Few historians are talented enough to portray the period of Ukraine’s pre-Soviet independence as a time of joy. From its inception in 1917 until its demise in 1921, the nascent Ukrainian democracy was wracked by war, terror, famine, subversion, invasion and other ills that made the consolidation of a functioning state impossible. Yet it has to be said that, in 1917, the young republic’s new leaders proved remarkably naïve about the nature and intentions of the Bolshevik regime that had seized power in Russia. The Ukrainian socialists afforded Lenin and his followers every benefit of the doubt as being leaders of a genuine, social-democratic government who sincerely sought peace, prosperity and fraternal co-existence. Initially, the new Ukrainian leaders did not even declare independence, seeking only greater autonomy within a loose federation. They disbanded their most capable armed units and dismissed the most talented military leaders, evidently believing they were unnecessary in a true, socialist democracy. They proved sorely deluded.
The war and terror unleashed on Ukraine from all sides quickly destabilized the socialist government until, for roughly seven months in 1918, Ukraine became a monarchy. It was called the Hetmanate, and was headed by the Ukrainian Cossack General Pavlo Skoropadsky – a direct descendant of 18th-century Ukrainian Hetman Ivan Skoropadsky and a general of the former Russian imperial army. He had fought in both World War One and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, and was a highly decorated, able commander. Ukraine’s socialist government had dissolved the army corps under Skoropadsky’s command along with most other military units, but it soon became obvious to almost everyone that a radical change was necessary. A Congress of Agrarians elected Skoropadsky Hetman of Ukraine in April 1918. He dissolved the fractious and inefficient Ukrainian legislature, the Tsentralna Rada (Central Council), and established the Derzhavna Varta (State Guard) as the chief instrument of government.
Some historians dismiss Skoropadsky as no more than a puppet of the German Reich, installed to create an ally for the Kaiser and a breadbasket for the Imperial German Army in its continuing war against the Allies after Soviet Russia’s withdrawal from hostilities in WWI. But Skoropadsky had a vision for Ukraine, and it is fair to say that, had this vision been realized, Ukraine today would be a very different – and probably much better – place. During his very brief reign, Skoropadsky threw the full weight of his state apparatus behind the development of Ukrainian national culture. He established no fewer than two universities, about 150 lyceums (secondary schools organized and administered along the lines of the ‘gymnasiums’ in Germany), and the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences.
Unfortunately, the socialists whom the Hetman had ousted in April 1918 maintained a visceral hatred for him, viewing him as a German lackey and conspiring to overthrow him. Many Ukrainian nationalists resented him for his proposed ‘federation’ with Russia, branding it a sell-out. Yet Skoropadsky not only had no intention of uniting with Soviet Russia, but even suppressed public demonstrations of Russian tsarist sympathy on Ukrainian territory. The nationalists eventually worked in concert with the socialists, who made little effort to conceal that they were receiving financial support from Lenin’s regime in Moscow. They happily declared neutrality toward Soviet Russia and hostility toward the Hetmanate.
In retrospect, the Hetmanate appears as a failed experiment in modern Ukrainian monarchism at a time when socialism was ‘all the rage’ in Europe, and the true nature of the Soviet regime was still largely unknown to the outside world. The Hetmanate of 1918 is a tale of ‘what might have been,’ as Ukraine’s subsequent horrors are now infamous in modern history. Skoropadsky died in exile in Germany in 1945, having refused to cooperate with the Nazis. A Ukrainian monarchist movement survived until the 1980s, based mostly in Canada. Skoropadsky’s daughter and closest living heir – Olena Skoropadska-Ott – died in 2014.
Following is an English version of an article by a Ukrainian author clarifying some key misunderstandings about the Hetmanate of 1918.
Dmytro Kalynchuk ~ Tyzhden.ua
Perhaps no leader in the history of Ukraine has been subjected to as much slander and humiliation as the Hetman of the Ukrainian State, Pavlo Skoropadsky. In what is – probably – a unique case, Hetman Pavlo was hated by almost all of his contemporaries.
For the socialists, he was the tsar’s general and ‘squire.’ For fans of the Russian Empire, he was a traitor and separatist. For the Bolsheviks, he was the general who stopped the Reds’ advance into Kyiv in November 1917 – and a class enemy. And most tragic of all, for Ukrainian patriots, he was a German puppet and White Guard sycophant. However, a detailed study of the period of the Hetmanate leads to very different conclusions.
The Hetman was criticized for having surrounded himself exclusively with supporters of the ‘single-indivisible’ Russia. This is not true. The Hetman’s administration included such well-known Ukrainian patriots as Vyacheslav Lypynsky, Sergey Shelukhyn, Dmytro Doroshenko, Mikhaylo Chubynsky (son of the author of the national anthem, ‘Ukraine Has Not Yet Perished’), the future ideologue of Ukrainian nationalism Dmytro Dontsov, and many others.
Mykola Mykhnovsky was invited to become a personal adviser to the Hetman, but the ideologist of Ukrainian independence would not accept a post lower than minister. Naturally, many former tsarist officials worked in the Ukrainian state apparatus, just as in the days of the Directorate.[i] Generals Galkin, Grekov, Sinkler and Yunakov were former tsarist generals: they did not speak the Ukrainian language, but this did not stop them from holding senior positions in the army of the UNR.[ii]
The Hetman was also criticized for the fact that, under his power, local authorities accepted many people who were openly hostile to Ukrainian identity. This certainly was the case. Distinguishing themselves as particularly odious were Kyiv Province Mayor Chartoryzhsky and Kharkiv Province Mayor Zalessky, who referred to Ukrainians as ‘Mazepites’[iii] and the Ukrainian language an ‘unnecessary innovation.’ Yet it was not the Directorate of the UNR that dismissed these characters from their posts. It was the administration of the Hetmanate – and precisely for ‘Ukrainophobia.’
The same goes for the death squads created by landowners to terrorize the peasants, and facilitated by the German command. These units were eliminated not by the rebels of the Atamans Angel or Green,[iv] but by the security centurions of the Derzhavna Varta (State Guard), by order of the Hetmanate’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Ihor Kistiakovsky.
Nor is it true that the period of the Hetmanate represented the continuous robbery of Ukraine by German troops. ‘Life in Yekaterinoslav was in full swing… After the Soviet famine, there was a sharp drop in prices for food, and there were huge quantities of food products at the markets,’ recalled Professor G. Igrenev.
The Hetmanate’s tenure in power actually represented a period of revival of Ukrainian industry after the devastating Bolshevik invasion. The production of one coal mine alone grew 1.5 times (from 30 to 50 million poods[v] per month) during the time of the Central Rada. Ukraine traded sugar, canned meat, butter, sunflower oil, etc., with Germany and Austria. Accusing the Hetman of all kinds of mortal sins, the Directorate of the UNR actually took full advantage of the Hetmanate’s economic achievements. ‘The impression was created of a dozen hands grasping at the Hetmanate’s treasures,’ recalled a staff officer of the Zaporizhia Army Corps of the UNR, the centurion Avramenko, during the first days of the Directory’s rule.
There is one charge that won’t wash off though, and that is the ‘Charter on the Federation of Ukraine with Russia.’ With this document, Hetman Skoropadsky – it seems – forever renounced the idea of the independence of Ukraine and demonstrated his commitment to the ‘single-indivisible.’[vi] But not everything was so simple.
The Verdict of the Entente
Critics of Pavlo Skoropadsky usually sidestep the fact that the Entente was making demands on the Hetmanate to unify Ukraine with Russia. After Germany lost WWI, the Entente became master of the situation. For the Entente, Ukraine was nothing but a German puppet regime. The countries of the Entente had a number of agreements with the government of Tsarist Russia. Acting on its behalf in the fall of 1918 was the Volunteer Army of General Anton Denikin, for whom ‘there is not, never has been, and never will be’ any Ukraine. The Entente countries did not want to support separatist movements that had arisen on the territory of its ally state – under any circumstances.
It is thus possible to consider Ukrainian diplomacy a success for the fact that the Entente’s representatives generally held talks with the envoys of the Hetmanate (they ignored the Directorate). However, they were prepared to recognize Ukraine only as a part of Russia. In any other circumstance, Ukraine would become for the Western states an ally of Germany, against which they would have waged war in alliance with the Volunteer Army. And Ukraine could not oppose them, as it had not yet managed to create its own army.
The Bolshevik threat also demanded agreement with the Allies. At the 6th Congress of Soviets, Leon Trotsky openly declared his intention to seize Ukraine the moment German troops left its territory. One very pragmatic factor convinced the Bolsheviks to carry out the seizure of Ukrainian lands: Ukraine had the harvest of 1918 in its hands, and Red Russia was dying of hunger. Only the forces of the Entente could give Ukraine time to deploy its own army.
But the Allies did not intend to restore the Russian Empire within its former borders either. That is why they did not demand that the Hetman eliminate Ukraine as a state entity, only that it unify with Russia to one degree or another. In fact, the Allies demanded that Ukraine revert to the state of affairs at the time of Hetman [Bohdan] Khmelnytsky, when Ukraine entered into the body of Russia, with its own government, army and judicial system.[vii] No one was offering Hetman Skoropadsky any other choice.
Federation with the Martians
Another fact that persistently evades critics of the Hetmanate is that the Hetman announced the Charter of Federation with a state that did not exist at the time. The only country going by the name ‘Russia’ in November 1918 was the Bolshevik republic, and Hetman Skoropadsky was – naturally – not going to unite with that. In November 1918, there were the self-declared states of the Ufa Directorate, the Great Army of the Don and the People’s Republic of the Kuban on the territory of the former Russian Empire. None of them were Russia. Hetman Skoropadsky could have proclaimed a union with Mars or Venus with the same degree of success.
The 35,000-strong Volunteer Army of General Denikin did not control a single territory at that time, and was located on the territory of the Don by agreement with the Don government. That is why the ‘Charter of Federation’ contains these words regarding Ukraine: ‘She is the first to appear in the matter of the All-Russian Federation, the ultimate goal of which will be the restoration of Great Russia.’
The man whom the ‘Charter of Federation’ had the power to make insanely angry was Gen. Anton Denikin. ‘Never, of course, will any kind of Russia – reactionary or democratic, republican or authoritarian – fail to repudiate Ukraine.’ Thus he expressed his attitude to the Ukrainian question clearly and succinctly. In the constitution of the Russian Empire, Ukraine had no autonomy. The command of the Volunteer Army saw no reason to somehow change this state of affairs in the future.
At the same time, nowhere in the ‘Charter of Federation’ is there any mention of the Hetman’s renunciation of power, or of the liquidation of Ukraine as a state entity. ‘The Hetman issued a message under the auspices of Russia on federative principles, by which Ukraine retains her sovereignty,’ wrote the ambassador of Ukraine in Berlin, Baron Fedir Shteingel, to former Foreign Minister Dmytro Doroshenko.
Because of the ‘Instrument of Federation,’ the command of the Volunteer Army found itself in a very interesting position. On the one hand, the Volunteers themselves were barefoot, hungry and too weak to resist the Bolsheviks. What awaited them was a long and exhausting war with a force that controlled the entire central part of Russia, followed by the no-less-arduous process of raising the country out of the ruins. They could not imagine how Russia’s political future would look. It had to be decided by the Constituent Assembly, the delegates of which had yet to be elected in a country where large numbers of people were under the rule of the Reds.
However, with the proclamation of the ‘Charter of Federation,’ Gen. Denikin was forced to put up with Ukraine as a reality. Ukraine became legitimate in the eyes of the Entente, and, moreover, the Hetman already controlled territory on which no civil war was going on, where industry worked and a sovereign foreign policy existed. The Volunteers had yet to create all this. Even with Don and Kuban, they had still to explain themselves somehow. In these circumstances, the likelihood that Ukraine would really become an enslaved part of Russia was almost zero.
The Hetman’s Multivector
The situation inside the country negated the foreign policy successes of the Hetmanate. The diary of Dmytro Dontsov describes repeated criticisms of the Hetman for the fact that he was forced to build Ukraine ‘in spite of the Ukrainians.’ Almost from the first day of his power, the Hetman had to overcome the resistance of Ukrainian society. The socialists of the Central Rada hated the Hetman and flatly refused to cooperate with him.
‘Svetozar Drahomanov (a bureaucrat in one of the ministries of the Central Rada) came to my chief, Vice-Minister of Internal Affairs Vyshnevsky, to announce his resignation, not wanting to remain in the “anti-Ukrainian government of the Hetman.” At this stage, Vyshnevsky spoke in Ukrainian, and Drahomanov in Russian,’ recalled Dontsov.
Refusing to work in the government, the socialists were actively subverting the state, not disdaining cooperation even with the Bolsheviks. Vynnychenko did not conceal the fact that even Red Moscow had allocated money to the socialists to overthrow the Hetman.
‘Negotiations with Manuilsky were based on the following: to achieve the neutrality of the Bolsheviks in our war against the Hetmanate. We had absolutely no hostile intent toward Soviet Russia,’ admitted Ukrainian National Union Chairman Mikita Shapoval. This was after the Battle of Kruty and the Kyiv massacre… [see Russian Brutality in Independent Ukraine ~ January 1918 – Ed.]
The Derzhavna Varta (State Guard, Police ‘A’) and the Special Department of the Staff of the Hetman (political intelligence) were aware of these activities and prevented them by all means. As a result, the Derzhavna Varta arrested many of the socialist leaders. Without batting an eyelid, the socialists portrayed these facts as repression against politically conscious Ukrainians.
On the one hand, the Hetman was under the pressure of the socialists’ destructive activity; on the other, he needed a lot of experienced managers. He had to choose people from among the many tsarist officials in the country. Plus, a huge number of businessmen, entrepreneurs and military personnel had fled from Bolshevism-plagued Russia. Even though all these people were very skeptical about the very existence of Ukraine, the Hetman nevertheless decided to use their talents as long as cadres of experienced managers and entrepreneurs had not yet emerged from among native Ukrainians. Naturally, for this Pavlo Skoropadsky had to make concessions on the cultural question – to de facto recognize the equal legal status of the Russian and Ukrainian languages.
The issue of school education, for example, was entrusted to local government bodies – the zemstvos. Hence, where most of the population (and thus – most of the zemstvo deputies) consisted of Russians (and this was all the major cities), the Ukrainianization of education almost did not happen. As a consequence, accusations were directed at the Hetman such as: ‘He brought the “single-indivisibles” to power,’ and ‘They are building Russia in Ukraine.’ These accusations were groundless. It was precisely under Hetman Skoropadsky that two Ukrainian universities appeared (in Kyiv and in Kamianets-Podilsky), about 150 lyceums were established, and the Academy of Sciences was created. Accusations of electoral repression against Ukrainians were also unfounded.
The right-wing pro-Russian organizations were harassed under the Hetmanate at least as much as the Ukrainian socialists were. On July 7th, 1918, the Derzhavna Varta dispersed a monarchist demonstration in Kyiv. Noteworthy is also the decree of the Hetmanate’s Ministry of Internal Affairs: ‘At the request of visitors, orchestras are playing monarchist Russian songs… while this is happening, those in attendance are listening and standing to salute… I decree: 1. Arrest the participants in these demonstrations and send them to Russia, so that they can salute officially there and not display their devotion to their cherished political ideas in restaurants and on promenades.’
Hetman Skoropadsky did try to talk to the Ukrainian socialists. On October 17th, 1918, when it became clear that Germany’s defeat in the war was only a matter of time, the Hetman declared a charter in which he expressed his intention to ‘stand on the soil of an independent Ukrainian state.’ On October 25th, five ministers were accepted into the government – Ukrainian National Union representatives Andriy Vyazlov, Olexander Lototsky, Petro Stebnytsky, Mykola Slavynsky (all from the Party of Socialists-Federalists) and Volodymyr Leontovych (non-partisan).
At the same time, Hetman Skoropadsky made an unprecedented compromise: the hated Ukrainian National Assembly power-ministers Ihor Kistyakovsky (Internal Affairs) and Borys Stelletsky (chief of the Hetman’s staff, which in particular controlled the Special Department) were fired. Both were extremely talented organizers, and removing them from their positions of course affected the quality of information that the Hetman received.
Yet the leaders of the socialists did not want mutual understanding. Already in September 1918 they were preparing an uprising against the Hetman. The latter was implemented as an initiative of the National Union, but in fact, behind it stood exclusively the leaders of the socialists and the command of military units of the Hetman’s army: Sich Riflemen, Black Sea Kosha, Zaporizhia divisions, the Railway Corps and the Podolsky Corps. ‘The National Union is not thinking about an armed struggle at all,’ lamented Mikita Shapoval.
Nevertheless, on behalf of the National Union was proclaimed the intention to gather the National Congress on November 17th in order to determine the future system of government in Ukraine. In fact, Vynnychenko and Shapoval were preparing a cancellation of the Hetmanate by the Congress. How did the Hetman view the prospect of his personal participation in this Congress? ‘Or to be at the head of the Ukrainian movement, trying to seize everything in my hands. Application was drawn up in such a way that I myself was ordering the Congress, by which I changed the membership myself, adding to it with members of not a single left-wing party,’ recounted Pavlo Skoropadsky.
However, on November 13th officers of the Special Department of the Staff of the Hetman arrested his chief of security, Colonel Arkas. Counter-intelligence agents learned from him that the rebels were already prepared to revolt, and that it was going to happen regardless of the decisions of the Congress. The same day, the leaders of the socialists and the rebel generals formed the Directorate and decided to begin the uprising. At that moment, there was still no ‘Instrument of Federation.’
Pavlo Skoropadsky was in a desperate situation. Going with the flow meant giving power to the socialists – i.e., to the people who had already brought Bolshevik occupation to the country. The Hetman was convinced that in the event of the socialists coming to power, the Bolsheviks would quickly gain control of Kyiv – and he was not mistaken. It was as though, to save Ukraine from enemy invasion, he had to go against the will of the Ukrainian people. And to the Hetman this was not the first time for building Ukraine ‘in spite of the Ukrainians.’
The Hetman’s officials decided to go for broke and rely on the ‘Special Corps’ – a military unit made up of pro-Russian officers, who in the future would have to be transferred to the front to Denikin (thus ridding Ukraine of these odious cadres). Unfortunately, in order to rely on the pro-Russian forces, it was necessary to declare the restoration of the ‘single-indivisible.’ It was then, on November 14th, that the ‘Charter of Federation’ appeared, a document that had been pressed on the Hetman by the Allies. ‘In Ukraine, the federation will take one of the first places because from it stems the order and legality of the territory,’ noted the Charter.
The Hetman grossly miscalculated in assessing the balance of power. After the Charter, even the Ukrainian parties that were his allies – agrarian-democrats and socialist-federalists – turned their backs on him. For the whole country, Pavlo Skoropadsky became a traitor. The Hetmanate’s officials still hoped that the rebels and ‘single-indivisibles’ would exhaust each other, and that the Hetman could emerge above the fray (actually, because of this the Hetman did not lead the army to suppress the rebels himself). Yet these hopes were not realized.
At the critical moment, partisans of the single-indivisible – previously very noisy at rallies and in newspaper columns – avoided en masse the mobilization to officer formations. General Keller, appointed commander of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, was such a fierce Ukrainophobe that even the Hetman’s Cossacks and ideological Hetmanate officers started going over to the side of the Directorate.
Hope for support from the Entente turned out to be in vain as well. The German units that were still stationed in Ukraine at the time carried out all the orders of ‘the countries of the agreement.’ The arrival in Kyiv of representatives of France (who were already in Odessa) would have been enough for the Germans to cease all negotiations with the Directorate and force the rebels to sit at the negotiating table with the Hetman. But the representatives of the Entente did not arrive in Kyiv. The Hetman had lost, and was forced to abdicate.
We should not exaggerate the role of the Hetman in all these events. Already within six months, Chief Ataman Petliura had presented the White Army command with the draft bill on Ukraine’s entry into Russia on a federative basis. But the conditions in which Petliura found himself then could not be compared with those of the Hetman. The Entente did not recognize the UNR and refused to speak with the representatives of the Directorate.
Denikin had not the slightest desire to go to any negotiations with the ‘separatist Petliura.’ The Ukrainian army was doomed to war on three fronts and further internment. The Bolsheviks implemented the final plan on the autonomous status of Ukraine as a constituent part of the renewed Empire. Ukraine paid for such autonomy with the Holodomor [the state-imposed famine in Ukraine from 1932-33 – Ed.] and the delights of Stalin’s GULAG.
‘The Charter of the Federation of Ukraine and Russia’ was evaluated differently even by its contemporaries. The head of the Ukrainian Hetmanate’s telegraph agency, Dmytro Dontsov, considered it a betrayal: ‘That the Charter proclaimed a federation with a defunct Russia does not justify it. Questions of state independence are not a matter of tactics, but principles.’
At the same time, the former chairman of the Sich Riflemen, Osyp Nazaruk, who had personally put a reference to the ‘Federative Charter’ in the declaration of the Directorate, as an émigré sincerely repented his participation in the rebellion against the Hetman. He did not consider the ‘Charter of Federation’ to be a betrayal ‘because Skoropadsky accustomed Moscow to Ukraine, not Ukraine in Moscow.’
By Dmytro Kalynchuk, first published in Tyzhden ~ 15 November 2012
Russian Translation: Argument
[i] The Ukrainian social-democratic government led by Volodymyr Vynnychenko and Symon Petliura
[ii] Ukrainian People’s Republic – the social-democratic republic that existed before and after the Hetmanate
[iii] Followers of 18th-century Ukrainian Hetman Ivan Mazepa, who betrayed Peter the Great by allying with Sweden against Russia
[iv] The Atamans – or ‘Commanders’ – Yevhen Angel and Danylo Terpylo (widely known as the ‘Green Ataman’), led rebellions against the Bolsheviks and on the territory of the former Russian Empire in 1918-19.
[v] A pood is a unit of weight measurement equal to about 1.38 kg.
[vi] Adherents to the Russian imperialist concept of a ‘single and indivisible’ Russian Empire
[vii] Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky was Hetman of the Zaporizhian Host of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He led an uprising against the Polish Crown in 1648 and created a Ukrainian Cossack state. In 1654, having considered an alliance with the Ottoman Empire, Khmelnytsky entered into a treaty with Moscow to secure the protection of the Russian Tsar for his Orthodox Christian state. There followed a period in Ukrainian history known as ‘The Ruin,’ when Ukraine was torn apart by war, internal political rivalries, and Russian subversion.