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February 26, 2022

The Historical Relationship of Russia and Ukraine

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou 

Almost three years ago, in the year 2019, I read an interesting book that referred to the relations between Russia and Ukraine in history and I wrote an article to present it.

This article titled "Russia and Ukraine" was then posted on the website of our Sacred Metropolis, from where other websites took it.

Because this issue is very relevant nowadays, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I bring it up again to show the negative relations between Russia and Ukraine over time to our days.

However, the resistance of the Ukrainian people to the Russian invasion confirms the research carried out by the author of this book, as well as its conclusions.

The fact is that the history of this subject proves that the Ukrainian people from the then Tsarist Empire were still struggling to preserve their national identity and to achieve their independence, but unfortunately their efforts were drowned in blood.

Of course we must pray for an end to the war and for the start of peace negotiations for the stabilization of peace, because the continuation of the war is a tragedy from both an ecclesiastical and a humanitarian point of view.

And those who are not convinced by logical arguments, see the tears and pain in the faces of young children, from which comes a burning question: "Why war?"

And the most amazing thing is that the war is being waged by Orthodox people, whose leaders pray in Orthodox churches and have close cooperation with their ecclesiastical leaders!!

The text that follows is a small support of mine to the suffering and wounded Ukrainian people, and in this way I express my deepest sorrow for what is happening these days in Ukraine.
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Russia and Ukraine

November 2019

I read with interest the book by Anne Applebaum titled "Red Famine", meaning "Red Hunger", and subtitled "Stalin's War On Ukraine" (published by Alexandria, October 2019), in translation to me by Menelaos Asterios, and I came across unknown elements to me, but also to many others, of evidence of the relationship and differences between Russia and Ukraine and all the horrific events that took place in 1931-1933, with the starvation of the Ukrainian people.

The author of the book, Anne Applebaum, lives in Poland and is a professor at the London School of Economics and has written other books, including "The Iron Curtain" and "Gulag", which were awarded.

In this text I will note four specific points from this interesting book.

The first point is what is the national and cultural identity of Ukraine and how its extermination was attempted. The second point is the Ukrainian revolutions that took place to save the national identity of Ukraine. The third point is how the Russians suppressed and destroyed this Ukrainian national movement, and especially the events of 1931-1933 which refer to the genocide of the Ukrainian people by the Russians with starvation. And these will be presented briefly. At the end, some findings will be recorded.

1. The Russification of the National Ukrainian Identity
Already from the introduction of the book there is talk of the special national and cultural identity of Ukraine.

"At the end of the Middle Ages there was a distinct Ukrainian language of Slavic origin, which was related to both Polish and Russian, but also differed from them, just as Italian is related to both the Spanish and French languages, though they differ." The Ukrainians have their own ways and customs, traditions, their own heroes and legends.

Ukraine belonged to the Russian Empire from the 18th to the 20th century, before its territories were annexed to Poland, in fact to the Polish-Lithuanian Union. "Even earlier, the Ukrainian territories were considered the hearth of the kingdom of Russia." It is written that "Ukraine was considered an idealized, alternative nation, more primitive and at the same time more authentic, more emotional, more poetic than Russia." However, at times both the Poles and the Russians sought to "denounce and deny the existence of a Ukrainian nation."

The Tsarist Empire sought to overthrow Ukraine. Tsar Alexander I in the first great educational reform that took place in the Russian Empire, prevented the use of the Ukrainian language in the schools on the grounds that it is not a language, but a dialect. This, of course, will be continued later by the Bolsheviks, which limited "the influence of the national movement and led to illiteracy," but also, of course, to "russification".

"Until the Revolution of 1917, working in public administration, the free professions and doing business required education in the Russian language and not in Ukrainian. In practice, this meant that Ukrainians who were politically, economically and spiritually ambitious had to know the Russian language."

The Russian state prevented any revival of the Ukrainian national movement, and excluded Ukrainian organizations from civil society and state institutions. In fact, Tsar Alexander II in 1876 "issued a decree outlawing Ukrainian books and magazines and banning the use of the Ukrainian language in theaters, even in the musical Libretto," texts of the opera.

The Tsar himself banned the new voluntary organizations with Ukrainian identity, while on the contrary he sponsored pro-Russian newspapers and organizations. This russification of the Ukrainians also extended to industrialization, as the Russians strengthened the construction of factories in the Ukrainian cities, from other parts of the Russian Empire. Thus, "in 1917 only one-fifth of the inhabitants of Kiev spoke Ukrainian."

In all these ways, Tsarist Russia, before communism prevailed in Russia, tried to deconstruct the Ukrainian national tradition and identity, attempting to russify the Ukrainian people. Of course, this did not happen in a climate of Ukrainian apathy, which is why "controversies often broke out between Russian and Ukrainian workers (in factories where the Russian language was sometimes spoken), which sometimes took 'the form of the most savage stabbings' and mass violent conflicts."   
2. The Ukrainian Revolutions for the Formation of a State

When the Russian Empire collapsed in 1917 and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, many Ukrainians considered establishing an independent Ukrainian state. There were various bloody clashes with the Poles and the Russians and finally the politicians who gathered in 1919 in Versailles and demarcated the borders of the new States, namely Poland, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

However, on April 1, 1917, the Ukrainian national movement staged a large demonstration with slogans such as "Free Ukraine in a Free Russia," that is, demanding autonomy. Protesters, children, soldiers, workers, music bands, and officials held blue and yellow flags for Ukraine and red flags for socialism, and at the same time held up separatist slogans, as above. They believed that with the fall of Tsarism the Bolsheviks would help establish the Ukrainian State.

Then the "Central Council" was formed, which claimed to govern a free Ukraine. The Academy of Fine Arts was founded, designing a Ukrainian coat of arms, banknotes and stamps. The Ukrainian Government was formed. Various Ecumenical Declarations were made proclaiming the "autonomy" of Ukraine and finally proclaiming the "independence of the National Republic of Ukraine" and calling on the people for elections to a constituent assembly.

During this period "the Ukrainian language again became synonymous with economic and political liberation" and "the public use of the mother tongue also became a source of pride." Books dedicated to the Ukrainian language were printed.

The new Ukrainian government also had some diplomatic successes, such as the fact that "after the declaration of independence of Ukraine on 26 January 1918," the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Ukraine "ensured the de facto recognition of his State by all the main European powers," among which were France, Great Britain, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, Turkey, and even Soviet Russia. The United States also sent a diplomat to open a consulate in Kiev.

However, the Red Army planned to occupy Ukraine. Thus, "Lenin approved the first Soviet aggression against Ukraine in January 1918 and in February established a short-lived anti-Ukrainian regime in Kiev." The Bolsheviks hated the idea of Ukrainian independence because they saw it as "southwestern Russia," as they had been taught during the Russian Tsarist Empire.

In October 1917, Stalin, the People's Commissar for Nationalities in the first Bolshevik Government, had two immediate priorities for Ukraine. "The first was to name the National Movement, which was clearly the most important opponent of the Bolsheviks in Ukraine. The second was to acquire control of Ukraine's grain."

The plan was to destabilize the Ukrainian government, which was the case with the coup, and when that failed, an "alternative" Central Executive Committee of Ukraine and a "Soviet" city-government were formed. From this city the Red Army crossed to the South and together with its occupation executed the suspected nationalists. Thus, the men of General Mikhail Muravyov "shot anyone who heard them speak Ukrainian in public and destroyed the signs of Ukrainian power, just like the Ukrainian signs on the streets, which had replaced the Russian ones just a few weeks earlier." There was another uprising of the Ukrainians in 1919 and massacres followed.

Therefore, the Ukrainians all these years wanted to maintain their Ukrainian national identity, while first the Tsarist Empire and later the Bolsheviks tried to eradicate the national identity of the Ukrainians.

When the Bolsheviks arrived in Kiev for the second time, they followed the tactics of the Tsars. "They banned Ukrainian newspapers, stopped the use of the Ukrainian language in schools and closed Ukrainian theaters." They proceeded to arrest Ukrainian intellectuals, who were accused of being in favor of the "secession" of Ukraine.
3. The Events of the Years 1931-1933
The bulk of the book revolves around the description of the events that took place in the period of 1931-1933. The collectivization and concentration of grains brought great hunger to the people. It is not easy to record what is described in this shocking book.

Specifically, the book "Red Famine" refers to Stalin's policy, which "inaugurated the collectivization of agriculture", which is considered a "second Russian revolution", which forced "millions of peasants to become farmers."

Between 1931 and 1933, five million people died of starvation in the Soviet Union, of which more than three million were Ukrainians. This explains the title of the book "Red Famine".

Many chapters describe all the shocking events that resulted from Stalin's actions, which the author found in archives and presents in detail. As noted in the Preface, "the central theme of the book is more specific: What really happened in Ukraine from 1917 to 1934? Especially what happened in the autumn, winter and spring of 1932-1933? What chain of events and what mentality led to the famine? Who was in charge? How does this terrible event fit into the wider history of Ukraine and the Ukrainian national movement?"

The chapter "Starvation: Spring and Summer, 1933" records in a shocking way the effects of famine on the Ukrainian people, where they observed diseases, deaths, crimes, disturbances in the psyche of people in general, the bodies found on the roads, cannibalism.

One must have great mental strength to read this chapter. It's horrible what happened and they are described realistically.

The Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term "genocide", considered Ukraine in this period as a classic example of "genocide". They tried to wipe out an entire people.

The chapters of the book that deal with the subject of famine are as follows:

Famine and Truce, the 1920s
The Double Crisis, 1927–9
Collectivization: Revolution in the Countryside, 1930
Rebellion, 1930
Collectivization Fails, 1931–2
Famine Decisions, 1932: Requisitions, Blacklists and Borders
Famine Decisions, 1932: The End of Ukrainization
Famine Decisions, 1932: The Searches and the Searchers
Starvation: Spring and Summer, 1933
The Cover-Up
The Holodomor in History and Memory.

Another chapter titled "Survival: Spring and Summer, 1933" describes the attempt of the Ukrainians to survive.

The Chapter "Aftermath" is also shocking.

It is not possible to record even some shocking incidents from this book.
4. Findings

Of course, the purpose of this short text of mine is not to present the famine of that period in Ukraine, which was provoked by the policy of the Soviet Union, but to show how a people who wanted their national identity and independence was humiliated.

The author writes: "But in 1991 Stalin's worst fears were realized. Ukraine declared its independence. The Soviet Union ceased to exist, in part as a result of the decision of Ukraine to secede. For the first time in history, a sovereign Ukraine was created, together with a new generation of Ukrainian historians, archivists, journalists and publishers" who brought to light the whole history of the famine of 1932-33.

In the Epilogue of the book are recorded some findings of the author. Some of them will be quoted.
"If the study of the famine helps explain contemporary Ukraine, it also offers a guide to some of the attitudes of contemporary Russia, many of which form part of older patterns. From the time of the revolution, the Bolsheviks knew that they were a minority in Ukraine. To subjugate the majority, they used not only extreme violence, but also virulent and angry forms of propaganda. The Holodomor was preceded by a decade of what we would now call polarizing ‘hate speech’, language designating some people as ‘loyal’ Soviet citizens and others as ‘enemy’ kulaks, a privileged class that would have to be destroyed to make way for the people’s revolution. That ideological language justified the behaviour of the men and women who facilitated the famine, the people who confiscated food from starving families, the policemen who arrested and killed their fellow citizens. It also provided them with a sense of moral and political justification. Very few of those who organized the famine felt guilty about having done so: they had been persuaded that the dying peasants were ‘enemies of the people’, dangerous criminals who had to be eliminated in the name of progress."
In another place we read:
"The Russification that followed the famine has also left its mark. Thanks to the USSR’s systematic destruction of Ukrainian culture and memory, many Russians do not treat Ukraine as a separate nation with a separate history. Many Europeans are only dimly aware that Ukraine exists at all. Ukrainians themselves have mixed and confused loyalties."
And the book ends with the following finding:
"History offers hope as well as tragedy. In the end, Ukraine was not destroyed. The Ukrainian language did not disappear. The desire for independence did not disappear either – and neither did the desire for democracy, or for a more just society, or for a Ukrainian state that truly represented Ukrainians. When it became possible, Ukrainians expressed these desires. When they were allowed to do so, in 1991, they voted overwhelmingly for independence. Ukraine, as the national anthem proclaims, did not die.
In the end, Stalin failed too. A generation of Ukrainian intellectuals and politicians was murdered in the 1930s, but their legacy lived on. The national aspiration, linked, as in the past, to the aspiration for freedom, was revived in the 1960s; it continued underground in the 1970s and 1980s; it became open again in the 1990s. A new generation of Ukrainian intellectuals and activists reappeared in the 2000s.
The history of the famine is a tragedy with no happy ending. But the history of Ukraine is not a tragedy. Millions of people were murdered, but the nation remains on the map. Memory was suppressed, but Ukrainians today discuss and debate their past. Census records were destroyed, but today the archives are accessible.
The famine and its aftermath left a terrible mark. But although the wounds are still there, millions of Ukrainians are, for the first time since 1933, finally trying to heal them. As a nation, Ukrainians know what happened in the twentieth century, and that knowledge can help shape their future."

Reading this shocking book, one understands very well the ecclesiastical politics of the subject. One understands why the Ukrainians, together with the declaration of their independence from Russia in 1917, at the same time proclaimed the autocephaly of the Church, its release from the Church of Moscow, and this was repeated later in 1923-1925 and 1942, and they requested it from 1991.

Thus, one understands why every proclamation of ecclesiastical autocephaly in Ukraine was followed by reactions from the Church of Moscow. It is also explained why some Ukrainians cut off all dependence on the Church of Moscow and proceeded to self-ordinate. It is also understandable that Moscow's policy led a group of Christians to seek protection from the Pope and the formation of the Unia in Ukraine. One also understands how the various penetrations of the Russians in other Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches can be interpreted, much more to what their subversion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate aims at.

Thus it is explained that on January 27, 2015 by Decree of the Ukrainian Parliament, Russia was considered an "Aggressive State". That is why many Ukrainians consider that those who commemorate the Patriarch of Moscow are considered the "Church of the Aggressive State" or even the "Church of the Conqueror" or the "foreign" ecclesiastical organization (Professor Kyriakos Kyriazopoulos).

Unfortunately, ecclesiastical problems are usually closely linked to political developments, whether they precede or follow, and cannot be interpreted independently of them.

However, reading this book, one sees in Ukraine a people who sought from the Tsarist Empire until 1990 to preserve their national identity and achieve their independence. And these efforts were stifled in blood. This is, therefore, a people who have asked and are asking for their national, political and ecclesiastical independence. May some short-sighted ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical agents understand this.   
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.