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There was an interesting piece on NPR about a three-year push by the FBI to close cold-case murders from the civil rights era.  Three years ago, the FBI pledged to investigate cases that had gone unsolved for decades.  The effort is wrapping up now.

As FBI Agent Cynthia Deitle explains in the interview, a few of the deaths turned out to have nothing to do with the civil rights movements.  Some murder cases were solved, but will go unprosecuted because the perpetrators are deceased.  Despite this lack of action, I can’t imagine anyone questioning the value of the effort to close these cases.  The FBI will contact the descendants of the victims of the cases, Deitle explained, and provide them with all of the information the bureau found.

“I think the only thing that we can give them is the truth,” she said.

Deitle is right, and the truth is no small thing.  The FBI’s effort does more than provide answers.  It conveys to the victims’ descendants, and to the country, that the victims of these crimes mattered, that their deaths were unacceptable, and that the nation’s failure to address them sooner was shameful.

This story made me think of the ongoing debate in Russia and the former Soviet Union about historical record.  The Kremlin and its allies like to argue that discussion of Communist crimes is divisive and backward looking.  That’s an insulting and unacceptable view.  The recent dismissal of Ukrainian archivist Volodomyr Vyatrovych is an effort to prevent the Ukrainian nation from knowing the extent of Soviet crimes.

It took the United States four decades to address these civil rights murders and to provide whatever measure of justice possible.  That was too long.

But the Holodomor took place more than 75 years ago.  The Katyn Massacre took place 70 years ago.  The NKVD’s mass murder of thousands of Ukrainians in Western Ukrainian jails during the Nazis invasion took place nearly 69 years ago.  Where is the acknowledgment?  Where is the contrition?  Where is the truth?  Where is the justice?

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I just learned that Volodomyr Vyatrovych, a historian who was serving as director of the archives for Ukraine’s SBU, was fired from that post.  The SBU is the successor to the KGB, and Vyatrovych made great progress in opening the archives from the Soviet era, archives that document the innumerable crimes of the Soviet Union against the Ukrainian people.  Vyatrovych is a casualty of the recent presidential election, which saw Viktor Yanykovych become president.  Yanukovych is often characterized in the Western press as “pro-Russian” or “pro-Kremlin.”  I often think the “West versus Russian” frame for discussions about Ukraine is too simple, but the dismissal of Vyatrovych reeks of Russian and Kremlin appeasement.  Vyatrovych was certainly unpopular with Russia, because he disclosed information about the Holodomor, the 1932-33 genocidal famine of Soviet Ukraine, and because his view of the WWII-era Ukrainian nationalist resistance didn’t coincide with the Soviet/Russian propaganda.

Vyatrovych’s dismissal is an outrage; the appointment of the new SBU head is cause for shame.  President Yanukovych appopinted Valery Khoroshkovsky to the post.  Khoroshkovsky is a billionaire of questionable reputation with zero apparent qualifications for the position.  For a much more informed take on the appointment than I can provide, read Steve Bandera’s post here.

I am angry about this news for a couple of reasons.  First, and perhaps self-interestedly, I am conducting research into Ukraine’s nationalist resistance during WWII, and it’s likely that I won’t have access to archives that are essential to understanding this history.  More importantly, I am angry on Vyatrovych’s behalf.  I met him a few times, both here in the U.S. and in Ukraine.  Though we were separated by a language barrier, we were united by a love of history and a desire to see truth emerge from the shadow of totalitarianism.  I interviewed him for several hours in Lviv in 2007, and his passion for his work was inspiring.  I realize this sounds like a eulogy of Vyatrovych, which is wrong.  He’s too determined and intelligent to let this incident impede him.

I will move forward with my research, too, and I will do so inspired by Vyatrovych’s example and his words: “No one, regardless of titles or rank, has the right to decide which truths, or how many, should be made public.”

Please subscribe to my email list for updates on the blog and my book in progress, Scattered Graves, which tells the story of a family’s struggle to survive WWII in Ukraine.