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A congress of 'free Cossacks' in October 1917

The Mala Rada produced its scheme for an autonomous Ukraine on the 16th/29th July. It proposed to cover nine of the existing governorates - Kiev, Volhynia, Podillia, Poltava, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Kherson, Katerynoslav (modern Zaporozhia) and the Tauride, which included Crimea (14). The Rada had legislative powers but the legislation would have to be approved by the government in Petrograd. At the same time laws produced by Petrograd would have to be approved by the Rada. Fourteen secretariats were to be created including one for military affairs, but not foreign policy, which remained in the hands of the all-Russian government. There would be elections to a Ukrainian Constituent Assembly independent of the Russian Constituent Assembly.

(14) Pipes gives an account of political developments in Crimea. Although he says there are no figures for people defining themselves as Ukrainian or Russian, it was the main Russian parties that were organised there rather than the Ukrainian ones. The Tatars were developing their own politics largely in opposition to their own traditional religious leadership.

Yekelchyk (Meanings of 1918 and 1919, p.75) emphasises the wilingness of the Rada to accommodate 'national minorities' - 'In one of his brochures aimed at explaining the Ukrainian agenda to the wider public, the Chairman of the Rada, Mykhailo Hrushevs'kyi, promised to provide minorities with all the cultural rights that the tsarist monarchy had denied the Ukrainians. The Ukrainian government created a ministry of nationalities with deputy ministers for the Jewish, Polish and Russian minorities and eventually went on to establish the world's first ministry for Jewish affairs which was headed by a succession of Jewish politicians.' He does, in all honesty, continue: 'tragically, this unprecedented attempt to imagine the new Ukraine as a land of equality and minority rights was overwritten by the reports of violent Jewish pogroms in 1919, a significant share of them committed by warlords affiliated with the same Ukrainian administration.'

The accommodation of minorities seems however to have been as much a condition of agreement with the Provisional Government as a matter of free choice on the part of the Rada. Pipes gives the text of the resolution agreed by the Provisional Government on July 3rd/19th following Kerensky's return from Kiev. It makes clear that a final settlement would have to wait for the establishment of the Constituent Assembly. It agreed 'to appoint, in the capacity of a higher organ, a General Secretariat, the composition of which will be determined by the Government in agreement with a Ukrainian Central Rada augmented on a just basis with democratic organisations representing other nationalities inhabiting the Ukraine' (my emphasis - PB). When the Mala Rada's proposed constitution was forwarded to Petrograd its provisions were greatly watered down. Instead of nine provinces the area covered by the distinctive Ukrainian administration was reduced to five - losing Kherson, the Tauride and Katerynoslav, i.e. the Black Sea coast, as well as Kharkiv. The fourteen secretariats were reduced to nine and they did not include military affairs or food supply. Four of them had to be in the hands of members of the newly created, non-ethnic Ukrainian national minorities. The Rada was to be appointed by and responsible to the central government. The central government was not answerable to the Rada. (15)

(15) The text of the 'Temporary Instruction of the Provisional Government to the General Secretariat of the Ukrainian Central Rada' issued on 4th (17th) August is given in Pipes: Formation, pp.64-5. 

The toughness of the government response has been ascribed to the return of the Cadets. On the 24th July/6th August, Kerensky had formed a second coalition of Cadets and moderate Socialists. The Bolshevik rebellion, such as it was, had been crushed. The July offensive had failed and with it perhaps the need to conciliate the Ukrainians. But in fact it seems to me to be quite consistent with the interpretation of the agreement Petrograd had published on the 6th/19th July.

The Rada was divided as to whether or not to accept Petrograd's conditions. According to Pipes (pp.62-3) the 'Social Democrats' continued to dominate but 'began to split into two factions: one led by Vinnichenko urged a more conciliatory attitude toward the Provisional Government and a policy of moderation; another, dominated by [Mykola] Porsh, demanded a more radical course and closer ties with Russian extreme socialist groups hostile to Petrograd.'

The Socialist Revolutionaries increasingly went into opposition to the Social Democrat dominated Rada. When finally 'at the end of August' (Pipes) or early September (new calendar) a new cabinet was formed by Vynnychenko with the approval of Petrograd, the SRs boycotted it.

At the 'end of July' (Pipes) or early August (new calendar) municipal elections were held which, according to Pipes, showed that popular support for the Ukrainian parties, at least in the urban areas, was weak:

'among them they controlled less than one fifth of the urban electorate. In Kiev itself, the combined USD-USR ticket received 20 per cent of the total vote, as against 37 per cent cast for the ticket of the united Russian socialist parties, 15 per cent for the ticket of "Russian voters", a group hostile to the Ukrainian movement, 9 per cent for the Russian Kadets, and 6 per cent for the Bolsheviks.

'In twenty other towns (including Kharkov, Poltava, Ekaterinoslav and Odessa), the USD and USR parties, running separately from Russian parties, captured 13 per cent of the seats on the city councils, and on combined tickets with Russian socialist parties, an additional 15 per cent.' (p.63)

In fact the Rada and its quarrels with Petrograd were becoming irrelevant as the whole area collapsed into chaos. The failure of the July offensive and the break up of the army left large numbers of armed men roaming freely through the countryside. Many of them were themselves Ukrainian peasants and according to Pipes (p.66): 'the countryside was dominated either by soviets, which had no responsibility to the General Secretariat or by Free Cossack and Haidamak [A term evoking Cossack rebellions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as in Taras Shevchenko's poem Haidamaki - PB] units, which the rural population began to organise spontaneously for local self defence and other, less meritorious purposes, such as looting.'

This was the situation that prevailed when the Bolsheviks seized power in Petrograd. What happened then - the forced requisition of grain, Brest-Litovsk, the German occupation - will be the subject of the next article.

                                                   To Who are the Ukrainians? Part Five