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Who Knows Why the Bolsheviks Were Obsessed With Inventing Ukraine?

If history is the past of politics, modern Ukrainian history is only politics

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

The author is a professor at the Institute of Political Sciences, Mykolas Romeris University, Vilnius, Lithuania. He wrote this article especially for RI.

The German occupation forces were the first to recognize a short-lived independent Ukraine in January 1918, during the time of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917−1921.

Re-occupied by the Red Army, the eastern and southern parts of present-day Greater Ukraine joined the USSR in 1922 as a separate Soviet Socialist Republic (without Crimea). According to the 1926 Soviet census of Crimea, the majority of the population were Russians (382.645). The second largest ethnic group were the Tartars (179.094). So Lenin should be considered the real father of Ukrainian statehood and also and its contemporary status as a  nation.

Ukraine was the most fertile agricultural Soviet republic, but was catastrophically affected by Stalin’s economic policy in the 1930s which neglected agricultural production in favor of industrialization. The result was a great famine (holodomor) with around seven million people dead, the majority of whom were ethnic Russians.

The territory of the present-day Ukraine was devastated during WWII by Nazi Germany occupation forces from 1941 to 1944. They installed the puppet, criminal regime of Stepan Bandera (1900−1959), under which a genocide on Poles, Jews and Russians was committed [on Stepan Bandera, see: Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe, Stepan Bandera: The Life and Afterlife of a Ukrainian Nationalist. Fascism, Genocide, and Cult, Stuttgart, ibidem, 2014].

The 12.000 strong Ukrainian militia directly participated in the 1942 holocaust of some 200.000 Volhynian Jews, together with 140.000 German policemen. The Ukrainian mass killers learned their job from the Germans and also applied their knowledge on the Poles [Timothy Snyder, Tautų rekonstrukcija: Lieuva, Lenkija, Ukraina, Baltarusija 1569−1999, Vilnius: Mintis, 2009, 183].

Stepan Bandera declares the independence of Ukraine (June 30th, 1941)

After the war, Stalin, supported by the Ukrainian party-cadre N. Khrushchev, deported about 300.000 Ukrainians accused of collaborating with the Nazi regime and participating in the genocide carried out by the Bandera government.

However, after the war, the Ukrainians were rewarded by Moscow with the lands of Transcarpathia, Moldova (Bessarabia), Polish Galicia and part of Romania’s Bukovina in 1945, followed by the annexation of Crimea in 1954 by the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine. These territories, which  have never been part of any kind of Ukraine and were overwhelmingly not populated by ethnolinguistic Ukrainians were included into the Soviet Ukraine primarily due to the political activity of the strongest Ukrainian cadre in the USSR – Nikita. Khrushchev, who inherited Stalin’s throne in 1953.

Here, a parallel with Croatia is a must: for the Croats, under A. Pavelić (a Croat version of S. Bandera) committed genocide against Serbs, Jews and Roma during  WWII on the territory of the Independent State of Croatia. The post-war Socialist Republic of Croatia was awarded Istria, the Adriatic islands and Dubrovnik – all of which had never have been part of the Croatian state before WWII, by the Croat-Slovenian dictator of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito.

M. Gorbachev’s dissolution of the USSR originated at the Reykjavik bilateral meeting with Ronald Reagan in 1988, and boosted Ukrainian ethnic nationalists, who proclaimed independence on August 24th, 1991, confirmed by a much-boycotted referendum on December 1st, 1991, in the wake of the anti-Gorbachev military putsch in Moscow, taking advantage of the paralyzed central government. The independence of Ukraine was proclaimed and later internationally recognized within the borders of a Greater Stalin-Khrushchev Ukraine with at least 20% of the ethic Russian population living in a compact area in the eastern part of the country and also making up a qualified (2/3) majority of Crimea’s population.

The coming years saw rifts with neighboring Russia, Kiev’s main political task being to Ukrainize (assimilate) ethnic Russians (similar to the policy of the Croatization of ethnic Serbs in Croatia orchestrated by the neo-Nazi Zagreb government of Dr. Franjo Tuđman).

At the same time, the Russian majority in Crimea constantly demanded the peninsula’s reunification with mother Russia, but obtaining only autonomous status within Ukraine – a country they never considered as their natural-historical homeland.

The Russians of Ukraine were becoming more and more dissatisfied with living conditions when in 1998−2001 the Ukrainian taxation system collapsed, making the central government in Kiev unable to pay salaries and pensions.  Unable to function normally Ukraine become a “failed state”, without the power to prevent a series of politically motivated assassinations followed by popular protests inspired by the country’s economic decline. [On the history of Ukraine and the Ukrainians, see more and compare with: Andrew Wilson, The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation, New Heaven: Yale University Press, 2009; Serhii Plokhy, The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine, New York: Basic Books, 2015; Anna Reid, Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine, New York: Basic Books, 2015].

As a matter of fact, it must be stressed that Ukraine’s historiography is extremely nationalistic and in many cases lacking objectivity, like many other national historiographies. It is basically political, its main task to present Ukrainians as a natural ethnolinguistic nation who have historically fought to create a united independent national state, unjustifiably claiming certain territories to be ethnohistorically the “Ukrainian”.

As a typical example of the tendency to rewrite the history of Eastern Europe according to a nationalistic and politically correct framework, the book by Serhy Jekelčyk on the birth of a modern Ukrainian nation which, among other quasi-historical facts based on the re-interpreted events, affirms that the USSR in 1939−1940 annexed from Poland and Romania the “West Ukrainian land” [Serhy Jekelčyk, Ukraina: Modernios nacijos gimimas, Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 2009, 17]. In reality, this “West Ukrainian land” was never part of any Ukraine before WWII, since Ukraine as a state or administrative province never existed before Lenin in 1922 created a Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine within the USSR, without the “West Ukrainian land”, since it was not a part of the USSR. Moreover, the Ukrainians were either leaving or were a minority on this land, which means that Ukraine did not even have ethnic rights over the biggest part of “West Ukraine”.

Even today, around half of Ukraine’s territory is not populated by a majority of Ukrainians. Moreover, in some regions, there are no Ukrainians at all. Therefore, the cardinal question is: On which principles were the Ukrainian borders formed?

How historical parts of Ukraine voted in 1994 Presidential elections

Another example of Ukraine’s historiographic/nationalistic misinformation is an academic brochure on Bukovina’s Metropolitan’s residence, published in 2007 by the National University of Chernivtsi. It says that the university is “…one of the oldest classical universities of Ukraine” [The Architectural Complex of Bukovynian Metropolitan’s Residence, Chernivtsi: Yuriy Fedkovych National University of Chernivtsi, 2007, 31] which is true only from the present-day political perspective but not from a moral-historical point of view. The university is located in the North Bukovina, acquired in 1775 by the Habsburg Monarchy. From 1786, the land was administered within the Chernivtsi district of Galicia; and one hundred years after the affiliation of Bukovina to the monarchy, the Franz-Josephs-Universität was inaugurated on October 4th, 1875 (the name day of the emperor). In other words, the university’s origin as Bukovinan has nothing to do with either historical Ukraine or ethnic Ukrainians, since before 1940, it was outside the administrative territory of Ukraine. The entire North Bukovina was annexed by the USSR on August 13th, according to the Hitler-Stalin Pact (or the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact) signed on August 23rd, 1939 [Ibid.].

Two notorious bandits (one Nazi, the other Bolshevik) decided to transfer North Bukovina to the USSR, and after the WWII the land became part of (Stalin’s)  Greater Ukrainian SSR. Nevertheless, while the Ukrainian nationalists claim that “Russia” (in fact an anti-Russian USSR?????) occupied Ukraine, they see the annexation of North Bukovina and other territories from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania in 1940 as a legitimate act of historical justice.

Here we must signal that according to the same pact, the annexation by the USSR of the territories of the independent states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are considered by their historians and politicians as an “occupation”, meaning an (illegal) act of aggression that infringes on international law and order. Yet they never accused Ukraine of doing the same in regard to occupied lands from its three western neighbors in 1940/1944 [see, for instance: Priit Raudkivi, Estonian History in Pictures, Tallinn: Eesti Instituut, 2004 (without numeration of the pages); Arūnas Gumuliauskas, Lietuvos istorija (1795−2009), Šiauliai: Lucilijus, 2010, 279−295].   


The political assimilation of certain separate Slavonic ethnolinguistic groups in Ukraine was and is a standard instrument for the creation and maintenance of  Ukrainian national identity in the 20th century.

The most brutal case is that of the Ruthenians (Rusyns) who were simply proclaimed as historical Ukrainians until WWII. Their land, which in the interwar period was part of Czechoslovakia, was annexed by the USSR at the end of WWII and included into a Greater Soviet Ukraine formerly Sub-Carpathian Ukraine.

However, the Ruthenians and the Ukrainians are two separate Slavonic ethnolinguistic groups and officially recognized as such, for example, in Serbia’s Autonomous Province of Vojvodina where the Ruthenian (Rusyn) language is studied together with Ruthenian philology and literature at a separate department at the University of Novi Sad. Unfortunately, the Ruthenian position in Ukraine is even worse than the Kurdish position in Turkey, as the process of assimilation is much speedier than that of the Kurds.

From the current perspective of the Ukrainian crisis and in general in terms of solving the “Ukrainian Question” there is the historical fact that part of present-day East Ukraine was legally incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1654 by a decision of the local hetman of Zaporozhian territory Bohdan Khmelnytsky (c. 1595−1657), based on the 1648 popular revolt against the Polish-Lithuanian (Roman Catholic) occupation of Ukraine  [Alfredas Bumblauskas, Senosios Lietuvos istorija, 1009−1795, Vilnius: R. Paknio leidykla, 2007, 306; Jevgenij Anisimov, Rusijos istorija nuo Riuriko iki Putino: Žmonės. Įvykiai. Datos, Vilnius: Mokslo ir enciklopedijų leidybos centras, 2014, 185−186].

This means that the core of present-day Ukraine voluntarily joined Russia, thereby escaping from Roman Catholic Polish-Lithuanian oppression. Subsequently, B. Khmelnytsky’s territory must be considered from a historical point of view as the motherland of all present-day Ukraine – which already in 1654 chose Russia.   

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