Ukraine after the War

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Subject essay: Lewis Siegelbaum

At least twice in the Soviet era, the genie of Ukrainian nationalism was let out of the all-Union bottle, only to provoke in Moscow fears of Ukrainian separatism and repressive measures to curb it. The first occasion was during the 1920s when the Soviet nationality policy of “indigenization” (korenizatsiia) privileged native Ukrainian communists in the republic’s cultural, political and economic affairs. The second was during the Great Patriotic War when, as part of the Soviet war effort, the Order of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the only Soviet military order named after a non-Russian hero, was established, and the press characterized ethnic Ukrainians as “great.” This was a term that previously had been reserved exclusively for Russians within the imperial hierarchy of the “friendship of peoples.”

Soviet Ukrainian ethnic patriotism contended during the war with not only German propaganda but also the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and its military wing, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). By the spring of 1945, the UPA had 90,000 men under arms, primarily in the western borderland region which had been annexed in 1939. Before its liquidation at the end of the 1940s, the UPA inflicted heavy casualties on the Soviet army and Communist officials. Executions and the deportation of several hundred-thousand people from Western Ukraine were part of the Soviet campaign to suppress the OUN. In 1946, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church, the dominant Church in Western Ukraine, was banned and its property confiscated.

Aside from the insurgency in the western borderland, Soviet authorities faced the huge task of restoring Soviet order and the economy in Ukraine after the war. The task was made even more difficult by the imposition of a delivery quota of 7.2 million tons of grain for 1946. Nikita Khrushchev, first secretary of the Ukrainian party organization since 1938, bore ultimate responsibility for extracting grain. But in March 1947 he was replaced by Lazar Kaganovich who typically ran roughshod over the republic, already reeling from famine. Meanwhile, in 1946 a campaign was launched by republic-level ideologues to purge Ukraine of “vestiges of bourgeois nationalism” in the arts. Throughout 1947 and into 1948, writers, composers, and artists were enjoined to renounce their harmful obsession with the distant Ukrainian past in favor of contemporary Soviet themes. Part of the Zhdanovshchina, this campaign was only partially successful in putting the nationalist genie back in the bottle.

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