During Soviet times, this place was cynically attempted to turn into an institution, in which corridors children are walking and learning music. Prison cells became studying rooms, the hall was decorated with a huge picture of violinists… However, spooky story “leaked” through the blood-stained firm walls and violinists from the picture in the lobby were played a very sad melody. No matter how they tried to rebrand the building, it will be the Lutsk prison forever. Nowadays there is a monastery there. Severe building in the old part of Lutsk is a thing, even a mention of which still causes heated discussions.
From the monastery of Bridgettines to the torture cell for Ukrainians.
The one who erected these floors could not even imagine into what they would turn for many of his future descendants. A magnificent building is situated in the heart of the historic and cultural reserve “Old Lutsk”. For more than four centuries it covered the way from the monastery of the righteous from the most prestigious Catholic Order of Bridgettine to the bloody chambers for the patriots.
The building was built on the basis of the palace of one of the Radziwill princes. Albert Radziwill was a Lutsk main man. Almost four centuries ago, he gave away his palace for the monastery of the Order of St. Bridget. In a while, construction was substantially enlarged. That way the church and cells for nuns appeared. In the XVII-XVIII centuries, besides the monastery, there was a school for orphan girls and noble Lutsk girls. The Bridgettine monastery survived several fires, the last of which (in May 1845) would change the fate of these walls.
“Once again, on May 17, 1845 fire element destroys the “Old City”: government agencies, temples, bourgeois houses all of them are burning. The guilt for heavy losses is transferred to nuns-bridgettines. They hadn’t let the firefighters into the monastery, where the roof was set on fire. Through the wind a fire spread through the whole city. This intensified the struggle against the Polish imperial policy: by decree of the Senate, huge funds were confiscated for damage, and soon the monastery of St. Bridget itself ceased to exist. The house of the main building is used for police department and post office with apartments for the employees”, that way reflected on this place the most famous convict of the Lutsk prison Mykola Kudelya. During his lifetime he visited these cells several times after it he left invaluable evidence of these walls.
Police station becomes a district prison. Back then, Lutsk was under the Russian Empire. Later, after Poland’s independence, Volhynian prisoners who fought for Ukrainian state were tortured behind these walls. During the Soviet rule (since 1939), the Lutsk prison was a torture place for OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) members and those accused of sympathy for everything Ukrainian.
Music of history: at first they shot down thousands of people here and then they taught how to play the works of Chopin.
The worst page from the past was in June 1941. Thousands of Volhynians fall behind bars of the Lutsk prison. It locks not only criminal convicts, but also local dissidents, mostly young people from the neighboring villages, who are suspected of having ties to the OUN.
“Since the beginning of 1940, mass deportations, arrests, and murders had begun in Volhynia. To Lutsk they brought all “unwelcomed” from all the corners of Volhyn. The archive documents show that on June 10, 1941, 2 171 prisoners were detained in the Lutsk prison. Among them are patriotic youth, activists of the OUN, clerics, representatives of scientific and creative elite. All of them supposed to be evacuated to Vologda and Astrakhan. For this purpose 75 cars were allocated. On June 22, at about 14.00, hostile German aviation bombed the Lutsk prison. At the end of the bombing, prisoners started the rebellion. But only a few were lucky to escape. To catch the fugitives the NKVD squads were sent. They shot people on places or returned them to the prison,” historian Lesya Bondaruk said.
The following day thousands of prisoners were shot under these walls. Only a few people went out of this slaughter house alive. The remaining parts of the bodies were buried in several pits on the territory of the former monastery. Corpses were cowered with calx. To this day we still don’t know where these remains are. That way on the territory of Lutsk prison, the NKVD, by the order of Beria, performed so-called liquidation of the captives that could not be evacuated deep into the USSR.
In 2017, the land gave away one of these terrible graves. When they were repairing the road under the entrance to the former prison, the bones had been found. After excavation it became clear that this is only one of the many pits with corpses. There are more than a hundred deceased in it. The overwhelming majority are men from 18 to 20, of age less than 40 years old. Also there are remnants of clothing and shoes. After exhumation, these remains were reburied in the yard of the prison, in the crypt next to memorial plaques bearing the names of the executed. Every year on June 23, to commemorate the dead events take place.
In a little while, it was 1958, when officials of Soviet Ukraine decided to place a musical school in the walls of the Lutsk prison. So, in these walls, until 1998, they taught beautiful things to children, no matter how cynical it sounds.
Barn-cell and jail “eye” from the past
The last ten years here is the Castle of the Holy Archangel Monastery of the UOC-KP (Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate).
Inside the building it’s rarely you can see somebody with a camera. Even when there was a music school in these walls, part of the room was locked. The interior of the monument of national importance, which is in urgent need for reconstruction, still reminds us of its recent past. In the hall from the entrance side you still can see a huge picture with painted musicians. In the rooms, and before the cells, there are remnants of furniture from the classrooms. Nowadays corridors and side rooms are filled with trash, which remained after repair works of the monastic part of the building.
“Corridor warden with a bunch of keys calls the first five people. To each of us he handles cloth made of overcoat leftovers. Then he brings us to the end of the corridor and orders everyone to kneel and rub the floor with those rugs from right to the left as far as their arms can reach. The calculation is that five of us, occupy the entire width of the corridor and, on our way forward on the knees under the cries of the jailer: “Rub firmly!”, we’re “glittering” the floor. If any of us did not press a rug with all of his strength, the supervisor beat his back with the keys. In my turn, I was so weak and exhausted for 22 days of my “stance” that I got the most hits. The corridor was long; it stretched for several dozen meters. You had to crawl through it on your knees way and back. After that not only the floor that was shining, but your knees were bleeding as well. The most I was impressed by the fact that this ill-fated floor was made of rough pine floorboards, whose age, probably, reached the nuns of the St. Brigitte Monastery. This floor was so wiped off and rubbed, with “ridges” that only resinous, firm like steel, knots were sticking out to the surface, like mushrooms on the edge of the forest. It was a true historical museum relic – this old floor. However, soon new NKVD “owners” replaced it with concrete-cement. In sake of stronger humidity…” – that way Mykola Kudelya was recalling the corridors of the prison.
The prison past is “evidenced” by bars on the windows and even strange peepholes that once served as a tool for watching what’s going on in the other room.
Part of the building is occupied by a monastery it was reconstructed and monastic cells were arranged there. In 2012, within these walls the church was opened. It was named after new martyrs and righteous men of the twentieth century. Every day you can hear a prayer that commemorates the victims who died under these walls.
According to the dean of the monastery hieromonk Arseniy, the church is located in one of the common cells. According to some information, it was these walls where people were tortured during interrogations. In the center of the temple you can see an icon. It was exclusively painted by Lutsk artist Vplodymyr Zhupanyuk. Virgin Mary looks at you from the icon. Around her there are images of the saints, who are especially honored in Volhynia and also Lutsk prisoners behind them there are the walls of old Lutsk.
Right here, in temple, you can see a punishment cell. It was excavated during the resettlement of the temple. A small room was completely sealed with earth. Doors buried into the wall leaded to it. The current owners of the building think that precisely through these doors prisoners entered the prison. Inside there is destroyed brickwork that can testify to the fact that grenades were thrown there during the shooting of 1941.
Now, the former punishment cell keeps only silent jars of pickles and tinned tomatoes. Monks use it as a cellar for simple products. The entrance to the punishment cellar is covered with a white linen curtain.
Fate of the monument is still not decided. Volhynian historians, public figures, eyewitnesses of 1941 events and relatives of people executed here believe that within these walls there should be a place for Museum. However, this project requires substantial investments. And in the meantime, both in temple and in prison-convent, the prayer performed by the monks of the castle’s Holy Archangel Monastery is tirelessly sung. Now, there are seven of them. That’s fine, because it seems that these walls are bagging for purification. After all that they lived through.
Text by Olena Livitska
Photo by Pavlo Berezyuk