Petr (Petro) Grigor’evich Grigorenko (1907-1987) was a military and political figure, human rights activist, commentator and memoirist. He was born to a peasant family in Ukraine in the village of Borisovka, Zaporozhskaia oblast’. He was a metal-worker, stoker, and engine mechanic. He was an activist in the komsomol movement and participated in the food brigades (prodotriady), and was a member of the Central Committee komsomol of Ukraine from 1929-1931, a member of the Communist Party since 1927. He was a professional soldier. He graduated from the Kuybyshev Military Engineering Academy and served as an officer in the Belorussian military zone. From 1939-1943 he served in the Far East; from 1944-1945 on the Soviet-German front, emerging from the war with the rank of colonel and serving as the commander of division headquarters. He was awarded with decorations and medals.
From 1945 through 1961 he taught and conducted research at the M.V. Frunze Military Academy. A candidate of military science, he was the author of 83 works on military history, theory and cybernetics. From 1959 he was head of the academy’s department of Operative-Tactical Preparation and a major general. In August 1961 he completed his doctoral dissertation. After his appearance at a party conference in Moscow on September 7, 1961, he was dismissed from his teaching post at the academy and transferred to military service in the Far East for “political immaturity.”
In 1963, on leave in Moscow, he organized the underground Union to Struggle for the Revival of Leninism (its members included Grigorenko’s sons and several of their friends, students and officers). He wrote and distributed pamphlets in Moscow and among the armies in the Leningrad and Central Asian districts, criticizing the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet government and its vindictive politics with regards to workers, as well as indicating the reasons for the agricultural crisis in the country.
He was detained by KGB agents at the Khabarovsk airport on February 1, 1964, sent to Moscow and relocated to the internal prison of the KGB. He refused their offer to “repent” in order to avoid arrest and trial, then was accused on counts of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda and sent for forensic psychiatric evaluation at the Serbsky Institute of General and Forensic Psychology. The evaluation (of April 19, 1964) declared him mentally incompetent. By a decision of the military panel of the Soviet High Court, he was sent to the Leningrad Special Psychiatric Hospital for compulsory treatment and stripped of his rank. He was released from the hospital in 1965 shortly after the dismissal of Nikita Khrushchev.
In 1966 Vladimir Bukovsky brought Grigorenko into the circle of Moscow dissidents. In 1967 Grigorenko wrote the historical-journalistic pamphlet “The Suppression of Historical Truth: A Crime before the People” about the causes of the Soviet Army’s defeat in the initial period of the war. The pamphlet was widely circulated in samizdat, brought the author fame, and made him one of the central opposition figures in the Soviet Union.
From 1967-1968 Grigorenko became one of the organizers of a petition campaign in defense of A. Ginsburg, Iu. Galanskov, A. Marchenko and others. During the “Prague spring” he supported the democratic reformation of Czechoslovakia, writing a personal letter to Alexander Dubček with advice on the country’s possible defensive in the case of Soviet intervention. He also spoke in defense of demonstrators who had appeared on Red Square to protest the army’s entrance into Czechoslovakia. At the end of 1968 he wrote his work “On the Special Psychiatric Hospitals (Madhouses)”, which was released as part of N. Gorbanevskaia’s “Noon.”
Grigorenko was a fervent advocate for the formation of a human rights committee, an idea which was realized after his arrest in the form of the Initiative Group in Defense of the Rights of Peoples of the Soviet Union. He was constantly occupied in assisting the Crimean Tatars and became an unofficial leader of their movement for the right to return to Crimea. In spring 1969, by a request of the Crimean Tatars, he began legal preparations for the trial of participants in the mass uprisings in Chirika, Uzbekistan, in the capacity of their social defender. Despite threats from the KGB, he flew to Tashkent. On May 7, 1969, he was arrested and accused on counts of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda; he was held in the pretrial detention center of Uzbekistani KGB until October. He staged a hunger strike in protest of his illegal arrest and was subjected to force-feeding, beatings and mockery. His prison diary, released to the public, was published in the Chronicle of Current Events. In February 1970 Grigorenko was sent for forced treatment to the Cherniakhovsky Special Psychiatric Hospital (Kaliningrad Oblast’).
Instantly following his arrest, a campaign for his release developed both within the Soviet Union and beyond. The work of human rights activist and academic Andrei Sakharov began with his address in defense of Grigorenko. In 1971 Vladimir Bukovsky began circulating in the West stories of several dissidents, including Petro Grigorenko, who had been declared mentally incompetent or insane. The international medical society started to pressure Soviet psychiatrists. In 1973 Grigorenko’s collection of articles “Thoughts of a Madman” appeared in the West, along with his prison diaries. In that year a film based on the book was filmed in England. In June 1974, on the eve of Pres. Richard Nixon’s visit to the Soviet Union, Grigorenko was freed and soon resumed his human rights activism.
Grigorenko was a member of the Moscow-Helsinki group since its foundation in 1976 and its informal leader (the group’s meetings took place in his apartment). He participated in drafting the majority of the group’s human rights documents released in 1976-1977 (“On the Persecution of Mustafa Dzhemilev”, “Discrimination against the Crimean Tatars Continues”, etc.). In January 1977 he initiated the formation of the Moscow Helsinki Group’s Working Commission to Research the Use of Psychiatry for Political Purposes. He participated in the formation of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group (UHG). He spoke out in defense of arrested members of the Helsinki Group, including A. Ginsburg, Iu. Orlov, A. Shcharansky, V. Slepak, M. Rudenko, O. Tikhy, and Z. Gamsakhurdy. In February 1977 he wrote the book “Our Working Days” about the KGB’s fight against the Helsinki movement in the Soviet Union.
In November 1977 Grigorenko received permission to travel to the United States for medical treatment; during his stay in the country, he was stripped of his Soviet citizenship by a February 13, 1978 order of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. In 1978 psychiatric analysis, carried out in the United States by Grigorenko’s request, failed to uncover any signs of psychological illness, thereby refuting the earlier carried-out “diagnoses.” As an émigré, he continued his fight for human rights in the book “In the Basement, One May Meet Only Rats” (New York, 1981). He decisively abandoned Communist ideals and became a member of the Ukrainian community in the United States as well as an Orthodox believer. He was laid to rest in a Ukrainian cemetery near New York. A prospect in Kiev and several streets in the Crimea are named in his honor.
By a 1993 order of the President of the Russian Federation Grigorenko’s rank of General Major was posthumously restored.