by Viktoriia Savitska
Photo: Ivan Stanislavskyi
Translation: Halyna Vyliika
Before the war, putin threatened Ukrainians that the Russians were ready to show what real decommunization means. They are ready to punish us for the demolished monuments that remind us of Soviet terror. But we didn’t throw them away, we preserved them in the museum to remember and tell the world about russia’s crimes. Olha Honchar, a cultural expert and director of the Memorial Museum of Totalitarian Regimes “Territory of Terror”, spoke about what russian terror is, how we managed to resist it and whether the russians will go further in case the Ukrainians do not stop them.
Tell us about the museum and its exposition.
The memorial museum “Territory of Terror” is located on the territory of the former ghetto and former transit prison No. 25. We are researching the Nazi and communist terror that took place in Lviv and the west of Ukraine.
Oral historical testimonies of Ukrainians who were repressed by the communist regime are an important element of our exposition and collection. We also have several exhibits and Soviet monuments that were dismantled from the public space of the city of Lviv.
Why do we preserve all these monuments for history? What can they teach us now, at this moment of the war with russia?
Dignity and freedom are ratified by our Constitution as values that are guaranteed to every Ukrainian. And more than one generation of Ukrainians fought for these values, and our museum, in particular, preserves this history. Because the history of Ukraine is a long story of resistance to a totalitarian regime. And this must be remembered, passed down from generation to generation. When we talk about a totalitarian regime, we should think of numerous stories of terror against people. Now we see this terror every day in the news feed, but at the same time, these are stories about how a person resists and remains a human in the most terrible, the darkest times.
One of the directions of our activity is the preservation of stories about how to remain human in the “dark” time of terror. I brought two publications to this meeting, they contain stories of witnesses from our collection, and in this way, we convey the truth.
They show that history has repeated itself. And it happened again primarily because the communist regime was not condemned at the international level in the same way that the Nazi regime was condemned.
These testimonies, in particular, are evidence for the upcoming trial of the communist regime. Now is also the time to collect stories and data about what is happening in Ukraine, and evidence of russia’s crimes against Ukrainians. What is happening is a continuation of many years of terror and a plan to destroy Ukraine and the Ukrainian nation.
At the same time, many stories from our exhibitions, books, and materials published on the Internet tell about how people helped each other to survive. Despite the horrible circumstances, they chose to be humans. This is happening even now. Ukrainians do not only save themselves – they save relatives, friends, and pets, and they continue to remain humans.
The introduction to this book contains my family story. In the first photo, the husband of my grandmother’s sister, he was born in Rusanivka. I come from Brovary. He studied at Chernivtsi University, he was repressed for participating in a nationalist group artificially created by the KGB. He was waiting for his deportation to the Gulag in transit prison No. 25, where I now work as the director of the museum.
And this is the answer to the question of freedom. My grandparents did not have the freedom that my generation has. And this is exactly what Ukraine is fighting for now. That is why museums like ours should work.
Has an interest in the museum increased recently?
Over the past month, I gave more than 40 interviews to foreign media and we gave many journalists the contacts of the heroes from our exposition because every day it becomes more obvious to the world that the war in Ukraine is not breaking news, but a purposeful plan to destroy Ukraine.
It is very important to understand that museum workers must have a historical distance to reflect the events currently taking place in Ukraine. We could calmly reflect on the events of the Second World War. But for now, we are those researchers who are inside the war and the trauma. Many of our friends and relatives have been killed or are still under threat, and we do not feel safe in Lviv. Therefore, our task now is to collect evidence of russian terrorism in Ukraine. But professional analysis and reflection will be able to be done only by the next generation, with the participation of international colleagues as well, because what is happening in Ukraine is not only about Ukraine – it is a test for the whole world to be human now.
Do you see parallels between what the eyewitnesses of the Soviet terror tell and what is happening now?
Methodically, all means for genocide are now being applied to the Ukrainian people. Everything, as the textbook tells, everything is happening to us – it is the killing of civilians, the destruction of cultural institutions, Ukrainian books, and books by Ukrainian historians are burned in the occupied territories.
However, the fundamental difference is that we live in a world of information technologies and crimes cannot be hidden. And we already have a lot of material for the upcoming trial. It will not be possible to erase or rewrite, as totalitarian regimes like to do.
Our main task is to survive – this is part of the work of every Ukrainian. This is not about “just being lucky”, it is about willpower, faith, work, and the ability to continue to defend all rights so that russia pays for everything it has done to Ukraine.
Russia created its own lies, believed in them, and came to our land with them, which is why it will lose this war. Because they believe in a world that doesn’t exist, it will be the end of them.
Is Ukraine all that Russia needs?
The war taking place in Ukraine shows that Russia has lost its human face and lost all human values. Everything that happens every day in Ukraine – the destruction of civilians, the rape of women and children, the destruction of animals, the burning of the land – shows that they are no longer human. As long as such a state exists and there is russian terror, no country in the world can feel safe. It is worth mentioning that not only Ukraine suffered from Russian terror, but also all former Soviet republics, so I do not believe that we will be the last.