Twenty years ago, as now, Ukraine was on the verge of presidential elections that took place, however, not in the spring, but in the autumn. A bit more than a half a year, before the first round an astonishing event took place – on March 25, 1999, one of the main candidates for the post of the head of state Viacheslav Chornovil died in a car accident. The legendary personality, the fighter for Ukraine’s independence, the dissident, the state and political activist, the journalist.
On that tragic day, Viacheslav Chornovil returned from Kropyvnytsky (former Kirovograd), and in the Kyiv region, not far from Boryspil, the road was blocked by KamAZ with a trailer. From a crash with a truck that unexpectedly began to turn around, Mr. Chornovil and his driver died immediately. The funerals of the leader of the People’s Movement of Ukraine in a few days became nearly the most crowded in Ukraine.
There is a lot of unclarified in this story. What kind of person was Mr. Chornovil? What does his spokesperson Dmytro Ponamarchuk remember about him? I turned to Mr. Ponamarchuk incidentally, because his memories of Chornovil can be read almost every day. And as Mr. Ponamarchuk emphasized, he set himself the goal of giving one or two stories on the social networks until the anniversary of Chornovil’s death. He also noted that he is not a former spokesperson, because Viacheslav Chornovil didn’t fire him. The epithet “everlasting” would be appropriate.
“Romantic, a classical idealist,” Dmytro Ponamarchuk said. “I came up with the rather paradoxical, as for me, conclusion that Vyacheslav Chornovil seemed to see himself in everyone from his environment. Here is the paradox! Maybe, he didn’t want to assume that not everyone in the world is Chornovil. In me, in comrades and peers, with whom he happened to live, work and fight, he saw himself. He couldn’t have the slightest thought that he could be treated the way he would never do. He couldn’t have imagined that somebody had sharpened the knife behind his back.
Viacheslav Chornovil lived a great life, which was obscure for other people. And when they argue who he really was – either a romantic, a pragmatic romantic or a romantic pragmatist, I think that Ivan Drach said the right words on Chornovil’s 60’s anniversary: “Chornovil didn’t become the president but Chornovil became Chornovil!”
Dmytro Ponamarchuk insists that Viacheslav Chornovil’s death was a murder. According to him, it is about a carefully planned murder, which in the literature is called ideal. Lengthy investigations, the transfer of the case from one investigative office to another, exhumation of the body and other actions didn’t put an end to what happened in March 1999. Is there any expectation that Ukraine will find out the truth?
“I don’t have any hope for the current Prosecutor General,” Dmytro Ponamarchuk convinced. “This person doesn’t even understand why Viacheslav Chornovil could have been killed. For three years he said nothing sensible to the journalist, the family and me. We don’t know at what stage the case hovers. It seems to have been resumed, redirected somewhere. Where redirected? To the department of the fight against organized crime? This is further than the last drawer in the desk. I can’t get my head around it: how is it possible? Yet a state figure, recognized by history, time and the Ukrainian people was killed. But the case still didn’t move from its place – neither forward nor backward.”
According to Mr. Ponamarchuk, it’s time to bring to justice those who initially investigated the case of Vyacheslav Chornovil. And not to prove that it’s a murder, but to look for customers, and deal with those who have investigated the case since 1999.
“In the end, sooner or later, the case will be brought to a logical end,” Mr. Dmytro said. “At least to that end where the customers won’t be found but it will be honestly recognized as a murder which neither the General Prosecutor’s Office nor other investigative offices managed to solve. This also happens…”
Now, Mr. Viacheslav might be 82 years old. Almost a third of life, 17 years, he spent imprisoned – in prisons and camps, in particular, in Mordovia. Chornovil influenced not only Ukrainians’ life choices. Oleksandr Bolkin, the head of the Erzya community in Ukraine “Erzan Val” (“Erzanske Slovo”) and the co-founder of the public movement “Free Idel-Ural”, was spurred on the national self-awareness by Chornovil.
In the 1990s on the request of the one university teacher, Oleksandr Bolkin guarded the monument to Lenin in Kyiv to protect it from “the Ukrainian radicals”. The former prisoner of Mordovian camps, Viacheslav Chornovil, who eavesdropped the interlocutor’s accent, approached him. They talked about the history and culture of Erzyan people. It turned out that Mr. Chornovil knew about these people more than Mr. Bolkin.
“There were four of us: two Tatars, Belarusian and me – Eerzyan,” Oleksandr Bolkin said. “This meeting really became the milestone which marked my “solid system of Communist outlook”. Unfortunately, we hadn’t met with Chornovil anymore. I didn’t know who I met. The friends told me.”
One often can hear: if Chornovil had headed Ukraine twenty years ago (or earlier, in 1991 he took the second place, succumbing to Leonid Kravchuk with almost a quarter of the votes, and this is about 7.5 million people), Ukraine would be different. Different, means, better – without oligarchs and corruptionists, its citizens would be wealthier and more confident. However, the history is unalterable, all happened the way it happened, and Viacheslav Chornovil remained forever a fiery fighter, a real patriot, a courageous and honest person in the memory of Ukrainians.
Photos from Dmytro Ponamarchuk’s archive
Text by Viktor Tsvilikhovsky