Here is an article I just wrote that deals with the life story of one of the characters I mention in my book The Young Professional. I contrast his life with that of Nelson Mandela.
Andy J Semotiuk
Adviser to Young Professionals
Two Lives Compared
Is it mere coincidence or is there really a connection between events developing in South Africa following the death of Nelson Mandela and the events in Ukraine regarding President Viktor Yanukovych’s failure to sign the accord with the European Union? Today, South Africans, and indeed all those who love freedom everywhere, embrace the legacy of the man who paid a high price for the sake of South African liberty by sitting in jail for 27 years. Sadly, however, Ukrainians and those who love freedom everywhere, have all but forgotten the legacy of Danylo Shumuk (pronounced Shoo-mook), a man who also paid a high price for the sake of Ukrainian liberty by sitting in jail for 40 years. In view of the events of the last few days, it is worth comparing the legacies of these two men.
I first learned of Nelson Mandela when I served as a United Nations correspondent in New York in the 1970s. By then, the international campaign lobbying for his release was well under way. Less known, but also someone who was beginning to gain recognition, was Danylo Shumuk. The latter first came to my attention in 1972 when I was reading a Time magazine article. I remember how hopeless both situations seemed as I read about the two men. They were both serving long sentences in jail while their supporters struggled to focus world attention on their plights.
Each leader was initially involved with the communist party of his country. In the case of Mandela, although committed to non-violent protest, he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and in 1961 in association with the South African Communist Party, led a sabotage campaign against the Apartheid government. Many years earlier Shumuk, became a devout communist and in January of 1929 was arrested for his underground activities in Western Ukraine, then under Polish rule.
In each case the men ultimately abandoned communist ideals in their quest to help their people. In Mandela’s case, his 27-year prison sentence influenced his thinking and returned him to his non-violent principles. In Shumuk’s case, having served 10 years in prison, he gained his release with the outbreak of World War II. He was conscripted into the Red Army and then sent out to the Western Front. His entire military unit was encircled by the Germans, but he managed to escape and make his way back to his native village. It was this journey and the stories he heard from ordinary, common, salt-of-the-earth people that changed him. He had long heard of Stalinist atrocities, such as the 1932-1933 state-imposed genocide that killed some seven million Ukrainians. But it was his journey home and meetings with his fellow countrymen that forced him to face a moment of truth in his life in which he turned his back on his communist ideology and instead embraced the goal of establishing a free and democratic state. He joined the underground to fight against both Hitler and Stalin and was then arrested by Soviet authorities.
Like Mandela, Shumuk reflected on his life while in jail. In the case of Mandela, he realized that hatred of his oppressors was something he had to overcome to lead his country to freedom. In Shumuk’s case he reflected on his life and in his memoirs he wrote, “I have always known that my place under any totalitarian society is in the concentration camp.” And verily, it was – whether Nazi or Soviet.
Over the course of the next 25 years Shunuk lived through the following events in Soviet concentration camps: the end of World War II; the Korean War, Nakita Khrushchev’s rise to power in the Soviet Union in the 1950s; the building of the Berlin Wall; the Vietnam War; the arrest of Nelson Mandela in South Africa; the assassination of President Kennedy in the 1960s; the resignation of Richard Nixon following Watergate in the 1970s; the arrest of Anatoly Sharansky in the Soviet Union; John Lennon’s assassination in the streets of New York, and the disasters of Chernobyl and the space shuttle Challenger in the 1980s. Through all of these events, Danylo Shumuk languished in Soviet concentration camps not for what he did, but for the ideals of democracy and freedom that he stood for and symbolized.
It took an international campaign to gain the release of both prisoners. In the case of Mandela, his release came in 1990 after 27 years. In the case of Shumuk, a campaign to secure his release gained momentum when Amnesty International, the world-wide human rights organization, declared him to be the world’s longest imprisoned prisoner of conscience in the 1970s. In the years that followed, an international campaign held together by a string of volunteers from the United States, Canada, South America, Europe, Israel, and Japan, worked tirelessly on his behalf to finally set Shumuk free in 1987. I had the opportunity to meet him when he arrived in the West and then to accompany him to a meeting of the American Bar Association where he spoke in San Francisco at their annual meeting.
In the case of Mandela, a man I never had the good fortune to meet but who I admired very much, his freedom led to a transformation of South African society and ultimately to the abolition of Apartheid and his election to the Presidency of that country. In the case of Shumuk, his release in 1987 was a crack in the Soviet foundation that ultimately led to the independence of his country, but he was not embraced by his people in the same way Mandela was.
Mandela lived to see his society face its past by creating the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights abuses in South Africa. In the case of Shumuk, following a brief stay in Canada after his release, he returned to his native Ukraine when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. By then, however, his native sons and daughters, as well as the world at large, had all but forgotten him. He died and was buried there. To this day his nation has not faced the truth about its past. No doubt that is one reason why people are demonstrating in the streets of Kyiv today.
In short, both countries were blessed to have such steadfast leaders. Both leaders deserve accolades for their sacrifices on behalf of their people. Both leaders left powerful legacies worthy of being remembered. For South Africans, the time has come to say goodbye. For Ukrainians, the time has come to remember their leader once again.