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Chapter 11

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

Ukraine under the Soviets
by Clarence Manning

published by
Bookman Associates
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 13

 p109  Chapter Twelve

The Early Trials

The change of economic policy which had ushered in the collectivization of agriculture seemed at first to offer no threat to the cultural movement which was going on in Ukraine. Despite the open criticisms that had been made of Khvylovy and the more secret opposition that Skrypnyk was meeting, the cultural work continued in all its aspects Politically the Commissariat of Education was still continuing its work, the new literature was proceeding with more and more important works being produced, and outside and somewhat apart from the political life of the day, Ukrainian scholar­ship was pudding ever or serious works.

No one openly thought of overthrowing the regime although latent discontent could be discovered among the entire population. It had been years since there had been any open opposition. The unruly leaders who had appealed to arms had either gone abroad or quieted down and there was no one who was even suspected of the kind of disloyalty that had been widespread during the period of Militant Communism.

Then, in 1929, just as the compulsory collectivization was being prepared, the Ukrainian Soviet government announced that it had discovered the evidence of the existence of a secret society, the Society for the Liberation of Ukraine, and it commenced a series of arrests of some of the outstanding intellectual leaders of the scientific world. This resulted in a public trial and condemnation of the accused but for the most part they received relatively light sentences.

Who were involved? For the most part they were individuals who had played more or less important roles in the Ukrainian  p110 National Republic, who had gone abroad after its collapse and who had been invited back to take part in the work of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. The government produced what seemed to be definite evidence against these people but the curious fact was that this evidence was strangely inconsistent with all of their previous activity. On the prisoner's bench were such men as Serhey Yefremiv, the leading scholar of Ukrainian literature and a relative conservative, the academician Mykhaylo Slabchenko, a former Social Democrat, Prof. Joseph Hermayze, a former member of the Executive Committee of the same party, and the well-known writer L. Staryska-Chernyakivska, who was close to Efremivº and who had more or less dropped out of the modern literary movement and was living in practical retirement.

The Soviet record of the trial strongly suggests that all those factions which, during the existence of the Ukrainian National Republic had utterly failed to come to any agreement, had somehow or other composed their differences in the days when Ukrainian sentiments seemed to be dominant in the ranks of the Communist Party and when there were outstanding Communists, like Khvylovy and Skrypnyk, pleading the Ukrainian cause. Yet, as was to be the case in almost all of the later trials, the court record based upon the testimony of the NKVD did not give any clue to the treasonable acts of which the defendants were accused and if they did, the stories passed belief. There was, likewise, no indication of the serious plans on which the organization was working or any details of its formal organization.

All the information that was revealed suggested that it was a definitely anti-Communist movement engineered by a group of Ukrainian bourgeois nationalists who objected to the Communist program of Ukrainization. There was no hint that the accused had any connection with the derussification program of Skrypnyk or the demand of Khvylovy and his friends of the Vaplite for the development of a definite Ukrainian Communism. The Society for the Liberation of Ukraine appeared like a ghost from the past and the prosecution seemed to have the tacit support of even those elements which were working for Ukrainization.

 p111  Up to this moment the only open manifestation had been the demand of Skrypnyk that Communists be included in the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences but this had apparently been answered satisfactorily and, with slight changes, the Academy was working as before. The most that could be said was that the leaders of Ukrainian thought in the Academy had not properly in their old age kept pace with the development of Marxo-Leninist thought but even this was hardly sufficient for the outburst which was loosed against a group of widely respected scholars.

Another curious aspect of the situation was that the most severe sentences were not given to the announced ringleaders and chief culprits but that there was unearthed on the occasion another society, the SUM, the Society of Ukrainian Youth, which consisted of relatively obscure students, village intelligentsia, peasants and workmen who were shot by the hundreds and thousands without being brought before any tribunal. The head of this group, Mykola Pavlushkiv, was involved in the trial but once again there was no indication that any members of the SUM had been engaged in any form of sabotage or anti-governmental work. Members of the organization who have escaped abroad have testified that the SUM was organized only on the basis of personal friendships and never undertook or planned any deliberate acts of sabotage.

The discovery of the Society for the Liberation of Ukraine with its assumed anti-Communist tinge was the signal for the opening of a campaign against the most respected older non‑Communist members of the Academy. The usual method was by the device of demanding Communist self-criticism, and criticism. Its practice was brutally simple and effective.

The Communist organs, especially the GPU‑NKVD, decided which of these scholars were to be broken ideologically (and morally) and which were to be removed without fanfare. The latter disappeared. The former group were forced to appear for public "self-criticism." This was preceded by a series of attacks in the newspapers as to the mistakes in Marxo-Leninism which the victim had committed.

 p112  Then, on an appointed day, a meeting was arranged in a large hall to which the public was invited by the display of large placards and other notices. Selected speakers attacked in the most scurrilous and abusive language various aspects of the work of the accused and ascribed to him the grossest errors. Then came the (obligatory) speeches of those who "wished to speak," i.e. his collaborators and students. These were carefully prepared by the Communist nucleus in the Academy or the Committee. The accused was then compelled to admit his mistakes and promise hereafter to work "in the spirit of Marxo-Leninism and the decrees of the Communist Party." These performs usually lasted for two or three sessions and then the critical "testing" of the work went on in special scientific meetings or scientific publications or in the torture chambers of the GPU. If the accused did not humiliate himself sufficiently or if the collaborators showed themselves insufficiently critical, "rotten liberal," "compromising," "opportunistic" or leaving "ideologically (or class) hostile loopholes," the process was repeated with still more bitterness against the main culprit and his collaborators or witnesses who had attempted to defend him were attacked with equal ferocity and their testimony was sent to the proper places for "consideration."

This was the treatment accorded to Prof. Hrushevsky who, in 1930, was criticized publicly and then arrested and deported to Moscow where he was prevented from doing any work and only after he was completely broken was he sent to a rest-house in the Caucasus to die in 1934. The Academy was reorganized as the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and nearly all the work in the humanities were stopped. The Historical-Philological Section was combined with the Social-Economic Section and nearly all of its special fields were abolished, while at the same time there disappeared a large number of valuable books and collections which were ready for publication.

This destruction of the older scholars in the Academy was justified by grouping Hrushevsky with his historical studies in the same  p113 category of public enemies as Mazepa and Petlyura, not three came to form a trinity should be had to constant attack. Their leading crime was declared to be bourgeois nationalism, the object of which was to separate the Ukrainian from the Russian people and to deny the great significance of the teachings of Marx and Lenin.

In 1931 the Soviet authorities found traces of another organization, the Ukrainian National Centre. This is even more mysterious than was the preceding case, for it involved a number of apolitical figures who were living in retirement, as Holubovych, but at the same time it commenced the liquidation of the leaders of the former Borotbisty and Ukapisty. Still heavier sentences were imposed upon these men and large numbers were deported.

Then came an announcement of the extension to Soviet Ukrainian territory of the work of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists under Colonel Konovalets, and a number of more prominent Ukrainians were executed or deported for reasons that were never satisfactorily explained.

At the same time the Soviets seem to have spread rumors in connection with collectivization that there were movements for an uprising against the regime. They endeavored to have pseudo-Ukrainian patriots from Poland establish contacts with former officers of the Ukrainian National Republic who had dropped into obscurity and then, at a given signal, called for a revolt and easily over­powered their dupes.

Thus these trials eliminated from Ukrainian life the older scholars who had been trained before the period of Communist rule. They justified in the minds of the emigrés the correctness of their position in refusing to listen to the blandishments of the Ukrainian Soviet government during the apparently rosy years of the New Economic Policy, when it seemed as if there was to be a rapprochement with the West. How far the activity of these men, who had put themselves into the lion's mouth and perished, served to renew the Ukrainian courage and self-reliance has been much debated, especially in view of the fact that they were all destroyed as bourgeois, long before any serious danger seemed to  p114 threaten the position of the various groups of Ukrainian Communists. Khvylovy, despite the attacks upon him and Skrypnyk, still continued to work for the greater Ukrainization of the population and of the cities and, so far, he had not been subjected to any too severe criticism. That was to come next.

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Page updated: 25 Apr 22