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Chapter 15

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 17

 p141  Chapter Sixteen

Ukraine in the Late Thirties

With the power of Moscow thus defined and reasserted by the free vote of the Moscow-controlled Communist representatives of the various independent republics that formed part of the USSR, the way was open for the next step. Stalin had not only prepared himself legally at home by a clever use of contradictory expressions but he had taken advantage of the good will of the liberals and progressives of the rest of the world by exploiting the distrust which they felt for Hitler and the Nazis and had infiltrated Communists through the media of popular fronts into nearly all the governments that boasted of their democracy.

Next came the bewildering series of trials which were now held in Moscow. In quick succession Yagoda, the dreaded head of the NKVD, was removed from his post, arrested and shot by his successor Yezhov, whose name was soon to become even more detested. Then, in a series of three public trials which extended from the end of 1936 to 1938, nearly all of the old Bolshevik leaders who had played important roles in Soviet life during the period of Lenin's domination were condemned for counter-revolutionary activity and either shot or sentenced to long terms of deportation, from which they did not return. The list included such names as Bukharin, the former theoretician of the Party, Zinovyev, the master of the Leningrad Soviet, the leading supporters of Trotsky, Rykov, etc. At the same time Marshal Tukhachevsky, the commander of the Red Army in its unsuccess­ful drive against Warsaw in 1920, Marshal Yegorov, the leader of the southern wing of that army with which Stalin himself had served as political commissar and most of the other leading officers were removed and  p142 suffered the same fate on the ground that they were intriguing with Hitler or with the capitalist imperialists.

The Yezhovshchina, as it was called, raged over the entire territory of the Soviet Union and was directed with especial fury against all the leading men in all walks of life, directors of government offices, directors of factories, directors of collective farms, and army officers, if they could possibly be suspected of being disloyal to the Stalinist regime or of having independent thoughts.

The world looked on in amazement, for the Moscow regime seemed to have gone completely mad in its accusations and suspicions. The charges that were made against the outstanding personalities seemed fantastic and contradicted everything that any one knew of the character and actions of the outstanding Communist leaders. To some it seemed as if the revolution were devouring its own children, for Stalin was executing men for proposing policies which he had later adopted himself, as he had in the case of both the right and left deviationists from the general line of the party. To others it seemed an alarming example of the infiltration of all forms of life by the agents of Nazism. All agreed that the actions were extreme and far reaching.

As the purge of the administrative machinery went on, its range increased. Once the head of a bureau or a factory were implicated, the way was open to charge all of his subordinates who had not denounced him with being accessory to his crimes and they were called up and punished or, in rare cases were acquitted and promoted. The storm continued until late in 1938 when Yezhov himself was removed and suffered the same fate at the hands of the Georgian Beria, who guided the NKVD through World War II.

If such was the fury in the RSFSR, it can well be ignited what were the results in Ukraine, where the Ukrainian Communists had set the fashion of accusing their opponents of bourgeois nationalism. When the storm broke, Postyshev, who had been sent down in 1933 to wipe out bourgeois nationalism, was among the first to go. He was removed and disappeared at the hands of Kaganovich, who reemerged for a while as the strong man of the  p143 Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Lyubchenko, who had been appointed the Prime Minister of the UkSSR on the single program of suppressing Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism, was called to Moscow to confront the self-confessed leaders of the nationalists and, on his return to Kiev, he shot himself. His successor, Bondarenko, disappeared without a trace.

Who were these self-confessed leaders? Prominent among them was A. Khvylya, who had been the champion of the general line against Khvylovy and Skrypnyk and who had been the dominant figure in the attack on the Ukrainian literary men and scholars. For years he had resorted to all kinds of attacks to bring Ukrainian grammar and language closer to Russian. He now "voluntarily" confessed that he had worked against the "elder brother" and had joined and aided in developing a secret military force several million strong for the sole purpose of separating Ukraine from the USSR and he swore that in this he had the active aid of Lyubchenko and most of the officials of the UkSSR. Finis.

Zatonsky, the Commissar of Education, was accused of another crime. He had drawn years before the fire of Gorky for suggesting that a mixed language be introduced into Ukrainian schools as the means of absorbing Ukrainian into Russian. He had speedily withdrawn his recommendations under fire and all had seemed forgiven. It was not, and Zatonsky disappeared in the holocaust.

It then came the turn of the writers. Men like Kulyk, who had run roughshod over the older writers and had called for their liquidation, were now found guilty of bourgeois nationalism and with them most of the authors who had emerged during the shattering of the Ukrainian renaissance and who had celebrated the turning of Ukraine into a collectivized and industrialized state. Each and every one of them confessed that they had been guilty of bourgeois nationalism and they received the due reward for their crimes.

There was hardly a family in Ukraine which did not suffer the accusation of at least one member. The survivors who have escaped have given lurid tales of the extent to which the feeling of distrust and suspicion spread among all classes of the  p144 population. Husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters hardly dared to speak to one another, to say anything lest their closest friends and relatives had been compelled to join the NKVD or had turned informers for their own selfish purposes. For one arrest of a guilty bourgeois nationalist, a hundred people who had done nothing amiss and had scarcely dared to think, were deported.

The Ukrainians were taken out of Ukraine in large masses and the concentration and labor camps in the far north and in eastern Asia were filled to overflowing as the Soviet authorities continued their policy of developing their industrial centres east of the Urals. The places in the cities and the collective farms thus emptied were, in turn, filled by the importation of Russians and citizens of the other Soviet republics as a means of producing not Ukrainian or Azerbaijanian Soviet loyalty but as a means of establishing a new universal Soviet patriotism and of separating the nationalities from their republics which were henceforth to be mere administrative and economic subdivisions of the Soviet state.

The object of these purges and these changes was the breaking up of the population into individual entities who would recognize no bonds of attachment to anything except the state. It was in a sense the culmination of the efforts to break the sense of national or even racial or clan unity which had been so strong in 1917, when the Ukrainian National Republic had been established. The Communists had broken this by playing upon class feelings; they had broken down the class into families and now, under the relentless pressure of Yezhov, they tried to go further and to break the families into individuals.

In line with this policy there came a complete ending to the interest in the Ukrainians in the RSFSR and the other Soviet Republics. Skrypnyk had done his best to educate the several million of these in Ukrainian and at the moment of his fall the UkSSR was sending papers, books, and theatrical companies, as well as teachers, to educate and maintain their Ukrainian feelings as loyal members of the Soviet Union. That was abruptly changed in 1932 and the pressure upon them to declare themselves as  p145 simply Russians was constantly increased. It was almost forbidden to mention the name Ukrainian in connection with the older settlers in Kuban, along the Don, in the Green Wedge along the Amur, etc. and it was a matter of perplexity as to what language they could be said to speak or what dialect in connection with later studies of the dialects of the Russian language. It was inadmissible to regard them as speaking a peasant dialect in view of the attitude of the authorities in recognizing some sort of Ukrainian, but it was even worse to believe that Ukrainian could exist in those regions and so they were simply passed over and forgotten, while the newcomers, usually being under some kind of a ban, were simply treated as Russian deportees.

Even this was not the whole story, for in such cities as Vinnytsya during these same years, the population was slaughtered by the thousands and buried secretly in carefully hidden burial places which were then turned into parks and playgrounds to conceal the extent of the crimes. This was repeated in many places but the situation in Vinnytsya attracted especial attention because during the War, the Germans found the places of burial and revealed the thousands of bodies of the victims, many of whom had been buried alive. The extent of these massacres was as great as was the killing of the Polish officers in Katyn, which was likewise brought to light during the war.

By the time the census of 1939 was taken and this was the last one published, the growth of the number of Russians and the diminution of Ukrainians showed clearly that there was a large scale transfer of nationality which completely reversed the figures in some sections of Asia without regard for the natural laws of reproduction and mortality.

In this atmosphere the nature of the intellectual and literary work in the UkSSR can well be imagined. The Ukrainian scholars were forced to accept the full Russian theories of the Ukrainian past. This led to a complete revaluation of all the "outstanding figures." In 1933 the career of Bohdan Khmelnitsky was condemned on the ground that he was a typical representative of the noble classes. By the outbreak of World War II he became a Russian  p146 patriot for signing the Treaty of Pereyaslav and bringing the Zaporozhian Kozaks under Muscovite domination. It was so in every branch of historical study. In back of the conceptions of the Soviet man and Soviet patriotism began to emerge with ever greater clarity the conception of Russian patriotism, as the doctrine of the "elder brother" who had given culture and civilization to the other nations of the Soviet Union became clearer and clearer.

It was the same thing in language. Khvylya and his friends had been working on a Ukrainian-Russian dictionary but this was immediately criticized by Pravda for its divisive tendencies, and the guilty compilers were liquidated. A new edition was started in 1938 on still a new principle. The Ukrainian and Russian words were to have the same number of synonyms and these were to have identical value. If, in any particular case, this did not prove to be true, it was so much the worse for the Ukrainian. If there were more words in Ukrainian to express various shades of one idea than there were in Russian, the words were banned. If there were fewer, the Russian words were supplied in order to show the influence that Russian had had upon the cultural development of Ukrainian.

The result was the reverse of what Zatonsky had proposed. He had suggested a mixed language with the idea that the Ukrainians would develop by practice toward the use of standard Russian. Now the new Commissariat of Education was introducing Russian into Ukrainian, forbidding the use of Ukrainian syntactical constructions which had no parallel in Russian in order to train the Ukrainians to speak Russian by infiltrating it into their native speech. The result would have been perhaps the same, but the difference was that it preserved the supremacy of the Russian language in a pure form and corrupted the Ukrainian beyond recognition.

This procedure was too violent, even for many of the poets and writers who were most ardent in their support of the Stalinist regime. Men like Bazhan, who had put his pen entirely at the disposal of Moscow, continued to use some of the forbidden words and even obtained rewards for their obsequious phrases couched in  p147 this taboo language. It was necessary if the whole theory of the USSR was not to fall by the wayside and the authorities in Moscow were becoming aware of the growing danger of Nazism.

They encouraged the writers, as Tychyna and Rylsky, to write narrative and other poems on themes of the old hostility of the Ukrainians to the Polish nobles and to stress the assistance which, in those ancient days, the Ukrainians had received from the Muscovite authorities. They fanned again the fires of the civil war when the Ukrainian Communists, backed by their Muscovite friends and masters, were warring against the Ukrainian National Republic and Petlyura.

In fact, during these fantastic years, Tychyna, Rylsky, Yanovsky and similar writers, as well as Korniychuk, found it easier to maintain their freedom by this fanning of Ukrainian chauvinism into flame than did those authors who, following the narrow interpretation of socialist realism, sought to trace the transformations in the contemporary life and the growth of confidence in the Russian ideas of industrialization and collectivization. Again and again these men were called to account for allowing their local and national sympathies to run away with them and to include descriptions which were perhaps nostalgic but which could be twisted in the perverse logic of the NKVD into hidden criticisms of the great Stalin, the leaders of the people, and the all‑wise and beneficent rule of Moscow.

By 1939, the situation in Ukraine had changed entirely from what it had been in 1929 when the first five year plan was getting under way. The salient features of the Ukrainian economic life had been destroyed. Yet Moscow was not yet satisfied.

Despite the increased taxation and the reduction in the income of the average dweller on a collective farm, the Communist Party demanded each year a larger part of the grain and of the cash income. The voluntary donations for the benefit of the armed forces were increased and steps were begun to demand taxes in kind from the returns which the peasants received from their individual plots. Thus a peasant was required to contribute so many eggs per year to the government, which did not concern itself as to  p148 whether or not that peasant was raising hens. The government demanded its share of the manure from the private cattle and it made no difference as to whether or not the individual raised cattle.

At the same time the heads of the Communist Party sought high and wide for misuse of state property. Again and again they discovered that on collective farms the administration and the peasants were in agreement that the best way to allow some improvement in the general economic situation was to permit the peasant to cultivate and have the income from a slightly larger plot of land. The increased productivity in this way often more than covered the apparent use of state income from the operations of the farm but to the leaders of the Communist Party this was as severe an offence as was the failure to fulfil obligations, for it dared to question the superiority of the policy of collectivization. During 1939, the Party made strenuous efforts to stop such abuses and they even went further in urging and commanding a reduction in the individual allotments of land, which had been the only means of winning even a grudging approval of the Ukrainian peasants for the idea of collectivization.

Of course, with the outbreak of World War II there came a slight relaxation of this pressure, for Stalin and his friends apparently became aware that an excessive attack upon the peasantry might lead them to make common cause with the opponents of the Soviet Union. Yet, this relaxation of pressure was very slight during the years 1939‑1941, when the alliance of Stalin and Hitler seemed to be firm and steady and when the Soviet Union was expanding in accordance with its own powers and its own intrigues. In all this Ukraine remained aloof, closely guarded against the importation of new ideas and the population dragged on their weary existence, daring to dream that anything could happen to change their unhappy lot.

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Page updated: 25 Apr 22