Today finishing this series on Ukrainian history of 100 years ago, based on this piece in VZGLIAD by reporter Dmitry Lyskov.
Where we left off, it is still just a few weeks since the Bolshevik Revolution of Ocrtober/November 1917. The Russian Empire has splintered into fragments over the past year or so, rocked by military disasters and two revolutions, with each region of the former Empire trying to cope with the fallout. The Ukrainian moderate bourgeoisie, in alliance with social-democrats, has attempted to set up a new government for the Ukrainian autonomy, based on the Parliament or Rada. A competing government consists of a Congress of soviets of workers and soldiers deputies, based in Kharkov. On December 25, 1917 (all dates old style), a this congress declared itself to be the official government of Ukraine, and that Ukraine was henceforth a Soviet Socialist Republic.
Ukrainian historiography claims that the Red Army invaded the Ukraine and seized Kharkov a few days prior to this, December 21. Such a chronology would make it appear (as Ukrainian historiography wishes it to appear) that the Soviets invaded the Ukraine (which only wished to be free and democratic) and imposed their system of government by force. Lyskov disputes this. In reality, around 3000 Red Guard troops and “Bolshevized” soldiers were already quartered in Kharkov around this time. On December 21 some supplemetary echelons arrived, under the command of Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko. Ovseenko’s wiki shows him to have a crazy hair-do. Ovseenko was actually his real name, and he wasn’t even Jewish, he was of pure Ukrainian blood!
Operating under the alias “Shtick” (=”Bayonet”), Ovseenko’s shtick was Bolshevism, pure and simple. Well, actually, he started off as a Menshevik, but WWI converted him into a Bolshevik. Recall that ALL Russian socialists except for the Bolshies got squishy when the war broke out, they weren’t sure whether or not they should become patriotic towards their own country. This same disease of “patriotism” afflicted ALL European socialists, pitting, say, German socialists against French socialists. When the Plantation Masters go to war against each other, then the slaves have to take sides too. There were a few exceptions, internationalists like Rosa Luxemburg, who possessed True Grit; and also the Bolsheviks, who declared a plague on all houses involved in this bloody imperialist slaughterhouse.
Since he hated the war so much, Ovseenko switched over to the Bolsheviks. But this guy was no pacifist: During the October uprising, he led the assault on the Winter Palace. Ovseenko’s father had been an officer, Ovseenko himself had graduated from a military school; and he clearly had talent in this arena. Soon he was elected to the Military Committee of the Sovnarkom, and then proceeded to rise in the ranks of the Red Army. It was Ovseenko who, according to wiki, “oversaw the defeat of Ukrainian nationalist and White Army forces in Ukraine, ensuring the creation of the Ukrainian SSR.”
If you google Ovseenko on Ukrainian sites, you will see that they don’t like him very much, calling him insulting names, such as “The Butcher of Tambov”, due to some incidents that happened in the course of the Russian Civil War. During the 1920’s Ovseenko allied with the Trotsky faction; however, after Trotsky’s defeat and exile, he managed nimbly to stay in favor with the Stalin faction, and even was appointed ambassador to several European countries in the early 1930’s. Which indicated a huge level of trust they had in him, despite his former ties to Trotsky. During the Spanish Civil War Ovseenko was put in charge of delivering Soviet aid to the Spanish Republic. He was recalled to Moscow in 1937, was probably on the “Burn List” but had a chat with Stalin and maybe convinced him he was kosher. Thus bought himself a year of life, then finally purged/executed in 1938. Rehabilitated by the Khrushchev administration in 1956.
But returning to 1917: Did Ovseenko and his Red Guards suppress the Ukrainian Rada? No, according to Lyskov, they did not. They maintained strict neutrality between the Rada and the Soviets. They were there only to fight against Ataman Kaledin. The declaration of Ukraine as a Soviet Republic was completely separate from Ovseenko’s presence in Kharkov, and therefore it is not historically accurate to claim that the Soviet republic was “declared on the backs of Red Army bayonets”. The reason the soviets ultimately prevailed over the Rada was not because of the bayonets, but because their cadres were more ideological than those of the Rada, had a more convincing ideology, and prevailed on the political plane.
Declaration of Ukrainian Independence
Eventually the Rada, which had initially called for Ukrainian autonomy within the Russian Federation, became more radicalized, and called for full independence of the Ukraine. But by then they were a day late and several hryvnas short. Within minutes after the October Revolution, Soviet power was spontaneously established all over the Donbass. (Yes, folks, it’s always the Donbass, isn’t it?) And by January 1918 uprisings against the Rada were taking place in all the pro-Russian regions: Ekaterinoslav, Odessa, Poltava, Kremenchug, Elizavetgrad, Nikolaev, Kherson. Names which have become familiar to all following recent Ukrainian events. Nothing ever changes, does it?
On January 16, a soviet uprising began in Kiev itself, but was put down. Ten days later Soviet troops did enter Kiev, that part is true, and the Soviet government was transferred from Kharkov to Kiev. By February, the Soviets had won the dual-power contest, and the Rada government fled into exile.
Ukrainian “patriots” wanted so badly to see an independent Ukrainian state, that they did not turn down German “assistance” at this point. The Rada-in-exile concluded a deal with the Austro-German block in Brest (January 27), which led to the subsequent German occupation of the Ukraine. True to Ukrainian nationalist tradition, the bourgeois Rada returned from exile on the backs of German soldiers. The treacherous Germans, whatever their previous promises, quickly dispersed these useful idiots (April 29) and put Hetman Skoropadsky in the driver’s seat of the new anti-Soviet government.
Why did the Germans do such a dastardly thing? According to Lyskov, the Germans had a very good reason. They simply couldn’t trust the Ukrainians not to steal money with both fists. Namely, several key Cabinet Ministers of the Rada Government formed a conspiracy to kidnap a Jewish banker named Abram Dobry. With the purpose, apparently, of obtaining a large sum of ransom. Yeah, and they would have gotten away with their crime too, were it not for the pesky fact that this same Dobry also handled funds for the German occupation; that’s why the Germans got involved, and became incensed. Lyskov ends with a quote from Ukrainian historian/journalist Oles Buzina (later to be assassinated by our modern variety of Ukrainian patriots), who wrote the following about this 100-year-old scandal:
“Having given the Ukraine back, on a silver platter, to Professor Grushevsky and his comrades, the German government expected that their marionettes will conduct themselves properly. The German logic was simple: We destroyed your enemies, now you obey us and supply Germany with bread, as much as we need to continue the war on the Western front. And then suddenly, this Ukrainian-German idyll is disrupted by the kidnapping, on the night of 24-25 April, of the Director of the Kiev Bank involved in the Ukraine’s foreign trade!”
In other words, the Ukrainians lost their first opportunity for quasi-independence (as a German protectorate) due to simple greed. Nothing ever really changes, does it?
Banker Dobry, by the way, survived this ordeal. His biography shows that he was able to emigrate to France and enjoy the good life in Paris, doing Jewish things like banking and hosting Russian-Jewish community events, right up until his death in 1936. (Which had nothing to do with Stalin’s Bloody Purges, just a coincidence!)