Reification of National Consciousness: 1795-1917


19th Century Ukraine: Language, Church, Homeland

From the end of the 18th century, the top Cossack leadership migrated in increasing numbers to St. Petersburg, the capital of the Russian Empire, where Cossacks founded the Academy of Fine Arts. Cossacks from Ukraine were forced to produce credentials about their families to prove noble heritage, and to provide proof of titles conferred by the Polish king or Russian tsar. This resulted in renewed interest in family histories, lineage and lands.

But with the exodus of Cossacks, Ukraine transformed into a rural backwater. The Cossacks’ cultural aspirations overshadowed the movement for autonomy, and Russia ruthlessly suppressed Ukrainian peasant rebellions.

Napoleon never invaded Ukraine, but the mottos of the French Revolution found acceptance in the country. Lord Byron admired Mazepa, and Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz admired the Ukrainian people.

Emperor Nicholas I of Russia

Emperor Nicholas I of Russia

Finis Polonaie (The End of Poland) by Dietrich Monten depicts the defeat of the 1831 Polish uprising

“Finis Polonaie” (The End of Poland) by Dietrich Monten depicts the defeat of the 1831 Polish uprising

In 1831, a Polish uprising shocked St. Petersburg. Tsar Nicholas I realized that the multinational nature of the state posed a potential danger to the Russian Empire. Ethnic identity was a key pillar of Russian statehood, yet less than half the population spoke the official language. The Russian regime’s solution: Russification of the other half. The Poles were repressed, the Greek Catholic Church was banned in Right-Bank Ukraine, and Kyiv became “Little Russia,” a part of Great Russia.

At the same time, due to the reforms of Maria Theresa and Jozef II in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Greek Catholic Church in Austria (formerly part of Poland) received the same rights as all other denominations. The Greek Catholic Church led the Ukrainian cultural renaissance, and the folk songs of Russia penetrated Galicia (or ‘Halych’).

In 1838, Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko was admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, painting and writing poems. He wrote in Ukrainian, piecing together dialects to form a new written vernacular, to the chagrin of his Russian contemporaries. But he also presented a vision of independent Ukraine with momentous consequences. He extolled Bohdan Khmelnytsky as a “rebel genius,” and at the same time accused him of delivering Ukraine to Russia. Some of his writings were considered so heretical that they were banned until 1905. Shevchenko returned to Ukraine after his studies and joined the Kiril and Methodius Brotherhood in Kiev. The Brotherhood’s ideology was to turn Russia into a federation of free Slavic nations similar to the US, and to abolish serfdom.

Statue of Ukrainian national poet and bard Taras Shevchenko, Kyiv

Statue of Ukrainian national poet and bard Taras Shevchenko (Kyiv)

The Kiril and Methodius Brotherhood only lasted 14 months. Following denunciation, its members were arrested and exiled. Shevchenko was sentenced to 10 years’ military service in Central Asia. Nicholas I handwrote an addendum to his sentence forbidding him to write or paint. But Shevchenko did it anyway. He returned to Ukraine after his sentence with the aura of a martyr.

In 1848, Europe was struck by a wave of revolutions. Ukrainian citizens of Lviv established the Rus Head Council, which reestablished the coat of arms of the Halych Russian Princes, and adopted the blue and yellow banner. The Council announced that the Galician Rusans were inseparable from the Ukrainian people and proposed the division of Galicia into 2 parts: Polish and Ukrainian.

1853: The Russian Empire gained control of the Black Sea when it defeated the Ottoman Empire, which had declared war on Russia in an attempt to prevent just such an outcome.

"The Taking of the Malakoff Redoubt by the French General Mac Mahon and his Zouaves" by Horace Vernet depicts French victory in Crimea

“The Taking of the Malakoff Redoubt by the French General Mac Mahon and his Zouaves” by Horace Vernet depicts French victory in Crimea

1854: France and Britain entered the Black Sea to engage the Russians in war. The goal was the Russian naval base at Sevastopol in Crimea. After Sevastopol fell, the French and British gained more and more allies until Russia became isolated, and its situation appeared increasingly hopeless.

In 1855, a Kyiv Cossack revolt started in the Vasylkiv county of Kiev Governorate and spread throughout the Kiev and Chernigov governorates. The revolt was led by peasants but Ukrainian landowners who opposed the Crimean War supported the insurrection in large numbers. At this time, a popular cultural movement colloquially known as Chłopomania was attracting the Young Poland movement and the Right-Bank Ukraine intelligentsia, who had developed a fascination with the peasantry. The movement laid the foundations of the Ukrainian national awakening and creation of the Kyiv Hromada (Kyiv Community).

1856: Russia made peace with the Allies in the Crimean War. The Black Sea was neutralized, and Russia would have no warships there

Emperor Alexander II of Russia (2nd from left) with his children

Emperor Alexander II of Russia (2nd from left) with his children

The Polish uprising of 1863 attended an acute deterioration of spiritual life throughout the Russian Empire. Alexander II prohibited books published in the “Little Russian” vernacular and their import from abroad. Ukrainian culture fell into deep crisis and was only rescued by Lesya Ukrainka and the 1st generation of Ukrainian modernists.

Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War had laid bare its backwardness. Tsar Alexander II abolished serfdom, but gave the free peasants no land.

Belated industrialization followed, and large deposits of coal were discovered in Ukraine. Investment followed. The Welshman John Hughes laid the foundations of the future Donbas, and the city now named Donetsk was called “Yuzovka,” after Hughes.

John Hughes

John Hughes

Large deposits of iron ore were found in Krivoy Rog. The production of sugar increased. Large shipyards were built.

When Austria-Hungary became a parliamentary monarchy, both Poles and Ukrainians had representatives in Vienna’s Reichstag and the Galician parliament. Election laws were too biased toward the Poles. Only a Pole could be appointed the emperor’s governor in Lviv and Minister of Galician Affairs in Vienna. Emperor Franz Joseph only felt at ease among the Polish aristocracy when traveling in Galicia.

Portrait of Ivan Franko by Ivan Trush

Portrait of Ivan Franko by Ivan Trush

In Galicia, a national movement emerged. Ivan Franko, a noteworthy personality in Galicia and an outstanding writer, was one of the founding fathers of the Radical Party, one of the first parties to promote Ukrainian independence. At the same time, a conservative from Kharkiv, Mykola Mihovsky, also came up with the idea of Ukrainian independence.

Mykhailo Hrushevsky

Mykhailo Hrushevsky

1898 marked the centenary of the publication of Kotlyarevsky’s Eneid and the 25th anniversary of Ivan Franko’s literary career. In this year, Mykhailo Hrushevsky published volume 1 of The History of Ukraine Rus, and the word “Rusan” was finally supplanted by the word “Ukrainian.” Such events strengthened Ukrainian national consciousness.

Decline of the Russian Empire

Ukraine entered the 20th century as the producer of 25% of the Russian Empire’s GDP. Four out of the ten largest cities in the Russian Empire were also in Ukraine: Odessa, Kyiv, Kharkov and Dnepropetrovsk. However, Russians came to work in cities in the industrial south and east, and largely populated the cities (e.g. Odessa, Kharkov and Dnepropetrovsk are located there).

Andrey Sheptytsky, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church from 1901 until his death in 1944

Andrey Sheptytsky, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church from 1901 until his death in 1944

Ukrainian peasants preferred to work on the land, and were pushed to parts of the empire where the land remained largely uncultivated (i.e. Central Asia, Siberia and the Far East). The Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church elected a new metropolitan (leader), Andrey Sheptytsky, in 1900, and through the Ukrainian clergy, nationalist ideas were spread to remote areas.

The revolution in Russia in 1905 was an immediate reaction to Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, and encouraged liberalization. Elections to the 1st Duma were announced, and deputies formed parliamentary factions of their own. It looked as if democracy might have a chance to develop until Piotr Stolypin was appointed prime minister. Stolypin’s government banned all Ukrainian-script publications, even scripture.

Russian Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin, assassinated in Kyiv in 1911 (Photo: PD-US)

Pyotr Stolypin, assassinated in Kyiv in 1911

In World War One, Ukrainians were in the ranks of both warring armies (Russian and Austro-Hungarian). A Ukrainian Council, formed in Lviv, had already declared unconditional support for Austria-Hungary and called on all Ukrainians to fight for freedom against autocratic Russia. The Council formed its own military units, and morale was high. But by September 1914, Russian troops had occupied Lviv, and a policy of Russification and deportations was implemented. The Greek Catholic Church was banned, and its metropolitan was exiled to Suzdal, near Moscow.

By the beginning of 1917, the cities of the Russian Empire were starving, workers were striking, and soldiers of the exhausted Russian army were increasingly becoming antiwar. In February, Tsar Nicholas II ordered his troops to fire on demonstrators, and abdicated when the soldiers refused to obey the order and joined the protesters. From this point, Ukrainian self-determination became a real prospect.

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