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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 14

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

The Story of the Ukraine
by Clarence Manning

published by
Philosophical Library
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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Chapter 16

 p184  Chapter Fifteen

Progress in Russia

The arrest and exile of the members of the Society of Saints Cyril and Methodius brought to a halt the first phase of the Ukrainian revival in the Russian Empire. It had been the work of a group of brilliant idealists who had ignored many of the practical difficulties in the way of their cause under the influence of the Romantic movement. There was no romanticism and hardly any sense of realism in the response that was delivered by the government of Nicholas I, who had been born before Kotlyarevsky had commenced the revival with the Eneida, and who could, from his childhood, obtain information from the men who had actually suppressed the last vestiges of the Hetman state.

With the action of his son, Alexander II, in 1855, conditions changed. Alexander started his reign with at least an appearance of liberality and issued a wide amnesty to persons who had incurred the displeasure of his father. Most of the members of the Society were released and allowed to resume work in St. Petersburg. Even Shevchenko, who had been singled out for special treatment because of his attacks on the Imperial Family, was released and he too joined his former friends in the Russian capital. As a result, by the end of the fifties, the former members of the Society of Cyril and Methodius had come together again and were prepared to resume their work under conditions as they then existed.

Kulish, one of the members of the group, started the work with the appearance of the Memoirs on South Rus′ in  p185 1856, but he was refused permission to edit a journal in his own name because of his former connection with the Society of Saints Cyril and Methodius and the exile which he had suffered in consequence. Yet it would be wrong to assume that the new agitation was conducted only by the handful of people who had joined the former group.

In Kiev and Chernihiv other Ukrainians, subject to the limitations that were imposed upon them by the Imperial government, tried to work for their people. Popular schools, usually held on Sunday, were opened to teach the illiterate peasants their own language. New writers appeared, such as Marko Vovchok, the pen‑name of Maria Markovich, whose husband had been one of the members of the Society. Provincial newspapers appeared, societies were established for the purpose of glorifying Ukrainian culture, thinly camouflaged under the name of South Russia, and many other activities were started.

This was the period on the eve of the emancipation of the serfs and it looked as if the new Emperor was going to open a new period in the life of his country. The first years of the reign of Alexander II indeed marked an era of good feeling, and there were wide hopes among almost all classes of society that he would wipe out all the dark memories of the strict reign of his father.

It was under this hope that in 1860 there was founded in St. Petersburg the journal Osnova, (the Basis). Kulish was really responsible for it, although the nominal editor was his brother-in‑law, Bilozersky, one of the lesser members of the Society. It called to its staff of writers and assistants all of the leaders of the younger generation, and for about a year there seemed to be a new spring in the Ukrainian movement in Russia.

Then trouble began again. Kulish, Kostomarov, and Shevchenko, the leaders of the older generation, still endeavored to continue in the paths of the Society. In one of  p186 his articles Kostomarov referred to the dreams of the Ukrainians for member­ship in a great Federation of Slavs. This was, however, exceptional. The experiences of exile and growing caution with increasing age forced the writers to follow a more sober policy of emphasizing the necessity for educating the peasants and for promoting a modest cultural program.

At the same time, Russian society itself had travelled far from the optimistic hopes that had swayed it during the Romantic period. In a sense, the Society of Saints Cyril and Methodius had been a belated child of that great idealistic movement that had swept over the Slavs in the thirties and had been inspired and nourished by the Czech writers of the period. It formed also a transition from the high hopes of the Decembrists of 1825 to the sentimental dreams of the forties. Now at the end of the fifties, the mood of the public had turned again. The intellectual leader­ship of Russia was in the hands of the intelligentsia, who were much interested in the social reforms that were sought for and were little interested in the general fate of Russia or of any particular part of it. It was the period of Fathers and Children of Turgenev, the volume that launched on Russian society the character of Bazarov and the philosophy of nihilism, the idea that nothing was good that could not be justified by natural science and by reason.

As a result, the younger men of the Osnova cared very little for the more idealistic and sentimental sides of the journal. There was no one to control the contents of the magazine and to win the respect of the entire mass of people who were interested in the cause of Ukraine. Shevchenko was dying and within a year the Osnova came to an untimely end. Yet it had done its work in transferring the cause of Ukraine from the older to the younger generation, even though the two differed in many important particulars.

 p187  For the moment the government, under the spell of the liberation of the serfs, was disposed to tolerate all this activity. Kulish was even encouraged to prepare a Ukrainian translation of the Imperial decree providing for the liberation of the serfs. It seemed as if the Ukrainians might be allowed to establish schools where the children would be taught in their native tongue. The success of the cultural program of the young Ukrainian leaders seemed assured. Of course in all this there was no open political action, for it must not be forgotten that at this period there was no opening for political life anywhere in Russia. There was nothing that corresponded to political parties, to elections or to free political discussion. There was even no organized group among the Russians which aspired or voiced their aspirations for such a procedure, so that there was necessity a vagueness about the real goal of all this cultural activity that has been used at a later time by the enemies of Ukraine to dub it mere literary nationalism.

Suddenly everything changed. In 1863 there came another revolt among the Poles in Russia. It was a heroic but desperate venture which was doomed in advance to failure. At the same time there were repeated the sad words of Shevchenko, "Poland fell but it ruined us." A very few of the most Polonized Ukrainians joined in the movement. The Poles themselves complained that they did not receive Ukrainian support, but they succeeded in inspiring the fear in the Russian government that the movement to restore a free Poland would automatically involve the separation of all Ukraine from Russia. The leaders of the Empire now reversed the policy that they had taken in 1847. At that time they were afraid that the Ukrainians would long to go back to their days of practical independence and would throw off the Russian yoke. Now they became convinced that the Ukrainians would give up any  p188 hopes of winning their own liberty and would be glad to be lost in a Polish state.

As a result they decided to renew their efforts to wipe out the last vestiges of Ukrainian separatism and to end the Ukrainian language. Count Valuyev, the Minister of the Interior, declared that there never was, is not and never will be a separate Little Russian language but that it was only a peasant dialect of Great Russian. To that end he gave an order that henceforth there should be allowed to be printed in Ukrainian only those books which fell in the field of belles-lettres. Publication of all books in the Little Russian language which had religious content, textbooks and in general books intended for elementary reading should be forbidden. Valuyev pretended that Great Russian was intelligible to every literate person and that there was no reason why the illiterate masses should not begin their education in it. He also pretended to think that the writings of the early Ukrainian authors were on the same par as peasant dialect stories in any language and so he ostensibly left a loophole, but since these books could be put in simple form for the masses, the censors interpreted his ideas to hold that works in belles-lettres might be used as elementary readers and therefore they could not be published. As a result there were some years in which no work in Ukrainian appeared at all.

It would be interesting to know if this outburst of fear of separatism was in any degree aided by the American Civil War, then at its height. It was at this time that the Imperial Russian Government sent a fleet to New York, perhaps to serve as a counterweight to any possible interference by Western European powers on behalf of the South, and such authors as Dostoyevsky were making allusions to the bloody struggle that was going on in the New World. The establishment of the United States had had a great effect on Russian educated thought a half century  p189 earlier and perhaps some of the Russian officials now were apprehensive of trouble.

At all events the sixties defined precisely the attitude that the Russian government was to take toward Ukrainian cultural aspirations for the rest of the nineteenth century, until the Revolution of 1905. The various Ukrainian journals were suppressed. Some of the writers were sent to Siberia for several years. Others, such as Kulish, ultimately made their way to Galicia and lived in virtual exile, while their books, published there in Lviv, were smuggled into Russia to keep alive the spark of Ukrainian freedom.

It was difficult for the Imperial regime to maintain a consistent policy for long. In a few years there came a slight relaxation of the more stringent rulings of the censor­ship and some Ukrainian books were published. The seventies were the great period of the Narodniki, when the educated youth became convinced of their mission to go to the people, disguise themselves as peasants and try to educate their unfortunate brothers. Under such conditions it was only natural that the same movement was attempted by some of the younger Ukrainians, that there came similar publications intended for clandestine use by the Ukrainians who sought thus to keep their adherents from being submerged in the corresponding Russian movement. At the same time there can be no doubt that many of the more zealous partisans of social reform, especially in St. Petersburg, tended to join the Russian illegal movements and for a time at least lost any special interest in the fate of Ukraine in their zeal for humanity.

At the same time there was founded in 1872 the Southern Branch of the Geographical Society and around this there gathered a large number of Ukrainians, writing scientific articles in Russian but emphasizing those aspects of South Russian life that were most alien to the general Russian traditions. They helped to place the knowledge  p190 of Ukrainian culture on a firmer basis, even though some of the more socially minded sneered at their efforts as of no immediate importance.

These young men, largely at the University of Kiev, formed themselves into a society, the Hromada, which worked vigorously along purely scientific, ethnological and philological lines. They included Prof. V. Antonovich and later Mykhaylo Drahomaniv, by far the most brilliant of the scholars of this generation.

Yet even this scientific work, published for the most part in Russian, still seemed suspicious to the Imperial government. Anything which demanded any cultural rights for the Ukrainian people or mentioned differences between the Great Russians and the Ukrainians or Little Russians or South Russians seemed to be dangerous separatism. This was the more striking because the scholars of Moscow and St. Petersburg at the same time were emphasizing the great differences between the cultures of Moscow and Kiev in the past, were emphasizing that the culture of Kiev was often more Polish than Russian and were teaching their own students, with governmental approval, that the Kievans who came to Moscow in the seventeenth century were to all intents and purposes foreigners who were ill received by the masses of the Muscovites. At the same time the force of public opinion among the radical intelligentsia was emphasizing the fact that Russian literature belonged to the areas around the capitals. It is interesting that except for Count Alexis K. Tolstoy, who advocated the point of view that Kiev represented the European side of the Russians, there were practically no novels written during this entire period depicting the life of the people of Ukraine. After the death of Gogol in 1852, it was possible to rummage into the highways and byways of Russian literature without becoming aware that Kiev and its adjoining regions even existed as part of the Russian Empire in the  p191 nineteenth century. It is fair to say that never, even in the most stringent period of Muscovite isolation, was Russian literature so confined to Great Russian territory as in the Golden Age of the Russian novel and of the intelligentsia, that is the period between 1840 and 1881.

In 1875, a former friend of Kostomarov, one M. Yuzefovich, reported to authorities on the separatist tendencies of this work of the Kiev Hromada. As a result a commission was appointed consisting of him, the Ministers Timashev and Tolstoy and the Chief of the Gendarmes, Potapov, to study the dangerous situation that prevailed in "Little Russia." The committee reported that, "the entire literary activity of the so‑called Ukrainophiles must be considered as an attempt on the national unity and wholeness of Russia, only hidden by plausible forms." As a result, the Tsar issued an order on May 18, 1876, forbidding the importation of books printed abroad in the Little Russian dialect and also forbidding the printing and publishing in the Empire of original works and translations in this dialect with the exception only of: "(a) historical documents and monuments; (b) works of belles-lettres, but with the proviso that with the printing of historical monuments there must be kept the correct orthography of the originals; in works of belles-lettres there must not be allowed any deviations from the generally accepted Russian orthography and that the permission to print works of belles-lettres should be given not otherwise than after the examination of the manuscripts in the Central Administration of the Press; and (c) forbidding various theatrical presentations and readings in the Little Russian dialect and also the printing of such a text to musical notes."

It is well to note the emphasis laid upon spelling in this decree. In the seventeenth century Great Russians had been taught from Ukrainian Church Slavonic grammars, as that of Smotritsky, and the students had been taught to make  p192 the necessary corrections in pronunciation.​a Once practice had brought to these letters the Russian values during the intervening centuries, the acceptance of the Russian pronunciation made difficulties for the pronunciation of Ukrainian words. Kulish had prepared a new alphabet which retained the Cyrillic script but which was suited to Ukrainian and this was being generally accepted by the modern Ukrainian authors. It was to resist this influence that the government decided not only to bar the new literature, but even where it allowed it, to bar the new alphabet and thus create another obstacle to the spread of the "Little Russian dialect."

The result might have been foreseen. Some of the more timorous souls dropped away from literature and consented to write in Great Russian. The others who were more determined, worked the harder to enter Galicia and to profit by the relative freedom there. The decree merely furnished more fuel to the fire and instead of ending the Ukrainian movement it caused it to take even more extreme forms.

Yet some of the Russian authorities in Ukraine themselves felt that some of these rules and still more their methods of application were only adding to the difficulties of the situation. The prohibition of printing songs with a Ukrainian text for example cut hard at the rendering of songs which all agreed were of superior quality. Plays produced in Russian in Ukrainian villages did not satisfy the popular demand and the habit grew of allowing Ukrainian plays to be produced, provided that the company would also produce at the same time some Russian piece.

In 1882 a group of Ukrainians secured permission to print in Kiev an archaeological journal, the Antiquities of Kiev, and this was granted in a temporary relaxation of the censor­ship. Later it became possible to include in it a few articles written in Ukrainian, especially when printed in the Russian manner. All such devices were unsatisfactory  p193 but the reign of Alexander III was a definite period of reaction in all fields and it was not until the time of Nicholas II that there came any marked lightening of the censor­ship.

The censor­ship in Kiev and the other cities of Ukraine was vastly stricter than it was in St. Petersburg. Hence during these years the centre of such publishing as was allowed was the very capital from which the orders were coming to prevent the development of a Ukrainian literature. It was often possible there to issue relatively cheap editions which could be transported to the south and it was there that the new writers like Lesya Ukrainka, Hrinchenko and Kotsyubinsky saw their works in print. For books which could not come out there, there was always Galicia.

In view of the conditions of Russian life, the Ukrainian revival in Russia had to take the exclusive form of cultural work and scientific study. There were many secret and under­ground groups as there were among the Russians. In many cases the two groups fused for actual revolutionary activity and Ukrainians were often involved in the plots of the various Russian movements. This was a handicap for the work of the Ukrainian leaders and it prevented a full appreciation of the situation by the often still illiterate peasants, who on the whole took relatively little part in the movements that were going on throughout the entire country.

Insofar as the masses of the peasants were affected by the growing unrest, it was rather their desire for land and for better living conditions that moved them. They continued to speak their native language in their homes and villages but far too many of them had not been interested in the general development of the country. They thought in terms of their own communities. Many of them emigrated to Siberia and to Russian Central Asia. Others made their way abroad.

At the same time there was a renewed period of Russification.  p194 This came from two distinct sources. As in the past, a considerable number of the Ukrainians who found it possible to secure an education in Russian schools tended to absorb the Russian point of view and to separate themselves from their original background. They accepted the theories which the government gave them, that Ukrainian was somehow a peasant dialect and that it was more fashionable and more modern to try to speak the ruling tongue. This was the same argument from which Ukraine had suffered for centuries and which had been aided immensely by the unfortunate decision in the sixteenth century to lay the main emphasis upon Church Slavonic as the bulwark of Orthodoxy.

A second source developed however in the latter part of the nineteenth century, when there began an extensive movement of Great Russians into the growing cities of Ukraine. More and more Russians came to live in Kiev and Kharkiv and the other important sites which grew up with the building of railroads and the increase of industrial activity in the area. Russians began to settle in the Donets basin, where there were extensive coal deposits, and in the neighborhood of the iron mines not too far distant. Others moved into Odesa which became the chief seaport on the Black Sea.

All of these factors proved a severe handicap to the development of the Ukrainian revival, but they did not hinder it and at the end of the nineteenth century, it was already abundantly clear that there was a large and steadily growing population which was proud of its language and of its traditions. It was evident that Ukrainian culture had again turned the corner and that it was a force to be reckoned with, despite the ideas of both the Imperial government and its enemies, the Russian radicals.

Thayer's Note:

a See p111.

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