Paul Robert Magocsi

Excerpts from Chapter 38 from the book ”History of Ukraine”,  Toronto / 1996   




How did the revolutionary era affect other peoples in Dnieper Ukraine, and what, if any, views did they have toward Ukrainian national aspirations? Like the Ukrainians, none of the national minorities formed a united political front. Each group was divided into diverse political factions, some of which, like the leftists, even denied the value of identification with their own nationality. In general, however, it is reasonable to conclude that with few exceptions most of the other peoples — whether Jews, Russians, or Poles — were opposed to Ukrainian inde-pendence and to separation from Russia.


MAP 26

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Aware of such negative attitudes toward Ukrainian political aspirations, in 1917 the Central Rada implemented liberal policies and set up the Secretariat for Nationality Affairs in an attempt to attract support from Dnieper Ukraine's other peoples. Adopting the nationality theories advocated by the Austrian socialists Otto Bauer and Karl Renner, the Central Rada enacted a law in January 1918 that provided for national-personal autonomy. National-personal, or national-cultural, autonomy meant that an individual was guaranteed certain rights with a view to the protection of his or her language and culture regardless of place of residence. This autonomy was different in kind from territorial autonomy, in which a specifically defined area was granted autonomous status. Among the rights guaranteed by national-personal autonomy were schools, cultural institutions, and religious societies. All would receive financial support from the central government, which in turn would establish tax revenues according to a fiscal plan devised by the nationalities themselves. Interestingly, only Jews, Russians, and Poles were singled out as eligible for national-personal autonomy; seven other groups (Belarusans, Czechs, Romanians, Germans, Tatars, Greeks, and Bulgarians) would first have to petition for and receive governmental approval in order to obtain autonomous status. Jews, Russians, and Poles were each given their own ministries and guaran-teed a certain number of seats in the Central Rada and Little Rada.

The Jews had fifty deputies in the Central Rada (equally divided among five Jewish political parties) and five deputies in the Little Rada. Jews also received posts in the General Secretariat and, later, the ministerial council of the Ukrainian National Republic, in which the Ministry of Jewish Affairs was created (headed at various times by Moshe Zilberfarb, Wolf Latsky-Bertholdi, Avraham Revutsky, and Pinkhes Krasny). Yiddish was made an official language (it even appeared on some of the Ukrainian National Republic's paper money); Jewish schools and a department of Jewish language and literature at the university in Kam"ianets'-Podil's'kyi were established; and plans were made to revive the historic Jewish self-governing communities (the kahals) that had been abolished by the tsarist government in 1844. Of Jewish political parties, the socialists were the first to cooperate with the Central Rada, and others, including the Zionists, eventually followed. All Jewish parties, however, strongly opposed the idea of an independent Ukraine and either abstained from voting on or voted against the Fourth Universal.



Moshe Zilberfarb


The promising atmosphere in Jewish-Ukrainian relations created by the Central Rada during the first phase of Dnieper Ukraine's revolutionary era changed during the Hetmanate of the second phase and then dissolved completely during the anarchy and civil war of the third phase (1919-1920). Hetman Skoropads'kyi's government effectively ended the experiment in Jewish autonomy, but it at least maintained social stability in the cities and part of the countryside. During the third phase of the revolutionary era, maintaining such stability proved well beyond the powers of the Directory, faced as it was with foreign invasion, civil war, and peasant uprisings. Even though the Ministry of Jewish Affairs was revived and Jewish autonomy theoretically restored, this meant little to Dnieper Ukraine's Jews, who faced a wave of pogroms and so-called excesses (less violent attacks in which there was usually no loss of life) that intensified after May 1919. Of the 1,236 pogroms in 524 localities recorded between 1917 and early 1921 in Dnieper Ukraine, six percent occurred before 1919, and the rest after. Estimates of the number of persons killed in the pogroms during the entire period range from 30,000 to 60,000. Whether the pogroms and excesses were carried out by White Russian armies, by forces loyal to the Bolsheviks or to the Ukrainian National Republic, or by uncontrolled marauding bands and self-styled military chieftains (like Hryhoriiv and Makhno), the Directory of the Ukrainian National Republic and particularly its leader, Symon Petliura, have been blamed in most subsequent Jewish writings. The pogroms have so clouded the historical record that authoritative sources like the Encyclopedia Judaica have concluded that no Ukrainian government, neither the Central Rada, nor the Hetmanate, nor the Directory, was ever sincere about Jewish autonomy or about 'really developing a new positive attitude toward the Jews.' Whoever or whatever is responsible for the pogroms of 1919—1920 in Dnieper Ukraine, there is no question that their occurrence poisoned Jewish-Ukrainian relations for decades to come both in the homeland and in the diaspora.

The Russian minority in Dnieper Ukraine invariably opposed the idea of separation from Russia. This applied across the political spectrum, from the left-wing Bolsheviks, who actually made up the majority of the members in the Communist party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine, to the right-wing monarchists, known as the Bloc of Non-Partisan Russians and represented by the ukrainophobic Russian-language daily newspaper Kievlianin (Kiev, 1864-1919), edited by Vasilii Shul'gin. When, in July 1917, the Central Rada was opened to national minorities, the Russians had fifty-four deputies. There were also eight Russians in the Little Rada and two ministers (Aleksandr Zarubin for postal services and Dmitrii Odinets for Russian affairs) in the General Secretariat. As the Central Rada moved increasingly toward autonomy and then independence for Ukraine, however, the Russian deputies began leaving the assembly until only four Socialist-Revolutionaries and the minis-ter Odinets remained. With the establishment of the Hetmanate in April 1918, the majority of Russians, especially from the center and right side of the political spec-trum, supported the new Ukrainian government. These same groups also welcomed the efforts of General Denikin's Volunteer Army to restore Russian control over Ukraine in 1919.


Vasilii Shul'gin


The Russians' attitude toward Ukrainian aspirations is not surprising. From their perspective, they lived in Little Russia, which for them was an inalienable part of the Russian homeland. As for Ukrainianism, most Russians considered it little more than a political idea concocted by a few misguided intellectuals or a by-product of the anti-Russian designs of foreign powers, especially Austria-Hungary and Germany. According to such a scenario, the peasant masses were not Ukrainians, they were Little Russians. It was simply inconceivable to Russians (or, for that matter, russified Ukrainians) imbued with such attitudes that their beloved Little Russian homeland could ever be torn from mother Russia and transformed into an 'artificial' independent Ukrainian state.

Poles living in Dnieper Ukraine exhibited mixed reactions to the events that engulfed them during the revolutionary era. It was actually owing to World War I that the number of Poles in Dnieper Ukraine increased. This was the result of large numbers having fled eastward from the Congress Kingdom, the Russian Empire's far-western Polish-inhabited entity, which for extensive periods of time was held by the Central Powers. Cities on the Right Bank received many Poles during this influx; their number in Kiev, for instance, reached 43,000, or 9.5 percent of the inhabitants, in 1917.

Following the February Revolution in the Russian Empire, the Poles in Dnieper Ukraine organized themselves essentially into two groups. The Polish Executive Committee in Rus' (Polski Komitet Wykonawczy na Rusi), led by Joachim Bartoszewicz, primarily represented the landowning class and conservative National Democrats, who were sympathetic to the Polish liberation movement. The Polish Democratic Center party, headed by Mieczyslaw Mickiewicz, Roman Knoll, and Stanislaw Stempowski, represented more liberal political trends, although it too supported the interests of Polish landowners and shared their inclination for an independent Polish state. Leaders of the Polish Democratic Center party took advantage of the Central Rada's invitation to participate in its administration, and it obtained places for twenty deputies in the Central Rada and two in the Little Rada. Then, following the Fourth Universal in January 1918, the Ministry for Polish Affairs headed by Mickiewicz was created as part of the ministerial council of the Ukrainian National Republic.



Joachim Bartoszewicz


The Ministry for Polish Affairs ceased to exist following the fall of the Central Rada in April 1918. The Hetmanate cooperated instead with the Polish Executive Committee, which welcomed the conservative intention of the Hetmanate government to restore the large landed estates. The days of the Polish landlords and their hold over the Right Bank countryside were numbered, however. In response to the peasant revolts and anarchic conditions which dominated the 1919-1920 period, and following the establishment of Soviet rule in Dnieper Ukraine, large numbers of Poles fled westward to the new Polish state. Consequently, the number of Poles remaining in Dnieper Ukraine decreased by at least one-third, from 685,000 in 1909 to 410,000 in 1926.

The only sizable national minority entirely to avoid dealings with the Central Rada or with other non-Bolshevik governments in Dnieper Ukraine were the Germans. Maintaining the aloofness that had characterized them since tsarist times, the Germans remained in their rural communities and tried to keep as uninvolved as possible with both the Ukrainians and the Russians in their midst and in the urban centers. Because of the all-encompassing changes and cataclysmic events of the revolutionary era, however, the Germans were unable to remain unaffected for long. In relative terms, they perhaps suffered the most of all Dnieper Ukraine's peoples.

Already during World War I, the Germans living in Volhynia and in the Chelm region, that is, in areas closest to the front, had been deported, in 1915, by the tsarist Russian government, primarily to Siberia. They were suspect in the eyes of Russian officialdom, who feared their collaborating with the advancing German Army. Then, during 1919 and the height of the peasant leader Makhno's military ravages, many German villages, especially in Katerynoslav province, were attacked in destructive pogroms. Their inhabitants either were killed or, if they managed to escape, eventually reached Germany or the United States. The pacifist Mennonites and their prosperous rural farms proved especially easy targets for Makhno's anarchist bands. As a result of the World War I deportations and the destruction wrought during the revolutionary era, the number of Germans in Dnieper Ukraine decreased by almost two-fifths, from 750,000 in 1914 to 514,000 in 1926.

The Tatars were different from other peoples in Dnieper Ukraine in that they inhabited the Crimea, a territory claimed by the Hetmanate, but in which no Ukrainian government had any authority during the revolutionary era. Under tsarist rule, the Tatars suffered cultural discrimination and the persecution of their national leaders, many of whom were forced to flee abroad, especially across the Black Sea to the Ottoman capital, Istanbul. There they set up conspiratorial nationalist organizations, the most important being Vatan, whose goal was independence for the Crimea.

Following the February Revolution of 1917, several Tatar nationalist leaders returned from exile and in April joined with their Crimean fellows in forming the Muslim Executive Committee. Led by the recently returned nationalists Noman Celebi Cihan and Cafer Seidahmet Kirimer, the Committee demanded cultural autonomy for the Tatars. By May, that demand had changed to territorial autonomy, and in July a Crimean Tatar Nationalist party (Milli Farka) was established to work toward the restructuring of the Russian Empire on a federal basis. Somewhat in the manner of the Ukrainian Central Rada, which was meeting at the same time in Kiev, the Crimean Tatars gradually broadened their goal from autonomy to complete independence. This process culminated in December 1917 with the creation of a constituent assembly (Kurultai) in Bakhchesarai with its own government, headed by Noman Celebi Cihan.

Throughout 1917, the Crimean leadership maintained cordial relations with the Central Rada, which supported the Tatar demands for territorial and cultural autonomy. The Russians and Ukrainians living in the Crimea, however, were opposed to Crimean Tatar nationalist activity. It is also interesting to note that the Crimean Tatars encountered strong opposition from other Turkic groups in the Russian Empire, especially from the Volga and Ural Tatars. Following the Bolshevik accession to power in November 1917, Bolshevik-dominated soviets became an important politicapl factor in the Crimea, especially in the seaport city of Sevastopol'. The soviets, too, expressed firm opposition to the goals of the Tatar nationalists.

In January 1918, the Bolsheviks drove the recently created Tatar constituent assembly out of Bakhchesarai and set up a Soviet government. But it survived only until May, when German troops from Dnieper Ukraine arrived in the peninsula. Although the Germans had driven out the Bolsheviks, they refused to recognize the Tatar nationalists. Instead, they appointed a Muslim military official (actually a Lithuanian Tatar, Sulkevich) who served German interests. Following the departure of the Germans from Dnieper Ukraine in late 1918, the Crimea was ruled successively by a pro-Russian liberal government (under the Crimean Karaite leader of the Kadet party, Solomon S. Krym), until April 1919; a Soviet Crimean Republic in cooperation with the Crimean Tatar National party, until June 1919; and White Russian armies under General Denikin and his successor, Petr Vrangel', who had retreated to the Crimea from the advancing Soviet Red Army.



Solomon S. Krym


When, in October 1920, the Whites were finally driven out of their last European stronghold, the Crimea, the Bolsheviks returned to the peninsula for the third and final time. They immediately branded their estwhile allies, the Crimean Tatar National party (Milli Farka), as counterrevolutionary and declared their own subordination to the Soviet government in Moscow. A year later, in October 1921, Moscow created the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, which became an integral part of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. Thus, by the fall of 1920, Dnieper Ukraine and the Crimea were both within the Soviet orbit ruled from Moscow.

Petliura and the Pogroms

... Officers and Cossacks! It is time to know that the Jews have, like the greater part of our Ukrainian population, suffered from the horrors of the Bolshevist-communist invasion and now know where the truth lies. The best Jewish groups such as the 'Bund', the 'Faraynigte' [United Socialist Jewish Workers' party], the 'Poalei-Tsion' [Workers of Zion], and the 'Folkspartey' [People's party] have come out decidedly in favor of an independent Ukrainian state and cooperate together with us.

The time has come to realize that the peaceable Jewish population — their women and children - like ours have been imprisoned and deprived of their national liberty. They [the Jews] are not going anywhere but are remaining with us, as they have for centuries, sharing in both our happiness and our grief.

The chivalrous troops who bring equality and liberty to all the nationalities of Ukraine must not listen to those invaders and provocators who hunger for human blood. Yet at the same time they cannot remain indifferent in the face of the tragic fate of the Jews. He who becomes an accomplice to such crimes is a traitor and an enemy of out country and must be placed beyond the pale of human society. ...

... I expressly order you to drive away with your forces all who incite you to pogroms and to bring the perpetrators before the courts as enemies of the fatherland. Let the courts judge them for their acts and not excuse those found guilty from the most severe penalties of the law.*

The excerpt above is from an order by Petliura issued on 26 August 1919 to the troops of the Ukrainian National Republic. Despite this and other actions taken by him earlier in the year to assist the Jewish population, the relationship of Petliura to the pogroms of 1919 has remained a controversial issue. Subsequent literature on the subject differs greatly, according to whether the authors are of Jewish or Ukrainian background. The following are examples of the often extreme difference of opinion about Petliura.



Simon Petliura


In 1976, the Jewish writer Saul S. Friedman published a book about the assassination of Petliura with the provocative title Pogvmchik, which concludes with ten reasons why Petliura was 'responsible for the pogroms.' Among them are the following:


1.     Simon Petlura was Chief of State, Ataman-in-Chief, with real power to act when he so desired. No Ukrainian leader enjoyed comparable respect, allegiance or authority.


2.     Units of the Ukrainian Army directly under his supervision (the Clans of Death) committed numerous atrocities. Instead of being punished, the leaders of these units (Oudovichenko, Palienko, Angel, Patrov, Shandruk) received promotions.


3.     Insurgents dependent upon Petlura for financial support and war material committed pogroms in his name. Petlura maintained a special office to coordinate the activities of these partisans. Rather than punishing them, he received their leaders with honors in his capital.


4.     There is good reason to believe that Petlura may have ordered pogroms in Proskurov and Zhitomir in the early months of 1919, and that the Holovni Ataman [Petliura] was in the immediate vicinity of these towns when pogroms were raging. Yet he did nothing to intervene personally; nor did he command the expeditious punishment of the major pogromchiks.


5.     Petlura's famous orders of August 26 and 27, 1919, forbidding pogroms, were issued eight months too late, at a time when the Holovni Ataman had no real power. They were designed specifically for foreign consumption.


6.     What funds were authorized for the relief of pogrom victims were a trifle compared with how much was needed and how much had been stolen from the Jews. Like Petlura's famed orders, they were too little and too late.*


In 1969-1970, the American scholarly journal Jewish Social Studies published a debate about Petliura and the Jews during the revolutionary years. The Ukrainian-American historian Taras Hunczak came to the following conclusions:


The frequently repeated charge that Petliura was antisemitic is absurd. Vladimir Jabotinsky, perhaps one of the greatest Jews of the twentieth century - a man well-versed in the problems of East European Jewry - categorically rejected the idea of Petliura's animosity towards the Jews. ...


Equally absurd is the attempt on the part of some to establish Petliura's complicity in the pogroms against Ukrainian Jewry. Particularly disturbing is

the recent attempt by Hannah Arendt to draw a parallel between the case of Petliura and Adolf Eichmann, Hitler's notorious henchman.


In view of the evidence presented, to convict Petliura for the tragedy that befell Ukrainian Jewry is to condemn an innocent man and to distort the record of Ukrainian-Jewish relations.*


* Pavlo Khrystiuk, Zamitky i materiialy do istorii ukrains'koirevolutsi'i, 1917—1920 rr., Vol. IV (Vienna 1922), pp. 167-168.

* Saul S. Friedman, Pogromchik (New York 1976), pp. 372-373

'Taras Hunczak, 'A Reappraisal of Symon Petliura and Jewish-Ukrainian Relations, 1917-1921,' Jewish Social Studies, XXXI (New York 1969), pp. 182-183.



Mennonites Caught in the Revolution


The reaction of Ukraine's indigenous German, in particular Mennonite, inhabitants to the revolution and civil war is summed up by Dietrich Neufeld in a diary-like memoir from 1919-1920 later published under the title A Russian Dance of Death (1977). Of particular interest in the book are the Mennonites' perceptions of their own place in the former Russian Empire, of the anarchist leader Makhno, of their Ukrainian neighbors, whom they refer to as Russians, and finally - because they are pacifists - of the difficult decision to take up arms in self-defense.



Nestopr Makhno


Even these peaceful Mennonite settlers who up till now have remained aloof from all history-making events are caught up in the general upheaval. They no longer enjoy the peace which dominated their steppe for so long. They are no longer permitted to live in seclusion from the world.

Makhno. Who doesn't quake at that name? It is a name that will be remembered for generations as that of an inhuman monster. ... His professed aim is to put all 'capitalists' to the sword. Even the Bolsheviks - dedicated to the same cause but more sparing of human life on principle - are too tame for him. His path is literally drenched with blood.


Presumably, the Makhnovites despoiled our people because of their alleged sym-pathy for Denikin. It can't be denied that our colonists, though professing neutrality, do not show much sympathy for the peasants. While the peasants opposed the re-establishment of the old regime, the [Mennonite] colonists remained loyal to that cause. They even allowed themselves to be enlisted in Denikin's army. Actually, they were tricked into doing so by being assured that they would be organized into local Self Defence units only.


Many of our young men, who as a consequence of the German occupation had developed distinctly anti-Russian attitudes, were eager to avenge the looting and suffering inflicted on our people [in 1918, before the German troops arrived]. ... They supported the German army of occupation and, in some cases, had been foolish enough to inform against certain of the revolutionary leaders.


One can criticize the Zagradovka Mennonites for taking up arms instead of hold-ing fast to the principle of non-resistance. As good Christians they had no right to show hatred toward their neighbor. Their duty was to love him even when he wronged them. Instead, they made common cause with a soldiery which plundered and murdered - even though we have no reason to supect any young Mennonites of a similar lack of restraint....


The Zagradovka Mennonites took up arms without hesitation. They are to be doubly blamed for that. First, it was politically unwise. Then again it was in glaring contradiction to their hitherto professed concept of non-resistance. The Russian peasants pointed out this contradiction and called them hypocrites. A bitter truth was held up to the [Mennonite] colonists: 'When our Russia, our women and children, were threatened with attack in 1914, then you refused to take up arms for defensive purposes. But now that it's a question of your own property you are arming yourselves.' Certainly it was a crying shame that the [Mennonite] colonists' actions were inspired neither by a desire to protect the state nor by a true Christian spirit.


We Mennonites are aliens in this land. If we didn't realize that fact before the war we have had it forced upon us during and after the War. Our Russian neighbors look on us as the damned Nyemtsy [Germans] who have risen to great prosperity in their land. They completely ignore the fact that our forefathers were invited here [one hundred and thirty] years ago in order to cultivate the vast steppes which lay idle at the time. They refuse to admit that our farmers were able to achieve more than Russian farmers by dint of industry and perseverence, as well as through bet¬ter organization and management, rather than through political means. ...


This is no longer our homeland. We want to leave! The magic word 'emigration' travels like a buran [winter wind] from place to place. Whenever two or three colonists get together the conversation is sure to be about emigrating. It is the one idea that keeps us going, our one hope.


SOURCE: Dietrich Neufeld, A Russian Dance of Death: Revolution and Civil War in the Ukraine, translated by Al Riemer (Winnipeg 1977), pp. 11, 18-19, 26-27, 63-64, 73, 79.