FOR MORE than six years, members of an Amnesty International adoption group in New York City have been corresponding with a Soviet dissident who, for the past 37 years, has spent much of his time in labor camps, psychiatric hospitals and in internal exile in Siberia.
Zinovij Mikhailovich Krasiwski, 53, has been at odds with Soviet authorities since the end of World War II, when he was arrested for attempting to escape while he and his family were being deported from the Ukraine to Siberia; he was sentenced to five years in labor camp and five years of internal exile.
On his release, he returned to the Ukraine, was graduated from the University of Lvov, published biographical works and worked on an historical novel. He was arrested in 1976 for contributing to a journal published for a group called the Ukrainian National Front and was sentenced to 17 years in prison, labor camp and internal exile.
In December 1970, while in Vladimir Prison, Krasiwski was charged with "anti- Soviet agitation and propaganda" for circulating his poems, and was ruled non-responsible by a psychiatric commission. He spent several years in psychiatric hospitals where he was forcibly treated with drugs; he suffered from cardiac problems and bleeding ulcers. In July 1978, he was released prior to the expiration of his sentence.
At that time, he began his correspondence with Iris Akahoshi, a member of the Amnesty International group in New York.
Krasiwski became a member in 1979 of the Helsinki Monitoring Group (an organization formed in Russia in 1976 to promote observance of the Helsinki Accords, which guarantee human rights to citizens of signatory nations; the government announced its disbanding in 1982), and was rearrested in March 1980. No charges were brought against him, but he was accused of having simulated mental illness and the rest of the sentence for his 1967 conviction was reimposed: eight months in labor camp and five years in exile.
He was released from labor camp in December 1980 and sent into exile in a small Siberian outpost called Lugovskoi, near Khanty-Mansiysk, about 300 miles east of the Ural Mountains.
His second wife, Olena Antoniv, a physician, was accused in August 1982 of misappropriating money from a fund established by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn to aid families of Soviet political prisoners. She has not been arrested, possibly because she joined her husband in exile.
Krasiwski is said to be in good condition, except for occasional recurrences of heart problems, and is reported to be reconciled to "forget about emigration" at least until 1985, when his sentence will be completed.
The correspondence, most of which is translated from Russian, begins with a reply by Krasiwski to a postcard from Irena Lasota, a member of New York's Group 11. Other letters are to a distant cousin who emigated to New York in the early 1950s and whom Krasiwski addresses as Brother Stepan and Nina Rubinstein, a member of Group 11.
Dear Mrs. Irena:
Your postcard made me very happy, and I bless the moment when you "conceived" it.
From the stomach ulcers, chronic gastritis, and other very numerous ills I feel weakened. I often have heart seizures; I have thrombophlebitis, and in 1975, in the Smolensk hospital I had several heart attacks. Somewhere between 1953 and 1956, when I worked in a mine, I had several serious accidents which involved my head. My spine was damaged, and I still feel the aftereffects. I was declared an invalid of the second category.
From Lvov I was transferred -- or rather, they rid themselves there of a troublesome patient. But here in the rural backwoods it is quieter, I am 10 kilometers from my home. The woods that surround the hospital are a part of the Carpathian mountains, and these mountains are part of every cell of my body. For 19 years I dreamed about them, and I am glad, in spite of the fact that I have to live in a durdom ("home for madmen"). This is what we call the psychiatric hospitals.
Please write to my home address. This is where my sons live (the older is 16, the other -- 13), as well as my ex-wife, who is at present my official guardian, as I am legally considered mentally ill, irresponsible for my actions and incapacitated.
Life has narrowed down my needs to the prison rations and the simplest of clothing. My sons think that the USA is a country notable for blue jeans and cowboy hats, but I think that it is a country mostly remarkable for people like you, Mrs. Irena, people who lift themselves above the pettiness of the everyday life.
I have signed myself out of the hospital. (Krasiwski was released from the psychiatric hospital on July 17).
Already a third week has passed since I returned to Morshyn (his hometown).
Yesterday I climbed the Carpathian mountains so high that I could almost reach the sun with my hand. We made a bonfire, baked some potatoes, and sang songs to our heart's content.
Everybody calls me Zenyo. In our language, my name has several pet names: Zenko, Zinko, Zenyk, Zenyo. I like diminutive forms and I like sincere epithets and kind words. I never drained the cup of human kindness. I lived among coarse and primitive people and, recently, among pathological people. I have no particular sentiments toward an individual but, in general, to people, to humanity -- I have profound respect.
I probably wrote to you that my wife married and my sons hardly knew me. Now my younger son (Slavko) came to live with me. He likes both my rootlessness and my nihilistic approach to practical matters in life as well as my playful game in which he cannot distinguish what's for real and what not.
Good morning, dear Iris!
I know that it is necessary to write, if only for the sake of progress. Of all the people corresponding with me, not one answered. It would be most stupid to suppose that everyone has become lazy.
I am still living on my own courtyard, and the trip to visit my old mother in Karaganda is eternally being postponed.
I've taken up photography. I took pictures of some landscapes, walked through the mountains, breathed some fresh air, nevertheless, I cannot say that I am all that happy. Problems have surrounded me like beggars with bags and it's not possible to shun them or shake away from them. They're screaming hungrily and I want to say, as in days past, "Here, eat me!"
I had a wife, two sons, I had a home and many other things which made my life satisfying and meaningful. But all this was a very long time ago. I took the road of heroic enthusiasm into a realm which is incomprehensible to many, my wife remarried. She has a husband, a child by him, and I am like a thorn in her side. In the beginning when there was no hope that I would be released from the hospital, everything was perfect. She was my guardian, she was receiving my pension, she was rearing my sons. When I was released, she did not allow me to enter my house. She is taking alimony from me because I have taken a new guardian.
Dear, sweet Iris:
The Christmas holidays are being celebrated by me in an extraordinary and unexpected excitement. I strive to get to the most hidden nooks of our Carpathians. I bathe in the folklore, traditions, in the poetry smoothed by distant centuries and brought down to us by generations.
With great pleasure I read your so carefully chosen words of greeting and good wishes to me and my Slavko.
I treat him as I once treated a close friend during marches -- as a like-minded person, as an equal. My pedagogical method -- no method at all. The only iron laws are general human principles: honesty, justice, faithfulness and so on, and on the altar -- Truth!
Dear, dear Iris:
God, again I give way to prohibited calculations and am in the dangerous position of making myself worrisome to you, but I must tell you that again my friends in Israel -- for the second time -- made a mistake. This time, Rabbi Nir sent me a visa to Israel with an erroneous date of birth. Instead of 1929 -- 1939 is written. This flatters me as it does an old maid, to be 10 years younger, but because of this mistake it cannot be used, even to take any first "trial" steps (apply to emigrate from the U.S.S.R.). And my Slavko, who does not want to part with me, is not included either.
I have married Olena Tymofievna Antoniv on May 26th. You can imagine my surprise when at this time I learned from your letter that you already knew about this.
Yesterday I read Olena and her son, Taras, your beautiful words of greetings on the occasion of Taras' 15th birthday. Olena is taking care of the formalities to assume her guardianship over me.
My Dearest Iris:
All the interests in my life right now are centered on the question of emigration, and the closer I approach the time when the documents are presented, and everything here is resolved, the more uncertain is my mood. The whole matter revolves around the fact that it will be necessary for me to leave my fatherland forever. On the other hand, by leaving I would escape my previous fate and my future fate, and here I am referring to my argument with the government.
Well okay, over there I will join some organizations, I will say a few things, I will write some things. I will explain something to someone. But have very great doubts whether there is still something new left to explain to people. For me it is like a departure from the front lines into a communal galley to peel potatoes.
In March 1980, Krasiwski was sentenced to serve the remainder of his prior, unfinished sentence: eight months in a forced-labor camp and five years of internal exile. Since the government imposed severe letter-writing restrictions on him, his correspondence was taken over by his wife, Olena.
Our Dear Iris!
I received a short letter from (Zenyo) on the 25th, written on the second day of his being at the new place. He is to be there until Nov. 19 -- to finish his debt for 1967, and after that 5 years somewhere in Altay, or Buryat, or God knows where.
We had hoped that someday Fate would smile upon us. But right now everything is black. I was promised that soon a bell could also ring for me.
I have returned from Zenyo. I did not get permission to see him -- the visiting room was under repairs. His work has been difficult, and they have received documents confirming his status as an invalid, and now they should transfer him to a less difficult job.
Dear, dear Iris,
I'm writing to you from the sandy dunes of the beach of Palanga, ovelooking the Baltic Sea. Just the two of us, Taras and I are here, we are very lonely. (Taras is Olena's son by a previous marriage. Zenyo's son Slavko went back to live with his mother when Zenyo was arrested again.) Distressing and troubling thoughts about his fate sometimes swoop down on me like a tornado, and all the other worries, then I resort to small calming tranquilizers.
On the other hand, there is here at least a little sun and less rain, so we feel fine on these incomparable beaches and dunes among the pines; cold dips in the sea.
And in the evenings we devote ourselves to music. Perhaps only in Palanga are there such beautiful concert programs during the summer season, besides the religious music and singing during the services in the church, a bright, beautiful Gothic structure.
I write to Zenyo every day; last year we were here together. I would like to put him and Taras into a little boat with a wind-filled sail to send them to a utopian land of freedom of spirit. Let me be left behind as a hostage. I would be happy in praying for them.
This week, I received a letter from Zenyo written on Oct. 19. I will quote from it:
"All of us are greedy for life, and, as a rule, all of us have pretensions. I cannot boast of great humility either. Often in me is a child, stretching out its hands for the toys, and I don't know how it is possible not to want them. And what's bad about that?
"Looks like there will be some unpleasantness, so today after lunch I hid behind the camp bathrooms, where few ever look. The sun is shining brightly in the sky, and I grasp the last of this year's tan, and I fell asleep there, sinful man. Pavlo came and called me to come eat. He made toast, three slices each with marmalade, and today they gave us a three day ration of sugar, so we even sweetened water.
"Today I begin the last month of my 12-year term. Something is happening within me, but the dream is wonderful."
Spiritually (Zenyo) is a strong man. His shoulder is needed not only by me, but supports many because there exists in him a bottomless spring of energy.
The correspondence between Krasiwski and Iris resumes after he is moved to Siberian exile, where he lives in a town, not a camp. There he has more freedom to write to others, inside and outside Russia.
My dearest Iris:
I greet you from a new place.
The continuation of my story has a somewhat changed character, material lack, Siberian weather and a completely gray, cold, sunless sky. I would definitely be sad but on the tenth day Olena came and it's as if she brought with her nectar and ambrosia.
In this month, I mailed out one hundred pieces of correspondence. It was the New Year and Christmas -- a wonderful opportunity to knock on the doors and hearts of friends and family. In the winter, only planes reach this place and because of inclement weather even they do not come routinely. And because of this, to this day, I have not received a single answer.
On Dec. 16, Olena made it here. The last 40 km, it was usually necessary to push the bus, because the road was windswept and icy.
The whole week was like a holiday and we were both happy, celebrating and thanking God that He is so good and bountiful to us.
Olena told me about my Morshyn, my Lviv (Lvov), about Slavko, Taras, her father, and about our friends and acquaintances. Not all in the telling was akin to Easter bells. Some of it worried me, some of it saddened me and my Slavko opened up all the old wounds in my heart and rubbed salt into them. Because he is a difficult boy, a rebellious and completely blind kitten. His eyes have not yet opened and he does not see the outside world. He is presently still tied to his mother's breast, and this is not yet grasped by him.
Olena is satisfied with my appearance, my health, and my moods. But I looked at her with eyes filled with a feeling of guilt. I came to her and my wind opened up all the windows and doors of her domicile. I came with all my burdens and placed them at her doorstep. I came and left behind the smell of something burning.
During the visit 3 months ago, I saw her gray hair and tired face and her hands, so overworked. I was ashamed because I was so beautifully sun-tanned, rested from life's problems, and looked years younger.
Nevertheless, to my campfire people come. In myself I am poor, but how rich I am in those who come to me.
Dear brother Stepan,
From Dec. 5, I find myself in Lugovskoi which, in this winter season, is not distinguished by anything in particular. Frost, blizzards, no roads,
Olena came and is trying to care for me and breathe new strength into me. It would probably be best if she came here and found a job -- doctors are needed here and for a doctor an apartment would be found and other things and with her I would be much calmer.
I must serve out my 5 years here -- there's no other way.
Let the Christmas carols be loud and the kuttya (traditional dessert, one of 12 courses served on a Ukrainian Christmas eve) be sweet.
You asked me to write about this region. It's bare, the surface is extremely muddy and bare. The main arteries -- rivers: Irtysh and Ob with their tributaries. But only in the summer. In winter they are frozen. The only savior -- helicopters and planes.
My village is not a forsaken corner, where besides dogs you will see nothing. Quite the opposite -- dogs, well-bred and well-fed -- compete in not working with alcoholics. There are many horses too. And some people have private cars -- but you can't go far, neither in summer nor in winter -- for the entire settlement can be walked across (horizontally and vertically) in 10 minutes.
(This letter was written in English.) Dearest Iris,
July 7 dies my mother. My elder brother, his wife and two daughters did one's best for a comfort our mother. I, with my profession, with my constant adventures, brought to my mother and all my family very much of cares. My children grew up without fathers. Also, their mother and my former wife suffered and she is suffering from my vocation now but I cannot to do nothing. I can't even to suffer properly.
We came back,sum Olena and I, in Lugovskoi together. Olena wanted to stay with me but Taras doesn't in university and she must to come back herself to her duty.
Dear darling Iris and George (Iris' husband),
In a moment I will try to find some Christmas music on the radio waves, it brings with it the joy of the silent night, coziness and warmth for all those who are warm and all those who are cold. I expect that I will be sitting at my transistor radio on Dec. 25, listening to the sounds of the carols. But for Dec. 31 I have requested night duty at the hospital, for at this moment the beautiful New Year's holiday does not bring me its charm, and I need some days off to spend at the bedside of my seriously ill dad.
Two days ago I spoke with Zenyo on the telephone. He maintains his good hope, but at the moment feels a bit weak physically.
Dear Nina Rubinstein,
Yes, indeed, I am hunting only with my camera and I am a convinced foe of destroying living creatures. This did not happen suddenly but since (19)64 I have not touched a drop of liquor and since 75 I am a convinced vegetarian.
Today snow is falling again. I put some bread in the feeding box and watched with pleasure how sparrows and titmice were feasting. Then I poured some milk in a bowl and brought it to the cat who lives in the bathroom underneath the pipes of the central heating. This cat does not belong to anybody and I'm afraid nobody will take it because it is rather homely, with frozen ears.
Incidentally, I had a homeless dog, who was very friendly and intelligent. But he liked not only me but people in general and somebody killed him for his skin.
My dear (Iris),
Our beloved and highly venerated pater familias (Olena's father) has died. This was not unexpected.
My dear friend Iris,
My trip to Father's funeral was not without its complications. The telegram arrived on a non-working day, and there is no way of getting into town. The 40-kilometer long road is a "winter road." This is a road dug in the snow. I set off on foot. I was dressed very lightly, and packed my good clothes in my rucksack. Along the way I thought of Jack London, the Klondike and even more, in order to get into town while it was still daytime.
I covered the 40 kilometers in five-and-a-half hours, but then couldn't feel my legs under me for several days.
The funeral was very stately and attended by many people. I sang in ecstasy along with the rest and in some way reestablished ties, broken by time, with my childhood, with my homeland.
We used to live a patriarchal country life. We lived close to nature and in close contact with domestic animals. A cat or a dog, they were a part of the family. And when a cow or a sheep died, the house was in mourning as though for a dead person.
I must, however, confess that, if necessary, I could kill a chicken or skin a rabbit. I also could eat the meat of these living creatures without any qualms.
And only in the psychiatric hospital when I was deprived of real activities I looked deeper into myself and found there was much that was vain and even unsightly. And I felt as though I were the rabbit, that I used to skin, and the chicken, which I used to kill.
Now I am ending my 9-day visit to Zenyo. Despite all his sociable nature he is very lonely here. Many would like to have closer contact with him, but he avoids this and remains lonely, having you, me and other friends accessible only in letters.
On several days we walked into some meadows, got some sun, admired the austere, harsh nature.
Sometimes weariness envelopes and afflicts the soul beyond measure. Zenyo sometimes sings a kolomiyka (lively song) from the Boyko region of the western Ukraine:
Oh, you swindler -- world,
You've got bored with me,
I haven't prospered in you,
You've just tormented me.
I am well . . . but for today it's not me that matters, but rather the center of gravity has passed to my family: to Olena and Taras. Many developments, irritating situations, and the latest, Taras' departure for the military service, have brought her to the point of nervous hypertension, and I don't even know how she will scratch her way out of that.
I, for my part, attempt not to be an eyesore to her and wait patiently, although I am very much afraid that this process of absorption into her personal sufferings may have gone too far, and that seclusion and pity may have become the necessary norm. We will place our hopes in the kindness and grace of the Supreme One.
I greet you, dear Nina,
My Taiga (the stray dog) has reappeared. Our meeting was tumultuous and moving. However, her owner came, put on her collar and literally dragged her home. You see, the last time she brought home 7 puppies whom he fed and then made two fur hats out of them.
The day after tomorrow it will be a month that Olena has joined me. My life has gained additional content and comfort. Olena has found temporary work.
Of course, I have less time now. Expenses have increased, I have to earn more. And then we talk a lot, have long discussions and find in many questions a common denominator. We listen to music and sometimes go to the movies. We have here a decent movie house.
Taras feels all right in the military service. He is working and we feel sure that will do him good. He will mature.
We are dreaming -- about our own land, about fragrant greenery and warm sunshine. We have a canoe and there are many streams here. Olena offers to my imagination near and far away itineraries, and this gives me a tremendous pleasure because I have hardly traveled in my fatherland and have not even been in Kiev.
Since Jan. 13 I have been here at Zenyo's. I work at the hospital temporarily. I will be returning home in order to visit Taras and to take care of domestic matters. When I look back, I shudder, and I am overwhelmed by the deep, black threats of my ordeal, and looking ahead, I am overcome by fear and uncertainty of the future.
Zenyo is an unusual, chiseled individual. He himself is never a problem to others; his strength and his self-sacrifice are so great, I am fascinated by him.
Olena works from the early morning hours until late at night because of her expected trip home to Taras and to Taras' grandparents who live in the Cherkass Region, and who are not in good health.
Our life flows in mutual contentment and agreement of interests. We have the same friends, the same aim, the same aspirations, and even though we are not the same in temperament and character, our age and our life experience give us the possibility to live in full harmony.
We are constantly waiting for mail, and even though the news is not always good, it is only the letters that erase the distance between us. I want to tell you that your letters have become precious also for Olena, and I have been overcome by a feeling that we are one family.
Last week I received invitations (to go to the United States) from my brother Stepan. Definitely, neither he nor all of you have the possibility to bring us over, under our circumstances. I could take care of this matter only in 1985, when my term expires.
Here it feels as though spring is in the air. There are days of sunshine, and one is tempted by the taiga (pine forest). This year I plan to devote more time to it. I have great expectations for beautiful photographs.
Zenyo and Olena