Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Chapter 16

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!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Chapter 18

 p149  Chapter Seventeen

The First Occupation of Western Ukraine

After the expulsion of the Soviet Forces from Western Ukraine in 1920, the territory, including Eastern Galicia and Lviv, had remained under Polish rule and had been subjected to a policy of Polonization and colonization by a Polish population. There had been during the period between the wars many clashes and much unpleasantness between the two nationalities and the ill will thus generated promised disastrous consequences for Poland in case of a new war. At the same time the Polish domination had never threatened the fundamental forms of Ukrainian social life, as had been the case in the UkSSR; the Ukrainians had a certain representation in the Polish Parliament, and they had been allowed, despite hindrances, to develop their own economic life. With the possible exception of the one district of Boryslav, there was very little Communism among the population, who were well aware of the handicaps under which their brothers in the UkSSR were living. At the same time the Nazi refusal to support the Republic of Carpatho-Ukraine in the spring of 1939 had placed them on their guard against the Nazis.

Thus, when World War II broke out on September 1, 1939, the revolt of the Ukrainians which many Poles expected did not take place. However, the Polish government in the first days arrested and placed in concentration camps many of the Ukrainian leaders but they were freed by the rapid advance of the German forces and the Polish retreat, which forced into Lviv and the neighborhood many thousands of refugees.

On August 23, 1939, when the Nazis and the Soviets signed a non‑aggression treaty, it was provided that if Poland were disintegrated, Germany and the USSR would divide the territory  p150 roughly along the line of the Narev, the Vistula, and the San. This gave to the USSR the bulk of the Ukrainian and Byelorussian territories included in the pre‑war Poland and Germany also expressed her disinterest in the fate of Bukovyna and Bessarabia, where there was a Ukrainian population under Rumanian rule.

The collapse of the Polish forces before the German onslaught was so rapid that by September 17, 1939, the city of Lviv was practically in German hands. Then the Soviets, hiding their aggressive designs under the pretext that they were liberating their Ukrainian and Byelorussian brothers from the rule of the Polish lords and capitalists, declared that the Polish government had come to an end and that the Red Army was crossing the Polish border to restore and unite the population with the Soviet republics. At the approach of the Red Armies the Germans withdrew, and Lviv and the old Eastern Galicia remained in Soviet hands.

The Soviet army had advanced with either anti-Polish or anti-capitalist slogans without any opposition, but it was met with little real enthusiasm, for the Western Ukrainians were apprehensive as to what the future might bring. Some of the more openly anti-Communist leaders dropped out of sight or made their way into German-occupied territory. The bulk of the population remained passive, for they remembered the Russian invasion of 1914 and knew what those Ukrainians who had cooperated suffered when the Austro-Hungarian government returned the next year, and they could not believe that this time the Soviets would be any more fortunate.

The first days of the occupation were devoted to a conscious Ukrainization of the territory. The bulk of the population assisted in rounding up of the Polish police and security forces which had made themselves objectionable during the Polish domination, and without any hesitation unfurled the old Ukrainian blue and yellow national flag. The co‑operation of the old Ukrainian political leaders was politely rejected but there was a large number of young, educated Ukrainians without special political experience whose aid was welcomed.

The old newspapers ceased at once to appear, but the new  p151 occupants started in all of the main cities new Communist newspapers as the Free Ukraine in Lviv and the Soviet Ukraine in Stanyslaviv. They allowed also a Communist Polish newspaper the Red Flag and a similar paper in Yiddish.

The old officials were at first encouraged to return to their posts, whether they were Polish or not but in a very short time they began to disappear and they were replaced by Ukrainian-speaking persons, some from the neighborhood and some from eastern Ukraine. At almost the same time, while preparations were begun for the proposed plebiscite, the authorities quietly picked up and incarcerated most of the old political leaders, especially those of the UNDO, the Ukrainian National Democratic League, the representatives of those parties that had sought a normalization of relations with the Poles.

In the same slow and unobtrusive way the Polish police of the different cities were replaced by a "national militia." This was composed of armed groups of young men who more or less volunteered for the work of maintaining order. The Ukrainian and the Jewish organizations tried to bring these self-appointed groups under control but this proved a difficult task for, in many cases, the new Soviet authorities had encouraged some of the more lawless and tumultuous elements to undertake the work so as to profit themselves by the resultant chaos and to facilitate the calling in of their own people.

This era of anxiety on the part of the population and of extreme moderation on the part of the occupying forces lasted for almost a month, while preparations were being made for the election of representatives of all organizations, factories, and groups to a National Assembly for the consideration of reunion with the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Meetings were held everywhere, at which attendance was compulsory, and everywhere there was expressed by selected speakers the gratitude of the people for their liberation from the Polish lords and the imperialistic capitalists. Khrushchov and other high functionaries arrived from Kiev to conduct these elections and to superintend the preparation of the lists of delegates. Yet it was almost at once noted that while there  p152 were a few well-known persons on the various lists of delegates, the vast majority were either completely unknown or were definitely recognized as representatives of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic or of the occupying forces.

The election on October 22 was carried on in the regular Bolshevik fashion with no opportunity for any choice of candidates. Over 90% of the people were marshalled to the polls and it was made clear that they had no choice but to approve the selected list. The response was, of course, practically unanimous and the next step was then in order.

On October 26, the National Assembly met in Lviv. The delegates, acting under definite orders, elected a presidium which included Stalin and the officials of the UkSSR. The first act was to pass a resolution of gratitude to Stalin and the Soviet leaders for their liberation of the country. Then there were a few laudatory speeches and the resolution was adopted to apply for member­ship in the USSR, to nationalize trade, industry and the banks, to divide the land of the state, the large landowners and the church among the landless and poor peasants, and to send a delegation to Kiev and Moscow to ask for the incorporation.

All this was a cut and dried performance to satisfy the Communist love of paper democracy and to justify their occupation of the country under the guise of liberation. There was no discussion allowed and once again the resolution was accepted unanimously.

On November 1, the selected delegation met Stalin, and the Presidium of the USSR in Moscow formally welcomed the liberated brothers and annexed their territory to the UkSSR. It was noteworthy that the action of Moscow completely overshadowed any reception at Kiev but this was only natural in view of the nature of the entire enterprise. There were none of those demonstrations that had marked the union of the two sections in the Ukrainian National Republic in 1919, when the vote and the union represented the will of the people.

Once these formalities had been accomplished, the Soviets felt free to act and, at a steadily increasing tempo, they went through in a few months a refined version of what they had accomplished  p153 in theº eastern Ukraine in the course of twenty years. At first their actions were moderate but with the passage of time they began to develop and to reveal those tendencies which had marked their course in the east.

The first task was the reorganization of the country geographically. On September 28, they had come to a new agreement with the Germans, whereby Germany had given up her claims to Lithuania in return for the area between the San and the Buh Rivers. So the Soviets assigned Wilno and its territory to an independent Lithuania; they annexed the region further south to the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic and the rest to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. This left to the Germans four sections of Western Ukraine, Kholm­shchyna, Pidlyashshya, Posannya, and Lemkiv­shchyna, which were included in the Polish Government General and were governed directly by the Nazis, who allowed the appointment of a Ukrainian Central Committee to represent the Ukrainians before the higher authorities, especially in question of relief, etc.

The Soviet territory was divided into six districts with their centres at Lviv, Drohobych, Stanyslaviv, Ternopil, Rivne and Lutsk. Each of these was then divided into rayons or regions with about 25,000 population. The centres of these regions were often small towns but the division was made quite arbitrarily and each centre was amply provided with bureaucratic machinery.

The economic condition of the country was extremely bad and the only saving feature was that the harvest had already been gathered, so that there was a good chance for a large part of the agricultural population, even of the poor, to survive during the winter. Yet the influx of refugees fleeing before the German advance filled the cities and the severance of connections with the west presented the arrival of any more manufactured goods or supplies and, of course, none came from the east.

On the contrary, there came a new swarm of Soviet officials who were themselves amazed at the wealth of goods in what, to the natives, seemed impoverished markets. They brought with them liberal sums of money to buy whatever they wished and they were  p154 the more favored because the Soviets equated in value the Polish zloty and the Soviet karbovanets. When we take into consideration the fact that prior to the war a pound of meat in Poland cost four zloty and in the UkSSR twenty-five to thirty karbovantsy, the vast purchasing power of the Soviet officials can be seen. Then in December, to ruin the native population, they arbitrarily stopped the zloty as legal tender, so that the Ukrainian population lost everything, except those fortunate persons who had succeeded in exchanging their Polish money for German marks by clandestine trade across the border.

This swarm of officials was of various kinds. Those who were attached to fields like military affairs, the railroads, the posts and telegraphs, etc., i.e. those branches which were directly under the All‑Union Commissariats, made no concealment of the fact that Russian was from now on to be the chief language. Other sections which were under the Commissariats in Kiev first adopted Ukrainian as their official tongue, but by the middle of 1940 they, too, had passed over to the use of Russian, exactly as had been done in all the offices in Kiev.

By the end of November, when the supplies in the stores were already becoming exhausted, the actual work of nationalization commenced. The former owners were often thrown out, if their establishments had been of any size, and as former wealthy individuals they were refused food tickets and other privileges on the ground that they belonged to the non‑laboring element and were enemies of the people. This meant that they were compelled to sell upon the black market everything that they had been able to save or which they possessed and which had not been confiscated, and during the winter many of them, like the Polish landowners and the police who fell into Communist hands, were deported under atrocious and inhuman conditions to Kazakhstan and Central Asia to disappear.

On the other hand, the Soviets introduced at once the idea of dining halls for the workers and special stores for Communists and higher functionaries where they could secure easily and cheaply whatever there was to be obtained in Western Ukraine.

 p155  At the same time the nationalization of the land was commenced and this gave a good excuse for the elimination of another class of formerly prosperous people, whether they were Poles or Ukrainians. At first this was carried out along the lines of the Ukrainian land code of 1922, for the authorities were eager to get crops in when spring came. Still, during the summer of 1940 they began to urge the formation of collective farms. The peasants in some of the more backward regions listened to these ideas willingly, but in the better areas where agriculture was on a far higher and more efficient plane than in large sections of eastern Ukraine, they were very cool and meetings had to be postponed again and again if disorders were to be averted in the middle of the war. Still the Soviet authorities felt that they could waste some time until a real peace was restored and their hands were definitely free.

In regard to the educational establishments and all questions of organization, they acted without delay. In the first days of the occupation, the Soviet commissars seized the property of the Shevchenko Scientific Society and prevented all further work by confiscating the building and its contents and preventing all further publications. On January 14, 1940, they forced the complete self‑liquidation of the Society. The president, Prof. Radovsky, at once fled to the west and during the next uncertain months a large part of the active members made their way to Krakow in the Polish Government General, where they endeavored to resume their work. The Society was then turned into a branch of the Academy of Sciences of the UkSSR and was placed under the control of the administration in Kiev, while part of its collections and its work was placed under the University of Kiev, which was now ostensibly Ukrainianized and given the name of Ivan Franko, the great Western Ukrainian scholar and writer. This was not for long, for very soon here, too, the lecturers to win Soviet approval began to switch over from Ukrainian to Russian.

All other societies of every kind were abolished and fitted into the Soviet scheme of things. The cooperative network, especially such great societies as the Maslosoyuz (Dairy Cooperative Society) and the People's Trade were made governmental organs. Various  p156 firms were turned into branches of one commissariat or another. By the spring, while there had not yet been a full communization of the country, the process was well advanced and no resident of Western Ukraine could doubt as to the future of the area.

In Eastern Galicia, where the Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite was the predominant religion, the Metropolitan Archbishop Andry Sheptytsky was not personally touched. He was placed under more or less surveillance and found it impossible to exercise his normal activity. However, all the religious schools and seminaries under his charge were closed, the church and monastic lands were seized, and all ecclesiastical printing was suppressed. Finally, the clergy were compelled to hand over to the representatives of the government all the baptismal and other records which were incorporated in the work of the ZATS, the Soviet bureau of vital statistics. The clergy were treated as a non‑working class and were thus deprived of all means of livelihood, except for the free-will offerings of their impoverished parishioners.

In the eastern section, where the Orthodox Church predominated, the same regulations were put into force with the additional proviso that the clergy had to transfer their allegiance from the Polish Orthodox Church to the locum tenens of the Russian Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow. This was a first step in improving relations between the locum tenens and the Soviet government and in making the authorities of the Russian Orthodox Church a definite instrument of the government in the spreading of Russian Communism.

On the other hand, there was a considerable patronage of Ukrainian art. Certain scholars were rather favored. The Ukrainian theatre was supported on a more liberal scale than it had been under the Polish rule and there were in some quarters hopes that there might be a happy future. It was again a short dream, for as 1940 came to a close, there began again the insistent but unobtrusive attempts at russification. Russian theatrical companies began to visit Lviv and other cities. The publications of the publishing firms of Lviv fell off and once more they found it necessary to produce Russian books. The libraries were carefully purged of  p157 those authors who had fallen under the displeasure of Moscow during the crushing of the Ukrainian renaissance and their works were forbidden, just as in Eastern Ukraine. The books that were sent from Kiev were chiefly in Russian. Furthermore, those authors, poets, and artists who were still in Western Ukraine now found themselves regimented. They were given elaborate projects but they found that their success depended upon their ability not to express themselves freely but to satisfy the demands of the Soviet authorities. As a result many of them endeavored to get, in one way or another, to the west where even if they were under Nazi rule they still had more possibilities at the time than they did under the highly organized system sponsored by Moscow.

It was thus abundantly evident that the "liberation" of Western Ukraine was but the exchange of one master for a still sterner rule. The realization of this fact came quickly and it very soon evoked a corresponding reaction which began to unite the entire population, the more so as even those few Communists in Western Ukraine who had remained true to their convictions were now seized by the Soviet authorities and punished on the ground that they were Trotskyists or were believers in one of the various deviations from the general line of the party. There were to be no Communists except those who had passed through the Soviet training school and those people who had believed that their Communist faith would be of profit to them found themselves in as wretched a position as had Eastern Ukrainian Communists like Khvylovy and Skrypnyk who had gained nothing by their independence, except death and destruction.

Thus, by the spring of 1941 conditions in Western Ukraine were rapidly assuming the same form that they had taken in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Any hopes that there would be any exception or any toleration for the area were once and for all annihilated when the Soviets attacked Finland and, still more, when, in the summer of 1940, they absorbed and turned into Soviet Republics the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The Soviets were shown clearly to be on the march and it was for the people to protect themselves as best they could.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 25 Apr 22