Hryhoriy from Chernihiv had eight prison terms for theft and had been using drugs for years. The point of no return was probation, which was prescribed by the court. For three years, Hryhoriy worked to change his life together with a probation inspector. Probation is being implemented in Ukraine with the help of the EU Pravo-Justice project.
Hryhorii Tonkyi is a resident of Chernihiv with a difficult fate. He was repeatedly convicted. In his younger years, he became a drug addict. Lack of money for the next dose prompted him to commit crimes. Although the man tried to get rid of the addiction and start a new life, each time he was released from prison, he repeated his mistakes. Going to crime and drug addiction hurt his loved ones.
However, the point of no return for him was probation, to which he was sentenced by the court. Hryhorii was sentenced to imprisonment for another crime, but was released from serving this probation sentence. For three years he worked on changes in his life together with the probation inspector (at that time the penitentiary inspector), which helped him to understand himself, his past and find the strength and people who supported him on the path of change.
Hryhorii is a somewhat unique person who, despite his past, started a new life and everything worked out for him. Having gone through a rather difficult and tragic path, he decided to help others.
Now Hryhorii has become a probation volunteer and conducts social and educational work with probation clients, by personal example he motivates the same addicts as he was many years ago to internal changes. He has a large family. The man became a private entrepreneur, has a construction business and is now working to buy his own home for his family.
Today he abruptly opens the door of the Novozavodsk Probation Department. Jumping over the stairs, climbs to the second floor. He walks quickly down the corridor. This path is familiar to him, and he went through it many times: once as a convict, and now as a probation volunteer. He stops in front of the office of the head of the Novozavodsk District Department of the branch of Probation Centre State Institution in the Chernihiv oblast Yuliya Vasylenko – once he was her client, and now they work together to help others.
Where the Roots are Buried: Prisoner’s Сhildhood
Hryhorii Tonkyi is the second child in a large family. Their parents had five children. The youngest is a girl, and all the boys are troublemakers. Hryhorii was born in Kyiv. However, when he was very young, the family moved to Russia.
There he studied until the 5th grade in a Russian-language school. He studied well: “When we returned to Ukraine in 1994,” Hryhorii Tonkyi recalls, “we settled in my father’s family house in Brovary. There was no Russian-language school nearby. I was sent to the 5th grade of a Ukrainian school. That’s when my first problems started. I did not understand the teachers. Ukrainian seemed to me a rather complicated language. Interest in lessons has disappeared. And I went to the streets. I shirked school.”
“It was an incomprehensible feeling for me – sadness and relief at the same time. Although, I can’t say that nothing good united me with my father. There were times when we had good relations with him, but there were too few of them,” the man recalls
The son’s school problems were not immediately noticed by his parents. After moving to Ukraine, they could not find a high-paying job for a long time. The father started drinking. And the mother, who somehow tried to feed the children, had no time for the upbringing.
That’s when the unbearable years of my childhood began. I did not want to return home at all. In my 12 years, I drank alcohol and smoked. I had a corresponding company. The older boys were always encouraging. I was more interested in them than in home. When I came home, my father always tried to teach me. Of course, it was unpleasant for me, especially when he was drunk. At that time, I could already stand up for myself, but I didn’t really want to worry my mother even more… It lasted for three years. And then my father died.
Another tragedy happened in the family within a year. Hryhorii’s older brother died under the wheels of the car. The mother was very saddened by the loss of her son. Hryhorii drifted apart even more, trying to brighten his life in another way – alcohol, entertainment.
The first Hryhorii’s conviction was in 1998: “At the age of 14, my friends and I committed theft on a particularly large scale. They robbed warehouses – state property, Hryhorii says. – That’s how I was given the first term, although I was amnestied during the investigation. I did not stop there. That is why in less than a year, I was caught again. This time I was sent to a juvenile colony in Dubno, Rivne region.”
When I was discharged, I continued to take the wrong path. I started using drugs. “I immediately became addicted to hard drugs. I took heroin, methodone. When there was not enough money, I was satisfied with shirka.”
And in 2001, I ended up in a penal colony in Bila Tserkva. There, in the colony, I finished 9th grade. I served my sentence there for almost four years. The desire to get “easy money” and the negative influence of friends, who also did not know how to live by the law, outweighed common sense. Now Hryhorii admits that he did not know or was not able to do anything else then. This was a model of behavior learned from childhood. He simply didn’t understand how to build his life legally.
Periodically, Hryhorii tried to return to a healthy lifestyle. To do this, he even registered at a rehabilitation centre near Chernihiv. He learned about it from his sister. Although she lived in another country, she did not lose hope of saving her older brother. “During rehabilitation, I met my current wife,” Hryhorii smiles. – Olena lived in that village. It was love at first sight. We got married. Our daughter was born. And this happiness did not stop me. I still continued to take drugs. Now I am very sorry for that period. After all, in search of the next dose, I was unbearable. I took all valuables out of the house.”
From this, Hryhorii’s family came apart at the seams. The sister stopped communicating with the apology for a brother at all. After an unsuccessful attempt at rehabilitation, she lost hope of salvation. Only Olena did not back down and hoped that everything would pass. All this time, his wife Olena relied only on God. She went to church and whispered prayers every night so that only Hryhorii would come to his senses.
“My wife knew I was a drug addict. – HryhoriI Tonkyi continues. – Every day she lived like on a powder keg. Every time she returned from work, she was in a state of anticipation. Every time some valuables disappeared from our homes, money poured out. Because I sold it all for drugs. I did not see how my family lived, how my daughter grew up. I lived from dose to dose. My family began to fall apart. Mom died. The wife always cried and was deeply unhappy. And the mother-in-law threatened to take the child and deprive me of my parental rights. Here I thought, whether I would have to continue to shoot heroin and die from it, or to get serious, go to rehabilitation and establish normal relations in the family”.
But from the right thoughts to the right actions, there was still a long time of testing and rehabilitation.
Hryhorii was again convicted in 2013. “It a theft again. – The man remembers. – My team and I did some construction work. We were not paid and we decided to “take ours” from this attractive house.” Once again, Hryhorii and his company did not think about the consequences. The feeling that they were right and masters of life was overwhelming. But you have to pay for each offence. Hryhorii was convicted to 5 years in prison with a probation period of three years.
The probation unit, where Hryhorii was sentenced by the court, became a starting point for a new life. After the reform of the penitentiary system in 2016-2017, the newly created probation units have changed their approaches to working with people like Hryhorii. Whereas in the past the work of the penitentiary inspectorate was mostly focused on the control of convicts, now the staff of the probation authorities is looking for reasons to commit crimes and seeks to help clients eliminate these reasons and return to normal life in the community. To protect from new crimes and from prison.
His inspector was Yuliya Vasylenko. It was she who tried to make Hryhorii think about his life and involve him in public life:
“The history of our communication with Hryhorii is very old. He came to us at the worst time of his life. He used drugs, was addicted, – the head of the Novozavodsk Department of the branch of Probation Center State Institution in the Chernihiv oblast Yuliya Vasylenko says. – Then I was a senior inspector, and my task was to show my client that there is another life, to motivate for change. To do this, I organized various events, trainings and invited members of public and religious organizations involved in the psychological rehabilitation of drug addicts, people who changed their own lives for the better and motivated others by their example were among them. However, the situation with Hryhorii was difficult. After all, he behaved superficially. He thought that he knew and could do more than he would be told in trainings. He reacted too emotionally to my suggestions. I have always been in touch with his wife. We talked to Olena very often. She told me in what condition and when Hrysha was returning home.”
The family really was and is important for Hryhorii. As he says, despite his inappropriate behavior, he always loved his family. Hryhorii has three children. The eldest (16-year-old) son is from a previous marriage, but also lives with Hryhorii. Hryhoriy has two daughters with Olena. Now Hryhorii is a caring and attentive father. But this was not always the case. He admits that he managed to save his family thanks in part to probation.
When I first started going to the probation center, my condition was far from normal. I often quarreled and reacted aggressively to comments. Because I usually came here, to put it in slang, when I got stoned.
“Once I agreed to attend one of the socio-psychological trainings. These were volunteers of NGO Peremoha. They talked about their way of life, about faith, and I thought very seriously. Then there were other trainings and meetings.”
In 2016, Hryhorii Tonkyi started psychological rehabilitation at Peremoha Centre. From that period, Hryhorii stopped using alcohol, drugs and smoking. And more importantly – he learned to earn a living without breaking the law. He began to respect the laws of God, goes to church.
Life Brings Joy Again
Now Hryhorii is proud that he managed to get rid of his bad habits and gave up criminal behavior. Now, as a probation volunteer, together with other members of NGO Peremoha, he conducts trainings for drug addicts, by his example he helps people who are like he was many years ago to believe in yourself and your future.
“Nowadays I don’t drink anything stronger than coffee, – Hryhorii says. – My wife finally stopped being afraid. For the first year after my rehabilitation, she called me every hour. Everyone was afraid that I would fail. Now I pay a lot of attention to the family. We constantly go to the Christian church with the whole family. So far, we live in a rented apartment. However, I believe that I will buy a house in the near future.”
Hryhorii registered as an individual entrepreneur, engaged in construction business: “I go to the probation centre at Yuliya Vasylenko’s request, when there is need to provide help and advice for those who are like I used to be. I gladly agreed to volunteer in probation, because I am very grateful to the Probation Centre and especially to Mrs. Yuliya for her support, patience and help. Probation workers, in turn, also help our Peremoha Centre and often counsel those undergoing rehabilitation.”
Now I work legally and do not break the law. I come to the probation centre often. However, now not as a client, but as a volunteer.
Hryhorii got relationship with his mother-in-law and his younger sister back on track. He did not lose his relationship with his brothers, although they did not like the way of life that Hryhorii chose, they forgave him everything.
After understanding his past, having analysed mistakes and knowing the high price of true happiness, Hryhorii tries to protect his own children from this.
“I have a teenage son, – Hryhorii says. – He needs parental attention now. However, I never use my father’s methods, because I understand well that at this age you want to spite somebody. I never blamed anyone for my fate. I chose this path myself. However, I remember well when I first tried a cigarette – my father punished me. And to spite him, I continued to smoke. Although only I am responsible for my actions.”
The life of Hryhorii Tonkyi is a real story of a man who stumbled. 8 convictions, years of drug addiction, hopelessness. But with the help of qualified professionals and caring people, with the support of a loved one and an all-conquering love for children, he was able to adjust his life. His story is convincing: it is never too late to change your life. It is possible to provide a good future for yourself and your family. Recognize the taste of peace and comfort. To really live in freedom, free from addictions: drugs and crime. Have reliable and loyal friends nearby, not companions in crime.