The Ukraine People's Republic
[The Independent, March 2, 1918]
Three years ago there was much speculation as to which nation would be the first to make peace, but none of the prophets named the right one, for it was a nation not then in existence. Twice has German aggression generated republicanism, in 1871 the republic of France, in 1917 the republic or republics of Russia. So tyranny dethrones tyrants and Satan casts out Satan. It seems that malevolent monarchies may do more for the liberation of an oppressed people than benevolent republics have done. The fable is reversed and wind accomplishes what the sun could not.
Whether these new born nations, Finland, Poland, Lithuania, Ukrainia, will perish in infancy of internal disorders or be strangled in their cradles by the Teutonic midwife or survive to grow to maturity we may not predict, but they have at least been brought into being long enough to be christened. "There never was, is not and never can be a Ukrainian language or nationality," so decreed the Russian Government in 1863. Whether this was true as regards the past is a question that may "be left to the historian and philologist to argue over, but no czar can bind the future. There is now a Ukrainian language and nationality, whatever obstacles yet remain before its right of self-determination.
That the defection of Russia is a severe blow to the Allies cannot be denied. It prolongs the war indefinitely and throws an appalling burden upon the United States. It substantiates the imperial regimes that we are endeavoring to overthrow. But were it under happier auspices we might rejoice in the regeneration of the Ukraine. We know: the Ukrainians. A half million of them have sought refuge in the United States. We have listened to their songs in exile. We have sympathized with their sufferings and aspirations. We have contributed to the cause whenever the collection boxes have passed our way. It is a part of the American tradition to aid any people in revolt against king, kaiser, czar or sultan. In the good old days when Friday afternoon school time was given over to public speaking, the patriotism of small peoples was the theme of the favorite selections. Then the walls of the schoolroom rang with shrill voices declaiming Robert Emmet's last speech, Wendell Phillips' Toussaint L'Ouverture, Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death," "Freedom shrieked when Kosciusko fell," "At midnight in his guarded tent the Turk lay dreaming of the hour" and
"Bring forth, the horse!"—the horse was brought!
In truth, he was a noble steed
A Tartar of the Ukraine breed.
So Byron thru "Mazeppa's Ride" gave to many of us our first interest in the Ukraine, and whenever afterward we read that the Czar was trying to crush out Mazeppism, as southern secession was called, we pictured the distrest people as a naked youth bound by bloody bands up on. a wild horse bounding over the steppes. In later years when the American public became enamoured of Sienkiewicz's "With Fire and Sword," our sympathies were divided, for the heroes of this immortal trilogy of romances are the Poles who are fighting to resubjugate the Ukraine. In 1648 the Ukrainians under the leadership of Hmelnitski, the hetman of the Cossacks, declared their independence, but after six years of struggling to establish it Hmelnitski called together the people at Kiev and said: "We have lived for six years without a sovereign in bitter tribulation and now we must choose one. We have the choice of four, the Sultan of Turkey, the Khan of Crimea, the King of Poland and the Czar of All the Russias. The first and the second are Mohammedans. The King of Poland has treated us worse than dogs or Jews. The Czar is of our own Orthodox faith and promises us fair, terms." When the question was so put to them all the people of the Ukraine hailed the Czar as their ruler.
This treaty of 1654 is the Magna Carta of the Ukraine. Both parties appeal to it and each interprets it in his own way. The Muscovites or Great Russians claim that thereby the Ukraine became an integral and inseparable part of the empire. The Ukrainians or Little Russians claim that it assures autonomy.
Great Russia having the power enforced its- own interpretation and for the last two hundred and fifty years has endeavored to crush out the language—officially nonexistent—and to extinguish the sentiment of nationality. This oppression reached its climax in 1876, when announcement was made that "the Emperor has graciously deigned to decree" that no books or translations in Ukrainian be printed or imported and that no plays, songs or speeches be allowed, in the language.
But, as in the case of Poland, the Ukraine was united by being divided. That part of the Ukrainian territory which remained under Polish rule—readers of Sienkiewicz will remember why—-fell to the lot of Austria when- Poland was divided with Russia and Prussia, Galicia, which Austria acquired in this way, is inhabited in the western half chiefly by Poles and in its eastern half chiefly by Ukrainians, called there Ruthenians.
The dividing line of the Ukraine is drawn rather sharply at the fortress of Przemysl, which in the present war was taken by the Russians after a long siege. But the two races are in all this borderland intermingled with the Poles, forming the noble or landowner class, and the Ukrainians, forming the peasantry, and the Jews, largely in the cities, as a middle or mercantile class.
Maria Teresa and her successors upon the Austrian throne have generally followed the policy of favoring, the Ukrainians as an offset to the Poles. A Ukrainian university was established at Lemberg, the capital of Galicia, and this served as a center for Ukrainian literature and nationalistic propaganda while they were prohibited in Russia. When in the present war the Russian armies invaded Galicia as far as Przemysl the country was declared reannexed to Russia—altho as a matter of fact it had never belonged to Russia but was, up to the time of its acquisition by Austria, under Polish rule. The Ruthenian (Ukrainian) newspapers were supprest, the flag and language prohibited, and the instruction in the University of Lemberg stopped. Professor Hrushevsky, the historian of the Ukraine, was arrested and transported. The Ukrainians in America petitioned our Government to intercede for his release, but no action was taken.
Now, by the whirligig of fate, which is revolving with unprecedented rapidity, Professor Hrushevsky is head of the Ukrainian Rada or National Council, Austrian arms are supporting the Ukrainian republic against the Petrograd Bolsheviki and Austria has concluded a peace which grants to the new republic a generous slice of old Poland, much to the disgust of the Poles. But Austria shows no disposition to cede to Ukrainia the eastern end of her own Galicia, altho its population is more purely Ukrainian. The Bolsheviki are proving more tyrannical than the Czar and it is natural that the Ukraine should still desire as much as ever to be independent of Petrograd. With an area of over 300,000 square miles Ukrainia will be the largest country in Europe except Great Russia—and Great Russia may be Little Russia if the fission process continues. Russia entered the war with the avowed purpose of obtaining a more southerly port at Constantinople, but she seems likely to lose what poor ports she had, Riga by the secession of Lithuania, Vladivostok by the secession of Siberia and Odessa by the secession of the Ukraine.
The new nation will probably start out in life with a population of thirty millions or more, which will rank it next to Italy. But with a fair chance it may become as rich and populous as any European country, for it contains the famous "Black Earth" belt between the forest and the steppes which has served as the granary of western Europe. It also produces seventy per cent of Russia's output of iron. The natural plane of cleavage of any country is between the north and south. Here the break is most apt to occur in ease of strain. The reason is that lines of longitude are imaginary while lines of latitude stand for real differences of climatic conditions.
We see the tendency toward the divergence of north and south in Germany, Italy, Ireland, Spain, China and the United States. All travelers note a difference between the Great Russians or Moscovites of the north and the Little Russians or Ukrainians of the south. The latter are smaller, darker, livelier, quicker tempered, more vivacious, more artistic, less disciplined, less industrious. The Great Russians may be regarded as Slavs with the Teutonic temperament, the Ukrainians as Slavs with the Latin temperament. As for the speech it would not be safe to venture an opinion as to whether Ukrainian is a dialect or a language. Suffice to say that it differs from Great Russian as much as does Catalan from Castilian, English from Scotch or Provencal from French. If not a language it may be made one and if it has not a literature it may get one now the iron hand of the Czar is removed from it.
While the streets of Kiev are running red with the blood of a class war, with foes on the north, east and south and a dangerous friend on the west, it is impossible to say whether the peace of Brest-Litovsk means the dawn of a new era for the Ukraine republic or the loss of her last chance.
But it is unfortunate that in this crisis the People's Republic is receiving recognition and aid from the Central Powers while the Allies, pledged to champion oppressed nationalities, must stand aloof and averse.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald