6.2 The case of Boris Kochubievsky

No 6 : 28 February 1969

At the beginning of December 1968 a thirty-year-old radio engineer, Boris Kochubievsky, was arrested in Kiev.

In 1967 he spoke at a lecture on the international situation given at the radio factory where he worked, argued with the lecturer, and expressed his disagreement with the description of Israel’s actions in the Six-Day War as being aggression. Afterwards his case was discussed by the factory committee of the trade union and they proposed that he should leave “of his own free will”. He refused, and it was only after nearly a year, in which they tried every means to “persuade” him, that he left in May 1968. In June 1968 he married a student in her fourth year at a pedagogical institute and in August he applied for permission to leave for Israel. In September a similar application was submitted by his wife, who is of Russian nationality [see Commentary No 6, 1]. His application was rejected because of “the non-existence of diplomatic relations”, and hers because she had “ageing parents” in Kiev. Later Larissa Kochubievskaya was expelled from the Komsomol for “Zionism”. She was not immediately expelled from the institute: for a long time they tried to persuade her to get a divorce, using arguments that would have done the Black Hundreds [early 1900s Russian chauvinists, 2] proud. For example, to the young woman’s sole and sincere argument (“I love him”), the deputy dean, Groza, replied almost word for word as follows: “I know a girl who’s married to a Jew, and she says all Jews stink. You love him – that’s nothing; where you’re going, the whole country will stink.” Larissa’s parents have renounced her: her father is a KGB official, her mother an Honoured Teacher.

On 29 September an official meeting was held at Baby Yar near Kiev. The Chronicle has already reported the way in which the Kiev authorities replaced the traditional gathering at the Shevchenko monument with an official festival [see 5.3, No 127]. In exactly the same way [in 1968] they replaced the traditional annual meeting at Baby Yar with an official one. The official speakers were principally concerned with condemning Israeli aggression, but they also used the usual stock phrases about the fascists who had killed Soviet people, without mentioning that the majority of those killed were Jews. An acquaintance came up to Boris Kochubievsky and told him about a conversation he had just overheard there:

MAN. What’s going on here?

WOMAN. The Germans killed a hundred thousand Jews here.

MAN. That wasn’t enough.

Boris flared up, declaring that people talked like that because, on that very day and in that very place, Israeli aggression had been condemned from the official platform and no mention made of the facts that Jews had been killed here. Straight away a man came up to him, wishing to argue, and said that not only Jews had been killed here. Boris objected that Jews had been killed just because they were Jews. He began saying that he was not allowed to emigrate to Israel, and related the history of his family. One of his relatives had served in the Jewish Ministry under the Central Rada and had been shot as a follower of Petlyura. Another had been a commissar at the end of the 1930s and had been shot “as a Trotskyite”. A third, an admiral, had been shot at the same time, as a result of one of the trials of [high-ranking] officers. Boris’s grandparents were wiped out by a gang of nationalists in Zvenigorod after the withdrawal of Soviet troops and before the arrival of the Germans. His mother and father were killed by the Germans, perhaps even here in Baby Yar. “In this country”, said Boris, “I belong to no one. I want to go somewhere where I shall belong.”

In November Boris and Larissa Kochubievsky were given permission to leave for Israel. On 28 November they were due to go to the passport and visa office with their documents. That morning their flat was searched and they signed a statement that they would not leave. The report on the search stated that it had been carried out “to remove documents, letters, etc.”, without any reference to the content of the documents. In the search only copies of letters that Kochubievsky had written to official departments were removed. On or about 7 December Boris Kochubievsky was arrested on a charge of spreading by word of mouth deliberately misleading fabrications which defamed the Soviet political and social system, under Article 187-1 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code. Held against him are his address at the lecture on the international situation, his appearance before the radio factory committee, his statements at Baby Yar and the “speeches”(?) he delivered at the passport and visa office.

On 20 January the investigation was completed and the case handed over to the court. But the court has returned the case for further investigation because of the lack of evidence of any intention to spread his views.

One of the principal witnesses in the case is that same unknown person who approached Kochubievsky at Baby Yar and provoked him into an argument. In addition evidence against Kochubievsky was given by a number of Jewish witnesses, including two victims of Baby Yar who figure in Anatoly Kuznetsov’s book Baby Yar. Many of those who were present at Kochubievsky’s “addresses”, and could appear as defence witnesses, are themselves applying for permission to emigrate to Israel and do not wish to prejudice their chances. [See No 8.1, Trial of Kochubiyevsky]