Over the history of the last half millennium, Ukrainian Polish relations have been strained, to put it mildly. This included at least three invasions of Ukrainian territory by the Poles and accusations of genocide by both sides. However, in 1991, when the Ukrainians proclaimed a free and independent Ukrainian state, the Republic of Poland was the first country to recognize Ukrainian independence. Poland’s early rapprochement with Ukraine, despite the history, was not all that surprising given its immediate past Soviet Russian domination and a keen memory of what happened in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. Independent Ukraine was seen by Poland as a buffer to Russia, a constant source of concern to both.
Volodymyr Serhiychuk is a professor of history at the Kyiv State University and one of the more eminent researchers in Soviet archives. In terms of publishing his findings, he is perhaps the most prolific of the researchers. One of the topics of his expertise is the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-1933, known as the Holodomor. For a long time he simply accepted the number of victims estimated by historians in the West. When the 7 million number was challenged in recent publications both in Ukraine and the West, Prof. Serhiychuk decided to conduct his own research to establish, as well as reasonably possible – given the Soviet’s propensity for distortion, the number of Ukrainian Famine victims. In the course of researching archives and familiarizing himself with the research and findings of others, he has determined that there are serious flaws in some of the recent conclusions, particularly those diminishing the number of victims.
The city of Kharkiv was the initial capital of the Ukrainian SSR. It was the capital during the Famine years of 1932-1933.
With the upcoming elections in the United States, particularly presidential and congressional, Ukrainian American voters should be raising issues of concern with the candidates. The purpose is to both inform the candidates about those issues and to let the Ukrainian American electorate know the candidates’ positions. It seems to me that the following issues should be of importance to the Ukrainian American voter. Personal and sectoral sanctions have had a significant effect on the Russian economy, but have not compelled Russia to withdraw. One of the reasons for this tepid success has been that the economic woes have affected the Russian population but not the oligarchs.
I attended a Lemko Vatra (literally a campfire of people from the Lemkivshchyna region of today’s Poland), an annual celebration of Ukrainian Lemko heritage with song and dance and a few serious moments. One of those was a discussion titled “The Ukrainian-Polish Civil War and the Expulsion of Ukrainians after the Second World War.”
In 1944, the USSR and the newly formed Communist puppet government of the Polish People’s Republic entered into an agreement delimiting their borders and “allowing” for the repatriation of Ukrainians from the Polish side to relocate to the Ukrainian SSR and similarly for Poles on the Ukrainian side to relocate to Poland. This was Joseph Stalin’s idea and the propaganda went that Stalin was intent on the reunification of Ukrainians within the Ukrainian SSR and the Polish side was intent on a similar reunification involving Poles. There were some 700,000 Ukrainians in Poland at that time – most of them from the Lemkivshchyna region, a large part of which had been Ukraine and was now Poland. What was represented as a voluntary relocation quickly became a manifestly police operation.
This month a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives titled “Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016.” The two co-sponsors, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, (R-Ill.) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), made no secret of the fact that the thrust of the bill involves Russian disinformation about Ukraine. To say that action on the part of the U.S. to counter Soviet-Russian propaganda is long overdue is an understatement. Had America acted accordingly almost a century earlier, much unpleasantness and more importantly unfairness could have been avoided. Like the terror encouraged by Lenin and his successors, Soviet-Russian propaganda and disinformation were and continue to be hallmarks of the regimes. The Soviet-Russian record on the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932-1933 is a glaring example.
In the course of World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt – suffering from many ailments, as well as Soviet infiltration of his administration and the Department of State – sought a “modus vivendi” with Joseph Stalin. Having just experienced the results of a similar course by his British brothers acting through Foreign Minister Neville Chamberlain in Munich in 1938 involving a different psychopath, Adolf Hitler, FDR nevertheless failed to recognize the similarity between Hitler and Stalin. The result was a 45-year Cold War (only it wasn’t so cold in Korea, Czechoslovakia, Cuba, Hungary, Vietnam and Afghanistan – those conflicts resulted in significant loss of life). The economic loss resulting from an arms race was trillions of dollars. Such was the result of appeasement.
The recent unveiling of the Holodomor Memorial in Washington was an important event in the history of the Ukrainian nation as a whole, as well as the Ukrainian diaspora. Naturally it renewed much discussion of this tragedy of the Ukrainian people which took place more than 80 years ago. Some of the discussion centered on issues of somewhat disproportionate significance. The Russians once again spread distractions, insisting that this was not a genocide and made attempts to minimize the size of the tragedy. The number of Ukrainian victims of the Famine of 1932-1933 in the USSR is certainly more than 4 million and probably less than 10 million.
As a representative of a newspaper accredited at the United Nations in New York, I wrote to the press representative of the Russian Permanent Mission to the U.N. to request its statement on the recent raid by Russian armed and masked police on the Ukrainian Library of Literature in Moscow. The raid was followed by a search of the private residences of at least two individuals connected with that facility and their detention or arrest. I then communicated with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, requesting a statement as to this matter. Finally, I submitted the same inquiry to the Council of Europe’s Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights. I await a response.
On July 14, a Russian court in the Oryol region sentenced 42-year-old Alexander Byvshev, a Russian provincial town schoolteacher of German and sometime poet, to 300 hours of community service and banned him from teaching for two years. The sentence came on a single charge of writing and publishing on the Internet a poem titled and addressed to Ukrainian patriots that criticized the Russian invasion of Crimea and the Donbas. This was reported by Radio Liberty, the BBC Russian Service and The Moscow Times, among others, albeit quite sparsely in total. Some have criticized the fact that the judge who handed down the sentence and many of the witnesses from the defendant’s own village who testified against him had not even read the poem. Some have cited the poem itself as lacking anything defamatory.
A year after Crimea was annexed by the Russian Federation, a celebratory President Vladimir Putin admitted that Crimea was of interest to him prior to the so-called referendum that had been the ostensible basis for annexation. Mr. Putin boasted that the subject of Crimea’s return to Russia came up when he acted in February 2014 to save the life of Ukraine’s ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was on the run, abandoned and about to be captured by the Ukrainians. It was then, according to Mr. Putin, that he gave the order to reunite Crimea with the motherland and personally acted as commander-in-chief. The concept of reunification itself is as specious as Russia’s connection with Crimea is historically tenuous and replete with crimes. Between annexation and the admission, an even more ominous specter appeared: an accumulation of Russian nuclear weaponry on the peninsula with Mr. Putin threatening its use.