On January 17, 1977, we were informed by dissidents in Moscow that Ukrainian political prisoner Vasyl Petrovych Fedorenko, who has been on a hunger strike since December 10, 1975, was driven by the cruel treatment of the Vladimir Prison administrators to make an attempt to end his life by self-immolation.
Prison guards “saved” his life by dousing him with scalding hot water.
Vasyl Fedorenko was born in 1928 in Ukraine and worked as a locksmith. He was first arrested in 1959 on charges of “anti-Soviet propaganda.” While serving his first sentence in Vladimir Prison he undertook a 282-day hunger strike in protest against his illegal incarceration. He was arrested a second time in 1967 and released in 1972.
In 1974 he sent a statement to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in which he renounced his Soviet citizenship and appealed for permission to emigrate. Fedorenko’s sister, Valentyna Horvath (married name), lives in West Germany.
On September 16, 1974, Fedorenko crossed the Soviet border but was returned to the USSR by Czechoslovak authorities. There he was initially offered the following compromise: a year and a half of detention in a psychiatric prison hospital if he admitted that his views were pathological.
In September 1975, Fedorenko was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment for “anti-Soviet propaganda” and “treason.” During his trial he declared his opposition to Soviet colonial policies and spoke about the right of Ukraine to be an independent state.
On April 26, 1975, he announced a hunger strike against his illegal conviction. The hunger strike lasted ninety-eight days. On December 10, 1975, the day of a general hunger strike by inmates of Vladimir Prison, he began a hunger strike of unspecified duration as a sign of protest against the violation of the Declaration of Human Rights in the USSR and against the anti-Ukrainian policies of the Soviet government.
On February 1, 1976, all political prisoners in Vladimir Prison conducted a hunger strike in solidarity with Fedorenko. There soon followed a series of punishments and tortures: solitary confinements, discontinuation of forced feeding, forcible binding, the prohibition of mustaches (a matter of tradition for Ukrainians), which were forcibly shaved off.
Fedorenko’s unprecedented hunger strike continues into its second year, as do the tortures and punishments inflicted upon him.
We attribute the worsening of the regime, the terror in the prisons and labor camps of the USSR, to the one-sidedness of detente, to the unprincipled stance of Western governments, which enter into detente on terms set by Brezhnev and Andropov, who need Western economic help but not the Western freedoms of information or conscience—elementary human rights which have long existed in bourgeois democratic countries.
We appeal to you—people of conscience, democrats, civic organizations, churches, trade-unions—save our comrades, save Vasyl Fedorenko.
Struggle for the realization of Amnesty International’s call to “Free prisoners of conscience in all countries.”
Paris, January 20, 1977
Those wishing to write letters protesting the treatment of Vasyl Fedorenko should write to:
uchr. OD-1, ST-2
Embassy of the USSR
1125 16th Street NW
Washington, DC 20036