Back to 1990 - Elections in Ukraine

Memories of Robert McConnell
March 4, 2023

1990 – Congressional delegation boards and then gets off USAF transport at Joint Base Andrews having been notified previous permission to land in Kyiv to observe Ukraine SSR’s first genuinely contested parliamentary elections had been reversed and no USAF plane would be allowed to enter Soviet air space.  In late 1989 Volodymyr Yavorivsky, a Communist member of the Supreme Rada of the Soviet Union but also a member of the Grand Council of Rukh had come to Washington and while here had asked, on Rukh’s behalf, for several things.  One request was for us to see if we could get a congressional delegation to be observers for the March 1990 elections. Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-Az) who was chair of the Congressional Helsinki Commission agreed to be the congressional sponsor of such a CoDel even though he had a conflict and could not travel at that time.  With his sponsorship several of us had gotten 12 House Members to sign up for the trip and the Department of Defense had committed a transport for the trip. Once we had the delegation lined up and they had approval to land in Ukraine we got a bit concerned about what we were sending them to in Ukraine.  Nadia had travelled to Kyiv in January and had met and established a relationship with the top leaders of Rukh but where would the Members of Congress stay, what would be their transportation, etc.?  Nadia flew ahead earlier in the week to make sure regarding the arrangements on the ground.  (And, of course, back then once someone flew off to the Soviet Union you were essentially out-of-touch until next they landed back on western soil.)  Anyway, Senator DeConcini had offered me a seat on the congressional flight but given any number of Ukrainian-Americans were going to be traveling to Kyiv for the elections I thought I best travel as they were – commercial.  I knew the delegation was to fly out of Andrews about 2PM on that Friday and was at home packing for my 6PM flight out of Dulles when the phone rang.  “Bob, Dennis.  The delegation is on the way back to the Capitol from Andrews.”  “What happened?”  “When they had boarded they got word that authorities in the Soviet Union had changed their minds and would no allow the plane to enter Soviet Air space so they got off the plane and are headed back.  What are your plans?”  “Well, Nadia is already in Kyiv, she went ahead to make sure things were ready for the delegation.  My plane is at 6 so I am about to leave for Dulles.”  “OK Bob, but if you get back come in and see me.” (WHAT? Did I hear the Senator right?  I did.) We said good-by and on the afternoon of this date in 1990 12 Members of Congress were on their way back to the Capitol from Andrews and I was taking a cab to Dulles.  Dulles to Frankfurt and then Aeroflot on to Kyiv.

You missed March 3

1990 – March 3

My Air France/Aeroflot flight arrived about 6:20PM.

Upon deplaning I noticed the aircraft had a glass nose with what appeared to be a seat and instruments quite visible.  It looked like the bombardier’s compartment on World War II bombers and I learned that many of the Aeroflot planes were converted bombers.

The tarmac was memorable for one thing – the planes.  There must have been 20-25 Aeroflot planes, crudely stenciled, sitting in rows.  With but one exception they were not being serviced, loaded, or unloaded.  Most had the bombardier nose compartment.

As the sun settled below the horizon, we left the “standing” bus trailer that had been towed from the plane to the terminal by a tractor-like machine. Passing two military types in uniform and armed with rifles we entered the customs area. Once through the passport-visa check booth we stood around waiting for luggage to come in from the flight.

After a short wait a baggage train drove into the large room and everyone worked their way through the stacked baggage to get their things and then got in line leading to the inspection process.  Anxious to get on with it I still chose to be last one, because I did not want to continually be lifting and moving incrementally all of my luggage.  And two, because going through my things was going to take time - - two suitcases, one heavy with papers, bottled water (I knew from Nadia’s January trip the stay would be similar to camping indoors), and camera equipment. The there was a box containing a requested VCR and another box in which was a 19” JVC remote control color TV surrounded by about 150 newly printed, English-language booklets of the Rukh program, and more for Rukh.

In front of me several French doctors who had with them medicines for Chornobyl-related efforts were tied up and things impounded on the grounds of incomplete paperwork.  That would surely take several days to sort out given that the objections were just to create difficulties.

Eventually I was into the inspection stage.  At this point Nadia could see me and steppe forward with documentation from Rukh that was supposed to clear the television for duty-fee passage. At this point I also learned Nadia was checking to see if some of her luggage from several days earlier had arrived. Only her personal items had arrived with her, or so officials said.  Boxes of VCRs, video cameras, typewriters and other supplies for Rukh had not arrived and supposedly were to be on my flight.

After a number of discussions and – of course – my paying custom fees for the TV I got through without having to open everything.  Consensus was that my size and inability to speak Russian had helped.

Out of the airport I learned Nadia had spent hours two days earlier just trying to get the one bag that arrived with her through customs.  Much of the time spent going through written papers she had in her bag.  The Communist paranoia of the written word was staggering.   I also was questioned about the Congressional delegation.  No one had been advised the delegation had been denied landing rights and would not be coming.

Asking about the status of the preparations for the next day’s elections Nadia was somewhat depressed.  As a veteran of a number of American campaigns Nadia knew about organizing election day activities and was overwhelmed by what was not being done.  Only one name stood out in this discussion, Mykhailo Horyn, First Secretary of Rukh, member of the Helsinki Union and a former long-term Gulag prisoner was seen as the detail man – the guy who saw what needed to be done and worked to address the needs, but he could not be everywhere.

We discussed in detail areas for problems, obstacles faced by Rukh candidates and more.  Volodymyr Yavorivsky, the Rukh activist and member of the Congress of People’s Deputies of the Soviet Union who had gotten us to commit to trying to get a congressional delegation to be election observers had been nominated in a number of voting districts but had been certified in Kirovohrad, quite a distance from his home In Kyiv.  He, Dr. Yuri Scherbak and Dmytro Pavlychko had renounced their candidacies in protest of election law violations but it seemed their names were still on ballots.

There were also reports of Soviet troops moving from Czechoslovakia into western Ukraine and the understanding was they were reassigned into critical voting districts – possibly as many as 27,000 troops were involved.

We stopped at the Dnipro Hotel for me to register and leave baggage as we were due at Ivan Drach’s apartment for dinner.  Drach, the Head of Rukh, a Communist, the leader in the Communist Writer’s Union any yet a candidate the following day against the selected candidate of the Communist Party.  (It took awhile to sort out the unique combination of people driving Rukh and driving Ukraine away from “the center”.  Once learned it was/is a fascinating story.)

Five of us left the hotel and travelled to Drach’s apartment – From Washington Bohdan Futey, Walter Dudycz (State Senator in Illinois), Myron Kulas (State Representative in Illinois, Nadia and me.

So, how did a prominent Communist live?  In truth I only saw two rooms of his fourth floor apartment, an entry room that served as a coat and storage room and the living room.  Probably four other rooms for apparent but not seen.  The overall impression was modest but not lacking in fundamental artistic touches.  They ranged from traditional Ukrainian embroidery to a Rukh poster featuring Drach’s image and – prominently an illegal blue and yellow national Ukrainian flag.  Lighting was provided by a single ceiling light.

Drach, a man with a bald center head, has long greying hair flowing over his ears to about the length of his chin. He is not prone to smile, or laugh.  In conversation he does not appear animated or emotional. His wife, Maria, on the other hand, is animated.  Her conversations are expressive, the twinkle in her eyes is alive, very alive.  The children, obviously intelligent, sat with us and listened intently.  Maxym, a 25-year-old doctor who speaks English quite well, took part in the conversation especially in matters relating to Chornobyl.  In fact he had accompanied a number of radiation victims to Israel for treatment and was already aware of the complications faced by the French doctors at the airport. The Drach’s young daughter, Marianna, wants to tech language.

Dinner was served in the living room. Cognac was used to toast and greet.

Only able to follow the conversation generally, it struck me that the night before an unprecedented election, the head of Rukh was at home, visiting with foreigners, hundreds of miles from the district in which he would stand for election in 9-10 hours.

The phone rang several times mostly regarding the status of the French doctors and the efforts to clear their medicines from customs.

Drach was hopeful for a solid showing for Rukh and the democratic bloc at the polls, but not outwardly tense or analytic of possibilities that could be presented by the next day’s outcome.

Discussion also focused on the arrest several days earlier of students on the steps of Kyiv’s City Hall.  The students had been peacefully picketing in protest of several things:  the level of Communist doctrine forced upon them as part of their curriculum and induction into the Soviet military without assurances they would not be assigned to duties beyond Ukraine’s borders.  There were extremely strong sentiments against troops being used in Afghanistan-like operations or against nationalism in the several republics within the Soviet Union.  The student picketing was a nationalist protest tied to a common support of all the non-Russian nationalities in the Soviet Union.  The protesters did not want to be sent on imperialist missions or to quell nationalism within the republics.

As we said our goodnights with genuine warmth, I could not find any comparison to pre-election day evening in the Untied States.  This unprecedented election seemed to generate no open emotions.  The world was full of talk and analysis of the winds of change in the Soviet Union, but to me I had to suppress my excitement in order to blend into this rather quiet Saturday night in Kyiv.

The old, small, dark apartment house elevator carried us to the first floor and Maxym drove Nadia, Bohdan and me back to the hotel by way of Taras Shevchenko’s statue a block or two from his apartment.

Passing Revolution Square on Khryschatyk Street, local militia on the side of the street signaled Maxym to pull over.  After getting out to confer with the officers, he returned to tell us simply that it was a routine documents check.  It seemed quite normal to Maxym.

The hotel accommodations were best described as Soviet – no point in elaborating.  The Dnipro was supposed to be a first class Soviet accommodation (perhaps for non-Communist dignitaries.)  We used to describe it as camping indoors.  I was glad Nadia had insisted I bring my own towel.

Sunday, March 4, Kyiv – Election Day

Maybe next year I will tell the story in detail but it was a packed day.  Bullets:

  • Hanging over the Rukh headquarters was the still very illegal blue and yellow Ukrainian flag.  After the massive January hands-across-Ukraine demonstration when, for the first time in decades, the blue and yellow flag appeared in the hands of the people lined up from Lviv to Kyiv Drach was called by the head of the KGB and told “Enough, bring the flag down” to which Drach replied, “We will see”. (It never came down.)
  • Rukh headquarters was pretty quiet during much of the day – there were people there but apparently most were out “in the field”.
  • With reports of possible election law violations we – usually Walter and Myron in one direction and Nadia, Bohdan and me in another with our Rukh “guide” Boris Tymoshenko.
  • We didn’t see any outrageous violations but things were quite lax.
  • We seldom saw any tight control of ballots, including those that had been filled in.      
  • At one polling station at a hospital there were not voters when we arrived.  But once we were announced down the halls came people single file to vote, must not showing identification but stating their names. After voting some went outside in their pajamas to smoke.
  • At some polling stations officials engaged Nadia and Bohdan in conversation and delayed their entrance into the polling place.  I, on the other hand maybe too big to step in front of and unable to reach with language routinely walked right in with the video camera recording everything – even a couple of times individuals actually marking their ballots.
  • At several of the polling places we were sent to the complaint had been that Rukh poll watchers had not been allowed into the polling station.  We had no official capacity but we always were let inside, at least I was in every case.  But truly significant election violations are seldom easy to identify in the open.
  • Rick Inderfurth, ABC’s Moscow correspondent and his producer and cameraman showed up at one point and joined us at one polling station where there was animated discussions regarding allowing Rukh poll watchers into the polling place.
  • When the polling was closed we had dinner with Boris’ family and then headed back to Rukh headquarters. It appeared the tracking and tabulating of election results had been turned over the youth of the movement.  The activity was furious.
  • In that first round of the election very few candidates won an outright majority and would not have to face a runoff.  Of the twenty or so who had won a majority every single one had been supported by Rukh.  Ivan Drach and Mikhailo Horyn had won in Lviv.  All of the top leadership of Rukh had won outright.  Not winning was the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine, Volodymyr Ivashko.  Rukh had not seriously opposed Ivashko but he only made it to the run off.  
  • 84% of the electorate voted on March 4.
  • I must note that Nadia – a veteran of many American campaign operations was taken aback by the fact that among all the work going on at headquarters there was no food for the youngsters working so diligently.  She went to the Dnipro Hotel about a block away and to the dining room is search of food.  The dining room was closed so she went to the kitchen and even though there were a number of people there she was told they were closed and couldn’t help.  Walter Dudycz, the state senator from Illinois was with her.  Walter reached in his pocket and gathered the chef and kitchen workers around him and showed them a ball-point pen he had.  When the pen was held upright there was the image of an attractive woman but if you then turned it upside down and back upright the woman was naked.  He said he had a pen for each of them if they would get Nadia the food she wanted.  Nadia’s little brigade fixed and delivered a very nice selection of food to the Rukh headquarters.

Monday, March 5, the day after the first round polling

Most of the morning was spent at headquarters still getting and analyzing the results. In addition there was significant discussion with us about the nuclear power generation issues in Ukraine.  The environmental dynamic was very much part of the Rukh-Democratic Bloc movement.

They did not believe the rigid, oppressive, compartmentalized Soviet bureaucracy capable of handling efficiently and effectively the force and danger of atomic power.  That power had to be seized from “the Center” (Moscow).

In the afternoon we joined a significant delegation of the Rukh leadership at the Writer’s Union building. It was fascinating as it brought into focus so many unique and contradictory qualities of Rukh, the lives of different individuals had led over the last forty years, their differences and their commonality – different ethnicities, Communists, life-long dissidents, Gulag survivors….

That meeting would take pages-and-pages alone and must be left for a different time.  But, in the context of our – Nadia and me – getting a genuine feel, understanding of the Rukh leadership and the faith they put in us to express views back in Washington over the next few years, I note that in a huge conference room where everyone was positioning themselves Drach forcefully had us sit next to him and across the table with Horyn.

March 6th

After arriving at Rukh headquarters we were urged into the executive office and to take seats at the table.  This was a meeting of the Grand Council of Rukh and the issue on the table was whether Rukh should announce that it was becoming the first non-Communist political party in the Soviet Union.  The active participants were led by Dmytro Pavychko and included Ivan Drach, Mykhailo Horyn, Halyna Petrivna, and, as it turned out, four Americans and one Australian traveling in Kyiv on tourist visas.

Drach - - Horyn - - Pavychko

My God, between the time I handed out materials for Barry Goldwater in 1964 and when I felt my beliefs were captured accurately buy Ronald Reagan’s calling the Soviet Union an “Evil Empire” I never would have thought I would be sitting in the largest of the “Captive Nations” discussing the formation of a non-Communist political party to challenge the power of Moscow and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Translations could not keep up and subtleties surely were lost but I think I sensed moods, issues, and the debate and somehow at Drach’s request, I was involved in the discussion.

  • Rukh needed to keep pace with developments, provide leadership, guidance, and purpose. During the campaign people had asked for Rukh to become a political party.  If Rukh did not take this action, Helsinki or the Greens, or someone else within the Democratic Bloc might do so.  It was Rukh’s role to lead.
  • In forming a party the Communist Party members, Drach, Pavlychko, Yavorivsky, et al. would be publicly denouncing their Communist Party membership, there would be no turning back.  Although turning back as an option had probably long since been lost in their minds – this denunciation would be public, final and official.
  • This was March 6 and the Congress of People’s Deputies in the Soviet Union had not yet met on or approved the proposal to amend the Communist Party’s role in Soviet life.  A non-Communist political party was not yet legal.
  • Was this the proper time?
  • Horyn, a major force in the Helsinki Union and the one who had heard the challenges to Rukh’s role and standing at a meeting the previous night questioned the timing of establishing Rukh as a political party.  Many factors were hard to reconcile into any neat package kept the contextual background of the discussion a bit fuzzy in my mind.
  • Pavlychko was a forceful advocate. Dramatic gestures and a full throated voice emphasize his personality and beliefs – no self-doubt.  Curiously to me Drach sat to the side.  The President of Rukh did not speak often and at times almost seemed a non-participant.  However, when he did speak there was silence and everyone paid attention.  It was fascinating to watch. Drach did not offer long or particularly deep comments.  His were more modifications and contextual observations, yet when his voice was heard everything else stopped.
  • Bohdan Futey pointed out that Rukh as a political party would be a new and different factor in the minds of Ukrainian-Americans – it has been one thing for Ukrainian-Americans to send support for Rukh as an “umbrella” organization of the democratic movement, as a political party it would highlight the divisions within the movement. (As he made the point I could not help but think about the fact that the Ukrainian Congress Committee was refusing to support Rukh, as I understood it because it included Communists.)

At one point a young person from the outer room brought in the Rukh telephone and plugged it into the wall; there was a call for Pavlychko.  Pavlychko or someone commented that the listening device had arrived.  Everyone chuckled but the meeting went on although clearly everyone contemplated surveillance and accepted it.

Nadia and Bohdan urged unity and Myron, a quiet and thoughtful observer, made it clear the decisions were theirs – Rukh’s – to make but that unity was very important.

Asked by Drach what I was thinking I suggested it would be good to consider the form of government they wished to achieve before they let feelings and events lead them to the possibility of a large number of political parties – the way differences were to be handled now cold necessarily influence the form of government their efforts would lead to.  The choices were theirs but on the one hand say a two party system could be one outcome, or a multi-party system – premier and coalition government with the coalition an on-going dynamic.  Majority rule would be easier in the context of large broad-based parties with divergence factions.

The debate continued and Pavlychko offered language for an announcement that Rukh was to become a political party.  I offered the idea that if Rukh was to become a political party it use the time between making and announcing the decision to build the largest possible consensus – define itself as a party concerned with independence, the environment, the economy, human rights, etc. and state its hope that there not be a lot of splinter parties, narrowly defined.  

Despite the many wins in the election of deputies to the parliament unity was critical, I reminded “you have not defeated the common enemy” it would not seem now is the time to divide forces, you mutual interest and common objective is to defeat the Communist Party and break Moscow’s control.

[Obviously, my notes record best what was said in English and translated to the meeting. It was harder to keep up with the back-and-forth not in English. However I did feel, and later it was essentially confirmed by Drach and Horyn, that I had become very tuned in on the views of the people engaged in the conversations – sensing accurately their approach and views.]

Eventually they determined to issue a statement declaring Rukh’s intention to form a political party in the future.  Unstated in the declaration, but discussed were timetable options that ranged from April to October.

A proposed statement was read by Pavlychko, denouncing the Communist Party, reflecting a concept of federalism, and calling for independence and declaring intent and purpose. Among other things the statement called upon the Communist Party to take responsibility for the 1932033 famine – the Holodomor – the destruction of Ukraine’s intelligencia, deportations, repressions, the policy of Russification, economic decline, and ecological disasters (Chornobyl was never far from any of their minds.)

Being invested in the discussion I suggested they include specifically an extended hand to the other factions of the democratic bloc asking that they consider meeting with Rukh to discuss elements of the Rukh legislative/governing platform and Rukh’s desire to achieve a majority for governance.  The leaders, including Pavlychko, like the idea and He edited the declaration as I dictated through the translation of Nadia and Bohdan.

The meeting agreed to the statement and I asked Pavlychko to read the entire, edited statement so I could get it video recorded.  He did so with Horyn sitting to his left and Nadia to Horyn’s left.  Pavlychko then left to get it typed.

At that moment Mykhailo Horbal of the Helsinki Union joined the meeting and there was a concern he might be unhappy about Rukh stepping out on the political party issue but he seemed fine with it saying that if Rukh had not taken the step the Helsinki Union would have.

Pavlychko returned, signed the declaration, and secured Drach’s signature along with others.  I watched as I recorded Drach and Pavlychko affixing their signatures.  Perhaps this was only a formality, but there was no certainty in the USSR, there were historic forces at play but the old system remained clearly visible.

I couldn’t help but wonder if what I was watching would in time be a Ukrainian version of our signing of the Declaration of Independence.  In their detailed denunciation of the Communist Party were there Party members putting their entire future on the line?

Horyn wanted an acknowledgement the Helsinki Union was critical to the success of the effort before signing. Horyn got this from Drach and Pavlychko and signed. Halyna Petrivna was given the task of obtaining signatures of other Rukh officers including the still missing Yavorivsky before the declaration would be published.

I didn’t say anything but wondered how the official denunciation of the Communist Party would affect Drach’s, Pavlychko’s and Yavorivsky’s standing in the Writer’s Union.  From the Helsinki Union perspective these signatures may have been logical and essentially symbolic but this was the Soviet Union.

The meeting had been going on for over three hours and to hurry to get to a private meeting I had requested with leaders of Kyiv’s Jewish community.  Nadia, Bohdan and Myron joined me.

In the United States much had recently been written about antisemitism in the Soviet Union.  Certainly, The Washington Post and The New York Times had not long before published lengthy articles about the antisemitism of Pamyat, nationalist movement in Russia.  Both articles included what were essentially throw-away lines saying Rukh in Ukraine was the same.

We had read Rukh’s platform and their decrees denouncing antisemitism but wanted to hear what Jewish leaders of the remaining 600,000 Ukrainian Jews had to say.

The meeting had been arranged for us in the missing Yavorivsk’s office at the Writer’s Union.

The meeting with a dozen men began with their selected leader, Grigory Polyanker, telling us they see Kyiv as one of the centers of Hebrew culture.  He named writers and artists who came from Kyiv saying their’ s were major contributions to Hebrew cultural growth. He said that Jews had lived in Ukraine for over a thousand years and said Ukraine was their home, they are Ukrainian-Jews and proud Ukrainians.

After his introduction he named and gave a quick resume for each of his colleagues, mostly writers, Alexandria Schlajen, a film director, a publisher and at least one an engineer.

Then we introduced ourselves and explained what had been published about Rukh in the United States – the alleged similarities between Pamyt and Rukh and there was no need of translating the group response – No, no, no.  They pounded their chests saying, “We are Rukh, we are Rukh”.

They explained that Rukh had one of the first, if not the first organization to denounce and condemn antisemitism.  “Rukh is a healthy soul”.

The fascinating meeting continued for quite some time and my notes bring back extraordinary and very friendly discussions.

Eventually we all went our separate ways and our little group went off to a very late lunch.  We then went down Khryschatyk Street  (Famous for the Maidan demonstrations years later) to the Kyiv City Hall to observe a 5PM demonstration in support of the ten students still in jail.

The demonstrators and their large group of supporters were doing the exact same thing the students had been doing when they were arrested and jailed.

Nadia had been talking each day to Mrs. Yavorivsky but there still was no word where he was although he had called her to say he had made the run-off in the district where he was on the ballot.  

Nadia and Bohdan were still checking with Customs authorities hoping to get their still missing luggage.

At Rukh headquarters we learned authorities had finally agreed to release the students the following day.

1990 – Obviously, I skipped a day – March 6 -- though it was quite full – with a trip to the airport to see if Nadia’s or Futey’s luggage had arrived – it had, a week late.  Personal luggage made it through Customs but all the boxes for Rukh were to be held.  We demanded an inventory so Rukh would have it for a multi-day effort to get things cleared.  At Rukh headquarters Horyn was on the phone highly agitated.  Authorities had released all but three of the students, keeping them in custody in violation of the agreement reached the night before.  Horyn advised the authorities a new demonstration would begin in the afternoon and continue until they were released. Eventually we headed to the hotel to pack and passing City Hall the demonstration was underway, similar to earlier but with more militia. Horyn emerged from the building, the officials were not budging.  With an ever-present twinkle in his eye Horyn discussed the situation and then he and Nadia (mostly he and Nadia) returned to a discussion about holding the Democratic Bloc together and not fragmenting which now seemed more likely as the Helsinki Union was talking about becoming a party. More troops arrived, an official came out of City Hall, Horyn engaged him and a crowd encircled them. Our time was running out, we have to get our bags – we left, where were the other Rukh leaders?  As Horyn acknowledged our waves we left the former long-time political prisoner from Lviv confronting Kyiv officials alone. At the hotel Yavorivsky had arrived and want us to have dinner with he, his wife and daughter.  Time was short but he said he would get us to the train in time. Yavorivsky had much to tell us including significant analysis regarding Gorbachev’s wanting a presidency with the allusion of democracy but with no democratic foundation – he would keep the power to veto legislative acts of the republics and the power to appoint the chief officer of each republic…. We did get to the train station but it was tight, the train was rolling as our last bag was pulled aboard.  On to Lviv.

Now, on to March 7 - International Women’s Day a holiday – Lviv region Ukraine.  Nadia and I were still in Ukraine and this was to be “family day” as her family was from the region. Dr. Ihor Komarnyckyj, her cousin of some degree picked us up at out Lviv hotel and we took off toward Nadia’s father’s village and her mother’s small town.

To tell this whole story there is needed here a flashback – to the Spring of 1988:

Preparations were underway for the Reagan-Gorbachev Summit in Moscow and Nadia had been deeply involved in the preparation of the Millennium of Christianity in Ukraine.

As now the Kremlin was fully engaged in propaganda and false historical narratives taking full advantage of America’s inability to distinguish between “Russia” and the “Soviet Union” and having almost no understanding of Ukraine.  Gorbachev was pushing for the Summit to be at the same time as his celebration of the Millennium of Christianity in the Soviet Union and had invited religious leaders from all across the globe.  The brazenness was almost funny: Come to our atheistic, Communist empire to help us celebrate our Christian heritage.  But many in the gullible of the religious world bought into the pitch.

Many in Washington went to work to promote the genuine Ukrainian Millennium and to try to make sure President Reagan did not participate in the Kremlin’s charade – among them Nadia, Irene Jarosewich, Katya Chumachenko (later Yushchenko), Myron Wasylyk, Orest Deychakiwsky and Bohdan Futey – and me.  Visits and letters to Congress and more.

Congress did pass a resolution calling for no United States official to attend any millennium event in Moscow unless the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church were legalized (religion was suppressed in the Soviet Union but the two Ukrainian churches were to only ones made illegal).  Pope John Paul II declined Gorbachev’s invitation unless he would be allowed to visit and celebrate the Millennium with his “flock” in Ukraine.

Nevertheless, the Kremlin’s summit plans continued to include millennium events. The Kremlin backed off pitching it as the Soviet millennium and started arguing it was the Russian millennium, a line bought by far too many.  Good grief, a thousand years ago there was no Russia and what later became Muscovy was nothing more than a forest with bears and wolves.

Obviously, Gorbachev wanted, among other things, to have the photo-op of Reagan involved with the phony Soviet millennium.  We made our objective seeing that did not happen.

We had meetings with White House staff. I pushed – maybe to their limits – my relationships with staff with whom I had served in the first term - - phone calls, one-on-one meetings, and more.  Tommy Griscom, then Director of White House Communications, seemed intent of the summit taking place on Gorbachev’s schedule and painted for me the picture of how great it would be for President Reagan to meet with Refuseniks at the Danilov Monastery.  My reply – first, just a couple of years earlier that monastery was a Soviet juvenile prison and, second, Refuseniks were essentially Jews who were denied permission to emigrate, primarily to Israel – what could that have to do with an event celebrating Christianity? Sure whenever in Moscow the President should meet with Refuseniks but should also demand to see representatives of the two outlawed Ukrainian churches.

Eventually two things happened.  The White House suggested a meeting at the White House with the heads of the two Ukrainian churches and asked for names of people from the two churches who might be invited to meet with Reagan in Moscow.

A meeting was set for the President to meet with Cardinal Myroslav Lubachivsky of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and Patriarch Msytyslav (correct transliteration) aka Msytyslav Skrypnyk, head of the of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in exile.  Nadia and I took the two Church leaders to lunch at the Hay Adams Hotel across from the White House before their meeting with Reagan.  There we briefed them on the complicated on-going effort with the White House explaining, among other things, that surely no one had briefed the President on any of our objections and the critical point that the Millennium was Ukraine’s not the Soviet Union’s or Russia’s.

The Church leaders’ met with the President and discussed the entire issue with him, and urged him not to have the summit when Gorbachev could tie the President of the United States to the phony religious celebration.  He agreed not to have the summit at the same time (and it was eventually several weeks before Gorbachev’s millennial events).

Bohdan Futey, as Chairman of the Organizational Committee of the United States Committee to Celebrate the Ukrainian Millennium, and Nadia, as Chair of the Committee’s Government Relations, delivered to Reagan’s National Security Advisor, Colin Powell, the names of some Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox who could be invited to see Reagan when he would be in Moscow.

The names were accepted and some of those individuals then met with the President at what turned out to be a fabulous meeting in Spaso House in Moscow. (A few were taken off the train before it reached Moscow and never got to the meeting.)

Now fast forward to a small road in Lviv region of Ukraine – March 8, 1990.

As Ihor Komarnyckyj drove through the small, poor, rural village of Medenychi, we saw something and asked Ihor to stop.

Across from the village school with its obligatory statue of Lenin, a number of men and boys were building a church.

We walked to the site and beyond the construction was a very old wooden church that we learned had been built in 1662. It was leaning over so far it had been abandoned a long time ago.  We learned the old church and the one under construction were both Ukrainian Catholic.

We met the “foreman” of the volunteer crew who took us on a tour fascinated we had come all the way from the United States.

The foreman started telling the history of the church and Nadia translated: “In 1939 the parishioners set out to build a new parish church.  The foundation was laid but then the Soviet Army, an occupying force, moved into western Ukraine and religion was forbidden, the construction was stopped and the foundation was left untouched.

“Then in 1988 your President Reagan went to Moscow to meet Gorbachev.  While there he met with Ukrainian religious dissidents at your Embassy and they included Ukrainian Catholics.  We took that as a sign that changes were underway and began to plan the completion of our church. Last year we started construction on the old foundation and we will finish this fall.”

We could not believe it – there were tears in our eyes.

Here in Medenychi, Ukraine, we were being told our almost forgotten political struggle with White House staff and our President subsequent meeting had made a profound difference in the lives of the people in this small parish.  There were no words.

After 50 years of repression, word of a brief Moscow meeting had given these people the sign for which they had waited.  There was no way to explain our role, we could only applaud their efforts and leave a financial donation for their building fund.

Before we left the parish priest arrived beaming with pride as we admired their new church.

We thanked God for the opportunity to have this experience and learn that some of our seemingly isolated, inside the Beltway, struggles actually make a difference in people’s lives.

A couple of years later a dear friend was in western Ukraine and went to Medenychi and took a picture of the finished Church.  From her picture I drew the Church and it was the front of our family Christmas card that year.

From Medenychi we went on to Nadia’s parents’ hometowns and an extraordinary visit with relatives that included a critical missing piece to a conversation we (Nadia) had with Cardinal Josf Slipyj in about 1968 in Los Angeles  – ah, but a story for another time.

1990 - - - This was the last day of my first trip to Ukraine.  It was packed with many interesting and fascinated events stories about which will have to await another time.  I will say it ended with us boarding a 9pm overnight train to Budapest - - On the train several Soviet agents took me off in the middle of the night.  These grim, armed fellows walked me along a dirt path into a dark forest for quite some time to a small building where some sort of official searched my briefcase looking a copied of Ukraine’s election law, my notes and check book,  as I sat on a bench flanked by two fellows holding Kalashnikovs. [Soviet officials really had a hatred for the printed word.]  No one had said a word since I was escorted off the train and I had no idea if the train had left or – what?. Eventually I was motioned to follow my armed escorts back into the forest down another dirt path in another direction.  Finally I saw the train and Nadia hanging out a window.  “Are you OK?”  “Well, no rubber hoses” was my reply relieved to have ended that experience of having no control whatsoever over what was going to happen..  Finally the train moved on and I had more to think about as to the lives people lived in the Soviet Union.  [Just FYI – my typed notes of the six day trip to Ukraine are about 140 pages long.]