Some trivia about Ukraine on the 29th anniversary of country’s Independence by George V.Pinchuk. The First Modern Ukrainian State. Part 6.
Between January 1905 and December 1907, the Russian Empire was greatly shaken by its first anti-Monarchist revolution. Although the Romanov dynasty survived, a parliament, called the State Duma, was formed and began to function. The first and the second Duma included a Ukrainian faction, led by Illya Shrag, an attorney from Chernihiv. The Ukrainian MPs included representatives from the right-wing Ukrayinska Narodna Partiya and a center-left Ukrayinska Demokratychno-Radykalna Partiya. The UNP, founded by M. Mikhnovsky, was, essentially, a party of wealthy rural landowners, while the UDRP was more of a party of urban intellectuals. Both were later labeled as “Nationalist,” although in fact they were merely in favor of a national autonomy for Ukraine within the “federalized” Russian Empire. The Ukrainian Duma faction worked rather successfully, voting for the abolition of the Valuev Circular and the Ems Ukaz, thus legalizing the use of the Ukrainian language in print and in theaters. With the help of Ukrainian MPs, dozens of Ukrainian-language newspapers and magazines began to work. However, after 1908, the UNP evolved to the right, absorbing many ideas of D. Dontsov’s “Integral Nationalism,” while the UDRP merged with Social Democratic parties. Both became illegal and went to work underground. Thus, the third and the fourth assemblies of the Duma were not attended by the Ukrainian faction.
The years 1908-1916 in the Russian Empire are often called the “period of reaction,” i.e. the time when the Romanov autocracy made its massive attack on the progressive political movements. These years, among other phenomena, were marked by a surge of xenophobic anti-Ukrainian activities. The so-called Union of Michael the Archangel and the so-called Union of the Russian People published numerous books and brochures where Ukraine was called a non-entity and the Ukrainian “separatism” was cursed as Mazepian treason of the ideal of unity of Great Russia. Sadly, some of the notorious Ukrainophobes of the time were ethnic Ukrainians, such as P.I. Kovalevsky (a relative of a Ukrainian patriot V.O. Kovalevsky and Sofia Kovalevska), V. Shulgin, A. Storozhenko (in his youth, a student of the founder of “Hromada” V. Antonovych!), and others.
In February-March 1917, the Romanov dynasty fell. In the first days of March, the UDRP, now re-named Tovarystvo Ukrayinskykh Postupovtsiv (TUP) came out of the underground and formed a committee with the goal to create a new government of autonomous Ukraine. On March 7, 1917, this government was officially named the Central Rada (Council). A renowned historian Mykhailo Serhiyovych Hrushevsky was called the Head (“Holova”) of the Central Rada. (Today, many Ukrainians call him the first President of independent Ukraine, although in fact his functions were closer to those of the Speaker of the parliament than to those of the chief executive and head of the state.) Hrushevsky, the author of a fundamental “History of Ukraine-Rus,” was a man of colossal erudition and scholarly achievements, but as a politician he was somewhat an idealist without the “savvy” required for the job. Volodymyr Vynnychenko and Serhiy Efremov were made Hrushevsky’s Deputies. Vynnychenko was a very colorful, eccentric person – a popular writer (Sci-Fi), an artist, a Raw Foodist, a nudist, and a diehard Socialist. Efremov, the TUP chairperson, was perhaps the only competent politician of the three; his political views were more to the right. The Central Rada called Kyiv its capital and chose the former Pavlo Galagan College building as its headquarters.
The Central Rada called the first All-Ukrainian National Congress, which convened on April 5, 1917 in Kyiv. The First Universal (summary document) of the first Congress declared Ukraine an autonomy within the federative Russian Republic, on par with other autonomies (Polish, Finnish, Trans-Caucasian et al.). In parallel, the “Ukrainized” units of the crumbling Russian imperial army held their own First Ukrainian Military Congress, which declared primacy of the Ukrainian chain of command over the old Russian imperial one. However, when Efremov and Vynnychenko met with the representatives of the Russian Provisional Government in St. Petersburg in May 1917, they were sorely disappointed. The Provisional Government refused to recognize the Ukrainian autonomy and explicitly forbade the plan to call the Second Ukrainian Military Congress.
In July 1917 the Provisional Government with its new premier Kerensky began to look for a compromise with Ukraine. The Russian leadership was in dire need of support from Ukraine as it was threatened both from the right (Gen. Kornilov with his ambitions of a military dictator) and from the left (Lenin and his Bolsheviks). A special envoy of the Provisional Government, M. Tereshchenko, an ethnic Ukrainian, came to Kyiv and told the Central Rada that the Russian government does not object against the Ukrainian autonomy, but simply asks the Ukrainians to wait until the appropriate decision will be made by the Constituent Assembly of all the peoples of the former Russian Empire (planned on January 1918). The Central Rada was not ready to react uniformly to this dubious proposition. Endless debates ensued. To make things worse, about 5,000 Ukrainian military men who called themselves Polubotkivtsi attempted to seize power by force. They arrested the commander of the Kyiv garrison and started a shootout with the troops loyal to the Provisional Government. There were rumors (later proven false) that Polubotkivtsi want to massacre all ethnic Russians in Kyiv. To stop the bloodshed, the Central Rada had to mobilize one of its loyal regiments. Thus began – or, rather, resumed – the sad story of Ukrainians fighting each other.
On November 7 (old Julian calendar, October 25), 1917, the Bolsheviks in St. Petersburg overthrew the Provisional Government and established a “Socialist” (actually, a sectarian pseudo-Marxist) dictatorship. The Central Rada did not recognize the new government of Russia, stating that the revolution in the former Russian Empire must remain, first and foremost, democratic. The General Secretariat of the Central Rada issued a special document where the Bolsheviks were called “the irresponsible people who use the idea of revolution in order to break any order in any organization of the human life.” In response, the Bolshevik government made an ultimatum to Ukraine, demanding that the Central Rada allows the forming of the so-called Red Guards within its jurisdiction (which would mean, essentially, a military occupation). Paradoxically, the first All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets (Councils) of Workers’, Peasants’, and Soldiers’ Deputies, held in Kyiv in mid-December 1917 and attended by more than 2,000 participants, took the side of the Central Rada. The hostilities between the two governments further increased when the troops loyal to the Bolsheviks installed a puppet government of the “Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic” in Kharkiv on December 24, 1917; on December 30, this illegal “government” declared that “the Central Rada has been overthrown.” Finally, when the Bolsheviks forcefully made the Constituent Assembly disband in January 1918, the Central Rada issued its famous Fourth Universal, where the Ukrainian People’s Republic was pronounced a “State, self-governed and not dependent on any other.”
On January 22, 1918, the Bolsheviks attempted their coup-d’état, provoking an armed uprising of the Arsenal plant workers. The uprising was suppressed with the help of the Ukrainian Sichovi Striltsi, a regiment of highly trained and disciplined troops from Halychyna (the “Austrian” part of Ukraine) under the command of Colonel Yevhen Konovalets. Unfortunately, in just 4 days after this significant victory, Kyiv was seized by the Bolshevik army of M. Muravyov, a pathological sadistic Ukrainophobe who organized mass executions of Kyivites. Up to 3,000 people were massacred in less than one month. Muravyov’s minions killed people for speaking Ukrainian, wearing a Ukrainian embroidered shirt etc. The Central Rada fled to Zhytomyr, a city west of Kyiv. Fortunately for the population of Kyiv, the German troops, which occupied Ukraine according to the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk, drove the Muravyov horde out of the city in February.
In spring 1918, the Central Rada experienced a crisis. Being overwhelmingly Socialist, it could not solve the problem of land ownership. The ideology of the parties that sent their representatives to the Central Rada insisted on collective or “communal” ownership of the land, but the wealthy landowners had no desire to cede what they considered their rightful property. The German military administration, fearing anarchy, took the landowners’ side and established local military courts with the prerogative to prevent any seizure of land, which infuriated the poorer part of the Ukrainian peasantry. While the debates in the Central Rada led nowhere, a new organization of civic activists, called Narodna Hromada, began to work on the idea to replace the uniformly Socialist government by a more conservative ruling coalition. The NH found a strong support among the patriotic Ukrainian military. Pavlo Skoropadsky, one of the most interesting figures (in my opinion, the most interesting figure) of the Ukrainian patriotic movement, became its Chairman.
Pavlo Petrovych Skoropadsky was a descendant of an old Kozak aristocracy. One of his ancestors, Ivan Illich Skoropadsky, was Hetman of the Left Bank (Eastern) Ukraine in 1708-1722. Pavlo’s father Petro Ivanovych Skoropadsky was a Colonel of the Russian Imperial Guard, and his mother, Maria Andriyivna Myklashevska-Skoropadska, was a daughter of a landlord and a porcelain manufacturer who also came from a high-ranking Kozak dynasty. Pavlo Skoropadsky was born in 1873 in Wiesbaden, Germany, and grew up in Trostyanets, a Skoropadsky family estate in northeastern Ukraine. He was educated at the elite Imperial Page Corps, a military boarding school exclusively for the children of the highest nobility in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Incidentally, one of his classmates was Karl Gustav Mannerheim, the future leader of the people of Finland in their struggle for independence.) During the ill-fated war between Russia and Japan, in 1904, Skoropadsky fought bravely as a cavalry officer and became a war hero. He was awarded with an honorary Golden Sword and, in 1905, became a personal aid-de-camp of the Russian Tzar Nicholas II in the rank of a Colonel. By that time Pavlo Skoropadsky was married to Oleksandra Durnovo, the daughter of a Russian noble Peter Durnovo and a Ukrainian woman from a Kozak dynasty of the Kochubeys. The family had 6 children. Skoropadsky became a General in 1912. He continued to distinguish himself as a brave and competent commanding officer during WW1.
After the fall of the Romanovs, Pavlo Skoropadsky briefly served with the Russian General Kornilov. It is quite paradoxical that it was during his interactions with a staunch Russian chauvinist Kornilov that Skoropadsky firmly decided that his duty was to serve Ukraine. As he later wrote in his memoir, Kornilov was in favor of “Ukrainization” of the regiments of the Russian army that served in Ukraine. However, the Russian general understood it in a strictly decorative sense; to “Ukrainize” an army unit was, for Kornilov, to dress it in a Kozak uniform and to give it commands in the “Small Russian dialect.” Skoropadsky, on the other hand, began to think about the creation of a real army that would defend real Ukraine and be independent of the commands given by the Russian commanding officers. In summer and fall 1917, he sided with the Provisional Government against the rebellious Kornilov. Pavlo Skoropadsky understood that because of the fear of Kornilov from the right and of the Bolsheviks from the left, the Russian leadership will let him do the “Ukrainization” of the army on the Ukrainian terrain as he would see fit. By October 1917, the 34th Army Corps, which included 20 divisions and several reserve regiments, was completely Ukrainized and re-named by Skoropadsky into the 1st Ukrainian Army Corps. In November, after the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, the units of the 1st Ukrainian Corps showed excellent discipline and bravery in stopping the trains of Bolshevik troops when these crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border. The Bolshevik armies were at that time quite weakened as they were commanded by the “Soldiers’ Committees,” which were, essentially, Anarchist. They had no desire to fight and, when stopped by the Skoropadsky troops, usually surrendered without even firing a shot. They were quickly disarmed and sent back to Russia on the same trains. This campaign made the 44-year old General Skoropadsky popular among the Ukrainian military and civilians as well.
Skoropadsky, however, could not work with the Central Rada. He despised Socialist ideas and quarreled with the Central Rada’s appointee, The Secretary of Military. On their part, the Secretaries of the Central Rada did not like Skoropadsky because of him being a noble and the owner of enormous agrarian estates. On December 31, 1917 Pavlo Skoropadsky resigned from his duties as the commander of the 1st Ukrainian Army Corps and began to live as a private person. He did not take part in the turmoil of January and February 1918; during the Muravyov massacre, he hid in a private residence with a fake ID. With the advent of the German occupational army, Skoropadsky continued to keep a low profile, but was greatly encouraged by the above-mentioned Narodna Hromada civic organization. He became friends with M. Mikhnovsky and V. Lypynsky, the leaders of a conservative Union of Land-Owning Grain Growers. In March and April, this organization made Pavlo Skoropadsky its chief member and offered him a plan to make him a military dictator of Ukraine. On April 24, 1918, the representatives of the Union met with V. Groener, a German general who served as a spokesman of the Commander of the German occupational army in Ukraine. The two sides agreed that the Central Rada with its inability to solve the agrarian question should not continue to serve as the government of Ukraine. On April 26, the Socialist majority of the Central Rada declared that Ukraine is not willing to supply the German army with food because the occupiers do not show enough respect for the oppressed Ukrainian peasantry. In response, on April 28, Gen. Groener sent a platoon of German soldiers who forced the Central Rada to stop the meeting and disband. On April 29, the Union of Land-Owning Grain Growers had their Congress, attended by approximately 6,500 activists. The Congress unanimously voted for Pavlo Petrovych Skoropadsky to become the leader of the Ukrainian state, with the restored ancient title of Hetman. Essentially, they offered Skoropadsky to become a monarch. Skoropadsky accepted.
That same day, after the Divine Liturgy celebrated at the St. Sofia Cathedral, the new Hetman was anointed according to the ancient Orthodox Christian ceremony by the Metropolitan Nicodemus. In the evening, the press published the “Hramota” (Appeal) of the Hetman to the People of Ukraine,” where the new ruler wrote that the Socialist majority of the Central Rada failed the Ukrainian people, allowing the country to plunge into anarchy and jeopardizing the cooperation with the German army as stipulated by the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The Hetman ordered the Secretaries of the Central Rada to resign from their positions. In another document, called “About the Temporary Structure of the Ukrainian State,” the Hetman declared his sovereign right to appoint the Otaman (Prime Minister) and the Cabinet of Ministers. Perhaps most importantly, the “Hramota” and the other document stressed that private property is a sacred foundation of all order in the life of any state and of all organized forms of the human life. The Ukrainian People’s Republic was officially re-named into the Ukrainian State (“Українська Держава”).
(featured photo:Prayer on Kyiv’s Sophia Square after the proclamation of Pavlo Skoropadsky as Hetman of Ukraine, 1918)