External surveillance photographs of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ukraine



External surveillance photographs of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ukraine
Фотографії зовнішнього спостереження за Свідками Єгови, Україна
Фотографии наружного наблюдения за Свидетелями Иеговы, Украина


These photographs come from a KGB surveillance file on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ukraine, 1955-1956. The photographs, which were taken with a hidden camera, capture the meeting of a KGB agent with a group of Witnesses in the town of Morshyn, western Ukraine. The agent was a Witness minister recruited by the KGB as an informer. He was appointed by the secret police to meet with members of the Jehovah’s Witness regional committee in Ukraine in order to gain their confidence and to intercept the communication channels of Ukrainian Jehovah’s Witnesses with their headquarters abroad. During one of the meetings, the agent intercepted and copied the country missionary reports sent from Ukraine to the Polish Jehovah’s Witness office and later submitted it to the KGB. The handwritten copies are attached to the file. A month later, two of the Witnesses from the meeting were arrested.
After the annexation of western Ukraine in 1939, and particularly with the beginning for the Cold war, the Soviet state launched a full-scale attack against the Jehovah’s Witnesses living in the western borderlands of the country. In the period between 1947 and 1953 alone, the state arrested about 2,000 Witnesses in western Ukraine, confiscated hundreds of thousands of journals and leaflets and destroyed several underground printing presses. Alleged emissaries of the American intelligence services, Ukrainian Jehovah’s Witnesses faced two mass deportations in 1949 and 1950. The repression nearly wiped out the organizational structure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and fractured their coherent network of close-knit communities in Ukraine.
As part of the plan to repress them, the KGB carried out several secret operations that aimed to infiltrate the Jehovah’s Witness leadership with KGB agents and informers. There were about 200 agents and informers working in the Witness underground in western Ukraine in the mid-1950s. Several KGB informers became important figures within the Jehovah’s Witness organization, entered the country committee, travelled abroad and established communication with higher level Witness centres in Poland and Switzerland. Many Witness couriers who smuggled information from the Soviet Union abroad were under the control of the KGB. This is how the secret police obtained detailed and up to date information about the religious underground. The subsequent history of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Soviet Union, however, demonstrates that neither KGB agent infiltration nor mass deportation prevented the survival or indeed the steady growth of the organization.
The images come from the State Archive Branch of the Security Services of Ukraine, fond 2, op.1, spr. 2677. Along with 6 photographs, the file contains numerous reports on surveillance and informer recruitment, reports on the arrest of Witness leaders, agent reports, character assessments of informers, copies of interrogation reports, fragments of intercepted letters and tallies of Jehovah’s Witness membership.

For related entries see:


Communism and Christianity--Europe, Eastern
Secret police (secret service)
Religion and politics--Europe
Christian sects--Soviet Union
Soviet Union. Ministerstvo gosudarstvennoĭ bezopasnosti
Surveillance photographs


Tatiana Vagramenko


Галузевий державний архів Служби безпеки України ГДА СБУ ф. 2, оп. 1, спр. 2677


This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme No . 677355
The research for this entry was funded by Irish Research Council, GOIPD/2017/764




Copyright for these images belongs to the State Archive Branch of the Security Services of Ukraine


Image/ jpg






SBU Archive, f. 2, op. 1, spr. 2677


Soviet Union
20th century

Bibliographic Citation

Tatiana Vagramenko, "External surveillance photographs of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ukraine", http://hiddengalleries.eu/digitalarchive/s/en/item/373

Date Created