Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ukraine and Nationalism WWII


The Ukrainian territories under Bolshevik control had been constituted as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, which in 1922 became a founding member of the Soviet Union. Although it possessed all the structures and symbols of an independent state, Soviet Ukraine was effectively governed from Moscow. During the early years of Bolshevik rule, the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine, or CP(b)U, was predominantly Russian and Jewish in its ethnic composition. The proportion of Ukrainians increased to some 20 percent only in 1920, after the absorption of the Borotbisty, a non- Bolshevik communist party in Ukraine. Still, the CP(b)U always remained an integral part of the All-Union Communist Party.

During the 1920s, in order to reach out to the overwhelmingly peasant population and disarm the appeal of Ukrainian nationalism, the Bolsheviks pursued the policy of Ukrainization. This affirmative action program fostered education, publishing, and official communication in the Ukrainian language, and sponsored the recruitment of Ukrainians to party and government structures. By the late 1920s the proportion of ethnic Ukrainians in the CP(b)U exceeded 50 percent. The Ukrainization drive eventually caused resistance among Russian bureaucrats in Ukraine and uneasiness in Moscow. Yet, some Ukrainian Bolsheviks, led by the vocal Mykola Skrypnyk, defended the policy of Ukrainization. Peasant resistance to the forcible collectivization of agriculture during the First Five-Year Plan (1928–1932) led to Moscow’s denunciation of Ukrainization and its defenders. Skrypnyk killed himself in 1933, the same year that millions of Ukrainian peasants died in a catastrophic famine, which was caused by state policies. Ukrainian cultural figures suffered disproportionately during the Great Terror. Stalinist-era industrialization, however, turned the Ukrainian republic into a developed industrial region.

In interwar Poland and Romania, Ukrainians experienced discrimination and assimilationist pressure. By the mid-1930s, popular discontent with the in- ability of mainstream Ukrainian political parties, such as the National Democrats, to counter Polish oppression, propelled Ukrainian radical nationalists to prominence. The conspiratorial Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN, founded in 1929) became increasingly influential among Ukrainian youth. The situation was different in Czechoslovakia, where the government promoted multicultural- ism and modernized the economy in Transcarpathia. When Hitler began dismembering Czechoslovakia in 1938, this region was granted autonomy and briefly enjoyed independence as Carpatho-Ukraine before being occupied by Hungary.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (August 1939) transferred Poland’s Ukrainian territories and Ro- mania’s Northern Bukovyna to the Soviet sphere of influence. The USSR occupied these regions in September 1939 and June 1940, respectively, under the guise of reuniting the Ukrainian nation within a single state structure. The OUN had just split into a more moderate wing led by Andrii Melnyk and a more radical one under the leadership of Stepan Bandera. The infighting between the OUN(M) and OUN(B) effectively prevented radical nationalists from putting up any resistance.


The surprise Nazi attack on the USSR in June 1941 turned the Ukrainian republic into a battlefield. The Germans scored one of the war’s biggest victories when they took Kiev in September at a cost of 600,000 Soviet fatalities and an equal number of soldiers who were taken prisoner. By the end of 1941 the German armies controlled practically all of Ukrainian territory. In Lviv on June 30, 1941, the OUN(B) attempted the proclamation of a Ukrainian state, but the Gestapo soon began arresting the leading Banderites. The German ad- ministration divided Ukraine into several administrative entities and discouraged Ukrainian national aspirations. The economy was exploited and the population brutalized. The Nazis exterminated between 600,000 and 900,000 Ukrainian Jews, including 34,000 who were machine-gunned during a two-day massacre in the ravine of Babi Yar in Kiev (September 1941). The Red Army began the liberation of Ukraine in mid-1943, and completed it by October 1944. In Western Ukraine, Soviet troops encountered fierce resistance from the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which continued its guerilla war in the region until the early 1950s. In 1945 Czechoslovakia ceded Transcarpathia to the Soviet Union, thus completing the unification of all Ukrainian ethnic lands within the Ukrainian SSR.

The first postwar decade was characterized by economic reconstruction and the Sovietization of Western Ukraine. In 1946 the authorities forcibly dissolved the Uniate Church, the national institution of Galician Ukrainians. In Ukraine, the Zhdanovshchina (Zhdanov’s time) campaign from 1946 to 1948 was aimed primarily at real and imaginary manifestations of Ukrainian national- ism, and to reinstall in Soviet culture Bolshevik values. In 1949 the long-serving first secretary of the CP(b)U, Nikita Khrushchev, left for a higher position in Moscow, but continued to consider the re- public as his power base. Therefore, his ascendancy to power in the Kremlin after Stalin’s death signaled the Ukrainians’ promotion to the status of the Russians’ junior partner in running the USSR. This change was sealed by the celebrations in 1954 of the tercentenary of Ukraine’s “reunification” with Russia and the transfer of the Crimea from Russia to Ukraine. By 1959 ethnic Ukrainians constituted more than 60 percent of the membership of the Communist Party of Ukraine (renamed the CPU in 1952) and dominated its Central Commit- tee and Politburo. Following a long line of non- Ukrainian party leaders, after 1953 all first secretaries were Ukrainian. In particular, Petro Shelest, who headed the CPU from 1963 to 1972, distinguished himself as a defender of the republic’s economic interests and culture until his removal on charges of being soft on nationalism.

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