova far as our strengths and capacities aitow. is promoting and will continue. to promote human rights in the Soviet Union with the help of the unrestricted circulation of all facts known to us about the violations of those rights. As we are sure it was just for this reason that Tatyana Velikanova was arrested, we fully share the responsibility for all her activities and are ready to assert the correctness of our convictions and methods by any open means including at an open trial. ‘

K. Babitsky, V. Bakhmin, Yu. Gastev, I. Kovalyov, A. Lavut, N. Meiman, T. Osipova, L. Ternovsky, Yu. Yarym-Agayev


Sophia Kalistratova wrote a similar ‘Statement for the Press’ (sent to Izvestiya and handed to Western correspondents). She writes that she has known Velikanova and her activities to defend the rule of the law well and for a long time.

“I not only know about her activities, but to the best of my abilities I have been doing the same thing myself. Convinced as I am that all Velikanova’s human rights activities, like my own, are legal and open and contain nothing criminal … I declare that I am ready to stand beside Velikanova and answer with her in any open and public court.”


Yelena Bonner and Andrei Sakharov published an ‘Open Appeal’ on 5 November. They write about the arrest of T. Velikanova:

“… Only two days before, she chaired the traditional press conference on Political Prisoner’s Day and spoke with her typical accuracy and tightly controlled passion about the lives and struggles of political prisoners and about new repressions and illegal actions in the country. She spent her last days of freedom in the same way as she spent the years leading up to them — in selfless work dedicated to human rights and openness …

“Tanya Velikanova is our friend, and our first reaction to her arrest was a feeling of sorrow and emptiness, as if an unexpected natural disaster had occurred. But this is not a natural disaster; it is a calculated blow by the organs of repression, who are not capable of honest and open dialogue, and fear publicity and truth …”


Victor Nekipelov, in a statement ‘On the Arrest of Tatyana Velikanova’ (10 November) says:

“They knew where to strike … Tatyana Velikanova is for all of us an example of courage, unwavering persistence and moral purity. I would say that she represents the quintessence of that morality  which constitutes what one can call the Russian ethical dissidence of the 1960s and 1970s. She is an active and perfect example of it.

“She stood at the source of the movement, an irreproachable incarnation of its spiritual essence. Her main distinction is that she was very far from what is known as politics and never involved herself in it …

“Yes, the authorities knew where to strike. But however hard the blow, the repression to which Tatyana Velikanova is being subjected is senseless. I am saying this because I know: her jailers will never change or break Tanya, they’ll never destroy her inner essence. Wherever she is, in a prison cell or in a Mordovian camp, she will always be the person who is looking at me now from the photograph that hangs in front of me, she will give light to people with her beautiful smile, she will listen to them and help them. And, wherever she is, Russia is there too, and Tatyana Velikanova is as much a part of Russia as she is of her own fate.

“This repressive act, however much it was calculated, is a gesture of blind and desperate impotence.

“When, in Russia, they throw a woman into prison for speaking out and for compassion — it means that the affairs of Russia’s rulers are in a bad way!”


Leonard Ternovsky states:

“They seized her because a person who does not allow herself to be afraid of speaking the truth is intolerable to an authority which maintains itself through comprehensive intimidation and shameless lies.”

He concludes his letter, dated 1-3 November, as follows:

“Tatyana Velikanova has been arrested. My friend and soulmate! Why she and not I?

“Because she is better and more honest than I. Because she is more steadfast and fearless in her unequal battle with evil. There are times and circumstances which turn attitudes and values on their heads. There are times when it is shameful to sit on the judge’s bench and honourable to be in the dock.



The following extract is taken from a statement by V. Sokirko, V. Sorokin and V. Abramkin (all three are editors of the journal Searches) entitled “Now It’s Our Turn”:

“We have known Tanya for many years. She has always been a model, no, almost an unattainable ideal of calm and fearlessness, industry and modesty …

“And now she has been arrested — not to stand trial in a normal way (Tatyana cannot be guilty of breaking the law), but as a reprisal. And therefore, it is time for us, whom she has defended, to follow the dictates of our souls and to declare:

— We cannot refuse to defend others and ourselves, or to collaborate with the Chronicle of Current Events and the successor of the Action Group, the Helsinki Group.

— We cannot give up samizdat, the freedom of thought and expression which Tanya and her comrades-in-arms gained through struggle.

— We cannot turn our backs on the defence of human rights, on helping political prisoners, on our responsibility for our country and its future…


Two statements demand the release of T. Velikanova for the pre-trial period and a public court examination of the charges brought against her.

Larisa Bogoraz, in an ‘Open Statement’ to the USSR Procurator-General dated 4 November, writes that although officially no one knows what charge has been brought against Tatyana Velikanova, she, her close friend and relative, and many other people who know her, understand that the reason for her arrest is her participation in

“non-violent, humanistic activities which have been attacked by the organs of power for a decade and at half already and for which many citizens of our country have served and are serving terms of imprisonment.”

She recalls that searches were made at the home of T. Velikanova before her arrest in connection with Case No. 46012 — a case concerning ‘unofficial uncensored samizdat periodical publications, i.e., information’.

L. Bogoraz considers that the practice of arresting people ‘charged with non-violent public activities’ before their trial is illegal, particularly if they are charged under articles 70 and 190-1 of the R SFSR Criminal Code, and she demands the release of T. Velikanova from pre-trial imprisonment.

A statement by Sergei Khodorovich, A. Kistyakovsky and A. Morozov says:

“Only a genuinely open and public trial at which all witnesses and a lawyer of her own choice are admitted can determine whether Tatyana Velikanova is guilty before our society. We are convinced that at an impartial trial it would be made clear that Soviet people should be grateful to Tatyana Mikhailovna for her selfless and always open service to violated truth and justice.

“But now, until the event of such a trial, we demand her release from prison, all the more since she would not be able or, more importantly, even want to go into hiding or hinder the state investigation in some other way …”


In an article “On the Arrest of Tatyana Velikanova”, Lev Kopelev writes of her as a heroine on at level with other heroines of Russian history, continuing the tradition so characteristic of Russian women of ‘readiness for self-sacrifice’; The heroic pose is alien to her and she is unreservedly, unswervingly truthful’.

“What could they have been thinking, those people who ordered the arrests of Tatyana Velikanova, Father Gleb Yakunin and Antanas Terleckas? …

“What are the real results of all these searches, arrests and trials? They are obvious: the well-deserved glory of our prisoners of conscience is growing. Every day there are more people who sympathize with them, suffer with them and are ready to help and imitate them. And the well-deserved ignominy of the persecutors is also growing …”

L. Kopelev thinks that although

“it is difficult to count on the charity and mercy of the authorities there are — there must be — sober-minded people even there, who are capable of understanding that all these prosecutions do the most harm of all to the state itself. They are remarkably harmful to its international prestige. But they are even more harmful to our people: they destroy our sense of justice, they engender disrespect for all laws, and they feed the soil on which cynical indifference to the public interest and real criminality grow.”

He therefore appeals for the release of those arrested.

“The main thing is that we must not give up trying until they are all free.”

Mankind lives alone / By mutual aid among the good.

concludes Kopelev, quoting the lines of an unknown nun discovered by Marina Tsvetayeva.


A group of Estonian citizens — M. Niklus, E. Udam, E. Tarto, E. Ratas, P. Silla, V. Reinhart, V. Niitsoo and L. Parek — have sent an appeal to the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet:

“In view of the recent arrests in Moscow and Vilnius, the number of prisoners of conscience in the Soviet Union has grown by three persons. We wish to express our profound indignation about the KGB’s arrests of the human rights activists Tatyana Velikanova, Father Gleb Yakunin and Antanas Terleckas. We protest against the unceasing persecution of defenders of the rule of law in the USSR. We request their immediate release.”

(Mart Niklus’s address was given on the statement, for a reply.)


The Lithuanian Helsinki Group sent a ‘Protest to the Government of the USSR’ (Document No. 19) on 10 November, signed by O. Lukauskaite-Poskiene, B. Laurinavicius, M. Jurevicius and A. Statkevicius. The group states that the arrest of Velikanova, ‘who has dedicated many efforts to the defence of basic human rights in the Soviet Union’, contradicts the Helsinki Final Act, specifically point 7 of the first section, which states an obligation ‘to respect human rights and basic freedoms’ and to ‘act in correspondence with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’.


In a statement on behalf of the FIAWP Working Commission, Yu. Kuvakin, E. Nikolayev and V. Novodvorskaya write:

“Velikanova and Yakunin are real citizens of their Motherland, perceiving it to be their duty, not in words but in actions, every day and every minute, to transform into reality the advice of the first leader of our State, V.I. Lenin, to Professor Adoratsky — ‘to teach the people to fight for their rights through all the laws and rules which are applicable in the RSFSR to a legal fight for one’s rights’ [Note 2]. Where could the authorities have found a crime? In the fact that Velikanova and Yakunin brought the truth about the real situation regarding observance of human rights in the USSR to hundreds and thousands of people? …”

The statement concludes with an appeal to working people ‘to raise your voices’ in their defence.


F. Svetov and Z. Krakhmalnikova wrote an appeal entitled ‘Tatyana Velikanova and Gleb Yakunin are under Arrest!’ (It was also signed by Father D. Dudko and his family and 15 others.)

“The past two decades of Russian history have given us some striking examples of human dignity, purity, self-sacrifice and unselfishness. The names of Tatyana Velikanova and Father Gleb Yakunin have been written into Russian history for their distinctive lives and distinctive service. Day in, day out, over the past decade they have been discreetly effacing themselves for others’ sakes and for the sake of defending human rights in the most sublime, Christian sense … ‘For I was ahungered and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty and ye gave me drink: … I was sick and ye visited me: I was in prison and ye came unto me’ (Matthew 25:35, 36).

“We ask you to pray for them, to help them, their children and their grandchildren, in whatever ways you can.

“The arrest of Tatyana Mikhailovna Velikanova and Father Gleb Yakunin is not the private affair and tragedy of their near and dear ones; it is a blow at the very heart of living, suffering Russia.”


Apart from the statements, letters and appeals from the individual and small groups quoted above, two statements were circulated which were open for signatures over a longer period of time. To date (15 November) each has over 100 signatures. The final number of signatures will be announced in the next issue. [By the end of the year 393 people had signed the petition about Velikanova, see CCE 55.2.]

On the arrest of Tatyana Velikanova

“We are shaken by the arrest of Tatyana Mikhailovna Velikanova. We could have expected it to happen at any moment during the ten and more years of her battle for human rights. She is not the first, but that does not mean that we should be used to it. We should never get used to the fact that the leaders of our country are deaf to all protests and even to the arguments of common sense — do not undermine your prestige; conduct your ideological battle with words (if you have any to say) not with your fists. And so, here we are again protesting and explaining, appealing to others to join our protest today, without her, for her.

“We do not want to use that vague word ‘activities’ to express what Tatyana Velikanova has been doing for these ten years. It is work, hard labour, a daily, hourly ‘must’ ordered by her conscience …

“At this moment in the offices of the Lubyanka, detectives and experts are examining the ‘folders of various typewritten and handwritten papers’, the notebooks taken away — almost without an inventory, in haste — after the two most recent searches. Whose handwriting? Whose typewriter? They will probably find out. But we know that they will not find a word of slander, just as we know that they will write slander, all the same, into the judgment, as they did to Sergei Kovalyov and Yury Orlov, and they will add: ‘with the purpose of undermining or weakening [the Soviet system]. Maybe (and we have seen this too) they will not balk at a really dirty slander: she did it for money, for glory or on orders from some ‘centres’.”

The statement goes on to talk about the absolute incompatibility of T. Velikanova’s character with a striving for glory or selfishness, or with ideas of ‘undermining the authorities’.

“Lastly, we declare that neither T. Velikanova nor the human rights movement in the USSR as a whole is in contact with any ‘foreign centres’. We have friends and fellow-thinkers — P. Grigorenko, L. Alexeyeva, A. Ginzburg, V. Chalidze, K. Lyubarsky, E. Yankelevich among them — who render effective help to those of us who are here, but with the same weapon — publicity, and the same selfless work.

“Tatyana Velikanova’s goals and motives come from the very depths of her personality. She is one of those who can feel another’s pain and humiliation and cannot remain passive in the face of it, one of those for whom cynical lawlessness does not give rise to a paralysis of terror, but to a will to resist. She is convinced that we must fight to win our rights here and now, for real people, not for politics. She started fighting as hard as she could, taking upon herself the most difficult and dangerous tasks. “She brought her talent for research into her work (she often joked that she would study mathematics in prison), as well as the wisdom of experience and irreproachable honesty.

“It is not worth trying to guess what her jailers are preparing for Tatyana Velikanova — a terrifying sentence as a deterrent to others, or a ‘humanitarian’ exile abroad, which for her would lie a worse punishment. What she deserves is that thousands (if people in this country and abroad should demand:

Release Tatyana Velikanova!

A letter from S. Kalistratova, A. Lavut and I. Khoklushkin was circulated with this statement, asking people to inform them of any other actions connected with the arrest of T. Velikanova.

On the arrest of Father Gleb Yakunin

“On 1 November, the Orthodox priest Father Gleb Yakunin, one of the founders of the Christian Committee for the Defence of Believers’ Rights, was arrested. In a society where atheism is the state ideology, the Committee was the first association of Christians to defend religious freedom …

“How great the demand is for such a Committee is shown by the numerous statements and complaints which it is constantly receiving …

The defence of believers’ rights is essential for the normal life of a State tens of millions of whose citizens are believers.

“We regard Father Gleb’s arrest as an obstacle to the normalization of religious life on the part of the authorities. lit is yet one more example of the tragic way in which the state has been trying to cripple religion in our country for decades …”


The Chronicle considers that the arrest of Tatyana Velikanova — one of the most serious actions in a campaign to destroy the human rights movement — undoubtedly has also a particular aim: to put an end to the openness and publicity which T. M. Velikanova has done such a great deal to create. One of the ways in which openness in our country has been promoted is the appearance, for over 11 years, of the Chronicle of Current Events. Even the Chronicle believes that it is not easy to root out the principle of openness. The flood of information on the struggle for human rights in the USSR is not stopping.

The Chronicle of Current Events continues to come out.



[1] This photo of Tatyana Velikanova was taken in Kazakhstan, in one of the three locations where she served her term of exile.