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National Exhibit
National Exhibit
Ukraine Under Communism

Author:  Taras Hunczak Taras Hunczak is a professor emeritus at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. He lectures in Ukrainian, Russian, and East-European history. Dr. Hunczak has written extensively on Ukrainian history, the twentieth century in particular.

On November 22, 1917 the Ukrainian government, known as Central Rada, adopted the Third Universal solemnly declaring the establishment of the Ukrainian National Republic. In response, the Bolsheviks, who came to power in Russia through a coup d’état on November 7th, issued an ultimatum, which made various demands on the Ukrainian government, but in reality the Bolsheviks were already at war with the Ukrainian government.

On December 25th, a general order was issued to the communist armies to invade Ukraine. The invasion accelerated Ukraine’s movement towards a national sovereignty and independence, proclaimed by the Fourth Universal on January 22, 1918. Having signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Ukrainian Government, with the help of the Central Powers, regained the territories invaded by Red Army.

However it was a peace that lasted only a short time. Moscow no longer recognized Ukraine as a sovereign state. That was the beginning of the second Bolshevik war against Ukraine, which lasted until Poland and the communists signed the Treaty of Riga on March 18, 1921, leaving the Soviets in control of Ukraine. After their victory over the Ukrainian Government, the communists immediately tried to reinforce their policy of “War Communism”. Their efforts were a complete failure – the peasants rose in a massive rebellion against the so-called “dictatorship of the proletariat” and the communist demands for grain, which deprived the peasants of their livelihood. “War Communism”, which included also the nationalization of industry, brought about the collapse of Ukraine’s economy resulting in the famine of 1921—1923 when hundreds of thousands of people perished.

Recognizing that his “war communism” policy was a disaster, Lenin decided to make a temporary compromise with market economics by signing a decree known as the New Economic Policy. This return to private ownership of land, small businesses and minor industry brought about a remarkable resurgence of economic life. The resurgence was also reflected in a cultural renaissance of Ukraine, including a policy of Ukrainization to build national identity. Practically it meant that the Ukrainian language, which was forbidden in tsarist Russia, would now be used in all aspects of life.

Stalin, from the very beginning, was opposed to Ukrainization, which, he regarded as Ukrainian separation from Russia. Leading Ukrainian communists were accused of nationalist “deviation”. Individuals and organizations were subjected to attacks and persecution for “bourgeois nationalism”, being “promoters of counterrevolution”, and other alleged crimes against the Soviet state. The first victim of this persecution was the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, whose existence as a spiritual institution was terminated.

In that same year, 1929, the GPU (secret police) “uncovered” fictitious organizations that were allegedly conspiring against the Soviet state. There followed a show trial of leading Ukrainian intellectuals who, allegedly, belonged to the Union for the Liberation of Ukraine (SVU). Forty-five members of the fictitious SVU were found guilty and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. The true intent of the trial was stated in a lead article in the journal Bilshovyk Ukrainy in 1930, in which the author wrote: “In the trial of SVU the Ukrainian proletarian court is not only trying the case of Petliurite counterrevolutionary dregs but it is also passing judgment in historical retrospect on Ukrainian nationalism as a whole, nationalist parties, their traitorous policies, their villainous ideas of bourgeois independence [and the] independence of Ukraine”.

The trial was a prologue to Stalin’s rule of tyranny, which he pronounced in “The Year of the Great Turning Point”. Stalin’s plan was to introduce collectivization with a complete control over grain deliveries to the state. Collectivization was preceded by the liquidation of the well-off peasants, called “kulaks” by communists. In practice it meant expropriation, deportation to remote northern areas, or imprisonment, with the possibility of deportation to concentration camps or execution. About one million people became victims of this ruthless persecution by the state. The label “kulak” became an instrument of terror against all peasants and it was used against those peasants who did not want to join the collective farms – wanted to remain independent.

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Location:  Eastern Europe
Capital:  Kyiv
Communist Rule:  1922-1991
Status:  Independence: 24.08.91
Victims of Communism: