Both of Them Were Free
Many people wanted to decipher it. But to no avail. Ruslan Zabilyi, Director of the National Museum-Memorial to the Victims of Occupation Regimes “The Prison on Łącki Street” in Lviv, a researcher of the history of the liberation movement, recalls that he received a copy of the Wedding Act from the writer Mykhailo Andrusyak from Kolomyia. The document was soon published in the book “Ukrainian Insurgent Army. History of the Unconquered”, published in 2007 in Lviv.
– I tried to decipher it, but I couldn't find the key, – the researcher says. – I tried to find out at least a few letters from similar groups of numbers. Sadly, I failed. Although some other UPA documents could be deciphered.
Ruslan Zabilyi asked the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine to help unravel this mystery. He meant that the SZRU, as some other intelligence services around the world, has units capable of breaking complex ciphers and codes.
– In fact, from the point of view of finding out the encryption system, the task was not too difficult, – said one of the senior officers of the technical intelligence unit, who studied the document. – To get a plane text was more difficult. Decryption did take lots of sweating.
The SZRU officer took out a blank sheet of paper and a pen from a drawer. And then used the classic and already somewhat forgotten scheme of manual decryption, to which he did not resort for twenty-five years.
– The amount of the encrypted text was small, so the statistical methods didn't work, – he said. – If I had had some additional information, such as the names of persons in question, other features of the use of a cipher, the decryption process would have taken less time. Fortunately, there was one clue – the signatures of the newlyweds, with which they sealed the wedding procedure. Those letters that were guessed came in handy. This gave impetus to the decryption process. Had it not been for this, other forms and methods of cryptanalysis would have been used. From the very beginning I strongly rejected the idea that it would not be possible to decipher it.
Having found out the encryption system, which is a substitution cipher, the specialist predicted that the first signature under the Wedding Act was put by the man. His name began with the letter “H”. It had to correspond to the number (coded value) “75” – the first in the encrypted text. The fourth was also the number “75”. After going through the names that began with the letter “H”, the officer of the SZR of Ukraine suggested that it must have been Hryhoriy. Although the letter “R” was encrypted with different code values, like some others. But this was no longer fundamental, because, as the saying goes, the process was already under way.
After finding out that this is a monoalphabetic cipher, and there are double-digit code values, an assumption was made about the key. The key was probably the so-called square of a certain size. In our case – 7 to 7. The rest was technicality.
A couple of hours later, there was a final version of the original text: “On July 6 1950 the following people were married Hryhoriy Vatseba son of Vasyl and Hanna born January 23 1917 in Radcha Lysetskyi district Stanislav region a Greek Catholic peasant free and Maria Babinchuk daughter of Stepan and Paraska born April 10 1924 in Staryi Lysets Lysetskyi district Stanislav region a Greek Catholic nurse free”.
There were no punctuation marks in the document. Besides, minor encryption mistakes were made. In particular, in the words “free” (male or female gender). “Free” meant that at the time of the wedding the young people were not married to anyone else. But was this the only meaning?
I soon returned to the deep meaning of these words. When I carefully read Maria's letter to her daughter. It contained the following words: “Dear daughter… If you live, then think that you are happy, because you will probably be free in a free state, to the construction of which your parents added bricks…”.
And here is a letter from father Hryhoriy (quoted in full):
“Glory to Ukraine!
My dear child Motrenka! If the fate does not let you see your father in life, then accept from him a few words written to you in the fourth week after your birth.
When You will be reading this letter, I may not be in the world, but You will understand it and understand the circumstances in which we find ourselves today. Know that You were born during the fiercest struggle of the Ukrainian people against northern Moscow. For the sixth year in a row in the unequal struggle against the Bolshevik occupier, the best sons of the Ukrainian people – Ukrainian revolutionaries and insurgents, of whom there is only a handful, and among them your father and mother, are dying every day for the idea of the Ukrainian Independent United State… We are making superhuman efforts to preserve our existence and continue the struggle… The forest is our father, and the night is our mother, but they do not give a complete guarantee of security and we must hide underground…
In such circumstances, one August night, in a dark, thick forest, you arrived in this world… There was no medical help or midwife near you… You were born in a simple partisan hut, but remember, this place is a partisan shrine, and it is not yet defiled by the occupier's foot.
You came into the world free, not a slave!
On the fourth day, I took you from your sick, sobbing mother and brought you to the village for the care of strangers.
Today we came to visit you, to visit, maybe, for the last time in our lives, because we are moving to a different place and only the Almighty knows if I will see you again…
I lay a fatherly kiss on Your forehead and bless You, may the Almighty keep You in His care and let You live in the freedom we seek. My last words to You are a testament: The good of the Nation is the highest commandment! For it You will give strength, intelligence and life as I lay my head on its altar. If You betray the Ukrainian people, I already curse You, and my spirit will never give You peace.
Take the last loving kiss…
With a heartache I leave you…
The story of these letters, the Wedding Act and the wedding itself, as well as the fate of Hryhoriy and Maria, their daughter Hanna Mariychyn, is incredible in its drama.
After the end of the Second World War, Hryhoriy Vatseba was the head of the Stanislav, Halych, and Nadvirna branches of the OUN. In the underground he acted under the pseudonyms “Varnak”, “Sulyma”, “Brodych”, “Orel” and others. Due to a well-organized secrecy and constant change of location, he was elusive for the death-squads of the USSR MGB. In the hiding places dug far in the forest, he created a unique memorial of the liberation movement – “Diary of the Nadvirna Branch of the OUN “Verkhovyna” in the Winter of 1948–1949”.
Vatseba made his notes by the light of a kerosene lamp, and then dictated to “Kalyna” – Maria Babinchuk, who was an underground typist, nurse and radio operator. They met in the pre-war period, when Hryhoriy taught and led the choir in Staryi Lysets. And Maria lived there and was still in the high school. Likeness of interests and views soon grew into love.
The wedding took place on July 6, 1950 in the woods near the Ploska mountain meadow. Anastasia Khimynets (maiden name – Kuzyuk) told about the details of that ceremony already in the years of Ukraine's independence. In the underground, she had the pseudonyms “Lesya” and “Topolya” and performed various courier and reconnaissance tasks for Vatseba and other insurgent commanders.
In early July 1950, Anastasia was sent to Stanislav to buy some things and had to arrive at the appointed place well dressed. For what – she was not told. She came in casual clothes, for which she was told off a little and explained that they were preparing for the wedding of Hryhoriy and Maria. And Nastya was to be a bridesmaid. Then she quickly washed her clothes and smarted herself up the best she could.
A cross was borrowed from the church of the village of Bystrytsia, “Khmara” (who in peaceful life was a priest) did the priest's job. As best they could, they followed the church canons in the forest conditions. Maria made a kind of Wedding Act in advance on a typewriter. She encrypted the most important information in it. She did so in the way that Hryhoriy had taught her and how they used to encrypt other information.
“I take You to be my wedded wife and I will not let You down till death do us part. I pledge Thee my faith and care”, Hryhoriy said the text of the wedding vows.
“I take You to be my wedded husband and will not let You down till death do part us. I pledge Thee my faith, love and obedience”, Maria vowed.
Then they signed the Wedding Act. The present greeted the newlyweds with a legal marriage, wished them happiness and, most importantly, to stay alive.
The Daughter's Birth
Hryhoriy Vatseba was already an organizational officer of the Kalush District Provid [Command] of the OUN. He had to take care of a wide underground network, around which the grip of the MGB was getting increasingly tight. Soon it became absolutely hard, and the insurgents decided to leave their native places and make their way to the West. And it was then that the couple's daughter was born. They called her Motrya. But how to go on a long march with a newborn baby?
After much deliberation, on the fourth day after her birth, at night, Hryhoriy took his daughter to the village of Yablunytsia. There he left her in the family of the UPA courier Mykola Manivchuk, whose wife Hafia was pregnant and was about to give birth. To explain everything to the authorities, they created a legend. The baby was allegedly tossed in on the porch by unknown people. Otherwise, the owners could be arrested for sheltering the insurgents' child and the baby would be taken to an orphanage. Fortunately, the village council believed.
Soon Hryhoriy and Maria secretly visited their daughter. For the last time. They hid in the loft and wrote farewell letters. The letters were put in a bottle together with the Wedding Act, photos, some documents and the birth certificate, which Maria had typed beforehand. They corked and sealed the bottle and asked the owners to bury it in a safe place.
The Last Combat
Then the underground had to move and make their way to the West. On the farm of Lovahy, Rozhnyativ district, they were surrounded. They fired while there were bullets. With the last grenade, Hryhoriy blew up himself and Maria. In order not to be captured.
In the years of Ukraine’s independence a memorial cross was erected on the site of the last combat of the Sulyma group. Every year in early July a memorial service and a viche [meeting] are held in honor of the heroes. Almost the entire local community gathers for these events. Close relatives of the fallen also come. Among them are Hanna Mariychyn, the daughter of Hryhoriy and Maria, their grandchildren Mariyka, Andriy and Taras, great-grandchildren. In different years, they actively supported the Orange Revolution on the Maidan, the Revolution of Dignity, helping the participants in every possible way, provided volunteer assistance to the defenders of Ukraine who were resisting the Russian aggression in the Donbas, and Taras was the ATO participant.
Hryhoriy Vatseba and Maria Babinchuk's daughter, whom they named Motrya at birth and to whom they addressed their letters, grew up as Hanna in a new foster family.
When she was seven, her grandparents returned from exile with five mother's sisters. They took the girl to Staryi Lysets in Tysmenytsia district. But she was missing Yablunytsia so much that her grandfather and grandmother agreed to let their granddaughter live with Hafia, whom the girl had been calling mother from an early age. She was in the fifth grade at the time.
And when Hanna turned 16, the sworn mother told her the family secret. She took out the letters from her real parents, the Wedding Act, the birth certificate, photos that had been hidden behind the icons. The things that for many years had been in the bottle under the poplar. The nearest people gathered in the house then. The letters were read aloud. The letters – last wills. They were read with tears.
That day she learned the whole truth about herself and her parents. But some secrets still remained unsolved.
– I remember there was one more sheet of paper among those papers, – Hanna Mariychyn told me over the phone. – It was a large sheet of thin paper. Like father's letter. But the text on it was not ordinary, it was all groups of numbers. Some encrypted information. Unfortunately, it has not survived to this day. In Soviet times, we had been carefully hiding all this. And after moving house it got lost somewhere.
According to Hanna, relatives on her father's side were most concerned to decipher the encrypted part of the Wedding Act. Eventually, someone came to the conclusion that the text of the wedding vows must have been encrypted in the lines of the numbers. But this was too simple an explanation, which was not true.
– In the 1990s, – recalls Hanna Mariychyn, – we already openly continued the search. We wanted to know more about the place of death of my parents, about their struggle in the underground. We found several siblings who had returned from exile. I asked them about the encryption. But they knew nothing. One of my father's former bodyguards pointed out, “Even I couldn't know the cipher. Such were the rules of secrecy”. And a woman who was a courier for the underground and knew my parents said, “Don't struggle to decipher it. This is useless. After all, each supra-district leader had his own unique cipher”.
This put an end to all further attempts. But we managed to find a place in the mountains where the wedding took place. Anastasia Khimynets, who was a bridesmaid, helped with this.
– She now lives in the neighbouring district, – says Hanna. – In the 1990s, we visited her and asked about those events. She recalled the details of the wedding, described the surrounding area. Guided by those descriptions, we found the approximate location of the kryivka [bunker]. Creeping myrtle grew around. But we knew that it does not grow high in the Carpathians. Must have been grown from seeds brought by mother Maria. Anyway, I dug up some creeping myrtle and planted it near my house as a memory of my parents…
Today, that creeping myrtle blooms near the houses of both, children and grandchildren, who respect the family history and keep the wills left in the letter by Hryhoriy Vatseba. Written 70 years ago, those words to his daughter seem to be about our present: “You were born during the fiercest struggle of the Ukrainian people against northern Moscow. For the sixth year in a row in the unequal struggle against the Bolshevik occupier, the best sons of the Ukrainian people – Ukrainian revolutionaries and insurgents, of whom there is only a handful, and among them your father and mother, are dying every day for the idea of the Ukrainian Independent United State”. Hryhoriy and Maria believed that their daughter would live “already free in a free state”, but even in a nightmare they could not foresee that their grandchildren would again have to defend the Ukrainian land from “northern Moscow”.
researcher of the history of special services
Documents from the family archive of Hanna Mariychyn, provided by her grandson Andriy.
Photo of Hanna Mariychyn from the Ivano-Frankivsk news portal “Reporter”.