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Chapter 24

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 26

 p273  Chapter Twenty‑Five

The Ukrainian Soviet Republic

The seizure of power in Russia by the Bolsheviks gave them the opportunity to carry out their theories of government, which were in marked variance to all previous political thought. Hitherto, everywhere in the world there had been attempts to set up national or dynastic governments located in definite areas of the earth's surface. The Soviets now cast all this into the wastebasket and in their zeal for an international and worldwide revolution, they planned to build a government based upon the worldwide community of interests of the workers and peasants. In theory at least this was to be an international government and they had high hopes that the laboring classes of the world would rally to their standard.

It happened that Lenin, Trotsky, and also the vast majority of the other leaders were Russian and that the seat of the government was in Moscow, but in theory they cared very little about Russia as such. In the first heat of their enthusiasm, they even went so far as to recognize the equality of all nationalities in the old Russian Empire and allow them full self-determination and even the right of secession. The old organization was completely wiped out and a new structure, the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, was established.

At this moment the Ukrainian National Republic was struggling to its feet and the demand was growing for a declaration of complete independence which was finally adopted on January 9/22, 1918, as we have seen. It might have been assumed that this coincided with the decrees adopted by the Bolsheviks and that the way was now  p274 cleared for the development of an independent Ukraine. Yet this explanation was too simple, for the Bolsheviks had another string to their bow and they had already commenced to play it.

The Ukrainian Council was an organization working along democratic lines. The Bolsheviks therefore declared that it did not represent the workers and peasants. After their discomfiture in Kiev in December, 1917 they retired to Kharkiv and there, on December 13, proclaimed the existence of a Ukrainian Soviet Republic which would satisfy the conditions for a real workers' and peasants' government. It made no difference to them that the leaders of this movement were not primarily Ukrainian, that its organization had been pushed by various Russian bands which had penetrated into Ukraine, and that its first military support was furnished by Russian Communists.

This group appointed a Committee which became the executive body under the name of the All‑Ukrainian Revolutionary Committee on January 3, 1918. This consisted of Manuilsky, a Ukrainian who had long lived in Russia, Rakovsky, a Bulgarian or Romanian Jew, Hrynko, and two Ukrainian politicians, Zatonsky and Skrypnyk. They proceeded to carry out the regular Soviet plan of organization and on February 14, announced a federation with the Russian Soviet Republic. The Soviets introduced members of this group at the Conference in Brest Litovsk with the Germans and insisted that it was the true representative government of Ukraine, but they were compelled to recognize the regularly constituted Ukrainian government.

The question was more or less academic during the years of civil war, when the Ukrainian government was struggling against overwhelming odds to maintain its new‑won independence. Yet in theory it was fighting against the adherents of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, although it was generally recognized that this was but a puppet of the  p275 Russian Soviets and that the vast majority of the troops at its command were Russian.

However, when the Ukrainian government was finally overwhelmed, the Ukrainian Soviet Government was definitely installed at Kharkiv as the capital of Ukraine and for a short time went through the motions of being an independent state. It sent its own representatives to foreign governments, there was a Ukrainian Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, and on paper all seemed well. At the same time, when there came too open evidence of interference from Moscow with the sovereign Ukrainian Soviet Republic, steps were taken to end such interference.

Yet the Communists had absolute control over the new state, not through the Russian Soviet government but through the Communist Party, which boasted of being an international organization and which could discipline the various national Communist parties if they did not obey the decrees issued by the civil authority in Moscow. Any deviation from these orders was interpreted as a counter-revolutionary act, contrary to the wishes of the workers and peasants whose mouthpiece was the Communist Party.

During 1921 and 1922 there came one of those periods of drought which are not unknown in Ukraine. The grain crop was an utter failure, all kinds of transportation had broken down as a result of the Civil Wars, and the country was plunged into misery. It is estimated that several million people died in Ukraine and the country was brought to the deepest depths, far worse than during the earlier years of war. Typhus added to the misery and carried away still more of the population. Outside aid was sought and the American Relief Administration did wonder­ful work in securing food from abroad and in distributing it to the starving population.

The Ukrainians in their misery did their best to reject all communization. In the Ukrainian districts there had  p276 never been the communal owner­ship of land which was so typical of the Great Russians, and the peasants fought hard and steadily to maintain possession of their own land and that which they had secured from the landlords during the period of the Ukrainian Republic. This naturally antagonized the Soviets, and made them realize that they were going to have a hard task to bring the country around to their mode of life.

They attacked the problem in two ways. On the governmental side, the Ukrainian Soviet Republic authorized the Russian Soviet government to represent it in foreign negotiations at a conference in Geneva. From that time on it became customary for the Ukrainian Soviet Republic to follow the Russian line, although for a while there was always a Ukrainian representative in the Soviet Embassy in all those countries where Ukraine had been formerly recognized.

Then, at the end of 1922, there was signed a declaration for the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This was ratified in 1923 and came into effect in 1924. Under this new system, the various Soviet Republics, including Ukraine, transferred all their foreign and most of their domestic affairs to the government of the Soviet Union, which was, as before, almost identical with the government of the old Russian Soviet Republic. In the All Union Soviet of Workers' and Peasants' Delegates, the Russian Republic had an overwhelming majority, if there was to be any voting, and between the control of the Communist Party by the Russians and the control of the Soviet Union by the same people, it was abundantly evident that any autonomy in Ukraine was a mere shadow which could be stopped at any time.

Yet while the civil authority was being extended over the country, the Soviets gave a wide scope to cultural Ukrainization. The New Economic Policy was very popular  p277 in the land, since it gave a certain liberty to the individual peasants and there were many people who believed that the worst extremes of Militant Communism were over.

There was great attention paid to the founding of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences and the Ukrainian Soviet government sent out the most cordial invitations to the old leaders of the Ukrainian Republic to return and take their places in the new order and in the rebuilding of the country. Many accepted. Professor Hrushevsky returned from Vienna and was made head of the Historical Section of the Academy of Sciences. Holubovich, who had been President of the Council of Ministers of the Ukrainian National Republic, followed and many of the other leaders moved to Kharkiv and Kiev. The Academy of Sciences flourished and intellectual work was liberally supported. It elected to member­ship the outstanding scholars of Western Ukraine, who welcomed this opportunity to have free and open communication with their friends and kindred of Great Ukraine. At the same time, steps were taken to introduce Ukrainian into all the offices of the government of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. A Ukrainian army was established, with the official language Ukrainian, and while it formed part of the Red Army of the Soviet Union, it was national enough to win much sympathy and support from all classes of the population.

It was only the hardened and incorrigible opponents of Communism who refused to be appeased by these actions and who persisted in refusing to credit the new regime with good intentions. It is true that there remained on the statute books the old Communist regulations in regard to the Academy of Sciences but there were relatively few attempts to enforce them, and while there was some hampering of the work of the scholars by zealous advocates of Marxism, it hardly seemed important for the average person.  p278 The same was true in almost all walks of life. Ukraine began to recover from the devastations of the civil wars.

Yet during these years, Communism made very little advance among the Ukrainian people, and by 1925 the non‑Ukrainian members of the party far outnumbered the Ukrainian, as they had from the beginning. This was very satisfactory to all those who were eager for the well-being of the Ukrainians, but it was not good news to the representatives of the ruling group in the Kremlin, who were hoping for the spread of their doctrines throughout the country. For a while there was little that they felt able to do and even when Kaganovich appeared in Ukraine, he had only kind words for the progress that Ukrainian culture was making throughout the land.

The problem before the Communists was to find the most convenient and easy way to assert the control of the Moscow standardizing policy without arousing too much discontent among the people. The return of agricultural prosperity under individual farming was supplying the rest of the Soviet Union with food and at the moment the leaders were not desirous of upsetting conditions too strongly. It was true, of course, that Ukraine was being laid under heavier and heavier contributions until it seemed even to some of the Communists that the entire land was being ruined.

Then came the problem of extending Communism to the country. The First Five Year Plan was started in 1928 and this gave a good opportunity for changing conditions. Enormous factories and power plants were projected for Ukraine, such as the Dnyeprostroy near the site where the old Sich had been located. There was needed a large mass of workmen and the government saw to it that these were recruited from the Great Russians and from non‑Ukrainian elements. The first step in the change of character of Ukraine had been taken.

 p279  At about the same time, the first steps were taken to handle the cultural problem which had been intensified by the success of the preceding program of Ukrainization. Under the guise of promoting the solidarity of the Soviet Union, it was ordered that Russian be taught as a second language in all schools. Arrangements were made so that possibility for personal advancement was only opened to those persons who knew Russian. Army officers who desired a career were sent to Russian All‑Union schools, and then for the most part were assigned to units from other Soviet Republics. Along with such tendencies, there came a shift of emphasis, so that Stalin could declare that the culture of the various Soviet Republics would be varied in language but socialist in essence. In other words, exactly the same thoughts were to be expressed in all the various Soviet Republics, which were to be at liberty to repeat in their native tongue the ideas of the Kremlin and nothing else.

There was strong opposition to this stand in Ukraine and the old and more or less disused talk of Ukrainian counter-revolution and nationalism was again brought out of the discard. Mykola Skrypnyk, an old Ukrainian Communist, but an ardent advocate of Ukrainian culture, undertook to bring Communism into the Academy of Sciences. The various Communist organizations were invited to propose candidates for its member­ship, for party prominence and familiarity with the slogans and practice of Communism were henceforth to be the determining features of the member­ship, rather than eminence in any field of learning.

To counterbalance the influence of the leading scholars and writers of the last few years, Kaganovich and Postyshev, who had been appointed Second Secretary of the Ukrainian  p280 Communist Party, began to discover that the leaders of Ukraine were in close touch with the nationalist and counter-revolutionary elements abroad, especially in Eastern Galicia. It was hardly a secret, for the Soviet authorities had encouraged such communications in the hope that discontent with Poland would bring the Western Ukrainians to declare their desire for union with their brothers to the east. The attempt had not been success­ful, and now the Soviet authorities were ready to turn this to account. They arrested many of the intellectual leaders, such as Yefremiv, the Vice President of the Academy of Sciences. Claiming that they belonged to a society for the liberation of Ukraine, they sentenced them to long terms in prison. Soon after they involved Professor Hrushevsky, deposed him from his place in the Academy of Sciences and deported him to a place near Moscow, where he was deprived of all possibilities of study. When his health was completely broken, he was allowed to go to a resthouse in the Caucasus to die.

In 1931, the authorities discovered a new liberation centre. In connection with this they arrested Holubovich and many political leaders who had returned to Ukraine during the era of Ukrainization and after the usual trial condemned them to death. In 1933 it was discovered that more Ukrainian leaders were acting with the Ukrainian Military Organization abroad and these too were liquidated. Even Skrypnyk, who had been one of the most zealous partisans of Communism in Ukraine, was brought under suspicion and committed suicide. So did the writer Mykola Khvylovy, who was accused of counter-revolutionary work because he desired to strengthen the cultural connections between the Ukrainian Soviet Republic and Western Europe, something which was regarded as opposed to the growing unification of the Soviet Union and its increasing isolation from the rest of the world. Step by step the  p281 independence that had characterized the Ukrainian writers, even the Ukrainian Communists, during the twenties was taken away and those who survived accepted the necessity of producing a culture that was purely socialist and Kremlinesque in essence and Ukrainian only in language, and not always that, for the new tendencies aimed to assimilate into Ukrainian as many Russian words as possible.

The continued trials and arrests can be explained in only two ways. Either the Ukrainian national movement had gained prodigiously during the years of Soviet rule and had swung to itself not only the remains of those people who had fought for the Ukrainian National Republic but also the founders of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic itself. If so, it would have required little help from outside to have won the independence of the country. Or the government of Stalin had decided to eliminate as counter-revolutionary all men of any capacity for independent thinking and the accusations against them were devoid of factual foundation. One after another such Communists as Postyshev, who had carried on the first trials, were themselves accused of Ukrainian nationalism and liquidated or deported.

While this was going on in intellectual circles, Stalin announced his plans for the socialization of agriculture. It was ordered that this be carried through with the greatest speed and the peasants were forced to give up their lands and to enter the newly established collective farms, which were established throughout Ukraine as well as throughout the entire Soviet Union. Here the government encountered and proceeded to deal with the other aspect of Ukrainian life that had embarrassed the Ukrainian National Government. That had attempted to satisfy the peasant hunger for land by taking it away from the great landlords and giving it to the peasants. It was the opposition of these Russianized classes that had been used by the Germans in  p282 supporting the hetmanate of Skoropadsky against the Republic, and by the Russians with Denikin, when it came their turn.

Now by a clever extension of the use of the term "kulak," all the peasants who had been prospering on their own land and on that which they had acquired, were declared enemies of the Soviet Union and were driven into the collective farms. Armed detachments commandeered all the grain of the individual landowners. These retaliated by killing their cattle when they were ordered to turn them over to the collective farms, and the situation became steadily more serious.

The result was the political famine of 1932‑33. The collective farms failed to function effectively and to secure food for the cities, the government confiscated all the grain in the villages and allowed the peasants to go hungry until they were ready to work for the government on its own terms. The area was closed to the outside world and for a long while there were no definite reports of what was going on. Even now many details are not known, but it seems clear that at least ten percent of the population of Ukraine starved to death and this time the government did not allow outside relief as it had in the famine of 1921‑22. Naturally the loss of life was greater in the purely Ukrainian villages than it was in the cities which had been filled with the new people brought into Ukraine for the sake of the industrial development. As a result of this, it is certain that the proportion of non‑Ukrainians in the country has increased not only by the continued process of immigration but also by the tremendous destruction of the native population. The same results were achieved also by the enforced deportation of millions more of the Ukrainians, who were sent to remote areas of the Soviet Union where enormous numbers more perished because of the conditions under which they were compelled to live.

 p283  While the Soviet government was thus remodelling Ukrainian life in the country, it was exerting every effort to create a non‑Ukrainian population in the cities. The enormous coal and iron resources of the eastern part of Ukraine were developed at a rapid rate. The Soviet Union found American engineers to construct the enormous power plant of the Dnyeprostroy and they built huge factories in Kiev and Kharkiv. As a result Ukraine rapidly became one of the foremost industrialized areas in the Soviet Union and the only one about which any information was allowed to pass to the outside world, for it was impossible to keep the development in Ukraine as secret as the building of factories in the Urals and further east in Siberia. The majority of the workmen in these factories were brought in from other parts of the Union and the Soviets carried out a definite policy of transportation of population in order to crush once and for all the growth of a national or even a local spirit in any of the subsidiary republics.

The extent of this is well shown in the writings of those Ukrainian authors who accepted the new regime and became ardent citizens of the Union. The poems of Tychyna, for example, a distinguished poet who early accepted the full ideology of the Communists, boast that the factories of Kiev are far more important than the Cathedral of St. Sophia and all that represented the past culture. The writers sing loudly the praise of Stalin, who with unerring judgment has pointed out the path on which Ukraine must go in connection with the older brother, Moscow, and all the nations of the Soviet Union.

Under such conditions support was withdrawn very ostentatiously from all those movements which aimed to create brotherhood on the basis of Ukrainian tradition with the population of Eastern Galicia and Western Ukraine. Step by step the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences dropped direct connections even with those foreign scholars whom  p284 it had elected to member­ship. Later still its organization was changed, and instead of being an institution founded by and responsible to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, it became merely a branch of the All‑Union Academy of Sciences and represented those activities which were carried on within the territory of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Most of its special and localized activities were abolished and it became merely one part of a great organization spreading throughout the entire country and devoted to the study of the general interests of the whole.

All these tendencies were written into law by the All‑Union constitution of 1936, which definitely conferred upon the central authority all possible control over the various Soviet Republics. This marked the end of the illusory independence that had characterized the position of Ukraine since the organization of the Soviet Union. The power of the Kremlin was not in fact increased, but it rendered possible the use of this power through the official agencies of the government and not through the machinery of the Communist Party, which was in effect a duplication of the channels of command. The change was really one of name only, for the power of Stalin was as absolute before as after, the same men filled the leading positions in the central government and in the Party, and the constitution merely affirmed publicly what every one knew privately to be true.

The following years witnessed the continued development of industry and the renewal of attempts to bind Ukrainian manufacturing and mining even more closely into the whole of the Soviet Union. There was a continuation of the purges of every one who might be remotely charged with holding a distinctively Ukrainian opinion on the ground that he was cooperating with the Ukrainian nationalist agitation, but the purges now came to include not only the possible suspects but almost all of the men who had been zealous both in Ukraine and the Russian  p285 Soviet Republic in organizing the regime. The old Bolsheviks were nearly all liquidated and year by year fewer of the more convinced young Communists of Ukraine found their way to the higher places in the Soviet Union. Those positions were more and more confined to Russians and even very few of the Ukrainians who had gone to other parts of the country for their careers were rewarded.

At the same time, agriculture did revive as the collective farms became a little more efficient. Yet even there a new danger developed, for the plots of land which the individual households were allowed to cultivate for their own use tended to increase and to be better cared for. The peasants grasped at the slightest straw that would allow them to retain a vestige of their old independence. The government was obliged to act again to prevent these local family plots from taking up the best lands of the communal farms and to limit them at most to an acre or so. There were more decrees issued on this subject, there were more arrests and deportations and more attempts to destroy the Ukrainian character of the villages. The opposition could not be as strong as in the earlier periods when the peasants were better organized but events made it clear that the Soviet Union intended to leave no stone unturned to wipe out the slightest survival of any of the old traditional feelings.

At the same time the rise of Nazism in Germany and the growing power of that country created a certain alarm in Moscow. Many of Hitler's speeches called for the separation of Ukraine as the granary of Europe from the Soviet Union. The Communists could not fail to know that there were at least some of the Ukrainian nationalist leaders who were living in Berlin and presumably receiving some support from the German government. Yet it is noticeable that despite the many Nazi attacks upon the Communists, relations continued at least formally between the Nazis and the Communists through most of the thirties. It was obvious  p286 that Germany was trying to win Western support against the Soviet Union at the same time that the Communists were doing their best to stir up discontent throughout the world, whether directly or through the Communist International.

This situation increased the Soviet desire to stifle anything that savored of Ukrainian nationalism and it added a certain reason for the Communist desire to incorporate fully theº Ukraine in the national life of the Soviet Union. The idea of winning Ukrainian confidence by proper treatment did not occur to the authorities, for it was basically opposed to their fundamental belief that the Communist Party as developed in the Soviet Union was the only legitimate spokesman for the laboring masses of the world. It was this belief that had won them their position in the Soviet Union and it was to that belief that they were going to cling to the end of their stay in power.

Thus the Soviet Union pressed on its policy of remodelling Ukrainian life to eliminate from it everything that had separated it from Great Russia in the past. Harder and harder measures were devised, the number of victims increased, and the new Ukrainian culture that developed under the Soviet Union contained less and less of those elements of freedom and democracy that had inspired Ukrainian thought during the preceding century. The Soviets not only aimed to conquer the present but they also attacked the past. They searched every means of changing the attitude of the people toward their heroes of the past. They strove to emphasize every document that might reflect the revolutionary feelings of Shevchenko and Franko, they indulged in diatribes against Kulish and others as bourgeois, and they painted a picture of the past which in its opposition to the definite aspirations of the Ukrainian people came to sound very much like the decrees of the various rulers of Russia of the past. The only difference was  p287 that they paid at least lip service to the Ukrainian language in token of their theory that the culture of Ukraine as of the other republics was to be socialist in essence and only Ukrainian in language.

It is difficult to draw up a balance sheet in detail and so weigh the gains of industrialization and the losses of the old life. It seems certain that there was no more real happiness in Ukraine during these years than during the long night of suppression that had preceded the Revolution. Every step was taken to break the national spirit and to train the new generation in an alien path. The only result was the building up of a sullen and defiant mood which might bode ill for the Communists, if it were properly exploited.

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