Ukrainian Uniate clergy who were victims of stalinist repression


RISU, 20 January 2016


Only after 24 years of Ukrainian independence has the prosecutor's office of Kiev finally rehabilitated two bishops and three priests of the Greek Catholic Church, whom soviet authorities repressed for "treason to the motherland" and "counterrevolution." Ukraine needs a new law "On rehabilitation," the initiator of the appeal to the prosecutor's office emphasizes. This was reported by the press center of the Center for Study of the Liberation Movement.


Bishops Iosafat Kotsilovsky and Grigory Lakota and priests Nikolai Gritseliak, Ivan Kuzich, and Roman Resetilo were sentenced by a military tribunal of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Ukrainian district to terms of 4 to 10 years in corrective labor camps. All, other than Lakota, were convicted under article 54-1a ("treason to the motherland") and 54-11 ("participation in a counterrevolutionary organization") of the Criminal Code of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (Ukr.SSR). Grigory Lakota was convicted on articles 54-4 ("giving aid to the international bourgeoisie") and 54-11.


According to the account of soviet investigations, the sacred fathers allegedly "on instructions of the Vatican . . . created a variety of organizations and educational institutions where they trained cadres for struggle with the soviet authorities. After the occupation of Peremyshl by German troops, clergy and believers were urged to provide comprehensive aid to the German invaders."


The request for the rehabilitation of the priests was first sent to the prosecutor's office in 1995. However at that time it was left without response simply because the director of the Department for Rehabilitation of the prosecutor general of Ukraine, E.A. Naletov, recommended not to make a decision on the case for a while "because of existing circumstances and until the convicts, their relatives, or representatives of the church appealed for a reconsideration of the case."


"The delay in the rehabilitation of the fathers for 20 years was the result of the reluctance of the personnel of the prosecutor's office at the time to make the pertinent decision, although not a single objective evidence of a crime was indicated," the deputy director of the branch state archive of the SBU [Ukrainian Security Service], Vladimir Birchak, explains. "Such cases in the SBU archive are not unique. Only free access for the public to archival documents, which the adoption of 'decommunizing' laws helped to make it possible to investigate such cases and, with whatever delay, still rehabilitate these people. I think that the rehabilitation of people who fought for an independent Ukraine, but for certain reasons have still not been rehabilitated, will continue in the future."


The new application for rehabilitation in early September 2015 was the result of a joint initiative of the administration of the branch state archive of the SBU (the director, Igor Kulik, and his deputy Vladimir Birchak), the rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University, Father Dr. Bogdan Prakh, personnel of the Institute of the History of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and the head of the mission of postulants of saints of the UGKTs, Rev. Polikarp Martseliuk of the order of St. Basil the Great.


The prosecutor's office of the city of Kiev drew the conclusion that in accordance with article 1 of the Ukrainian law "On rehabilitation of victims of political repressions in Ukraine" (of 17 April 1991), the priests were rehabilitated.


"The Ukrainian law 'On rehabilitation of victims of political repressions in Ukraine' was adopted back in 1991 by the Supreme Soviet of the Ukr.S.S.R. It did not provide complete grounds for the rehabilitation of those who fought for an independent Ukraine. Therefore today it is extremely necessary to adopt a new law which expands the list of persons who may be rehabilitated and, finally, give the possibility for all fighters for the freedom of Ukraine to be ethically evaluated and supported in their activity against the totalitarian soviet system," noted the initiator of the presentation of the request for the rehabilitation of the priests, Igor Kulik, who is the former director of the branch state archive of the SBU (2014-2015) and a member of the working group of scholars and representatives of the public who worked for changes in this law. (tr. by PDS, posted 20 January 2016)


Background information:


Bishops Josafat Kotsilovsky and Grigory Lakota, who died in camps of the GULAG, are today recognized as martyr-saints.


Martyr-saint Josafat Kotsilovsky (1876-1947): He was born 3 March 1876 in the Lemko village of Pakoshevka near the city of Sianok. He completed theological studies in Rome in 1907 and then, on 9 October of that year, he received priestly ordination. He soon was appointed vice-rector and professor of theology of the ecclesiastical seminary in Stanislavov. In 1911 he entered the novitiate of the Basilian fathers. His Episcopal ordination occurred on 23 September 1917 in Peremyshl immediately after the return of Metropolitan Andrei Sheptitsky from Russian imprisonment. In September 1945 he was arrested by Polish communist authorities and on 26 June 1946, after a second arrest, he was deported to the USSR and cast into a Kiev prison. Throughout his life the vladyka was steadfast in ministry and affirmation of the faith of Christ and in its increase in human souls. He died a martyr for the faith on 17 November 1947 in the Chapaev concentration camp near Kiev.


Martyr-saint Grigory Lakota (1883-1950): He was born 31 January 1883 in the village of Golodovka in the Lvov region. He graduated from the Lvov ecclesiastical seminary. On 30 August 1908, Bishop Konstantin Chekhovich ordained him a priest. He received higher education in Vienna. Then he was appointed a professor in the Peremyshl ecclesiastical seminary and in time he became its rector. On 6 May 1926 he was ordained a bishop and became an assistant bishop in Peremyshl. On 9 June 1946 he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison. All who remembered the vladyka in exile in Vorkuta mentioned his great humanity, humility, and desire to perform the heaviest work and to alleviate unbearable conditions of life for others. He died as a martyr for the faith on 12 November 1950 in the village of Abez, near Vorkuta.


Father Nikolai Gritseliak (1891-1976): He was born in 1891 in the village of Barych in Peremyshl district. He graduated from the Lvov ecclesiastical seminary. In 1917 he was ordained a priest at the hands of Bishop I. Kotsilovsky. He pastored in Peremyshl and its environs. In 1946 he was deported to the Ukr.S.S.R. He stayed in Lvov. For refusal to be "reunited" to the Russian Orthodox Church in that same year he was arrested. In 1947 he was sentenced to 6 years corrective labor and 3 years deprivation of civil rights with confiscation of his property. He served his sentence in camps along with criminals in the Khabarovsk territory and then a special settlement in Krasnoyarsk territory. He returned to Lvov in 1955. After his release he was a vicar general of the Peremyshl diocese. He was under constant surveillance of agencies of state security. He died in Lvov in 1976 and was buried in the Yanov cemetery.


Father Ivan Kuzich (1901-1979): He was born in 1901 in the village of Nakonechnoe of Yavorov district in a family of wealthy peasants. He graduated from ecclesiastical seminary in Peremyshl and the papal university of St. Thomas. He defended a doctorate in philosophy and theology. He received priestly ordination in 1931. In 1932-1935 he was vice-rector of the Peremyshl ecclesiastical seminary and from 1945 its rector. In 1946 he was deported to the Ukr.S.S.R. He resided in Lvov, where he also was arrested in 1946 and charged under article 80-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukr.S.S.R.—"residence without permit." He was investigated in prison in Lontsk and then in the Lukianov investigative prison in Kiev. He was accused that "as a Uniate priest and member of the Peremyshl Episcopal chapter for many years he actively implemented the anti-soviet policy of the Vatican and also conducted nationalistic work." In 1947 he was convicted. He served his sentence in camps of the Krasnoyarsk territory. From 1952 he was in a special settlement in the city of Norilsk. He was released in 1956 and returned to Lvov, where he resided without a permit. Then he moved to the city of Polonne of Khmelnitsky province. He served mass underground. He died in 1979 in Polonne, where he was buried by an underground Greek Catholic priest.


Father Roman Reshetilo (1880-1952): He was born in 1880 in the city of Ugniv of the Rava-Russky district. He studied in seminaries in Lvov and Peremyshl. In 1907 he received priestly ordination from the hands of Bishop Konstantin Chekhovich. In 1907-1911 he continued theological studies in Vienna. He worked as a confessor and then as vice-rector and teacher in the Peremyshl ecclesiastical seminary. In addition, he pastored in the village of Potelich of the Ravsk deanery. From 1946 he was a vicar general of the Peremyshl diocese. In 1946 he was deported to the Ukr.S.S.R. He lived in the village of Kotelnik near Lvov. In the same year he was arrested and was jailed in Lontsk and the Lukianov prison in Kiev. In 1947 he was sentenced to 4 years corrective labor and 3 years deprivation of civil rights without confiscation of property (because he did not have any). He died in 1952 in the city of Kazachinsk, Krasnoyarsk territory, where he was serving his sentence. (tr. by PDS, posted 20 January 2016)

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