Ukraine’s Provisional Kyiv-Lviv-Chernihiv
- Published on 06 September 2016
- Written by Mark Stelmacovich
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Provisionals were a way that Ukraine supplemented an inadequate supply of national issues during 1992-1994. All of the provisionals stamp sets were in fact created locally (oblast, city). However, three of the overprinted sets achieved ‘national status’ almost as soon as they were issued, these being overprints of Kyiv, Lviv, and Chernihiv, aka the KLCs.
When Canadian Member of Parliament Borys Wrzesnewskyj attended Ukrainpex 2007, he indicated that he was involved with Kyiv’s Borysfen print shop. The Borysfen print shop in 1992 was responsible for the completion of the original overprinted sets for Kyiv, Lviv, and Chernihiv. The presses originally came from Canada and Wrzesnewskyj had made videos of the journey to get them into Ukraine. There they were first used in their Kyiv ‘underground’ bunker to produce Ukrainian pro-independence and pro-democracy leaflets and posters. As it turns out, the naming of the print shop is attributed to the mother of the young man doing the overprints, being a "fan" or as they say in Ukraine "fen" of Borys.
This is the story of how the printing presses got into Ukraine. Borys Wrzesnewskyj and Josef Terlecki have kindly given permission to make the video available to our UPNS members.
The first 15 mins of the video covers transportation. From the 15 min onward is the journey into Ukraine.
This raw footage was shot on camera by Borys himself.
- Printing presses loaded on trucks after arriving at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
- 1:28 Driving from Amsterdam to Germany
- 3:50 German customs
- 4:34 2 AM snack on the road
- 9:26 Crossing the border
- 14:34 Ukraine
- 15:28 Arriving in Kyiv
- 15:50 Stepan Bandera and friends
- 17:32 First artwork proofs
- 19:52 Wrzesnewskyj inspects the printing presses
- 20:28 Printing operations begin
- 24:23 Ukrainian Orthodox Priest blesses the workers and operation
- 27:05 Lenin picture is removed
- 28:15 Printing request
- 32:15 Touring & inspecting printed material and printing operations
- 33:58 Printing material on Ukrainian history by Orest Subtelny
The KLC Issues
Kyiv Overprints: “L.S. Klymenko, an official of the Kyiv Post Office, … made arrangements with ‘Borysfen’, a small Kyiv print shop, to prepare revalued Trident-overprinted stamps. … On 25 March 1992, … the 0.45 Karbovanets (45 Kopiyok) value appeared and was sold at Kyiv postal windows without fanfare. The remaining overprint values made their appearances on subsequent days.”
Lviv Overprints: “Only ten values were produced by ‘Borysfen’ for Lviv as opposed to a dozen for Kyiv; … The Lviv Tridents were first introduced on or about 21·August·1992. ...The printer attempted to duplicate the same color/value combinations for the Lviv stamps as for the earlier Kyiv values ... on same-value panes from the two cities; … Close scrutiny under UV light reveals no distinguishing characteristics.”
Chernihiv Overprints: “An agreement was reached on 27 April  signed by the head of Chernihiv Post V.M. Kyrilenko and the director of the print shop D.K. Miroshnichenko. Some 7,200 panes of old soviet definitives were delivered to ‘Borysfen’ … the [overprinted] stamps were put into circulation … 08 September . … Chernihiv resident Andrij Fomichev states …‘They [Chernihiv overprints] are similar to the Lviv values as they were printed on the same day by the same printer … .”
Borysfen: New Information
A Chernivtsi ‘hybrid’ taxe perçue surcharge, a red TP image overprinted on top of a horizontal pair of imperforate USSR stamps, may have been in use as early as 11 January 1992.
From Printing Press to Independence
Speaking from the lens of experience to an audience of ‘sovietologists’ during a 1991 University of Alberta conference, Wrzesnewskyj said that the west would have to be prepared for the collapse of the USSR. These warnings were not taken seriously as the audience had not travelled freely throughout the USSR as had Wrzesnewskyj.
Committed to Ukrainian independence and democracy, Wrzesnewskyj travelled from town to town in southern and eastern Ukraine during the summer of 1991, helping to put together a ‘network’ of like-minded people. This project was called ‘Dzvin’ (meaning ‘The Bell’), and this movement was growing. In August of 1991, ‘the putsch’ occurred, an attempt by the regime to rescue the USSR. However this failed, leading to the events precipitating USSR dissolution.
During his travels, Wrzesnewskyj took great personal risk. He was detained and interrogated by the KGB many times due to his Dzvin efforts, later leaving the country for the west via the city of Chop with documentation about theUkrainianHelsinkiGroupandformerpoliticalprisonerswhowereexpectingtoonceagainbearrested.
Wrzesnewskyj had been providing Dzvin with backpacks full of pro-independence and democracy material to that point, but now, it was time for something ‘more’. He initiated a new project called ‘Aktyv Voli’ (Action for Freedom). He asked a friend from Toronto·Ontario named Josef Terlecki to look for a desktop publishing and printing operation. Once Terlecki found one, Wrzesnewskyj asked his father to pay for the equipment with funds from the family bakery. After purchase, the question was now one of transporting the printing presses into Ukraine. This is where the video provided back-up visual and audio proof of this eventful trip.
The printing presses were crated in Toronto, labeled ‘Association of the Ukrainian Language in the Name of Taras Shevchenko - Kiev Customs’, and flown to Schiphol·Airport in Amsterdam. They were loaded onto a tractor trailer of a Polish trucking firm that Wrzesnewskyj had hired, ‘Spiis Trailors’, and the trip to Ukraine began. Meanwhile, false support documentation was created for ‘Kiev·Customs’ in an attempt to bypass inspection at the Polish-Ukrainian border.
In its manifest, these documents included a timeline of departure from Amsterdam and, importantly, expected arrival to Kiev Customs, crucial to the effort of crossing the border from Poland into Ukraine. How so? Long and time consuming queues of transport trucks were common at the border due to inspection. However once the Spiis truck got to the border crossing, the guards quickly became ‘convinced’ to not delay matters any more than had already occurred due to border delay. According to the manifest timeline, the shipment was to be inspected in Kyiv very soon, and so apparently not wanting to step on Kiev·Customs’ toes, the border guards let the convoy in without inspection! While this is how the printing press entered Ukraine, that was not all.
After Getting the Shipment into Ukraine
By now, Wrzesnewskyj’s name was well known in the USSR, and they were on the lookout for him when he crossed the border. Thus, Wrzesnewskyj drove a decoy truck, eventually arriving at Kyiv’s Dzvin headquarters, the premises of ‘Rukh’ (‘In Motion’, a political movement in Ukraine in opposition to the USSR). While there was nothing of consequence in the decoy, the truck with the printing presses was in fact ‘in plain sight’ of the regime. It was parked within the very compound that former soviet diplomatic officials lived, courtesy to the sway of close friend Andriy Kravets, a student Wrzesnewskyj first met at the University·of·Toronto and who’s father was a former ‘Foreign Minister of the Ukrainian·SSR’.
Soon after, the printing presses were assembled for operation, within barred and gated catacombs. The equipment, material, and hired hands were blessed by priests of the underground church, and with ‘lookouts’ standing guard, pro-independence material was completed, fully with instructions on how to vote as this specific matter was for some reason being overlooked by others. The printed material was packaged, and sent out to the various Dzvin ‘chapters’ by way of rail. Wrzesnewskyj made sure of proper delivery by ‘paying’ the train conductor 100 Rubles upon receipt of the packages and another 100R once the packages got to their destination unopened and undamaged. And then, the Dzvin chapters took it from there.
The Birth of ‘Borysfen’
Meanwhile, Wrzesnewskyj’s in-Ukraine efforts required crucial supplies of bulk paper on a continuous basis for millions of pro-democracy and pro-independence leaflets and posters distributed throughout the Donbas in the fall of 1991, not at all an easy task during this period. Vera Syrota from the city of Kyiv was the person that completed this task, and so at the end of Aktyv Voli, Wrzesnewskyj gave the printing presses to Syrota and her son in return for all of their assistance. Finally, a small but determined printing firm was born early 1992 called ‘Borysfen’.
Today, Wrzesnewskyj not only has the sets of Kyiv sheets that were given to him fresh off the press that he showed me during our interview, but he also says that he has plates used to print some of the issues. Incredible, the ‘mothers’ of the KLCs!
By the way given the current invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Wrzesnewskyj has completed another project in the Donbas called ‘Aktyv Voli 2’.
While much of what has just been outlined predates involvement specific to the provisionals, the entirety of this history completes the full story. Had it not been for the financing and work by Wrzesnewskyj, who was also able to call on friends such as Terlecki, Kravets, and Syrota in this effort, and of groups like Rukh, the Dzvin chapters, and the Polish trucking company crossing the border, these provisional KLC Trident overprints may well not exist today. It is so very important to chronicle such events, to turn what otherwise may have remained ‘hearsay’ into the ‘fact’ that actually it is.
This article shed light on Borysfen history which until now was unknown to most all. There are still questions remaining unanswered. For example, if company owner Vera Syrota remembers whether any in-house ink mix was left over from the Kyiv printings, she might also know if it was used up on the Lviv and Chernihiv stamps before going to the ‘outside’ ink. This is important. While larger companies may have been able to ‘swallow’ costs associated with the disposal of any previously unused ink, smaller Ukrainian companies like Borysfen may well not have had the ability to actually do the same. And so in these austere Ukrainian times, if the inks were first used up before going to other mixes, this speaks volumes to ‘identification’.
Two other names were linked to Borysfen, then-director D.K. Miroshnichenko and then-deputy director H.V. Novikov. Can it be safely assumed that they were employees of Syrota’s Borysfen, or did Borysfen come into other hands as time passed? If Borysfen came into other hands, Syrota might not be able to answer such questions.