Continuing my series, based on this piece in VZGLIAD by reporter Dmitry Lyskov, concerning the Ukrainian Revolution of 1917-1918. Yesterday I introduced the character of Mikhail Grushevsky, just to set the stage. Lyskov’s focus is actually a very finely-tuned historical debate with this particular textbook of Ukrainian history. As Lyskov remarks, “the devil is in the details”, therefore I must be careful to try to get this narrative correct. Because we are talking about some very devilishly fine details of some very obscure events of 100 years ago. These events are important, because they affect the “legitimacy” debate of Ukrainian historiography, and that overall “Independence” vs “Autonomy within Russia” thing. Now, this particular textbook is not one of the ludicrous “svidomite” nonsense that, for example, declares the Ukraine to be the successor of ancient Egypt, or anything of that sort. It is a serious book. In the chapter about the Ukrainian Revolution (1917-1918), it gets the story “mostly right”, according to Lyskov, but with some tiny but important details that he wishes to dispute.
My approach will be as follows: Without straight translation, first paraphrasing Lyskov’s description of the textbook narrative. (I can’t do the textbook directly, because it is written in Ukrainian, and my reading comprehension of Ukrainian is just not up to that.) And then getting into the details of the parts that Lyskov wants to correct.
As we saw in the previous installment, Grushevsky’s government was toppled roughly a year after its establishment (April 29, 1918), in a coup led by Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky. Representing the class of wealthy Ukrainian landowners and operating on behalf of the German army, it was Skoropadsky who started the tradition (later continued by Stepan Bandera) of Ukrainian so-called “Independence” as a German protectorate directed against Russia. Skoropadsky only lasted as long as the Germans, and was forced out in November, 1918.
Without German meddling and Skoropadsky muddying the waters. the previous history (the one year of the Grushevsky government) might have been easier to see and evaluate; nonetheless, it is that crucial year that we are to analyze here, because this is the period at the core of the Ukrainian “independence” debate.
The History According To the Textbook
During early April 1917, at the suggestion of noted Ukrainian historian Mikhail Grushevsky, the all-Ukrainian Congress was convened in Kiev. This Congress met for 3 days and elected the All-Ukrainian Rada (AUR). The AUR consisted of 115 deputies, with Grushevsky at the head. The deputies conducted talks with the Russian Provisional Government (centered in Petrograd), declared the Ukraine’s autonomy, and formed a government called the General Secretariat. In general terms, the Grushevsky government was the direct analog of the Kerensky government in Russia.
After the October Revolution, which switched the Russian government from the Parliament (called “Duma” in Russian) to the Soviets (the local governing councils), the AUR also took a leftward course (influenced by revolutionary manifestations breaking out in Kiev), and declared the establishment of the Ukrainian Peoples Republic (UPR), as as autonomous region within Russia. Ukrainian historians agree that the AUR enjoyed the support of a majority of the Ukrainian people.
So far so good. Now we get to the more disputatious topics, namely the conflict between the UPR and the Bolshevik Party. According to the textbook, the Bolsheviks in their ham-fisted way attempted to gain control over the AUR/UPR in order to disperse it and replace it with Soviets, as had happened in Russia. Hence, the Bolsheviks convened an all-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets, which began its work in Kiev on December 4, 1917. Unfortunately for the Bolsheviks, their delegates could not form a majority even within the Soviets. Outvoted and being sore loses, the Bolshevik delegates left in a huff, making sure to slam the door really hard on the way out.
On that very same day the authorities in Kiev received a telegram from Moscow, signed “Sincerely yours, the Peoples Commissars“. The telegram consisted of a manifesto [yalensis: at the going rate per word, that must have been one expensive telegram!] addressed to the Ukrainian people. The telegram, consisting of several “do’s” and “dont’s” made the following demands on the Ukrainian government:
- DO “accept the authority of the Soviet of Peoples Commissars of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic; and disperse yourselves forthwith.”
- Do NOT allow Cossack troops to approach (White-Guard) Ataman Alexei Kaledin on the Don River.
- DO provide support for the revolutionary troops in the struggle against the counter-revolutionary Cadet-Kaledin uprising.
- Last but not least, stop trying to disarm Soviet troops and the Workers Red Guards on Ukrainian territory.
The telegram gave the Ukrainians 48 hours to comply with these demands.
[to be continued]