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Bill Thayer

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Part II
Chapter 4

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

Stalinist Rule in the Ukraine
by Hryhory Kostiuk

published in the U. S. A. by
Frederick A. Praeger, Inc.
New York

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Part II
Chapter 6

Part Two
The Consolidation of Stalinism in the Ukraine

 p133  Chapter V

The Fulfilment of Stalin's Plan

The "New Men" from Moscow

Stalin's master-plan was engineered by the "leader of the peoples" himself. The new executor of this plan in the Ukraine was not the diplomat Molotov, nor the policeman Yezhov, but the third member of the 1937 "special commission," Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev. In spite of the setback he had received during his earlier Ukrainian visit, in spite of the fact that the Ukrainian Central Committee had rejected his candidacy for the post of secretary of the CP(b)U, Khrushchev was put in charge of the Ukraine. Soon after the affront he had suffered at the hands of the Ukrainian Communists, Khrushchev supervised the purge of the very men who had dared to oppose Stalin's protégé. He accomplished his task brilliantly.

Khrushchev's arrival in the Ukraine in his new capacity as secretary of the CP(b)U was not the result of his election to this post by the Central Committee. It was merely noted by Pravda as an accomplished fact. On January 28, 1938, the Party organ printed the following announcement on the first page:

Plenum of the CC CP(b)U. In connection with the transfer to other work of Comrade S. V. Kosior, the plenum relieved him of the duties of first secretary and member of the Politburo of the CP(b)U. The plenum elected Comrade N. S. Khrushchev as acting first secretary of the CC CP(b)U.

Comrade M. A. Burmistenko was elected acting second secretary of the CC CP(b)U.

Above the announcement was a large portrait of the new governor of the Ukraine, Khrushchev. Like his predecessor, Postyshev, he was wearing a Ukrainian embroidered shirt. On his face was a contented and confident smile.

It is difficult to imagine how the plenum of the Central Committee could have been held when there was no Central Committee. It is possible that some sort of rump plenum was convened with the help of two members of the Central Committee (the Stakhanovites Kryvonos and Dyukanov) and the new nominee to the CC, General Timoshenko, who had replaced Yakir. One thing is certain; a lawful plenum of the last elected Central Committee could not be held, since all its members had been liquidated.

A similar puppet show may have been performed with the Council of People's Commissars. On February 22, 1938, Visti reported that Demyan Semenovych Korotchenko had been appointed by the Central Executive Committee of the  p134 Ukrainian SSR to the post of Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars. How could this have been done legally, when, after the liquidation of the previous Council of People's Commissars no elections had been held to the new Council? The new chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, Korotchenko, was a little-known figure in the Party and almost unknown in the Ukraine. The Soviet Ukrainian press reported the changes which took place as if nothing had happened. Its readers, however, must have realized that their government from then on was to be a group of Stalin's men who were strangers to the Ukraine. Khrushchev, Korotchenko, Burmistenko and the new Ukrainian NKVD chief, A. I. Uspensky, were to govern a country completely unfamiliar with their names.

Their first task was to deal with the so‑called "organization of the rear," which meant the mopping‑up of all those connected with the old regime, while the new men surrounded themselves with trusted followers. Then Khrushchev and Korotchenko made preparations for new elections to the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR and to the forthcoming Fourteenth Congress of the CP(b)U.1 They realized that only a newly elected Supreme Soviet and Party Congress could give them, usurpers as they were, at least some semblance of legality.

June 14‑18, 1938, the Fourteenth Congress of the CP(b)U was held in Kiev. It elected, or rather confirmed in office, the new Central Committee, headed by Khrushchev and Burmistenko. This was the legalization of the "Khrushchev era" in the Ukraine.2 It also confirmed Korotchenko as Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars.3

Five weeks later on July 25, 1938, the first session of the newly elected Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR opened in the Franko Theater, in Kiev. An unknown, unimportant Party official from the Melitopol district in the province of Dnepropetrovsk, Leonid Romanovych Korniyets was elected chairman of the Supreme Soviet. He was, undoubtedly, a protégé of Korotchenko, who had been for some time the secretary of the Dnepropetrovsk Provincial Committee of the CP(b)U.

 p135  By comparing the composition of the Central Committee of the CP(b)U, elected at the Thirteenth Congress in 1937,4 with the new Central Committee, elected at the Fourteenth Congress,5 we shall see that, apart from Kryvonos and Dyukanov, whom we have mentioned earlier, as well as General Timoshenko, none of the old members of the Central Committee was re‑elected in 1938; not a single member of the new Committee was ever a well-known public figure or an active participant in the revolution and the civil war in the Ukraine. General Timoshenko's Party standing was nil. He was a professional soldier who had no relation to the events of 1917 in the Ukraine. The new Central Committee consisted of 59 members and 27 candidate members. Khrushchev was the first and Burmistenko the second secretary. The now Politburo consisted of Khrushchev, Burmistenko, Korotchenko, Timoshenko, Uspensky, Shcherbakov, and two candidate members, Osipov and Zodiochenko.

It is noteworthy that the new Politburo had 6 members and 2 candidate members, while the former Politburo had consisted of 11 members and 5 candidate members. The even number of members in the new Politburo was a departure from the democratic system of the uneven number of the Politburo. Obviously, voting was not regarded by the new Politburo as very important; orders from the Kremlin were accepted unanimously.

Political Profiles of the Leaders

The old Central Committee and the Council of People's Commissars had had many outstanding personalities. Petrovsky, Zatonsky, Lyubchenko, Shlikhter, Sukhomlin, Kosior all had a long record of revolutionary work. Many of them were talented organizers and speakers (Lyubchenko, Khvylya, Zatonsky); several were well-known writers (Kulyk); some were scholars (Popov, Shlikhter). They owed their position in the Party hierarchy in the Ukraine at least partly to their intellectual qualities. How did the new leaders of the Ukraine compare with them?

All that can be attempted here is a very brief characterization of the new rulers.

Nikita Khrushchev was born in 1894 in the Russian province of Kursk into a family of proletarianized peasants. Having received little formal education and having shown no original talent, Khrushchev failed to play an active part in the revolution. He was called up into the Red Army in which he served as a private.6 After the Civil War he did not distinguish himself in any way. At a period when the new regime offered many opportunities to young Communists, Khrushchev went to work as a miner in the Donbas. It was some little time before he was sent by the local Communist cell to the Workers' Faculty (Rabfak), which was one of several adult education institutes created for those who had had no opportunity to receive a secondary education. After four years of study Khrushchev was given  p136 his first Party job: he became secretary of the Petrov-Marlinsky district. Later he held a similar post in one of the districts of the town of Stalino,​a and still later he was put in charge of a small trade union in Kiev. From Kiev, where he also held the post of chief organizer of the Kiev area committee of the CP(b)U, he was sent in 1929 to the Stalin Industrial Academy in Moscow.

This was the turning point in Khrushchev's unspectacular Communist career. He entered the Academy just when Stalin was consolidating his power in the Kremlin and was looking for faithful apparatchiks. He recruited them from the ranks of colorless, mediocre Party members like Khrushchev. Through a lucky chance Khrushchev came to the attention of Nadezhda Alliluyeva, Stalin's second wife, who was then the secretary of the Communist organization of the Academy. She soon offered him her job, thus launching Khrushchev on a major Party career. After a time the work in the Academy became too narrow for him. With Stalin's recommendation, in 1931 he became secretary of the Bauman district and later of the Krasnaya Presnya district in the city of Moscow. In 1932 Khrushchev was second secretary of the Moscow City Committee of the Party, and in 1934 he became the first secretary of that committee and second secretary of the Moscow Province Committee. Finally, in 1935, Khrushchev climbed to the very top, as first secretary of the Moscow City and Province Committees of the Party.

During that time Khrushchev had not distinguished himself as an orator, writer, or thinker. It may perhaps have been because he was not any of these and was an ideal underling that he rose to such heights under Stalin's patronage. His obedience and devotion to his master earned him an important assignment: member­ship in the special commission which, in 1937, went to investigate the Ukrainian Central Committee. He played his part well enough to become elevated to the leader­ship of the CP(b)U.

Mikhail Burmistenko was born in 1902, in the province of Saratov, in Russia. His family origin was not mentioned by the official biographers. Burmistenko enrolled in the Party in 1919. His job was in the Cheka of the Tambov and Penza provinces, where, as his biographer stresses, he did the ordinary duties of a Chekist. One of the occasions on which he distinguished himself was the "suppression of the kulak uprisings." Apart from his work in the Cheka, he acted (perhaps on orders of the Cheka) as secretary of the local Komsomol. From 1923 to 1926 he joined the Red Army and was the political secretary of the provincial military commissariat. In 1927, still in the Cheka, Burmistenko was made responsible for the supervision of newspapers. A few months later he became the editor of the provincial newspaper in the Volga German Autonomous Republic. From 1928 to 1929 he studied journalism at the Moscow Communist Institute of Journalism. Later he continued his career as an editor. In 1932 he became the secretary of the Provincial Committee of the All‑Union CP(b) for the Kalmyk Autonomous SSR. This post he held until December 1935. In January 1936 Burmistenko was chosen to be an instructor for the training program of the cadres in the CC All‑Union CP(b), where he soon became deputy chief of the program. This program  p137 was closely connected with Stalin's personal secretariat and served as an intelligence center within the Party. At the height of the campaign of terror directed against the Old Bolsheviks, Burmistenko was made the chief of this private NKVD. There is little doubt that Burmistenko must have performed this task well, and that he could boast of the achievements of his men in the Ukraine. This fact might have been decisive in earning him high honor in the Ukrainian Party hierarchy. Apart from the time-tested qualities of a Chekist, Burmistenko had the advantage of a Ukrainian name.

His career came to an abrupt end in the middle of the Second World War. In 1942, when the Ukraine was already occupied by the Germans, Burmistenko was broadcasting to the Ukrainian people. His name suddenly disappeared from the Soviet press early in 1943. Vysochenko quotes a story, broadcast by the BBC in 1950, according to which Burmistenko was revealed to be a German agent and fled to the Nazis,7 where he became one of the leaders of the Vlasov movement. An even more fantastic story of Burmistenko's end is given by Ivan Krylov, a former high-ranking Red Army officer. Krylov speaks of Burmistenko as a German spy and a Ukrainian nationalist.8

Both these versions are unrealistic; they do not explain, in our opinion, the mystery of Burmistenko's disappearance.​b

Demyan Korotchenko, third in importance in the new Soviet Ukrainian hierarchy, was born in 1894 in the village of Pohrebky, in the province of Chernigov, in the Ukraine. He came from a peasant family. Before the Revolution he worked in a bakery in the small town of Shostka. In 1914 he was mobilized and served in the army as a private soldier. During the Revolution he was elected to the Committee of Soldiers' Deputies in Tallinn. He then returned to his native village in the Ukraine, where he was active in the local committee and took part in the uprising against Hetman Skoropadsky. When the Red Army occupied the Ukraine at the end of 1918, Korotchenko joined the Communist Party.

From 1919 to 1924 Korotchenko occupied minor posts in the Shostka Party Committee. In 1924 he was the secretary of the Chernigov Regional Committee, and from then on he climbed steadily in the Party hierarchy. During his work in Moscow he came into contact with Khrushchev, with whom he worked as one of the secretaries of the Moscow District Committee. In June 1937, Korotchenko replaced the secretary of the Western Province Committee of the All‑Union CP(b), who had been purged. He became the first secretary of the Western Province and Smolensk City Committees of the All-Union CP(b), using the Russian name of Korotchenkov.9 In the fall of 1937, Korotchenko was transferred to the Ukraine, to take the place of the liquidated secretary of the Dnepropetrovsk Committee, Khataevich. From there he quickly rose to a highly responsible post in the  p138 Party organization of the Ukraine. The career which this half-educated Red Army man forged was only possible under Stalin's and Khrushchev's guidance.10

Little is known about A. I. Uspensky and A. S. Shcherbakov. They had never worked in the Ukraine before and were strangers to that country. Uspensky was an old Chekist. At the end of January 1938, he was decorated for bravery as "a famous son of the fatherland, a fearless intelligence officer, vigilantly protecting peaceful labor."11 This "fearless intelligence officer" was responsible for the last wave of terror which swept the Ukraine in 1938. In a few years, the "famous son of the fatherland" disappeared without a trace. According to Vysochenko, Uspensky was a German agent and fled to Rumania.12

Before coming to the Ukraine, Shcherbakov (born in 1901, in Moscow province) was secretary of the Irkutsk Province Committee of the All‑Union CP(b).13 When Sarkis (Sarkisov), an Old Bolshevik, a member of the CC CP(b)U and secretary of the Donbas Party Committee, was liquidated, Shcherbakov was sent to take his place. In a few months this little-known Party official became a member of the Ukrainian Politburo. His further career was truly meteoric. He was transferred to Moscow, where he became a favorite of Stalin. During the war he wore the epaulettes of a Red Army General — only to fall victim to the sinister plot of the Jewish doctors. Soon after Stalin's death, the story of the "doctor-poisoners" was officially denied; this, however, did not bring A. S. Shcherbakov back to life.

The gallery of new Ukrainian chiefs is not very imposing. The most outstanding of them were small and insignificant apparatchiks. Most of them were, no doubt, sufficiently competent for Stalin's purposes. They were incapable of taking sides in any ideological struggle, of succumbing to this or that tendency, because they were men of the new Stalin era, careerists and functionaries. As long as they reaped material benefits and enjoyed the confidence of their leader, they were ready to do anything and to go anywhere. They remained totally alien to the Ukraine and her culture. They were Stalin's empire-builders and colonizers, bringing Russification and reaction to all parts of the Soviet Union.

As has already been emphasized, their function in the Ukraine was to execute, down to the most minute detail, the old instructions issued to Postyshev in January 1933. The last vestiges of the independent spirit of the Ukraine, of its cultural, political, social and national traditions, had to be extinguished. Khrushchev and his lieutenants finally completed Stalin's plan. By the time the Eighteenth Congress of the All‑Union CP(b) had convened in March 1939, the Ukraine was no longer a country in its own right, but a Soviet colony, a mere province of the Soviet Empire.

 p139  The Ukrainian language was no longer used by the new Soviet Ukrainian government. Few of the new rulers of the Ukraine could speak it. The official proceedings of the government in Kiev began to be conducted and printed in Russian. On January 1, 1938, the new daily organ of the CP(b)U, Sovetskaya Ukraina (The Soviet Ukraine), started publication. It was printed in Russian.14

After twenty years of Soviet Ukrainian statehood, the Ukrainian people found themselves back where they had been before the Revolution, when their masters had spoken to them only in Russian. This was a painful blow to the national pride of the Ukrainians, who realized very clearly that a gesture as cynical as this by their masters would have been impossible in the days of Skrypnyk or of Lyubchenko. The Ukrainian newspapers still being published merely reprinted the pronouncements of Sovetskaya Ukraina. Like Soviet Ukrainian literature, the press was forced to follow in the footsteps of the "Russian elder brother."

In April 1938, a special decree was published by the Soviet Ukrainian government, introducing Russian as a compulsory subject in non‑Russian schools. Sometimes this meant that the Russian language received more attention than the Ukrainian. There was, of course, no time for foreign languages. Khrushchev reminded the Fourteenth Congress of the CP(b)U that

the enemies of the people, the bourgeois nationalists, knew the impact and influence of the Russian language and culture on the Ukraine. They knew that this meant, too, that the teachings of Lenin and Stalin had influenced the minds of the Ukrainian people, the minds of the Ukrainian workers and peasants. That is why they removed the Russian language from the school curriculum. In many Ukrainian schools, German, French, Polish and other languages were taught, but not Russian . . . Comrades, now all the peoples will learn Russian.15

It is doubtful that Khrushchev really believed all the peoples would learn Russian, but he certainly knew this: the Ukrainians would learn Russian, because the latest turn of the Party line prescribed it for them.16

It was due to Khrushchev that Russian became firmly established in the Ukrainian schools. Although it was impossible to destroy or to forbid the Ukrainian language, its use was limited and its vocabulary, syntax, and grammatical structure were not to be determined by the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, but by the police. Under their watchful eye Ukrainian was purged of many native characteristics, words, and expressions and became littered with Russianisms.

Russification of the Ukraine proceeded not only in the fields of language; Ukrainian history, culture, and even the history of the Ukrainian Communist  p140 Party were excluded from the curriculum in schools and institutes of higher education. Instead, Ukrainian children were forced to learn Russian history and to regard Russian national heroes as their own. The Ukrainian press and books began to repeat one slogan ad nauseam: The Ukraine is an inseparable part of the USSR.17 There were endless tributes to Stalin, to the great Russian culture, to the "eternal friendship of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples." Ukrainian literature, deprived of all contacts with the West, purged of its brightest talents, and chained to the Soviet Writers' Union, was reduced to exhibiting pre‑revolutionary ethnographic themes of "local color" and to slavish imitation of Russian Soviet literature.

The era of Khrushchev closes the decade (1929‑1939) in which Stalin's plans for the Ukraine were finally brought to a success­ful conclusion. On one side of the balance sheet we find collectivization, famine, terror, the extermination of millions of peasants and workers, intellectuals, scholars and Ukrainian Communists; on the other side, the fulfillment of Stalin's dream by Nikita Khrushchev.

The Author's Notes:

1 D. S. Korotchenko, "Sovetskaya Ukraina pered vyborami Verkhovnogo Soveta Respubliki" (The Soviet Ukraine before the Elections to the Supreme Soviet of the Republic), Pravda, April 24, 1938. "Plenum TsK KP(b)U o podgotovke k vyboram v Verkhovny Sovet USSR" (Plenum of the CC CP(b)U Concerning the Preparation for the Elections to the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR), Pravda, April 28, 1938.

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2 "XIV sezd bolshevikov Ukrainy" (The Fourteenth Congress of the Bolsheviks of the Ukraine), Pravda, June 13, 1938. Khrushchev's speech, Pravda, June 16, 1938; Proceedings of the Fourteenth Congress of the CP(b)U, Pravda, June 17, 18, 19, 1938.

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3 According to Pravda of July 26 and 28, 1938, the following was the distribution of portfolios in the new Soviet Ukrainian government (the Council of People's Commissars): chairman, D. S. Korotchenko; deputy chairman, D. N. Zhyla; chairman of State Planning Commission, A. M. Usikov; internal affairs (NKVD), A. I. Uspensky; food, S. M. Balyka; light industry, N. I. Kirichenko; forestry, P. Ya. Ushakov; agriculture, I. F. Murza; grain and cattle-breeding state farms, V. S. Shylo; finance, N. A. Kurach; commerce, P. M. Borisov; justice, N. F. Babchenko; health, I. I. Ovsienko; education, H. S. Khomenko; local industry, L. I. Ulyanenko; municipal economy, V. S. Chernovol; social insurance, E. I. Legur; chief of the Office of Cultural Affairs, N. M. Kompaniets; highway administration, S. P. Mychev. Not one of these had previously occupied any government post.

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4 Visti, June 4, 1937.

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5 Visti, June 20, 1938.

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6 Visti, January 28, 1938.

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7 Vysochenko, op. cit., p80.

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8 Ivan Krylov, The Soviet Staff Officer, New York, Philosophical Library, 1951, pp142‑44.

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9 Cf. Merle Fainsod, Smolensk Under Soviet Rule, Cambridge, 1958, p60.

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10 All biographical data on Khrushchev, Burmistenko and Korotchenko are taken from Visti, January 28, and February 22, 1938.

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11 Pravda, January 28, 1938.

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12 Vysochenko, op. cit., pp77‑78.

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13 "O bolshevistskoi bditelnosti i chutkosti" (About Bolshevik Vigilance and Sensitiveness), Pravda, January 29, 1938.

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14 Pravda, December 30, 1937, announced: "From January 1, 1938, a large daily newspaper in Russian, Sovetskaya Ukraina, will be published in Kiev as an organ of the CC CP(b)U and UCEC."

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15 Khrushchev's speech, Pravda, June 16, 1938.

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16 "Russky yazyk — dostoyanie sovetskikh narodov" (The Russian Language — Property of the Soviet Peoples), Pravda, July 7, 1938.

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17 "Plenum TsK KP(b)U o podgotovke k vyboram v Verkhovny Sovet USSR" (The Plenum of the CC CP(b)U Concerning the Preparation for the Elections to the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR), Pravda, April 28, 1938. D. Korotchenko's address, Pravda, April 24, 1938.

Thayer's Notes:

a Now Donetsk.

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b A widely followed website (and its many clones) makes the unsourced claim that Burmistenko died at the front in 1941, which doesn't explain why our author seems to be saying that at least thru 1942 he was still being officially spoken of as living, unless of course our author is mistaken. As late as 2015, and maybe even now, there was a plaque in memory of Burmistenko in Kyiv, on a street named for him: the plaque does give a death date in September 1941.

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