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Chapter 13

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 15

 p121  Chapter Fourteen

The Debacle

The Ukrainian Communists, as Skrypnyk and Khvylovy, could not fail to be horrified at the spreading famine which broke out in the autumn of 1932 and raged throughout the winter. Whatever they might have thought in the beginning of the compulsory collectivization, they were aghast at its results. They could not fail to recognize that it meant the end of the old Ukrainian life which they had tried to remodel in accordance with their own ideals and that it meant a widening breach with the outside world. They could not fail to see that it meant the ending of that world Communism in which they had tried to believe and in which they saw the hope of humanity and justice.

They could hardly fail to recognize almost immediately how they had played into the hands of the enemies of Ukraine by their attacks on the older scholars, for they were now to learn that they had unwittingly forged the tool that was to be used against them.

Postyshev arrived in Ukraine in January, 1933, to superintend and make more rigid the rules for the collection of grain. He brought with him his own staff, his own detachments of the NKVD, and while he nominally had the post of second secretary, he had the instructions from Stalin that made him the complete dictator. He soon showed what that meant.

Among his earliest acts was the removal of Chubar from his post as the head of the Soviet of People's Commissars and he replaced him with the more pliable P. Lyubchenko, a former Borotbist. Skrypnyk was forthwith demoted from Commissar of Education to Chairman of the Ukrainian State Planning Commission, a position of no special importance, once the conduct of all Ukrainian life  p122 was to be administered in accordance with a plan drawn up in Moscow. He was replaced by Volodymyr Zatonsky, who had been one of the foremost advocates of russification.

The axe was used still more widely on the entire Communist Party in Ukraine. Within ten months, Postyshev removed two hundred thirty-seven secretaries of regional party committees, two hundred seventy-nine heads of regional executive committees, and one hundred and fifty-eight heads of regional control commissions. Nearly one thousand prominent Communists were removed, not to speak of lesser members. Since there were little more than 125,000 Communists in Ukraine, it is easy to see that a large proportion of the Party was unceremoniously eliminated. Elimination meant not only demotion but it was practically a death sentence, for those expelled were charged with that most serious crime against the state, bourgeois nationalism or sabotage, and the vast majority were either shot or deported.

Postyshev turned his attention to the Academy of Sciences which had already been purged of its leading members. Here he found some two hundred and fifty more who were removed on charges of Ukrainian chauvinism or sabotage. In their place, he introduced ordinary Communists or Russians with more regard to their reliability and their loyalty to Stalin than to their capability or scholar­ly qualifications.

Postyshev's object was the rerussification of the country, for it had already been commented in Moscow that there were too many of the young Ukrainians who were securing an education only in Ukrainian without knowing the master language of Russian. Skrypnyk had paid no attention to these complaints, for he retorted that in Moscow the young Russians were not learning Ukrainian and he assumed that all the Soviet Republics had the same rights. He was soon to learn differently, for from now on Russian was to be the official language of widest use.

In every considerable city Postyshev established Russian newspapers which had almost completely vanished during the period of Ukrainization. He opened Russian schools in the leading cities and he introduced Russian into all the other schools on an equality  p123 basis with Ukrainian. He established Russian theatres in the larger cities and sent them Russian companies from Leningrad and Moscow to show the greatness of Russian art, while at the same time he had Les Kurbas arrested at the end of the year and closed the Berezil Theatre, the leading company in Ukraine, and even abolished its name as Catherine the Great had abolished the name of the Zaporozhian Sich one hundred fifty years before.

The fundamental object was to re‑Russianize Ukraine as rapidly as possible. In pursuance of this idea, Zatonsky even suggested that the students should be encouraged to talk a mixture of Russian and Ukrainian in the hope that they could thus be more quickly induced to accept the alien tongue. That was a rash thought, for as soon as it was reported to Moscow, there came a strong protest from Gorky that such a procedure could only injure the purity of the Russian language by mixing foreign elements in it. Zatonsky hurriedly withdrew his suggestions but it was too late and only a few years later he was to pay the penalty for his rash proposal.

It was small wonder that Khvylovy, who knew well that he was threatened with arrest and execution, committed suicide in despair on May 13, 1933 and he was followed on July 6, by Skrypnyk who was too familiar with the workings of Russian Communism not to realize that he would be steadily demoted until he could be finished off without comment as a fallen idol.

The terror and the destruction proceeded apace and after the murder of Kirov in Leningrad on December 21, 1934, new investigations were ordered and it was discovered that the bulk of the Ukrainian authors were involved in the conspiracy. In a very short time their ranks were almost completely decimated. In the same month H. Kosynka, O. Vlyzko, I. Krushelnytsky, K. Burevy, and D. Falkivsky were shot on various pretexts. Nearly all the former members of the Vaplite, the Neo‑Classicists, the groups connected with the MARS in Kiev and the New Generation, were liquidated in one way or another, either by execution or deportation and deportation was practically the equivalent of death, for scarcely one of the deported ever returned to Ukraine or made  p124 his presence or his present place of dwelling known to any of his friends.

It would be too long to mention the list of names, but among them were all the outstanding names of the preceding years, Kulish, Yalovy, Yohansen, Epik, Zerov, Dray-Khmara, Kosynka, Pidmohylny, Semenko, Vuzko, etc. These men were not only put out of the way but every attempt were made to prove that they had never existed. Their books were removed from the libraries and bookstores and, so far as possible, even references to them and their work were expunged from encyclopedias and reference books and the movement which they represented and which, but a short time before, had been patronized by the Commissariat of Education was rendered non‑existent. Only the name of Khvylovy remained as an example of anti-Russian work and he was presented as a pupil of Petlyura, Hrushevsky and the Western imperialists and a believer in bourgeois nationalism, a term which was now extended to cover anything hostile to the general line of the Party.

Faced with the certainty of sharing the fate of their colleagues, some of even the more prominent authors began to waver. Among this number were Tychyna and, a little more reluctantly, Rylsky. In fact, it required a term in prison to bring the latter to an appreciation of the beauties of the new order. Both proved themselves valuable converts, even if they were compelled to forget all their old mannerisms and perfections of style and produce tasteless propaganda poetry, while the official organs boasted of their slow but steady growth in realism. Thus, in 1934 Kulyk could say of Tychyna, "The collection of The Party Leads represents an unquestionable achievement. Nevertheless we should be rendering poor service to Tychyna himself if we failed to point out the uneven tenor, and sometimes even hesitation, in the artistic expression of themes and ideas new to him. Stronger organizational ties with the realities, emancipation from artificial, at times purely bookish culture, such are the conditions on which depends further progress by Tychyna along the new road chosen by this great Ukrainian poet." Rylsky and Bazhan were treated in the same way, while such writers as Panch and Holovko were told it was their task to get over the  p125 old notion that "Mother Ukraine" had the same interest in all her sons, whether they were working men, peasants or intellectual nationalists. Both of them later revised their works under the kind leader­ship of the Party.

The proletarian writers and those who were content to write upon the prescribed or recommended themes were in their element. Kyrylenko and Mykytenko wrote glowingly and woodenly about collectivization and the elimination of the kulaks, "the dregs of society." Korniychuk, a young dramatist, presented in his plays all the appropriate Five Year plan subjects and gloried in the defeat of the old in the factories and on the collective farms. Everything in the literary field that glorified the Communist Party and rejected those ideas which had flourished under the preceding regime was applauded and the success­ful received honors and wealth and Stalin prizes for literary achievement.

The same development or retrogression was to be noted in the more purely scientific fields, especially where they touched studies dealing with the Ukrainian language, history or culture. Skrypnyk had removed some of the more distinguished members of the Academy of Sciences. Postyshev purged most of their followers and then he went on to reorganize the institution in the Communist way. The Academy was changed into a series of separate institutes, each of which was subject only to a carefully chosen Presidium.

Then, at the end of 1934 all of those institutes connected with the old Historical Section and which dealt with such subjects as Ukrainian archaeology, history, history of law, Western Ukraine, etc., were abolished. The study of the humanities was practically ended and the old staff was excluded. There were left only institutes of language and material culture to care for the past and all other subjects were handed over to the network of the VUAMLIN, the reorganized and strengthened network of Marxo-Leninist institutes, which could serve as a more reliable means of spreading Communist doctrine in a pseudo-scientific form. They created a new complex of societies as the Society of Marxist Historians, all of which had the avowed purpose of glorifying the regime at the expense of any form of scientific truth.

 p126  In the field of studies in the Ukrainian language, under the leader­ship of A. Khvylya who had already distinguished himself by his attacks on the entire process of Ukrainization, new steps were taken to counteract all that had been gained by any school of thought.

In the beginning Naum Kaganovich had tried to show that the scholars of the preceding period had worked under the influence of "populist" theories of language. He was soon forced to change this to a statement that the work had been "bourgeois nationalist," the favorite slogan for anything that was not Russian. In his article, The Language Theory of Ukrainian Bourgeois Nationalism, he wrote: "Here under the conception of the people emerge the kurkul circles; the bourgeois nationalists have shaped the development of the Ukrainian language on the speech of the kurkuls." In another passage he declared: "By the approach to the people the bourgeois nationalists understand the removal from the language of everything that is connected with the October revolution, the removal of all features which bring it closer to the language of the Russian proletariat and the workers of the other republics of the USSR and the implanting of everything that is outmoded, conservative and permeated with the nationalist bourgeois spirit."

It was easy to see at what these new "scholars" were aiming. The old arguments as to whether the local dialects of the peasants or the newer literary language which had been developed for over a century was the better Ukrainian were now replaced by the definite statement that the proper form was that which was the language of the more "advanced" classes, i.e. the Communists and their sympathizers, who were the least connected with any special area and were the least affected by any considerations of locality or traditional culture or usage. Even during Ukrainization the Communists of high rank coming from Moscow had been officially relieved of the task of learning Ukrainian. Now this was expanded and those who, of their own volition, learned a few words were adjudged the best authorities on Ukrainian because of their Communist knowledge and standing.

The new authorities set themselves the task of rooting out those  p127 attempts which the "bourgeois nationalists" had made to bring together the Ukrainians of the east and of the west. They declared that the preceding group had sought to bring back capitalism and to separate Ukrainian from the "brotherly" Russian and to remodel it on Polish and German standards. They attacked any system of orthography and transliteration which differed from that used in Russian and in their attacks on Polonisms in Ukrainian they went so far as to call Polish any Ukrainian form which differed from the Russian, even when the Polish word in fact had the same form as the Russian and differed from the Ukrainian.

In the small dictionaries that were printed only those words were admitted that revealed Russian relations and the academician Krymsky once remarked of one of these that it was merely a Russian-Russian dictionary, so far had the process been carried.

In 1933 Khvylya published a new orthography for Ukrainian. This repudiated the work that had been done earlier to bring together Eastern and Western Ukrainian and sought to take as the standard those Ukrainian dialects that had been most thoroughly russianized, although at the same time he carefully avoided explaining the policy on which he was working.

Thus, during these years there developed a definite policy of disintegrating the language from within. It was based very definitely upon the old theories of the nineteenth century, that Ukrainian was merely a corrupt form of Russian and could not have any independent development, but such a statement which would have satisfied Nicholas I and Belinsky was not expressed clearly. It was enveloped in a mass of Communist jargon which appealed to the great names of Bolshevik ideology and covered a complete ignorance of any of the facts of language or of popular usage.

At the same time in another field Postyshev saw the opportunity to deliver further blows under the guise of progress and of satisfying Ukrainian aspirations. He moved the capital of the Ukrainian Republic back to Kiev from Kharkiv. There were good reasons for this. The Soviet regime had been established at Kharkiv, because it was nearer to the Russian boundary and hence could more easily receive support from Russian military sources during the  p128 civil war. Kiev, as the centre of traditional Ukrainian life, was more liable to sympathy with the Ukrainian national movement, as the Russians had found on more than one occasion. Now, with the country prostrate, it seemed advisable for the Communists to mark their triumph and endeavor to identify themselves with the masses by recognizing Kiev.

Yet, it brought with it another blow to Ukrainian prestige. Of all the cities in Ukraine, Kiev was the richest in the monuments of the past. Therefore, to mark the Communist triumph, they decided to rebuild large portions of the city and to erect buildings that would be worthy of the new regime. It was easy to find as the proper sites the areas where the old Kiev had stood.

From the very first days of Bolshevism and Communism, the regime, with its atheistic trends, had devoted itself to the robbing of the churches. Even the ikonostasis of St. Sophia had been melted down to recover the gold ornaments with which it had been decorated. The museums had been largely pillaged. Some of the contents had been removed to Moscow on various pretexts, but still more had been wantonly destroyed.

Now work began in earnest to wreck the surviving monuments of the past. In quick succession the Communists ruined, blew up or levelled a large number of churches which spoke too strongly of the past greatness of Kiev and the Ukrainians. These included the Cathedral Church of the Golden Domed Monastery of St. Michael of the twelfth century, with a bell-tower of the seventeenth, the Church of the Three Saints of the twelfth century, the cloisters of the Monastery of St. Irena of the eleventh century, the finest monuments of the period of Mazepa at the end of the seventeenth century, including the Cathedrals of the Theophany of the Brotherhood Monastery and the "Great Nicholas" of the Ustyno-Mykolayiv Monastery, the work of the architect Joseph Startsev, with a bell-tower of the late eighteenth or the early nineteenth century, the "Little Nicholas" and the Church of St. George of the eighteenth century, a large number of structures of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, of the Kievan-Mezhyhirye Monastery of the Transfiguration, the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Podil of  p129 the eighteenth century, the bell-tower of the Kiev-Kiril-Troitsky Monastery of the eighteenth century built by the architect Ivan Hryhorovych-Barsky, the Church of Sts. Borys and Hlib of the eighteenth century, the Church of the Birth of Christ and the "good Nicholas," built by Andry Melensky at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Church of the Tithes, the celebrated statue of Samson by Hryhorovych-Barsky, and a long series of other monuments and buildings.

Almost all of these buildings came from those periods when the Ukrainians were the most free from Russian influence or, as in the case of the Mazepa baroque, had the closest contacts with the West. It was a deliberate part of the Communist attempt to rewrite the Ukrainian past.

Of course, their excuse was that the old primarily ecclesiastical culture stood in marked contradiction to the modern era of industrialization and collectivization, the "glorious age of Stalin" which called for the development of a new type of architecture. Still, in a surprising number of cases these new buildings did not make their appearance and the ground was left empty or covered with insignificant structures which could better have been placed on the site of those half-ruined shacks and hovels which were the real expressions of the Communist paradise.

The primary object was the annihilation of the Ukrainian spirit and represented part of the broad general movement which had been launched for the rerussification of the country and the stopping in every way of that spontaneous outburst of development which had been called into being by the downfall of tsarism and the founding of the Ukrainian National Republic. The general debacle was now complete.

Within four years, before the ending of the first Five Year Plan a situation had been brought about which seemed to the Soviet authorities a guarantee of their final victory over what they were pleased to call bourgeois nationalism but which was, in reality, the logical outgrowth of the Ukrainian aspirations throughout the centuries.

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