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Ukrainian regime of Yushchenko rehabilitates Symon Petlyura

By Felix Kreisel

June 8, 2006

Yushchenko’s government announced that during the eightieth anniversary year since his death the government will put a monument to Symon Petlyura, the Chief Ataman of the Ukrainian People’s Republic. During the week around this anniversary (Petlyura died in Paris on May 25th, 1926) there took place in Kiev a series of events to commemorate his life, in which the President of Ukraine, Yushchenko and members of his cabinet took part: a film was shown at the National Opera, an exhibit was displayed at the National Museum of Ukrainian History, a requiem service was staged at the St. Basil Cathedral, and so on.

Symon Petlyura began his political activity in the ranks of the revolutionary socialist movement in the Ukrainian Social Democratic party. In order to combat Bolshevism, he threw over his democratic principles in favor of a personal dictatorship and colluded in a series of deals with enemies of his own people: with Germany, with Russian monarchists, with the Entente, with the reactionary Polish regime of Pilsudsky. In the West, Petlyura is best known for presiding over the bloody Jewish pogroms of 1919—1920.

Yuschenko’s regime inherits this bloody history and needs to cleanse the image of Petlyura so as to promote its own program of enslaving the Ukrainian masses in the service of world imperialism.

Anniversary of his death.

80 years ago, on May 25, 1926, on a street in Paris a 40-year old Ukrainian Jew Shalom Schwartzbard approached a middle-aged person and asked in Ukrainian whether he was Mr. Petlyura. Upon receiving confirmation, Schwartzbard shot Petlyura point blanc a number of times, ecstatically shouting: “This is for the pogroms, this is for the murders, this is for your victims”, and killed the Chief Ataman of the Ukrainian national government during the years 1919-1920. Schwartzbard did not try to flee, and when a policeman ran over he surrendered his weapon to him, saying, “You can arrest me, I killed an executioner”.

The death of Petlyura became an instant sensation on the front pages of Europe and America, but leading Soviet newspapers did not report any details of this assassination, and only gave brief inside page reports on the fact of Petlyura’s death. Public opinion was on the side of the Jewish avenger, Schwartzbard, whose personal story aroused sympathy and fellow feelings among both Jewish and non-Jewish masses. Shalom Schwartzbard was born in 1886 (in the town of Izmail, Bessarabia, according to one report, in Smolensk, according to another story), and grew up in the town of Balta in the Ukraine. Young Schwartzbard joined one of the many Jewish socialist groups, took part in the Revolution of 1905, and after the defeat of the Revolution fled to Rumania, then on to Austria, then further west, reaching Paris in 1910. During the First World War Schwartzbard joined the French Foreign Legion, was wounded and decorated, and then demobilized after his recovery.

Politically, he was a leftist radical, belonged to a Jewish anarchist group, and was once imprisoned in Austria. In Paris, he worked repairing watches and wrote poetry in the Yiddish language. In 1917, upon hearing the welcome news of the overthrow of the czar, Schwartzbard and his wife returned to Odessa so as to live close to their family, which was spread around the towns and villages of Ukraine and Besarabia. During the Civil War Schwartzbard joined the Red Army, fought against the Whites and the nationalists, and saw with his own eyes the tragic effects of the numerous pogroms, which were taking place in many towns and villages of Ukraine. Schwartzbard lost his parents and numerous relatives and friends, killed by the supporters of Petlyura during such pogroms.

After the Civil War ended Schwartzbard was demobilized and again he emigrated to France. In Paris he continued to work repairing watches, kept on writing poems and attending anarchist meetings. According to those who knew him, he was acquainted with many well-known Russian anarchists: Voline, Makhno, Berkman, Emma Goldman. His poems and a book of reminiscences in Yiddish (see a translated excerpt at indicate the depths to which his soul was shaken by the scenes of barbarian pogroms, which had killed tens of thousands of his coreligionists.

According to some sources, anarchist Schwartzbard, who was somewhat critical of the Soviet regime, was approached by a Soviet secret agent in Paris, who then told him when and where he could encounter Petlyura. On May 25th, 1926, Schwartzbard’s mind, excited and thirsty for revenge, aimed the revolver at the Ukrainian ex-dictator and pulled the trigger.

After 17 months of investigation complicated by the involvement of agents of the GPU, supporters of White monarchist and Ukrainian nationalist groups, there took place in Paris a sensational trial. During the course of the lengthy pre-trial investigation and during the trial itself it came out that Schwartzbard’s hatred toward the leader of Ukrainian nationalists had legitimate and understandable basis. As we said before, during the Civil War Schwartzbard lost both his parents and numerous relatives during the Jewish pogroms. Pogroms were systematically organized, on the one hand, by the White generals, Denikin, Wrangel and their subordinates, and on the other hand, by the bands, atamans and chiefs under the nominal or real authority of Petlyura.

Petlyura’s defenders and protectors of the “honor” of the Ukrainian People’s Republic say that because of the chaos and general lawlessness, to which Ukraine descended by 1919, Petlyura did not command anybody and therefore stands absolved of responsibility for the mass killings of the peaceful Jews. In an anthological collection of essays about Ukraine in the years 1917—1921 published by the Ukrainian Research Institute of Harvard University, the historian Yaroslav Bilinsky writes:

«The question of Jewish pogroms, in which Petlyura's troops did take part, is an extremely controversial one, and to do it justice would lead beyond the scope of this study. In the author's judgement, Petlyura was unable rather than unwilling to discipline his heterogeneous forces sufficiently to prevent them from engaging in those orgies of lawlessness, which, incidentally, were also common under Denikin» (The Ukraine, 1917—1921: A Study in Revolution, Taras Hunczak, editor, Harvard University Press, 1977, p. 120).

This explanation falls apart for a number of reasons. First of all, Petlyura strove to lead the movement and remove the other leaders who were more democratic and left wing politically, for example, Vinnichenko, and to become the plenipotentiary head of the UPR. For this reason he appeased the local chiefs, turned a blind eye to their crimes and depredations. Secondly, in their struggle against the Bolsheviks Petlyura and the other nationalist leaders relied on the most backward and base traits of the Ukrainian peasantry: its illiteracy, hostility to the city and to urban culture, its fear of the unknown and unusual, its shut in character, etc. The nationalists highlighted and exaggerated the Ukrainian language, the Greek-Catholic church, that is, those themes, which erased the class distinction between the working peasant and the rich Ukrainian estate owner. Conversely, they turned away from the World War, the shortage of good soil, the illiteracy, the dependence of the Ukrainian grain producers on the world market, the general backwardness of the Ukrainian economy, that is, from all those problems, which tended to bring together the toiling Ukrainian, Jewish, Polish and Russian populations of Ukraine against their class enemies of all races.

Revolution and Civil War in the Ukraine

It is even more important to trace the international ties and the social base, which supported or rejected Ukrainian statehood in the period from 1917 through 1921. Right after the February revolution the Central Rada (rada in Ukrainian means soviet in Russian, and both mean council) in Kiev gained huge support from the peasant masses throughout eastern Ukraine (western Ukraine was then part of the Austrian empire and the dynamic of events was different). However, this support was based on a deeply held peasant conception, right or wrong, that the Rada was a ukrainian form of Soviet power, and the masses tied to it their hopes for liberation from the great power chauvinism of the czarist regime, for radical social reforms and general democratization.

During the summer of 1917 the Central Rada moved to the left and new radical leaders emerged: Volodymir Vinnichenko and Symon Petlyura from the Social Democrats, Mykola Kovalevsky, Pavlo Khrystiuk and Mikita Shapoval from the Ukrainian Social Revolutionaries. Even the Bolshevik Soviets in Ukraine cooperated with the Rada and sent their deputies there. Summer and autumn witnessed ukrainization of many detachments of the old Russian army, and three hundred Ukrainian soldiers took a vow to «serve the Ukrainian nation and its Central Rada». The Rada and its left wing leaders attracted the Ukrainian peasant, the Russian worker and the Jewish craftsman through its program of democratic and socialist reforms.

In December, Rada sent its own delegates to take part in the Brest-Litovsk peace talks, independently of the Russian Bolshevik delegation. The Rada delegates promised in public that they will demand the unification of Ukraine with Bukovina, Galicia and the Kholm region. Bukovina (today, this area comprises the Chernivtsy region of Ukraine) was then populated by Ukrainians and Rumanians. Galicia and Kholm were inhabited by a mix of Poles and Ukrainians. All these regions had minority populations of Jews, Slovaks and other nationalities.

Arriving in Brest, the Rada delegates fell under the influence of the German military. British historian John W. Wheeler-Bennett writes,

“The Germans were not sorry to welcome the young Ukrainian delegation. Both Kuhlmann (German Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs) and Hoffmann (representing the German high command) realized that here was an added means of keeping Czernin (Austrian foreign minister) in step with themselves, and also an additional weapon against Trotsky, who would certainly wish to avoid a separate peace between the Central Powers and a bourgeois State on Russian soil. Thus, as the Ukrainians showed no desire to follow the Bolsheviks into monastic retreat, they were welcomed to the common mess-table, courted and flattered” (Brest-Litovsk, John W. Wheeler-Bennett, Norton Library, 1971, p. 155).

Further down the cynical historian refers to general Hoffman playing with the young Rada representatives «like a cat plays with a canary». In January 1918, when the political power of Rada was waning and Red Guard detachments were taking over one town after another, general Hoffmann began secret discussions with the Ukrainians, conceding to them the Polish Kholm, but not Austrian Galicia and Bukovina (ibid. p. 168).

Trotsky resisted German pressure and refused to sign a shameful treaty. The Ukrainians were more accomodating, and insofar as the popular masses were abandoning them, to that extent the nationalists became even more dependent on German and Austiran armies. On February 8th the representatives of Rada received promises of cultural autonomy for Austrian Bukovina and Galicia and an incorporation of Kholm within Ukraine, in return for which they promised abundant Ukrainian grain (later on, the Austrians reneged on their promise of Kholm). The next day Rada signed a separate peace treaty, and the Austrian foreign minister Czernin noted in his diary «I wonder if the Rada is still really sitting at Kiev» (ibid. p. 221).

On February 10th, 1918, having won an agreement from the Bolshevik Central Committee, Trotsky refused to sign the treaty, and declared that Russia is finished with the war and is demobilizing, but will not sign a shameful treaty like that. On February 17th the German army began an invasion along the whole Eastern Front from the Baltic to the Black sea. In the south, Odessa was occupied by the Austrians. Destroying the Soviets wherever they entered and occupying Kiev, the Germans again put the Central Rada «in power». It quickly became clear that the «democratic» Rada was powerless in the task of beating grain out of the stubborn Ukrainian peasants, so on April 28th the Germans arrested some of its ministers and placed the former czarist general and wealthy landowner Skoropadsky in power.

The well-known Canadian-Ukrainian anticommunist historian Orest Subtelny diplomatically avoids discussing the behavior of Rada delegates at Brest-Litovsk, but is obliged to summarize the collapse of Rada in 1917-18:

«One may well wonder, at this point, about where the 300,000 soldiers of the Ukrainized units were who had pledged support to the Central Rada in the summer. Most of them had returned to their villages and adopted a «neutral» stance, as did many of those who remained under arms. Some went over to the Bolsheviks. The unreliability of the majority of these Ukrainian soldiers — contrasting sharply with the heroic efforts of the relative few who actually fought in support of the Central Rada — was largely a result of the effectiveness of Bolshevik agitators» (Orest Subtelny, Ukraine, 2nd Edition, 1994, p. 352).

The reader is now aware of the second form of Ukrainian statehood — the restorationist regime of «Hetman» Skoropadsky, whom the German army assigned to run Ukraine in April of 1918. His regime based itself on the naked power of the German and Austrian bayonets, on tens of thousands of Russian monarchist officers, who had fled from their own soldiers and from the Soviet regime in Russia, and on the Russian or russified bureaucrats of the old regime, now restored to their offices. The Hetman attempted to pacify the population and restore the old regime to Ukraine, albeit in the Ukrainian language.

Germany and Austria were desperate to receive bread and other foodstuffs from Ukraine, and Skoropadsky made frantic attempts on their behalf to requisition grain from the peasants. Requisition and punishment detachments aroused general hatred, and uprisings spread throughout Ukraine during summer and autumn of 1918. Peasant risings weakened the regime; German defeats on the Western Front and socialist uprisings in Austria and Germany knocked the last prop from under the feet of Ukrainian monarchists. They were attacked by the Bolsheviks advancing from the north and east, by Anarchist and Social Revolutionary troops of Nestor Makhno and Matvey Hryhoryiv, and by bands and regiments carrying the yellow and blue nationalist flag of Petlyura.

The next form of independence was a «renewed and more experienced» Rada, now calling itself the Directory of the Ukrainian People's Republic (UPR). The major political figures of the Directory during its initial democratic stage, in December 1918 — January 1919, were Vinnichenko on the left and Petlyura on the right wing. Vinnichenko promoted the policy of Ukrainian independence on the basis of social and democratic reforms inside the country so as to strengthen the political support of the peasants, in an alliance with Bolshevik Russia. Petlyura stood for a deal with the Entente (France had just landed 60 thousand troops in Odessa) and a stop to further land and social reforms and a return to bourgeois legality.

In January 1919 the UPR concluded a union with the west Ukrainian nationalists. That bourgeois Ukrainian parties of Austro-Hungary, realizing that the empire is falling apart, announced the formation of a West-Ukrainian People's Republic, which was supposed to unite Galicia, wanted by the Polish nationalists, with Bukovina, wanted by the Rumanians, and Carpathian Ukraine, wanted by Hungary. By early 1919 the WUPR forces limited their sights to Galicia alone, and were battling the superior Polish forces of the ex-socialist Jozef Pilsudsky. By the summer, the 50-thousand Galician Ukrainian army, having been defeated by the Poles, retreated east and joined the forces of Petlyura.

Meanwhile, in the middle of February, 1919, Vinnichenko and other leftists were forced out of the government, and Petlyura achieved complete power in Kiev as the Chief Ataman of the UPR army. His political program, against the popular masses and in support of the Entente, had won out.

However, the Entente rejected support for Petlyura and Ukrainian separatism, and preferred to stake its future on Poland, Rumania, other buffer states of the «lesser Entente», and within Russia, on Denikin, Kolchak and the monarchist slogan of «one and indivisible» Russian empire (with the one exception being the oil in Baku). American historian Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak writes: «The Entente insisted on cooperation with Denikin as a prerequisite for aid; the Galicians were inclined to negotiate with Denikin, while the eastern Ukrainians felt that such a course would be disastrous, since the Ukrainian population rose spontaneously against Denikin at the slightest provocation» (The Ukraine, 1917—1921: A Study in Revolution, p. 98). Thus, the western Ukrainian nationalists hated the Poles and were ready to cooperate with the White armies; the eastern Ukrainians wanted to receive recognition and aid from the Entente, but not at the price of supporting the Whites. Bohachevsky-Chomiak in a melancholy mood continues: «By its procrastination, the Ukrainian government had again failed to hold the masses» (ibid. p. 99).

Petlyura's regime lost influence throughout the spring and summer of 1919; the peasants became disenchanted with the promises of «independence»; the influence of Makhno, Hryhoryiv and the Red detachments steadily grew. The well-known anticommunist historian, Richard Pipes writes: «The Directory could offer no serious resistance [to the Red Army]. First of all, the peasant partisans, with whose help it had come into power, deserted soon after Kiev had been captured and the Hetman removed. The peasants and their leaders had already grown tired of the new government, which contrary to their expectations, had accomplished no miraculous improvements, and they now went over in droves to the advancing Bolsheviks. In this manner the Directory lost to the enemy the chief partisan leaders — Makhno, Zelenyi, Hryhoryiv — who attached themselves to the invading Soviet army. In the second place, the Directory had never succeeded in establishing effective government. The leaders of the state were actually at the mercy of their military commanders and of the various local Atamans … The responsibility for the terrible anti-Jewish pogroms, which spread over the entire Ukraine during the reign of the Directory, for the forcible suppression of trade unions, and other acts of violence, must rest most heavily on the shoulders of those unsavory elements; though popular resentment, not unnaturally, was directed against the Directory itself. The internal struggles within the Directory itself between the socially radical groups led by Vinnichenko and the more nationalistic faction, headed by Petlyura, also did not help its cause. Before long, all the socialist groups, including the USR's proper (as distinguished from the Borotbisty) and the Bund had broken openly with the Directoryt and gone over to the Communists. Having lost the support of the peasantry, of the urban population, and of the most influential political parties, the Directory now transformed itself into a military dictatorship, dominated by Galician officers, whose brutal Ukrainian chauvinism was unpopular with the population» (The Formation of the Soviet Union, New York, Athenaeum, 1974, p. 142).

The Bolshevik party, for its part, had made corrections in its policies in relation to the Ukrainian national movement, and had attracted significant revolutionary elements in Ukraine to its side. While in 1917-18 Ukrainian Bolsheviks were led by people like Grigorii Piatakov and Yevgeniia Bosh, who denied the significance of cultural problems and develepment of national cadres, in early 1919 Lenin had sent to Ukraine Khristian Rakovsky, who had tremendous experience of revolutionary work in Rumania, Bulgaria and the Balcans among small and oppressed nationalities. The Bolshevik party extended its influence among other socialist groups and was joined by left factions and groups from the competing parties of Ukrainian SRs, Mensheviks, the Bund and various anarchist groups.

An additional significant factor contributing to Communist victory in the Ukraine was the struggle of the People's Comissar for War, Leon Trotsky for centralization of the Red Army against the anarchistic guerilla methods and against the so-called «Military Opposition» led by Stalin, Voroshilov and others.

In his book «My Life» Trotsky describes the struggle against guerilla methods in this way: «The old army was still breaking up and sowing hatred of war over the country at the time when we were obliged to raise new regiments. The Czar’s officers were being driven out of the old army, sometimes quite ruthlessly; we had to enroll these very officers as instructors for the Red army. Committees came into existence in the old regiments as the very embodiment of the revolution, at least during its first period. In the new regiments the committee system was not to be tolerated; it stood for disintegration. The curses against the old discipline were still ringing in our ears when we began to introduce the new. In a short time, we had to go from voluntary enlistment to conscription, from detachments of irregulars to a proper military organization. We had continuously to fight the methods of the irregulars—a fight that demanded the utmost persistence and unwillingness to compromise, sometimes even the sternest measures. The chaos of irregular warfare expressed the peasant element that lay beneath the revolution, whereas the struggle against it was also a struggle in favor of the proletarian state organization opposed to the elemental, petty bourgeois anarchy that was undermining it. But the methods and ways of the irregular fighting found an echo in the ranks of the party, as well” (>

In 1922, Soviet Russia united with Ukraine in a federative state, giving the Ukrainian republic status equal to that of the Russian. One of Lenin’s last political actions was his alliance with Trotsky against the Great Russian chauvinism of Stalin, who tried to set up a centralized unitary state, out of considerations of bureaucratic convenience. Before Stalin’s victory the Bolsheviks recognized Ukrainian right to significant independence and did not view Ukraine as simply “a part” of Russia.

To sum up: Time and again the nationalists’ reliance on their own people and on democratic principles proved unreliable, and the non-Bolshevik Ukrainian governments moved from democracy to dictatorship. “Independence” based itself on a series of deals with outside enemies of the Ukrainian people: on the White Cossack atamans Kaledin and Dutov, on tens of thousands of monarchist officers, on the czarist general Skoropadsky, on the armies of Germany and Austria, on the ships, weapons and money of the French interventionists, on the White Polish regime of Pilsudsky.

Having lost the political struggle in the Ukraine, Petlyura fled to Poland with his remaining forces. The second half of 1919 in the Ukraine witnessed a struggle of the Red Army against Denikin and Wrangel. In the spring of 1920 Petlyura concluded an agreement with the Pilsudsky regime and promised the Poles to renounce all claims to Galicia. In late April the Polish army, assisted by Petlyura’s detachments, invaded Ukraine, and on May 6th entered Kiev. After destroying general Wrangel in the Crimea, the Red Army turned against the new invasion, and in June chased Pilsudsky and Petlyura out of eastern Ukraine, and almost conquered Warsaw. The Polish forces gathered more strength and repelled the Reds, and the Civil War in the Ukraine was over.

Petlyura and the right-wing Jewish Zionists

For a few years the Petlyura movement continued to exist abroad in Rumania, Czechoslovakia and Poland; it maintained a “UPR government in exile” and a number of “embassies”. Because of Petlyura’s notorious reputation in relation to the Jewish pogroms, France could not support him directly, but helped via its allies in the buffer states of the “lesser Entente”. In the spring of 1921 Petlyura planned a new invasion of Ukraine from eastern Galicia near the Soviet Ukraine’s border where he maintained a 15 thousand strong army.

The Czech ambassador of Petlyura, Maxim Slavinsky turned to his long time friend Vladimir (Zeev) Jabotinsky, who led an extreme right-wing faction within the heterogeneous Zionist movement. Jabotinsky was the founder of “revisionist Zionism”, an admirer of Mussolini and fascism, a proponent of total separation of Jews from non-Jews, reorganization of self defense groups into a Jewish army, a bitter opponent of assimilation, of socialists and communists, an enemy of trade unions and of class struggle. Later on the revisionist movement gave birth to the semi-fascist military organizations Beytar, Lehi and Etsel. The last two organizations played the role of an aggressive strike force in 1947-48 during Israel’s War of Independence, and by organizing a series of Arab pogroms caused a mass flight of Arab population from important areas of Palestine. Today, the followers of Jabotinsky have pushed aside the “socialist” Zionists and are running Israel.

Jabotinsky remembers that he had a few talks with Slavinsky and they made an agreement that Jabotinsky will organize a few divisions of Jewish gendarmes, which will accompany Petlyura’s invasion of Ukraine, and will protect the peaceful Jewish population from the inevitable pogroms (as told in the 2-volume biography of Jabotinsky written by an admirer. Cf. Shmuel Katz, Lone Wolf, Barricade Books, New York, 1996, Vol. 1, pp. 751-755).

The autumn 1921 invasion of Soviet Ukraine by Petlyura quickly ran out of steam and was repulsed by the Red Army. The Red Army and local Red Guards protected the Jewish population from Petlyura's bandits. But in history everything is tied to everything else, and Jabotinsky's adventure left some traces.

Firstly, the courtship between Jabotinsky and Petlyura provoked a condemnation of revisionists by the main body of Zionism and exacerbated the bitter rivalry between Jabotinsky and David Ben Gurion. Jabotinsky was soon pushed out of the leadership of the world Zionist movement and his revisionist Zionism existed on the right margin of the movement up until the 1970's.

Secondly, this adventure once more highlighted the manner in which the early Soviet regime proceeded to solve the Jewish problem. The Red Army was the only force in the Ukraine, which systematically and to the full  extent of its ability defended the peaceful Jewish population, as well as the other minority populations. Bolsheviks organized groups of Jews for self-defense, and even mobilized whole Jewish detachments to fight antisemitism on the national level within the ranks of the Red Army.

1920's was a period of cultural renaissance of Jewish life throughout the Soviet territory. Although political parties, Bund and left wing Zionists among them, were soon proscribed, there was no restrictions on the activities of Jewish religious, educational, cultural and sports groups. Shmuel Katz describes how the orthodox anti-Zionists from the Jewish section of the Communist party tried to denounce the Zionists inside Soviet Russia and ascribed to them ties to Petlyura. The head of the Jewish sports club Maccabee, which was organized under the umbrella of the Commissariat of Defense, Yitzhak Rabinovitch, in his memoirs published in Palestine 20 years later, told this story. The Soviet authorities examined the episode and found nothing illegal in the activities of the Maccabee club or the Bund groups (cf. Shmuel Katz, pp. 761-763).

Thirdly, the ties between Petlyura and Jabotinsky are used by the Ukrainian nationalists today to rehabilitate Petlyura: after all, here is one of the founders of Zionism, Vladimir Jabotinsky supporting and discussing with Petlyura, concluding military agreements with him, condemning his killing in 1926, etc. The readers might, without much difficulty, find today writings of Ukrainian “historians”, who proclaim Symon Petlyura to be a defender of Jews. Ten years ago there took place in Kiev a scientific conference, which brought together Ukrainian and Israeli nationalists in an attempt to revise the memory of Petlyura and to rehabilitate Ukrainian chauvinists.

Current Ukrainian regime is busy revising this history on the ministerial and presidential level. Ukrainian foreign minister, Boris Tarasiuk spoke on May 26th in Paris at the meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on the subject of “contemporary understanding of the person of Symon Petlyura”. During his speech on the anniversary of the “Orange revolution” on November 19th, 2005 the president of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko bragged about placing a wreath on Petlyura’s grave during his last visit to Paris.

It is easy to understand the reasons for these mutual rehabilitations on the part of the ruling circles of Israel and Ukraine. The historical heirs of Vladimir Jabotinsky and Symon Petlyura share today very definite goals. Israel, from the moment of its founding, has played the role of shock troops against the Arab masses of the Middle East on behalf of American imperialism, to assist the latter in its conquest of the enormous energy resources of the region. The life goal of Jabotinsky — the creation of Greater Israel on both banks of the Jordan river, an ethnic cleansing of Palestine and removal of its Arab population — this goal, which for many decades was promoted by marginal protofascist groups and relegated to the fringes of Zionist movement, is today the main program of the Israeli government.

Ukraine is playing a vital role in promoting US influence on the territory of the former Soviet Union. Recent trip of vice president Richard Cheney to Eastern Europe and his May 4th speech in Vilnius prove this fact. The United States is trying to squash any possibility of an alliance between Russia and the European Union and is setting up a division between the “old” Europe, i.e. Germany and France, and “new” Europe, i.e. Poland, Ukraine and other splinters of the former Soviet bloc. The meeting in May 2006 in Kiev of the leaders of GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaidzhan and Moldova) serves the purpose of increasing the US pressure on Russia.

Historical facts are a stubborn fact.

But across the path of the aggressive explosion of American imperialism there stand some stubborn facts of the bloody history of the 20th century.

In the first place, the behavior of the Petlyura supporters in 1919-1920. The bloody history of the Petlyura regime, its hypocrisy, venality and accommodation to any anticommunist movement — German generals, French admirals, Russian monarchists, Polish landlords — were widely known in Europe during the 1920’s. During the pre-trial investigation and the Schwartzbard trial itself the French and world press directed the attention of Europe and America to the recent history of Ukraine and the Civil War. The world public opinion was on the side of the accused, not his victim.

Secondly, Schwartzbard’s shots raise to a principled level the question of the Jewish pogroms and the revenge for them. Before society can absolve Ukrainian chauvinists it must retroactively condemn Shalom Schwartzbard. Was he right in killing a murderer, or was Petlyura an innocent democrat, while the anarchist Schwartzbard was a criminal weapon in the hands of the Soviet GPU. In 1927, after eight days of testimony and deliberation, the French jury came to the conclusion that Schwartzbard was innocent.

In the third place, the trial of Petlyura’s killer in 1927 did not end this history. The Ukrainian nationalists turned Petlyura’s killing at the hands of a Jewish avenger into their national slogan, and demanded their own vengeance against the killer. Stalin’s crimes — his contribution to Hitler’s conquest of power in 1933; the government-engineered famine, which killed millions of Ukrainians in 1932-33; the genocide of communists and all thinking people generally in 1936-39; the shutting down of West Ukrainian, West Belorussian and Polish Communist parties in 1939; the killings of west Ukrainian intellectuals in the cellars of the NKVD in 1939-41 — all these dealt huge blows at the political culture of the Ukrainian masses, and threw them into the embrace of chauvinism.

In 1941, both factions of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), the followers of Melnik and Bandera, worked for Hitler. Just before the Nazi invasion on June 22, the Wehrmacht sent groups of saboteurs into the border areas of Ukraine. Stalin disarmed the Red Army by his wholesale killing of Red officers in 1936-39 and by his frightened ostrich policy during the Non-Aggression Pact. Ukrainian nationalists acted as Hitler’s fifth column during the invasion itself. One of the propaganda slogans of organizers of Ukrainian fascism was the cry to “avenge the murder of Petlyura”. As soon as the Germans would take a town in western Ukraine, a detachment of OUN would move in and begin a series of public killings of Jews. In the large town of Lviv the Ukrainian fascists killed about four thousand Jews in early July 1941. Then, within three days from July 25 till the 27 the detachments of OUN conducted a Jewish action called “Petlyura days”, during which they killed an additional two thousand people. Other “Petlyura days” were conducted in other towns of western Ukraine.

The Canadian-Ukrainian “historian” Orest Subtelny is forced to skirt around the participation of OUN in the “Jewish actions”, in particular, avoid mentioning these “Petlyura days” and consciously lie: “Ukrainian collaboration with the Nazis was insignificant compared to that of Germany’s allies” (Ukraine, p. 471).

The reactionary and elitist policies of Stalin aroused indignation and confusion not just among the Ukrainian masses, but also among other nationalities within the USSR, including among the native Russians. For example, we should remember that Hitler was able to recruit hundreds of thousands of Russian prisoners of war to join the Vlasov detachments. Stalin’s cruelty on the one hand, Hitler’s cruelty, on the other, the peoples of the Soviet Union stood during the Second World War before a difficult dilemma.

Stalinism and independence of Ukraine.

Because throughout the 1930’s the Stalinist regime became more reactionary and cruel the question of self-determination took on an ever more democratic character. In his April 22, 1939 article “The Ukrainian question” Trotsky explained:

“The Bolshevik Party, not without difficulty and only gradually under the constant pressure of Lenin, was able to acquire a correct approach to the Ukrainian question. The right to self-determination, that is, to separation, was extended by Lenin equally to the Poles and to the Ukrainians. He did not recognize aristocratic nations. Every inclination to evade or postpone the problem of an oppressed nationality he regarded as a manifestation of Great Russian chauvinism.

“After the conquest of power, a serious struggle took place in the party over the solving of the numerous national problems, inherited from old czarist Russia. In his capacity as people’s commissar of nationalities, Stalin invariably represented the most centralist and bureaucratic tendency. This evinced itself especially on the question of Georgia and on the question of the Ukraine. The correspondence dealing with these matters has remained unpublished to this day. We hope to publish a section of it — the very small section which is at our disposal. Every line of Lenin’s letters and proposals vibrates with an urge to accede as far as possible to those nationalities that have been oppressed in the past. In the proposals and declarations of Stalin, on the contrary, the tendency toward bureaucratic centralism was invariably pronounced. In order to guarantee “administrative needs”, i.e., the interests of the bureaucracy, the most legitimate claims of the oppressed nationalities were declared a manifestation of petty-bourgeois nationalism. All these symptoms could be observed as early as 1922-23. Since that time they have developed monstrously and have led to outright strangulation of any kind of independent national development of the peoples of the USSR.

“In the conceptions of the old Bolshevik Party, Soviet Ukraine was destined to become a powerful axis around which the other sections of the Ukrainian people would unite. It is indisputable that in the first period of its existence Soviet Ukraine exerted a mighty attractive force, in national respects as well, and aroused to struggle the workers, peasants, and revolutionary intelligentsia of Western Ukraine enslaved by Poland. But during the years of Thermidorean reaction, the position of Soviet Ukraine and together with it the posing of the Ukrainian question as a whole changed sharply. The more profound the hopes aroused, the keener was the disillusionment.

“The bureaucracy strangled and plundered the people within Great Russia, too. But in the Ukraine matters were further complicated by the massacre of national hopes. Nowhere did restrictions, purges, repressions, and in general all forms of bureaucratic hooliganism assume such murderous sweep as they did in the Ukraine in the struggle against the powerful, deeply rooted longings of the Ukrainian masses for greater freedom and independence. To the totalitarian bureaucracy, Soviet Ukraine became an administrative division of an economic unit and a military base of the USSR. To be sure, the Stalin bureaucracy erects statues to Shevchenko but only in order more thoroughly to crush the Ukrainian people under their weight and to force it to chant paeans in the language of the Kobzar to the rapist clique in the Kremlin.

“Toward the sections of the Ukraine now outside its frontiers, the Kremlin’s attitude today is the same as it is toward all oppressed nationalities, all colonies, and semi colonies, i.e., small change in its international combinations with imperialist governments. At the recent eighteenth congress of the “Communist Party”, Manuilsky, one of the most revolting renegades of Ukrainian communism, quite openly explained that not only the USSR but also the Comintern (the “gyp-joint”, according to Stalin’s formulation) refused to demand the emancipation of oppressed peoples whenever their oppressors are not the enemies of the ruling Moscow clique. India is nowadays being defended by Stalin, Dimitrov, and Manuilsky against — Japan, but not against England. Western Ukraine they are ready to cede forever to Poland in exchange for a diplomatic agreement, which appears profitable at the present time to the bureaucrats of the Kremlin. It is a far cry from the days when they went no further than episodic combinations in their politics.

“Not a trace remains of the former confidence and sympathy of the Western Ukrainian masses for the Kremlin. Since the latest murderous “purge” in the Ukraine no one in the West wants to become part of the Kremlin satrapy, which continues to bear the name of Soviet Ukraine. The worker and peasant masses in the Western Ukraine, in Bukovina, in the Carpatho-Ukraine are in a state of confusion: Where to turn? What to demand? This situation naturally shifts the leadership to the most reactionary Ukrainian cliques who express their “nationalism” by seeking to sell the Ukrainian people to one imperialism or another in return for a promise of fictitious independence. Upon this tragic confusion Hitler bases his policy in the Ukrainian question. At one time we said: but for Stalin (i.e., but for the fatal policy of the Comintern in Germany) there would have been no Hitler. To this can now be added: but for the rape of Soviet Ukraine by the Stalinist bureaucracy there would be no Hitlerite Ukrainian policy.

“We shall not pause here to analyze the motives that impelled Hitler to discard, for the time being at least, the slogan of a Greater Ukraine. These motivations must be sought in the fraudulent combinations of German imperialism on the one hand, and on the other in the fear of conjuring up an evil spirit whom it might be difficult to exorcize. Hitler gave Carpatho-Ukraine as a gift to the Hungarian butchers. This was done, if not with Moscow’s open approval then in any case with confidence that approval would be forthcoming. It is as if Hitler had said to Stalin: “If I were preparing to attack Soviet Ukraine tomorrow I should have kept Carpatho-Ukraine in my own hands”. In reply, Stalin at the eighteenth party congress openly came to Hitler’s defense against the slanders of the “Western democracies”. Hitler intends to attack the Ukraine? Nothing of the sort! Fight with Hitler? Not the slightest reason for it. Stalin is obviously interpreting the handing over of Carpatho-Ukraine to Hungary as an act of peace.

“This means that sections of the Ukrainian people have become so much small change for the Kremlin in its international calculations. The Fourth International must clearly understand the tremendous importance of the Ukrainian question in the fate not only of Southeastern and Eastern Europe but also of Europe as a whole. We are dealing with a people that has proved its viability, that is numerically equal to the population of France and occupies an exceptionally rich territory, which, moreover, is of the highest strategic importance. The question of the fate of Ukraine has been posed in its full scope. A clear and definite slogan is necessary that corresponds to the new situation. In my opinion there can be at the present time only one such slogan: A united, free, and independent workers’ and peasants’ Soviet Ukraine.

“This program is in irreconcilable contradiction first of all with the interests of the three imperialist powers, Poland, Rumania, and Hungary. Only hopeless pacifist blockheads are capable of thinking that the emancipation and unification of the Ukraine can be achieved by peaceful diplomatic means, by referendums, by decisions of the League of Nations, etc. In no way superior to them of course are those “nationalists” who propose to solve the Ukrainian question by entering the service of one imperialism against another. Hitler gave an invaluable lesson to those adventurers by tossing (for how long?) Carpatho-Ukraine to the Hungarians who immediately slaughtered not a few trusting Ukrainians. Insofar as the issue depends upon the military strength of the imperialist states, the victory of one grouping or another can signify only a new dismemberment and a still more brutal subjugation of the Ukrainian people. The program of independence for the Ukraine in the epoch of imperialism is directly and indissolubly bound up with the program of the proletarian revolution. It would be criminal to entertain any illusions on this score” (Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1939-39, pp. 301-305).

The Soviet regime, even deeply wounded by the Stalinist bureaucracy, still had enough inner strength to unite the peoples of the Soviet Union, resist the fascist invasion and conquer it. Trotsky wrote in his analysis of the USSR in 1936:

“Social regimes like all other phenomena must be estimated comparatively. Notwithstanding all its contradictions, the Soviet regime in the matter of stability still has immense advantages over the regimes of its probable enemies. (

In spite of Stalinist bureaucracy undermining the foundations of the Soviet state the Soviet peoples, and the Ukrainian people among them, were able to unite and defeat fascism.

Ukrainian nationalists during the war were comprised of two factions. Supporters of Melnik closely cooperated with Hitlerite administration, or, rather, they composed its lower and middle echelons. Bandera tried to maintain an independent policy. On June 30th, as soon as Hitler’s Wehrmacht entered Lviv, Bandera tried to announce the formation of a Ukrainian state. The Gestapo quickly put a stop to this attempt, arrested Bandera and some of his supporters, and they spent the next three years in a concentration camp. Bandera’s supporters organized partisan detachments, which fought against everyone: against the German troops, against the Soviet partisans, and against the Polish nationalist resistance. Bandera continued his struggle against the Soviet army even after it liberated Ukraine from the fascists, and his bands lasted in the forests and mountains of Galicia and Volhynia until the mid-1950’s.

Imperialism and rehabilitation of Petlyura.

We have already indicated that American imperialism is supporting Ukraine against Russia. Let us check how this support gets reflected on the pages of American and world press. The first, in order of political importance, printed organ of the US, the New York Times wrote the following about exhibits of Petlyura in Kiev: … no, nothing at all was published, despite the one million Jews in the city, plus hundreds of thousands of non-Jews who trace their roots to Ukraine, Poland or Russia. The Washington Post, which is the organ specializing in formulating the discussion in Washington, seconded its elder colleague by its silence. The Los Angeles Times: not a word. The radio and TV also kept their mouths shut about Ukraine’s official rehabilitation of Petlyura. The Israeli mass media kept a nervous silence. BBC, which boasts of providing news for the whole world, kept quiet in English, but in Ukrainian language it broadcast a story about Petlyura on May 25th, which nicely balanced the “pro” and “against” arguments, as is the norm in post-modernist circles, so as to persuade its listeners to abandon search for truth in Petlyura’s story (

To understand this silence, all the more shocking since the past month recorded a number of events as if designed to bring attention to Kiev — Richard Cheney's tour of Eastern Europe and his Cold War speech in Vilnius, the GUAM summit in Kiev — we should step into the shoes of the editors of these powerful sources of disinformation. The huge Jewish population of New York and the United States have for over a century been taught extreme sensitivity to the signs of Jewish pogroms and genocide. Israel acts on the world stage as a defender of all Jews and an avenger of all Jewish wrongs (just think back to the hunt for Eichmann and his trial in 1962). Reports on the touching respect of the «hero of the democratic Orange revolution» president Yuschenko towards the memory of Petlyura, a «hero of the Ukrainian nation» would take on the character of an exploding bomb, and would undermine the foreign policy objectives of the US and its clients.

         Petlyura's rehabilitation was therefore covered only by the marginal press of Russian chauvinists, who counter Ukrainian, Polish, or Lithuanian nationalism with Great Russian nationalism.

One and a half years after the “Orange revolution” Yushchenko’s regime has almost exhausted the credit of confidence extended to it by the Ukrainian masses. The faces in the powerful offices of the government have changed, the ruling elites have rearranged themselves, a new round of division and redivision of the economic assets looted from the nation has begun. Capitalist reforms have led to the impoverishment of the toiling masses, to the growth of social inequality, and are continuing the same way. Under these conditions the ruling regime has only two weapons in its arsenal: propaganda of nationalism and chauvinism, glorification of Petlyura, Bandera and the mythical “free Cossack host”; and accelerated organization of the army, the gendarmes and a police state.

The Ukrainian bourgeoisie has already transformed the Ukrainian proletariat into the cheapest workforce in Europe. The venal history of Ukrainian nationalism in the 20th century teaches us that the present ruling elite plans to prosper on the world market by trading in its own people.