Dr. Mykola Kovalevsky
SYMON PETLURA (1879—1926)
Supreme Commander of the Ukrainian Army
and President of the Ukrainian National Republic
Three significant events in the modern history of Ukraine reveal the dramatic dynamic quality of this nation. About the middle of the 17th century, the Ukrainian national revolt, led by the powerful Hetman Bohdan Hmelnytsky, seriously undermined the regime of the Polish Kingdom and of the Muscovite Tsardom which had predominated in Eastern Europe up to that time, and set up the state organization of Ukraine in the form of a sovereign Kozak (Cossack) state. In addition to Moscow and Warsaw, Kyiv (Kiev) now also became a political centre, the importance of which lay in the restoration of the national traditions of Ukraine and in the fact that it linked up with the continuity of the principality of Kyiv which came into existence in the 9th century.
At the end of the 18th century, the armies of the Empress Catherine II destroyed the last Ukrainian military base — the Zaporozhian Sich — on the lower Dnipro (Dnieper). Thus, Ukraine's military resistance was finally broken and the last remnants of Ukraine's state autonomy were abolished by a decree issued by the Empress.
In the course of the 19th century, a process of cultural revival among the nationally conscious element of Ukraine took place, and, despite subjection by Russia and the Russification measures which were enforced, the liberation movements came into existence which at various times in the 19th century led to revolutionary insurrections on the part of the Ukrainian people and paved the way for the general revolt of the Ukrainians and the national revolution in 1917. In connection with this latter event the complete independence and sovereignty of the Ukrainian people was proclaimed and the Ukrainian state was restored in the form of the Ukrainian National Republic.
|Symon Petlura (b. 23.5.1879, d. 25.5.1926) — President of Ukraine and Supreme Commander of the Ukrainian forces; murdered by the Russian agent Schwarzbart in Paris.|
Born of a lower middle-class family in 1879, in the old Ukrainian town of Poltava, Symon Petlura at the age of twenty joined the Revolutionary Ukrainian Party and began to play an important part in secret circles. Whilst still a pupil at the priests' seminary in Poltava, that is to say in the 1890's, he had already organized a Ukrainian youth movement to fight for the liberation of Ukraine. For this reason he was persecuted by the school authorities and in the end was forced to leave the seminary.
Even in his youth he realized that the only means by which his fellow-countrymen could attain national freedom were a revolutionary upheaval and the overthrow of the imperial power of tsarist Russia. The fierce insurrections on the part of the Ukrainian peasants, which during the years from 1902 to 1904 assumed the form of a revolution in the province of Poltava and which were directed against the national and social subjection of Ukraine and, in particular, against the exploitation of the Ukrainian people by the Russian tsarist empire, made a deep and lasting impression on the young Petlura. His work in the Revolutionary Ukrainian Party assumed a deeper significance and gave him a sense of moral satisfaction. He became an extremely active organizer; he started new secret circles in the remotest districts of the extensive province of Poltava, and his name was soon well-known in other parts of Ukraine, too. When revolutionary upheavals threatened to undermine the tsarist empire, after Russia lost the war against Japan, and signs of the inevitable downfall of Russia's imperial power became more and more obvious, Petlura moved to Kyiv, which was the centre of all the groups of the Ukrainian liberation movement. Here he began to publish an ideological journal which appeared as the central organ of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party.
The Revolutionary Ukrainian Party founded at the end of the 19th century was a central organization of all national Ukrainian elements, who in an informative publication proclaimed, as their aim the independence of Ukraine. As the Ukrainian liberation movement increased in size, differences of political thought began to make themselves felt. Various separate trends were formed, including the social democratic wing which predominated in the RUP. The old revolutionary organization, the RUP, was disbanded and in its stead three political parties were founded, — the Social Democratic Party, the Social Revolutionary Party, and a moderate bourgeois party, the Ukrainian Radical Democratic Party. Despite this differentiation all three parties were in agreement as regards the vital questions of Ukrainian policy; they only differed in their tactics and in their treatment of the social and political problems of Ukraine, but always remained true to the fundamental aim of the liberation movement, — the national independence of Ukraine and the rebirth of the nation, the revival and regeneration of all spheres of cultural, political and economic life, the development of all national forces in connection with Western culture in general and the progress of mankind, in which respect Ukraine was to represent an important factor in the East. All these aims predominated equally in all three political parties.
Petlura versus Lenin
The first problem with which Symon Petlura had to deal as a leading member of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party was the question of Ukraine's relations with the Social Democratic Party of Russia, which at that time (1904 to 1905) was divided in two camps (the Bolsheviks led by Lenin and the Mensheviks led by Plekhanov). Both these trends were, however, in agreement as regards the Ukrainian problem; they both opposed the liberation aims of the Ukrainian people on the grounds that the working class should be united and centrally organized in order to fight against tsarist power. It was emphasized that recognition of the national principle in the workers' party and movement might lead to the partition and weakening of the same, especially in view of the fact that the important industrial centres of Ukraine in this case would be outside the sphere of influence of the Russian Social Democratic Party. Lenin and Plekhanov even went so far in their objections as to brand a modest formula of self-government as "pernicious particularism." Petlura resolutely opposed this attitude on the part of the Russian Socialists and in this connection used those famous words, "The social freedom of a nation cannot be achieved without national liberation." In countless articles Petlura, on the other hand, exposed the imperial tendencies of the Russian Socialists who wanted to preserve the imperial unity of Russia after the Revolution. He conducted a fierce fight against this trend and soon succeeded in mobilizing public opinion and, in particular, the working class in Ukraine, and in eliminating the influence of the Russian socialist parties in Ukraine. The ideological principles which he formulated
|Mrs. Olha Petlura and her daughter Lesia|
At that time, that is to say during the years from 1904 to 1906, he was already acknowledged as the authorized spokesman of tire Ukrainian liberation movement. He devoted himself above all to the ideological education and training of the younger generation and the broad masses, i.e. the workers and peasants, for he was of the opinion that the Ukrainian liberation movement required a firm social and political basis and that the strengthening of the national consciousness of the workers and peasants was an essential prerequisite for success in the fight for the freedom of Ukraine. When, in 1910, Russian reprisal measures reached their climax under the rule of the "strong man" of the tsarist empire, Stolypin, Petlura, too, was obliged to leave his native country in order to avoid being arrested. He went to Moscow where he managed to get a small post in the cooperative organization. But here, too, he continued his political activity, and founded the "Kobzar" movement in the large Ukrainian community in Moscow. When all Ukrainian publications were prohibited in Kyiv Petlura began to publish a Ukrainian journal in Russian, the "Ukrainskaya Zhizn"; in a series of brilliant articles which appeared in this journal he and various other leading men of Ukraine voiced their country's claim to state independence and national freedom.
War and Revolution
During the war (1914—1918) Symon Petlura likewise continued his political activity, in particular in those sectors of the fighting front in which thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and officers were being used by the tsarist government in hopeless combat against the Central Powers. It was obvious to everyone that the tsarist empire would not survive this war and that it would be fundamentally destroyed by a revolution. Petlura foresaw the imminent upheaval. He instructed his confidential agents in all sectors of the front lines, which had already come to a standstill, to organize a secret movement of all the Ukrainian soldiers so that Ukraine would not be caught unprepared when matters came to a head. The extent of this organizing activity can be realized if one recalls to mind the fact that the tsarist army included as many as three million Ukrainian soldiers who were stationed in the front fighting lines in various sectors of the extended front. By February 1917, that is on the eye of the big revolution, Petlura had centralized all the groups of the Ukrainian liberation movement in the army. Petlura and his supporters were inspired by the vision of a free Ukraine and an independent state, by the idea of the complete development of the nation and its forces in the sphere of national culture, politics and economy, a development which was to be in keeping with the historical traditions of the country. The fateful turning-point in the East was rapidly approaching...
A convinced democrat and opponent of every form of violence whose convictions and attitude to life and the world in general had to some extent been determined by the atmosphere of idealism which still prevailed at the end of the 19th century, Petlura was a man with a certain amount of political experience when the revolution broke out at the end of February, 1917, and the tsarist empire collapsed. Objectively and realistically he assessed the situation which ensued after the downfall of the Russian empire. The new men in power in Russia, Prince Lvov, Milyukov, Kerensky, Chernov, and, later on, Trotsky and Lenin — who represented all the political trends in the new Russia, were determined to suppress the Ukrainian liberation movement by force. The only difference between them was their individual conception of the tactical problems involved and in the reasons they gave for their hostile attitude concerning the Ukrainian question. And in this respect Lenin, for instance, resorted to more adaptable tactics than Milyukov or Kerensky.
In the Struggle for Independent Ukraine
In view of Russia's united opposition to Ukraine, Petlura proclaimed the principle of the national consolidation of the Ukrainians with all its subsequent consequences. He devoted himself whole-heartedly to the task of organizing and setting up the first military units of the new Ukrainian fighting forces. Within two months after the February Revolution he became the chief of the so-called General Committee of the army which fulfilled the important function of a general staff. With his haydamaky he stormed the arsenal of Kyiv which had been seized by Bolshevist troops and crushed the revolt incited in the town by Lenin. Petlura's speedy action on this occasion proved a decisive step inasmuch as it helped to stabilize the development of the Ukrainian State. Thanks to his untiring activity as the leader of the army, the Central Rada of Ukraine was able to proclaim the historic resolution of the sovereignty and independence of the Ukrainian National Republic at the crucial moment, namely on January 22, 1918. The national popularity and power which Petlura enjoyed at that time was amazing; for instance, a rumour that Petlura was approaching with his troops was enough to destroy the morale and discipline of the Bolshevist units. For this reason Lenin was obliged to send out strong detachments of the Soviet Russian Army from Moscow and Leningrad against the Ukrainian National Republic and to make a formal declaration of war, despite the fact that his government had recognized the independence of Ukraine in a previous proclamation. Lenin's original plan to start a Bolshevist revolution in Ukraine proved impracticable, and the Russian army, under the red flag of Communism, accordingly advanced from the north, crossed the Ukrainian frontier, and proceeded to set up soviets in keeping with the Russian pattern in the occupied territories of Ukraine.
In these troubled times Symon Petlura revealed his outstanding ability and skill as a statesman who succeeded in overcoming all difficulties and leading his fellow-countrymen to national freedom and sovereignty with a firm hand. In December 1917, France and Great Britain recognized the state independence of Ukraine de facto. Their example was followed by Italy and Roumania. In January 1918, the Central Powers — Germany and Austria-Hungary as well as Bulgaria and Turkey — recognized the independence of Ukraine de jure. The young Ukrainian National Republic now, for the first time, ventured into the field of international politics. Here, too,
|Petlura's Grave — in the |
Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris
After the manifesto of April 29, 1918, when General Gröner supported the "assumption of power" by General Skoropadsky, Petlura resigned from active politics. His popularity, however, was so great that the Congress of the Municipal and Regional Administration of Ukraine which was held in Kyiv elected him as its president. At the same time, Skoropadsky had him arrested. But under pressure of public opinion he was released again two months later. When Skoropadsky issued a proclamation in November 1918, to the effect that a federation had been formed with Russia, Petlura as the head of the National Alliance of Ukraine marched to Kyiv with his troops. In an appeal addressed to the Ukrainian people he declared Skoropadsky's proclamation null and void and exhorted all Ukrainians to continue the fight for the freedom and national independence of Ukraine. The National Congress of Ukraine, which convened in Kviv in January, 1919, confirmed the full power and authority of Petlura as the supreme head of the army (Holovnyy Otaman) and elected him as a member of the Directory of the Ukrainian National Republic, in which capacity he soon assumed the office of President. At the same time, the Congress proclaimed the union of Western Ukraine and the Ukrainian National Republic. By this union practically all the Ukrainian territories were united into one independent state. The aim which Petlura had set himself in his youth in Poltava was thus achieved — Ukraine was free and independent and all branches of the Ukrainian people were united.
Russian Aggression in Ukraine
But a new danger threatened from the north, from Russia. Soviet Russia once more resumed hostilities against Ukraine. And the polish divisions which had been supplied with arms by France, on condition that they were only to be used against the Soviets, now began to advance on Western Ukraine. The strategic position of the Ukrainian Army was threatened still more owing to the fact that the Russian White Army under General Denikin, began an offensive in the south, the object of which was to restore the tsarist empire. The Major Powers — England and France — failed to assess the situation rightly and supported Denikin, since they regarded him as the future ruler of Russia.
It was an unequal struggle on three fronts, — i.e the north against Lenin, in the west against Poland, and in the south against Denikin. Under these circumstances Petlura decided to suggest an armistice to Marshal Pilsudski. At the end of September, he sent a special delegation to Warsaw which after lengthy negotiations signed an armistice with the Polish army command. Exactly seven months later, in April 1920, an alliance was signed by Poland and Ukraine. On the strength of this alliance, the joint Ukrainian and Polish armies advanced as far as the Dnipro (Dnieper); but they were unable to check the offensive of Marshal Tukhachevsky's troops and were compelled to retreat to Po1and. It was only when Tukhachevsky had almost reached Warsaw that he was eventually repulsed after a fierce combat. The reason for the failure of the Ukrainian and Polish armies lay in the attitude which had been adopted by the polish generals, headed by Sikorski; they opposed Petlura's order that all Ukrainians of military age should be mobilized, and refused to supply the latter with arms. They were afraid lest the army commanded by Petlura, once it had been reinforced by fresh troops from Ukraine, might be superior in strength and numbers, a fact which might then have certain unfavourable results in Western Ukraine. Poland then terminated its alliance with Ukraine by signing a peace treaty with the Soviet government in Riga in 1921. The political clauses of the Warsaw alliance of April 1920 were thus rendered invalid, a fact which proved of importance as regards the future development of relations between Ukraine and Poland. During the years from 1920 to 1921, Petlura endeavoured to round up and centralize all the numerous active units of insurgents in Ukraine. Advancing from Western Ukraine, an expeditionary corps of his troops broke through the Soviet front and for a whole year carried on operations in the central Ukrainian territories under the command of General Omelyanovych-Pavlenko. For several more years the Ukrainian insurrections continued. The Soviet government was eventually forced to concentrate large troop units in Ukraine in order to ensure the forcible incorporation of Ukraine with the Soviet Union. In 1928, when the Red Army was reorganized by Tukhachevsky, 34 infantry divisions of this army were stationed in Ukraine. The Soviet military potential was thus tied down in Ukraine, a fact which made all expansion westwards on the part of the Soviet Union impossible.
Champion of the Struggle for Freedom and Independence
Long after Symon Petlura had gone into exile and was living in Paris, armed resistance broke out again and again in his name in Ukraine. Indeed, even today his name is still regarded by the Ukrainian masses as the symbol of the fight for freedom, is the principle of a just reorganization of the East, and as a sign of the future regeneration of forty million Ukrainians in the free world. When thirty-six years ago, in May 1926, Symon Petlura was murdered by a Soviet agent in Paris, the rulers of the Kremlin were firmly convinced that his death would mean the end of the Ukrainian liberation movement. But they overlooked the fact that a noble idea cannot be killed even though the original advocate and champion of the idea may die. One of these rulers of the Kremlin, Mikoyan, had every reason to talk about the dangers of "Petlurism" at the 20th Party Congress, in February 1956; for even after thirty-six years the name of Symon Petlura is still, as far as the shaky "collective leadership" of the Soviet Union is concerned, an indication of an imminent revolution which will destroy the dictatorial power of the Soviets in Ukraine.