Short URL for this page:
By the middle of 1939 it became clear that divided Ukraine was in an unfortunate situation. For a brief moment the promise of a free and independent Carpatho-Ukraine seemed to indicate where the interest of the country lay. The growing autonomy of the province during the winter of 1938‑9 had gathered to it many of those Ukrainians to whom national independence was the chief and only goal. Democratic as they were, they believed that they could use Carpatho-Ukraine as a base, even with German blessing. They had expected to profit by the German-Polish dispute to win western Ukraine in case of trouble and they had visualized then a clash between Germany and Soviet Union which would allow them to win the independence of Great Ukraine. Then a united Ukraine could be set up and this would be able to play an independent role in the world as a nation of over forty million people.
It was a nice dream of the old world but it failed to take into account the new practices of totalitarianism which discounted human dignity and human rights and regarded men and women as but the tools of the machine or the inanimate members of a caste. The easy way in which the Nazi government turned over Carpatho-Ukraine, despite its promises, to the Hungarians and the ruthless murder of many of its leaders showed to all clearsighted Ukrainians that the future was not so simple as that. Even those Western Ukrainians who were most hostile to Poland realized that they had nothing to gain by the overwhelming of the Polish state as it was in 1939 and despite the growing oppressive p289 measures of the Poles, any plans for a Ukrainian revolt in Eastern Galicia were laid aside.
The suddenly revealed conclusion of a non‑aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in August, 1939, made this even more evident. Little or nothing has been made public of the negotiations preceding this pact. The sacrifice of Carpatho-Ukraine was apparently connected with it but no details are known. Yet it made still clearer the fact that Ukraine was again in the position of 1914. Then it was clear to the wiser political leaders that Ukraine could only profit by the complete elimination of both Austria-Hungary and Russia. In 1939, it was certain that Ukraine could profit only by the complete elimination of both Germany and the Soviet Union, and this meant that the country would suffer heavily even under the most favorable circumstances.
The German attack on Poland started on September 1, and as expected, the German army pushed rapidly into Eastern Galicia and soon entered Lviv. They seized practically all of the area but they were not to hold it long. On September 17, the Soviet army invaded from the east despite various treaties, on the ground that the Polish Republic had ceased to exist as an organized state. On September 23, Ribbentrop and Molotov signed another pact for the division of Poland. Again the exact line has not been disclosed throughout its full course. Yet under it on September 28, the Soviet army pushed into Lviv and occupied the whole of Western Ukraine. This second act of treachery to Ukraine completely broke any Ukrainian confidence in the Nazis, and showed them that any further relations could only be fatal.
This was the first time that the Red Army had penetrated as far as Lviv and they at once began to reorganize the country on the familiar pattern. The landowners were dispossessed and the initial steps were taken to collectivize p290 the country. A large number of professors, journalists, clergy and other intellectual and popular leaders were removed. They were arrested by the NKVD and executed or deported to other portions of the Soviet Union. Many were killed by so‑called outbreaks of the population led by Soviet agents. In fact all of the methods tested by twenty years of Soviet work in Ukraine were concentrated on the helpless province, in preparation for a "free" election.
This election was held on October 22 and 91 percent of the population voted for the formation of a Popular Council of Western Ukraine. It was openly said that any one who refused to vote for the single list of candidates, which included almost no known Ukrainian leaders of Western Ukraine, would be treated as a counter-revolutionary and there was no need to amplify this statement. At its first meeting on October 27, the new Council formally begged to be included in the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. There were more meetings of the picked groups at Kiev and at Moscow and on November 1, representatives of the Council were invited to Moscow where they presented their petition and were duly accepted into the bosom of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. From then on Western Ukraine was regarded as an inalienable part of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic.
It the same act that had been symbolically performed in 1919, when the delegates of the Republic of Western Ukraine had appeared at Kiev and the united Ukrainian Republic had been proclaimed. But what a difference! Then representatives had appeared; there was joint discussion of the problems that had to be solved; there were attempts to solve them on democratic lines. Now the appeal was to the Council of Commissars and the Supreme Soviet at Moscow. The delegates were handpicked and there had been already a long list of arrests and executions before the conscious portion of the population adequately p291 reflected the will of the Communist Party, which had won few adherents during the preceding twenty years.
The farce continued with new demonstrations of love and affection for Stalin and the Soviet Union. On December 24, after more preparation, the proper candidates were elected to the local soviets and on March 24, 1940, Western Ukraine elected delegates to the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic and to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. The next year and a half were spent in remodelling the country and in stopping any manifestations of the popular spirit which were not socialist in essence and only Ukrainian in language. Only the personal reputation of Archbishop Sheptitsky saved him from sharing the fate of the vast majority of the intellectuals and clergy of the country.
All this had barely been started when on June 27, 1940, the Soviet Union intimated to Romania that it would be extremely appreciative, if it would hand over Bukovina and Bessarabia. The Nazi-Soviet accord was still working smoothly and Romania graciously consented. The next day the Red Army moved in and awarded to the Ukrainian Republic northern Bukovina and northern Bessarabia. The rest of the territory so graciously ceded was added to the Moldavian Soviet Republic. Again there were the same speeches of gratitude, the same elections, the same choosing of delegates to the various Soviet Republics and the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union and the same introduction of the ideals and practices of the Communist Party.
Then on June 21, 1941 there came the lightning attack of the Germans upon the Soviet Union. In a few weeks the German armies smashed across the Soviet borders, occupied Kiev and Kharkiv and approached Moscow. Once again Ukraine had changed masters.
There was little reason for the population to rejoice. p292 The Germans came not as liberators but as conquerors. They made no attempt to remedy any of the abuses of the Soviet authorities but they added to them by insisting that all of the property confiscated by the Soviets was the property of a hostile government and therefor entitled to confiscation. They made no effort to consult the wishes of the Ukrainians or to establish a self-respecting Ukrainian government. They sought only for a few leaders who would consent to act as German representatives to push the people into a definitely subordinate position as a subject race. They did allow some of the churches to reopen and they gave a grudging support to the revival of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which had been banned as soon as the National Republic had been suppressed.
Yet they prevented any considerable mass movement from developing by seizing several million Ukrainians, both men and women, and sending them to Germany as slave labor. There is no need to recount the hardships of these unfortunate people, who were compelled to work for almost no wages and on starvation diets for the benefit of the master-race. Their fate was additional proof, if such were needed, that Ukraine could expect even less from the Germans than it could in 1918, and it speedily served to disillusion even the most inveterate enemies of the Communists.
On the other hand, the fate of another large section of the population was little better, for the Soviets endeavored to move as large a part of the population as possible to the east and millions more found themselves forcibly expelled from their homes on the pretext that they would thus escape the scourge of war. The Academy of Sciences and much of the Universities of both Kiev and Kharkiv were thus moved and the Academy of Sciences celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of its foundation in Ufa in western Siberia.
p293 Partisan warfare broke out on a large scale both among Ukrainian patriots and Soviet sympathizers. Bands of men, sometimes numbering thousands, with equipment taken from both sides, ravaged the country, while the Soviets announced that those who fought the Germans were patriots and those who attacked the Red Army were fascists and bandits. The names of such leaders as Taras Bulba and Bandera who were distinctively Ukrainian nationalists and fought both sides are known but again there is little detailed knowledge of their activities. The worst aspects of 1918 were repeated for these leaders, although struggling only for an independent Ukraine, came into frequent clashes. Some of them seem to have been the survivors of the older nationalist bands that had fought even after the formal ending of the Civil Wars, others were communistically inclined and fought for the Soviets, and undoubtedly some were able to profit by more or less temporary alliances with various German units which controlled the main centres of population and the lines of communication but which were unable to occupy the broad expanses of the country.
Soviet propaganda during the war emphasized the fact that the purges of the thirties had completely destroyed any fifth-column activities in the Soviet Union and glorified all the partisans, but despatches since the close of hostilities indicate that in some areas the great swarms of bandits and deserters from the Red Army could hardly have appeared in the course of a few weeks. Apparently in some districts there was almost as much anti-Soviet as anti-Nazi activity going on in the no man's land between the two armies.
At the same time, there can be no doubt that this partisan activity played an enormous role in hemming in the German forces and in rendering it impossible for them to secure supplies even from land which seemed to be safely p294 under their control. It is indeed possible to wonder what would have been the outcome in many areas, especially in Ukraine, had the Germans seriously undertaken the task of liberating the community and of dealing honestly with the people who had experienced so many years of starvation and confiscation. Yet these ideas were entirely foreign to the Nazi temperament, which sought to displace the native population by settling German colonists on the soil and to reduce the original inhabitants to still greater misery or to carry them off and destroy them by forced labor.
After reaching Stalingrad and the northern Caucasus, the German tide began to ebb and soon flowed back into Ukraine and White Ruthenia. Slowly but surely the retreat continued and its speed increased as the Germans made their way back to the land from which they had set out so gaily three years before. After the wave of battle had swept again over Ukraine, the Soviet armies were reorganized into Ukrainian and White Ruthenian armies to bring these Soviet republics into prominence. It does not seem likely that these armies under Soviet Russian generals can be regarded as armies either of Ukrainian or White Ruthenian citizens. If we accept this version, we must assume that few members of the Russian Soviet Republic took part in the war, for at no time was there mention of any Russian armies and this conflicts with the stories of general mobilization that have been so often told. Apparently the Ukrainian and White Ruthenian armies were armies that were formed or based on the territory of the two Soviet Republics but they served as the basis of the claim that both Ukraine and White Ruthenia were entitled to enter the United Nations.
To facilitate this, the Soviet constitution was changed in autumn of 1944 to provide special Commissars for Foreign Affairs for the various Soviet Republics and to allow them to send diplomatic representatives to foreign countries. In one sense this is a return to the conditions prevailing in p295 Ukraine before the organization of the Soviet Union, when the bond of connection was the iron control of the Communist Party over all the Communists in the various Soviet Republics. It bears a superficial resemblance to the decentralization of the British Commonwealth of Nations, but this is only superficial, for so far as we know, there has been no change in the provision of the Constitution that provides that the All‑Union Soviet can cancel any measure that is adopted by the individual Soviet Republic, if it wishes to do so.
It is interesting, to say the least, that the Ukrainian representative at San Francisco was the same Manuilsky who had come down from Moscow to act as the Muscovite representative at the formation of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. He was born in Ukraine but he spent most of his life in the service of the Russian Soviet Federated Republic and later the All‑Union Soviet, and his relations with Ukraine have been rather as a Russian or Soviet delegate than as a spokesman for the Ukrainians. The Chairman of the Council of Commissars, Khrushchev, seems to be definitely a Russian. In fact there is little to suggest that there is any Ukrainian of prominence on the Ukrainian scene in a major role. It seems abundantly clear that Ukraine is now being considered merely as a definite tract of territory with no special connection with its own past, for it must have a culture socialist in essence and only Ukrainian in language, and there is some doubt as to whether the language is not being remodelled on the Russian pattern.
As the German troops retreated further and further, Ukraine was again thoroughly ravaged. The cities were largely in ruins, the population had been murdered or deported either to east or west, and the material progress that had been accomplished during the twenty years between the wars was largely wiped out. It was necessary to begin to rebuild the country after a desolation which exceeded p296 that of 1918‑20. Yet there have been few consistent stories of what has happened. Side by side with accounts of starvation as a result of the German seizure of foodstuffs, there have been equal stories of gifts by the joyful and liberated population to the victorious Red Army and these gifts have been reported on a scale that would indicate abundance in the areas which were the most hotly contested. There is no way to harmonize the various accounts that have been put out officially and it is probably wiser not to attempt it at the present time.
Then as the Red Army swept on into Western Ukraine, the same procedure was repeated. In every city there were held gatherings greeting Stalin as the liberator of the land with the glorious Red Army. There were the usual resolutions of gratitude, the usual concerts at which Russian music formed the bulk of the program, the usual glorification of all those Ukrainian heroes who worked for the union of Ukraine and Russia and the usual condemnation of every event or person who did not fit into the Russian or the Russian Soviet program.
Then came the turn of Carpatho-Ukraine. At the time when the Soviet Union recognized the Czechoslovak government-in‑exile during the War, it recognized the old boundaries of the country and this included Carpatho-Ukraine. When the Red Army crossed into the area, there came the usual demonstrations, the usual resolutions, the usual appointment of temporary Soviets, and then the usual request that the country be allowed to join the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, and of course the petition was accepted.
Yet when it came to a question of carrying on negotiations with the "independent" Polish government set up after the Allied powers had withdrawn recognition from the Polish government-in‑exile, the negotiations were carried on in Moscow. The district of Kholm, which was an old part of Ukraine, was freely handed over to Poland without p297 any consultation with the wishes of the population, a consultation that would have been unnecessary, for the entire population of the Soviet Union desires only what has been put forward by the Kremlin, and the same process was followed in Lemkivshchina.
With the occupation of the whole of Ukraine by the Red Army there has descended an even more impenetrable wall over the country. The silence that reigned during the war has become even more intense and the information that comes out is hardly credible, unless the entire past for centuries has been one long nightmare.
It was to be expected that all traces of an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church would disappear as soon as the Soviet government was back in control, especially since it has allowed the restoration of the Patriarchate of Moscow to carry out its plans among the other Slavs. It was to be expected that punishment would be visited upon the leaders of the Uniat Church, for they had proved themselves in Western Ukraine to be the guardians of the Ukrainian national spirit. Throughout the nineteenth century they had worked for the spiritual and material welfare of their people and in the past the Russian Empire had dealt harshly with them in all areas under its control. Archbishop Sheptitsky, the patriarch and leader of the Church, died. His successor, Joseph Slipy, was arrested and apparently deported. The other bishops vanished from the scene either by exile, imprisonment or death, and an uncanonical synod of a few priests was convoked. Again that body did the usual thing. It officially requested to be received back into the Orthodox Church and to come under the Patriarchate of Moscow and of course the wish was granted in March, 1946. The Cathedral of Lviv was turned over to the Russian Church and so were many other Church buildings. Priests who do not conform are being imprisoned or tried as fascists. The Uniat and Ukrainian Orthodox bishops p298 abroad have protested and have pointed out the typically uncanonical nature of the whole proceedings. The Pope has protested against the persecution of the faithful in these areas, at the violation of concordats with former governments in the area. All in vain. Resolutions and requests continue to pour out to justify and glorify the Red Army and their leader and the fate of the individuals involved grows ever more obscure.
Yet on the other hand two phenomena stand out in clear relief. The one is the problem of banditry. Again and again we read that in Ukraine, in Poland, in Carpatho-Ukraine and along all the borders of the friendly states large bodies of men, largely in Red Army uniforms, are plundering the country, and persecuting the communists and that part of the population which is cooperating with the Red Army. We are told these men in Red Army uniforms are a mixture of Nazis, traitors who fought in the Nazi armies from the Slavonic lands and the general riff-raff that always follows in the path of war. Among them are Ukrainian nationalists of various groups, especially those who form the Ukrainian Revolutionary Army. They are said to present a formidable problem for the forces that are interested in preserving Soviet "democracy."
All this sounds strange when we compare it with the general tone of the communiques reflecting the jubilation of the people in being liberated from the Nazi yoke. It fits in well with the stories or perhaps the legends that patriots and nationalists saw their opportunity to strike a blow in their own behalf against both masters and that they have not been so wholeheartedly on the side of the Red Army as we were led to believe earlier.
Side by side with them we have the amazing and distressing picture of the displaced persons. At the Yalta Conference it was provided that the persons who had been moved from an area by the Nazis should be allowed to return p299 and that the governments should assist in this task. It sounded a reasonable measure and so it turned out in the west. There were few French who wished to remain in Germany or in Holland. There were few Dutch who were not ready to go back to their homes and country, even if they were to find their families dead or scattered and their homes burned.
Yet there are millions of people who have been transported against their will from those portions of the Soviet Union that were occupied by the Germans, who refuse to go back to certain death. They have experienced for years the cruelty of German prison camps and the abuses of forced labor and even so they do not wish to go back. The methods that have been employed to force them to do so have become a scandal to the Western and civilized powers. Men and women of all walks of life have been ready to commit suicide rather than to face again life within the Soviet paradise. It is idle to call them fascists and to say that they fear just punishment.
The suspicion cannot be put down that these are people who have once been within the veil and are now willing to face even death rather than return. There can be but one reason, that life there was so hard and desperate that their present fate, such as it is and has been during the War, seems far better and more hopeful, even when hope is lacking, and when their future is dark and unsettled. We cannot help thinking that their stories and still more their actions throw into lurid relief and confirm the tales of the deportations, the famines, the concentration camps in the wastes of Siberia and of Central Asia, that have drifted across the sealed borders of the Soviet Union and which have never been accepted at face value.
Behind the veil that the Soviet Union has cast around it, Ukraine has been united. Ravaged by war, plundered and destroyed by the marching and countermarching of two p300 armies, drained of its population by death and by deportations, it remains a tragic spot in the wreckage of a great war. Impartial observers have told us of the devastation and the suffering in other lands, but Ukraine remains in the shadows. Her spokesmen at home are mute and there are only the official representatives of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic speaking, as is their wont, the words of the Soviet Union to assure us that all is well. The world would like to believe it, it is resting in hopes of a better future upon it and yet the doubts are not dispelled, when it would be so easy, if the Soviet Union wished to do it.
But not only that. With the triumph of the Soviet "democracy" in Ukraine, the Soviet Union is hastening to assure the world that it has discovered new examples of the revival of Ukrainian nationalism. It has found new cases on a large scale of the evil influences of the work of Professor Hrushevsky. It has found reasons for new purges of the Ukrainian Communist leaders who are unworthy of their great task of promoting the new "democracy." There are new rumors of a drought in Ukraine. The world has heard all this several times and realizes now that it is the story of the last twenty-five years since the fall of an independent Ukraine.
To‑day Ukraine is one. For the first time in centuries it has been united under one government. Not since the days of ancient Kiev has this been so fully true, but it is a far cry from the Ukrainian Soviet Republic to that free and independent government which was formed so hopefully in 1918, in the heat and confusion of the First World War. It is a far cry from the dream of a free and independent republic organized on the democratic principles of the West to the present Soviet Republic, from the wild and tumultuous Kozak Host with its elected officers to the present organization with the chiefs appointed by Moscow. It is a sad story and the present chapter is by no means the most hopeful.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
of the Ukraine
History of Ukraine
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two *asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 25 Apr 22