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Vol. 78/No. 17      May 5, 2014

Whoever the oppressor,
Ukrainians continued to struggle
(Books of the Month column)

Samizdat, Voices of the Soviet Opposition, is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for May. It contains clandestine writings circulated in the Soviet Union in opposition to Stalinist repression, from the late 1920s through the 1970s. The excerpt below by Brigitte Gerland describes Ukraine’s history between 1939 and 1953. Gerland joined the Communist Party in East Germany and quickly became disillusioned with Stalinism. She was arrested by Moscow’s secret political police, framed up on being a “British spy,” and spent some eight years in Stalin’s prison camps. Her account was serialized in the Militant in 1955. Copyright © 1974 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

In 1939, at a time when Stalin and Hitler agreed to divide Eastern Europe between them, the Soviet army entered Volhynia, Galicia, Bukovina, and Bessarabia. Beginning thus with the two Polish provinces, Volhynia and Galicia, and the two Rumanian provinces, the Soviet Republic of West Ukraine came into being; and the curtain rose on a new act of the Ukrainian drama, the most tragic and bloody in history.

It would go far beyond the scope of a newspaper article to enter into details about the many wars, uprisings, and desperate conspiracies which comprise West Ukraine’s past. Suffice it to recall here that fifteen million Ukrainians of Poland, Rumania, and Czechoslovakia were always an exploited minority, without any social and economic rights within these capitalist states. Whenever they fought for the most elementary rights, they invariably suffered every sort of persecution.

This is why the poor Ukrainian peasants, who had never submitted without gritting their teeth to their enemies and oppressors, the Polish and Rumanian nobles and landlords (“Pans” and “Domnuls” respectively), greeted the Soviet soldiers as liberators, showering them with garlands of flowers and treating them with food and vodka. But the first flush of enthusiasm was soon dissipated. …

The [Soviet] bureaucracy resorted to ever harsher methods to extend its power over the newly conquered lands. Finally they resorted to deportations to the Siberian taiga on a big scale. Entire villages were uprooted, insofar, that is, as it was possible to round up the inhabitants. In most cases only the grandparents, the sick, and the newly born could be found; every able-bodied individual had already left to join the partisans.

Into this atmosphere, amid the blood-red glare of burning huts, the Germans launched their invasion, after Hitler had torn up the friendship pact with Stalin like a scrap of paper. The Ukrainian peasants left their forest hideouts to greet the new liberators, omitting this time the flowers, not to mention the food and vodka. But once again, full of hope, they expected, no longer the division of big estates, but the dismemberment of the hastily formed collectives that lacked machines, cattle, and above all workers.

But they awaited with an even greater impatience the formation of an independent Ukrainian state, which the Germans had promised in return for economic assistance. To their disappointment this state was never created; on the contrary, the comrades and allies found themselves suddenly branded as “sub-human Orientals,” fit only to eke out a miserable slave existence in the factories of the Master Nation conducting a victorious war. An era opened up of arrests, concentration camps, and forced labor on the territories of the German state.

All those who were able once again took to the forests, taking along some of the youth who had no desire to choose between the Ukrainian SS (storm troopers) and the German labor camps.

The struggle continued; all that changed was the face of the enemy, while the Polish and Rumanian oppressors had now become allies. Nevertheless the collapse of Germany once more rekindled hopes for an independent West Ukrainian state. The peasants were convinced that the Western powers would keep the promises they made over the radio and through their secret emissaries; and that, at long last, the eternal minority would become a nation.

But nothing came of it. The victorious Soviet army made its second entry. …

Year after year this whole people was engaged in desperate combat; even the children participated, serving as scouts and messengers. They were likewise arrested, clapped in prison, and later sent to a camp. Bridges were blown up, warehouses pillaged, munition depots raided by surprise, small groups of soldiers killed in ambush. The enemy took revenge by burning half-abandoned and half-ruined villages, and by deporting the inhabitants—at any rate, those unable to hide. New punitive expeditions were sent without cease, only to get lost in most cases in the merciless countryside before attaining their goal. From time to time a “nest of bandits” is uncovered—those who do not fall in battle are shipped to Siberia for life.

So the insoluble tragedy goes on and on, simply because several million Ukrainians refuse at any price to become collective farm workers and prefer to remain independent peasants. Are they backward, incorrigible petty bourgeois? Perhaps so. But the punitive expeditions, arrests of hostages, burning of villages—are these the just and correct methods for “converting” them? It is hard to answer such a question in the affirmative. The right of nations to self-determination was ever a part of the Bolshevik program. The bureaucratic epigones try to get around this by claiming that West Ukraine is merely an appendage to East Ukraine. But one might with equal justification claim that Holland, or the Flemish sector of Belgium are a part of Germany, or that Normandy and Brittany are part of England.

As late as summer 1953 the Soviet government had still not succeeded in establishing tranquility and order in the Ukraine, not even the peace of the cemetery. Each month new victims of endless waves of arrest and of unending punitive expeditions keep arriving in the camps. Despite this, despite huge losses, not from battles alone but also from cold, hunger and disease, the partisan movement has not been wiped out.
Related articles:
Ukraine opposition spreads to provocations by Moscow:
Miners build protests, organize self-defense
Ukraine nation flourished in í20s after revolution
Leninís fight for Ukrainian sovereignty, voluntary union
destroyed by Stalin murder machine

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