Ukrainian Revolution anniversary


2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, a decisive turning point in world history.  But the revolution was not only in Russia but across the entire Russian Empire, and Ukraine saw the largest and most powerful of the resurgence of all the oppressed nations of the Empire.   With the fall of Tsarism in February 1917 Ukraine witnessed unprecedented popular self-organisation and mobilisation of the masses of peasants, soldiers and workers to achieve social and national liberation.  Events in Ukraine would be decisive in deciding not only the fate of the Russian Revolution but events in Europe as whole.  Before the Revolution in the mind of Moscow there was no Ukraine; only the province of Malorossia — ‘Little Russia’ – the revolution shattered that colonial position – and challenges it to this day.  

To mark the Centenary of the Ukrainian Revolution we will be republishing histories, analysis and documents of the time.  Below we publish for the first time in English a section of the most important histories of the by Pavlo Khrystiuk, the four volume Zamitky i materiialy do istoriï ukraïns’koï revoliutsiï 1917–1920 rr. (Comments and Materials on the History of the Ukrainian Revolution, 1917–20, 4 vols, 1921–2).  

Khrystiuk_PavloKhrystiuk was a Central Committee member of the million strong Ukrainian Party of Socialist Revolutionaries (UPSR) and a deputy in the autonomous parliament the Central Rada, he held positions in the Ukrainian Peoples Republic and later he worked for the Society of Scientific and Technical Workers for the Promotion of Socialist Construction Kharkiv.  A publisher of several studies Khrystiuk was arrested in 1931 and perished in the Stalinist terror in a in a Soviet labor camp.  Reproduced here is section of Part I, The National Cultural Period of the Revolution, Chapter I, The Beginning of the Revolution.




On the eve of the revolution Russia and, as an integral part of it, Ukraine presented a sad and dreadful picture.  This was the legacy of the war and the domination of tens and even hundreds of millions of workers by a handful of the bourgeoisie (landowners, industrialists and financiers) and the bureaucracy they created.

Having become involved in the world war and dreaming of new areas to dominate, the Russian bourgeoisie quickly brought Russia to complete economic ruin.  After two years of war tsarist Russia was already bankrupt.  The main branches of the economy were crippled.  Coal mining, so important for the whole of industry, was in ruins.  Railway transport had deteriorated.   Factories first curtailed production and later ceased operating altogether or were converted to arms production.  The amount of cultivated land diminished considerably.  This resulted in a food crisis for the working masses, who went from being underfed to virtual starvation.

The bourgeoisie was unable to revive the economy. Impoverishment spread not only among the workers, but also among the peasantry and other poorer classes.  At the same time  unprecedented speculation developed in the most varied forms.  Capitalists reaped millions upon millions on war materiel.

It was evident that Russia was headed for defeat at the front and total collapse.  The hapless Tsar Nicholas II, surrounded by various “miracle workers”, magicians and charlatans such as the Siberian peasant Rasputin, contributed to this state of affairs.

Large numbers of the petty-bourgeois professional intelligentsia occupied positions in urban and rural self-governing bodies, in official organs concerned with supplying the army, in the so-called military-industrial committee, and in the Red Cross.  The liberal industrial and financial bourgeoisie came to its senses and, together with the intelligentsia, began to take steps to avoid Russia’s total defeat.  It took over the business of supplying the army and caring for the wounded.  In this way the bourgeoisie managed to postpone the crisis for a year, but lacked the strength to eliminate it.  The senseless policies of the tsarist bureaucracy rendered futile all efforts of these circles to “save” the state.  Finally there were even conflicts between the government and the liberal bourgeoisie.  At the end of 1916 representatives of provincial organizations of unions of towns and zemstvos and military-industrial committees met in Moscow and were forcibly dispersed by the government.  These were the same organizations that had been overcome with patriotic fervor and had spared no effort to save the front.  The government appeared to have no intelligent plan or system.  Cabinets and ministers changed constantly.  Thus, during the war more than thirty ministers, all of whom had declared their readiness to bring the war against the Germans to a “victorious conclusion,” were appointed and dismissed.  These very ministers had ruined any possibility of continuing the war with their worthless policies and had put down all manifestations of independent civilian action intended to support the front.

The impotence, wastefulness, wantonness and treachery of Russia’s ruling circles assembled around the corrupt throne of Nicholas II alienated not only the Russian petty bourgeoisie, but also the great commercial industrialists and the more sensible remnants of the landowning bureaucracy.  Miliukov, a Cadet member of the Imperial Duma and a leader of the Russian liberal bourgeoisie, once stated that “history has not known a government so stupid, dishonourable, timid and irresolute as the pre-revolutionary Russian government.”   Dissatisfaction with the government on the part of the masses of workers and peasants goes without saying.  The same is true of the grey masses of soldiers  who laid down their lives on the battlefields and rotted in the damp trenches, seeing neither a purpose nor an end to the war. Starving workers in the towns launched demonstrations.  In the army desertion spread and could not be stemmed even by mass executions.  Dissatisfaction and anger spread throughout the immense empire.  Society as a whole began to feel the rumblings.  Disturbances in Moscow, Odessa, Petrograd and Nizhnii Novgorod were quelled with armed force.

The blind and inept tsarist regime seemed intent on making the country’s bad situation worse.  First of all it waged a ruthless war on the citizenry, the press, the zemstvos and towns and the military-industrial committees by destroying all freedom of assembly and press.  It attacked relentlessly even that quasi-parliament, the bourgeois Imperial Duma.  Its aim was to disband the Duma and end its attempts to save bourgeois Russia by reforming the system of government and the conduct of the war (mainly by making cabinet ministers responsible to the Duma).  Protopopov, the last tsarist minister of internal affairs, dealt with the general dissatisfaction by ruthlessly suppressing the press.  He relied exclusively on the gendarmerie and police, arming them to the teeth.  He prepared to quell popular dissatisfaction with machine guns, failing to understand that the impoverished workers, peasants and petty bourgeoisie in the towns had already reached the point where not even fear of death could dissuade them from angry protests.

The burden of the autocratic Rasputinesque regime was felt more painfully in Ukraine than in any other part of the former Russian Empire.  Here national oppression was added to the general oppression.  One of the war aims of the tsarist government was to obtain that last patch of “Russian land,” Galicia.  It anticipated with relish the ultimate satisfaction of destroying the last vestiges of Ukrainian national life throughout the territory of Ukraine conquered by Moscow.  Forced by the revolution of 1905-6 to make some concessions to the Ukrainians (legalizing the Ukrainian press, the Prosvita Society, clubs, etc.), the Russian government later set about correcting these “mistakes.”  It subjected the Ukrainian national-cultural movement to every sort of persecution, closing down Prosvita branches, removing Ukrainian books from schools and community libraries, and bringing the remaining Ukrainian press under strict censorship.  Before the war, however, the government had been unsuccessful in completely “correcting” its mistakes.  The Ukrainian national-cultural movement had not ceased its activity.  The war gave the government a free hand in its struggle with the Ukrainian national movement.  It took advantage of the war cynically to destroy  all manifestations of Ukrainian “separatism,” by which was meant the whole of Ukrainian culture, including the language.  The last Prosvita branches were closed, the press was destroyed and the situation recalled the dark days of the 1870s, when even Ukrainian songs were forbidden by the creators of “one indivisible Russia.”

Just how far repression of the Ukrainian national movement went is evident in the destruction of the entire Ukrainian press, including even non-political agricultural and co-operative newspapers.  Their sole reason for suppressing these newspapers was their use of  the Ukrainian language and even Ukrainian phonetic spelling, which differs from that of Great Russian.  In a separate orthography the government perceived a terrible danger for one indivisible Russia, that of “Ukrainian separatism.”  Even those newspapers (such as the daily Rada) which had hastened to demonstrate their patriotism from the moment war was declared and had joined the Moscow bourgeois press in calling on all citizens to come to the defence of their “dear and precious” fatherland were not spared.  When the Russians occupied Galicia, that hated Piedmont of the Ukrainian movement, the government applied the same policy of destroying Ukrainian culture. The unprecedented brutality with which Ukrainian culture was persecuted in Galicia by such tsarist agents as Count Bobrinsky and Bishop Evlogii, noted heroes of the reactionary Black Hundreds, offended even the bourgeois governments of the Entente, which were allied with Russia.  It evoked a sharp public statement from Bishop Nikon (a Great Russian by birth) condemning all russification policies of the Russian government toward the Ukrainian people.  It also evoked several protests in the Duma against the senseless policies of the tsarist government toward Ukraine (by the Social Democrat Chkheidze, the labourite Dziubinsky and the Cadet Miliukov).  Although these protests had no real effect, they did call attention to the repressions and demonstrated that even the most vicious scorpions could not utterly stifle Ukrainian life.

The numerous attempts of the Ukrainian community to renew its press in one form or another were a manifestation of that life.  One after another Ukrainian newspapers were born in Ukraine (only to be suppressed by the authorities after the first or second issue) or in Russia (in Moscow).  Such weeklies and monthlies as Zhoda, Tepla Rosa, Haslo, Osonva, Step, and Promin were examples and victims of these attempts.  It was precisely during the period of repression that the movement for Ukrainian schools developed broadly.  The Poltava and Chernihiv zemstvos, as well as the co-operatives (headed by the Kiev regional credit union), demanded the establishment of Ukrainian schools.  This movement was echoed even in the Great Russian bourgeois press.*

All of this, of course, made only a negative impression on the Rasputinesque regime.  Seeing that “separatism” still had some life in it, the government doubled its repression.  On the very eve of the revolution there took place the famous trial of six Katerynoslav peasants, the organizers and principal activists of the Katerynoslav “Prosvita,” one of the last still in existence at that time.  Professor Hrushevsky was still in internal exile under very strict surveillance, while other Ukrainian political and cultural leaders were forced to sit in Ukraine deprived of any opportunity to work for the Ukrainian cause.

Such was the state of affairs in Ukraine on the eve of the revolution.  While the revolutionary significance of the Ukrainian movement at this time should not be exaggerated, the fact that it had such a significance is, nevertheless, undeniable. The senseless repressions evoked dissatisfaction with the government not only among the nationally conscious workers and intelligentsia, but also among the half-conscious Ukrainian masses.


The anger of the impoverished, ragged and hungry workers began to manifest itself with greater frequency.  The winter cold and hunger of 1916-17 drove the workers into the streets.  Disturbances in Petrograd, Moscow, Odessa and other cities became more frequent after the arrest of the workers’ group of the Petersburg military-industrial committee about a month before the revolution.  The Imperial Duma began to demand openly the establishment of parliamentary government with the slogan, “Either the Duma or the Golitsyn-Protopopov cabinet.”  The speeches of the socialists and labourites showed how profoundly the revolutionary mood had taken hold of the people.  At first, in answer to the oppositionist mood of the Duma, the government  attempted to bring a halt to its work even as the revolution was breaking out.  The government obtained from Tsar Nicholas II an order disbanding the Duma which, sensibly, the Duma ignored.

Tsarist head in Kiev
The Fall of Russian Tsar

At the end of February 1917 (8 March, New Style) a genuine revolutionary insurrection began in the Russian capital of Petrograd.  It began with street demonstrations demanding “bread and peace.”  Later workers and revolutionary military detachments * clashed with government troops, the police and the gendarmerie.   Fierce, bloody battles lasted for five days, finally ending on 12 March with  the victory of the revolutionary troops and people. The revolutionary people seized the building of the Imperial Duma, railway stations, the hated Kresty prison and other institutions.  Finally, the revolution was joined by the all the troops of Petrograd, Kronstadt and the surrounding region. By the evening of 12 March the capital was entirely in the hands of the revolutionary people.  Members of the tsarist government were arrested, the gendarmerie and police dispersed and sometimes torn limb from limb, and the headquarters of the tsarist secret police destroyed and set on fire.

At this time of intense street fighting the bourgeois Imperial Duma ignored the tsar’s order to disband and made impotent efforts to save the difficult situation. Rodzianko (head of the Duma) continued to telegraph the tsar, urging him to agree to the creation of a government which would enjoy the “trust of the country.”  The bourgeois Duma itself realized that it had lost control of events when revolutionary troops seized the building in which it met and asked what the Duma intended to do.  The Duma had no choice but to side with the revolutionary people.  Thus on 12 March the Duma decided to take supreme power in the country and form a new government.  A session of the Duma met and elected an Executive Committee of 12 persons*, which proceeded to appoint a new government headed by Prince Lvov.

The tsar, who had learned of events in Petrograd, wanted to flee to military headquarters, but was detained in Pskov, where the new government demanded that he abdicate the throne on his own behalf and that of his son in favour of his brother Mikhail.** After this, under pressure from revolutionary elements, with his first and last manifesto*** the new tsar Mikhail was also forced to abdicate the throne in favour of the Constituent Assembly.  In his manifesto Tsar Mikhail “asked all Russian citizens to submit to the new government formed on the initiative of the Duma” until, as he said, the Constituent Assembly “declared the will of the people as to the form of government.”  Of course, all  these manifestos and play-acting about preserving the form of transferring so-called legitimate power took place after the fact, primarily for show, and had no connection  with the revolutionary masses that had overthrown the old order, or disorder, by armed force.

Not only the workers and soldiers, but also the bourgeoisie, had set about overthrowing the autocratic-Rasputinesque tsarist order.  It could be said even renowned monarchists such as V. Shulgin (member of the Imperial Duma’s Executive Committee) that they pulled the crown from the head of the last autocrat with their own hands.  Most representatives on the Executive Committee and in the new government created by the Imperial Duma were members of the large bourgeoisie.  Social-democratic elements constituted only a small number (the SD Chkheidze and the SR Kerensky).  The corrupt tsarist throne fell and crumbled  into dust without having made even a political effort to save itself.  Once Petrograd and Moscow were in the hands of the insurgent troops and workers, the destruction of the old regime took place in the other large towns and territories of the former Russian Empire quickly and almost without bloodshed.

Like a great spring flood, the mighty popular upheaval easily inundated and swept away the remnants of the old order. The agents of the old order either quickly stepped aside or, more often, joined the flood, demonstrating their sympathy for the new order.  The worker, military and petty- bourgeois masses and, a little later, the peasantry, on hearing from Petrograd the first news of the revolution, held huge demonstrations (especially in the large towns) with red banners.  This  clearly marked the end of the old order and affirmed the beginning of the new. 

In Ukraine, too, the tsarist order fell bloodlessly.  In Kharkiv, Odessa and Kiev civic committees which clearly stood in defence of the new order were quickly organized, taking the leadership, as it were,  in that spring flood.   The bloodless character of the revolution’s first days evoked great enthusiasm and something like a general affection for the spring of revolution among the broad masses of the people.  There were visionaries who expected the revolution to triumph without bloodletting, by the grandeur of its enthusiasm and spirit alone.  However, the further course of the revolution dashed these visionary expectations pitilessly.   The Russian revolution and the Ukrainian revolution, which began somewhat later, were among the bloodiest the world has yet known. But the “bloodlessness” of the first days had certain bases which were not only psychological.  It can be explained first of all by the very character and essence of the political and social process taking place at that time and, secondly, by the extraordinary significance of capital cities as political power centres in contemporary states.  Once these political power centres are seized by the revolutionary masses, the power of the old regime on the entire periphery is suddenly paralyzed.

Demonstration during the February Revolution in Kharkiv 1917


After the destruction of the tsarist throne two diverse social forces entered the political arena: the commercial-industrial and partly agrarian liberal bourgeoisie and the working classes–workers and peasants, mostly in military uniform.  As one would expect, the partnership of these two forces did not last long.  By the second day of the revolution it was clear that, aside from bringing down a common enemy, the autocratic Rasputinesque regime, the working people and the bourgeoisie had no common tasks.  Once the workers and peasants had destroyed the old police stations, abolished the secret police and dispersed the guards, they wanted not only new signs on the old public institutions, but also new contents in those institutions.  They wanted new contents in new forms of power and, still more, they wanted not just a new  political, but also a new socio-economic foundation for society. But once the commercial-industrial and liberal section of the landed bourgeoisie had effectively come to power after the revolution, under modern forms of the so-called “parliamentary-democratic” order it wanted to retain the old socio-economic essence of the bourgeois state, i.e., the unlimited domination of labour by capital.  The different demands with which the working masses and the bourgeoisie approached the revolution were clearly apparent in the contemporary press.  The workers’ press immediately took up the question of “deepening” the revolution, while the bourgeois press endeavored to show that overthrowing the tsarist regime had completed the task: “the ground has been cleared for the work of the living creative forces of the country” (i.e., the commercial-industrial bourgeoisie). And so for the bourgeoisie, it was simply a matter of getting to work, with the question of socio-economic reform postponed to a  more “appropriate time”–the end of the war and the convocation of a constituent assembly. In real life there quickly ensued misunderstanding and conflict. The first touchstone of the revolutionary spirit of both forces was the war.  The bourgeoisie had no intention of putting an immediate end to the war.  On the contrary, it wanted to use the revolution itself to intensify the imperialist war and dreamt no less fervently than it had under the autocratic regime of annexing Galicia, conquering the Dardanelles and other delicious things.  Quite different, of course, were the desires of those who risked their lives in cruel battles for these fervent dreams of the bourgeoisie.  We have already considered the attitude of the bourgeoisie toward carrying out socio-economic reforms, but even in questions it considered  of lesser importance, such as the form of the new government (constitutional-monarchist or republican), the bourgeoisie was in no hurry to implement “leftist projects” and was unequivocal in its preference for a constitutional monarchy as the most appropriate form.

Thus it is not surprising that on the second day of the revolution there were hints of a struggle, and then an actual struggle, between the two recent partners–the bourgeoisie and the working masses.  It began in the obscure, disguised and more or less mild forms of “literature and resolutions,” if one can put it that way.   Later it took on extraordinarily cruel and bloody forms. This struggle began simultaneously in the government (although in the most disguised and compromised form) between its socialist and bourgeois sections and, more clearly and actively, in the councils of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies.  In accordance with their aims, the two forces  observed two distinct forms of revolutionary organization from the very beginning of the revolution.  The workers, soldiers and poorer peasants eagerly accepted the so-called soviet form of organization, known in Russia since the first Russian revolution of 1905-6 and widely and energetically propagated by the social-democratic Bolsheviks.

The bourgeoisie and the so-called “democrats” used another form for organizing revolutionary society, namely the “committees of united community organizations,” constructed on inter-class principles.  Later they were replaced by the organs of self-government (town dumas and zemstvos), elected on the basis of a five-member electoral formula.

The conflict between the two forces–the bourgeoisie and the working masses–began simultaneously throughout the territories of the former empire, but did not proceed everywhere at the same pace or in the same forms and was complicated by local conditions of both a socio-economic and a national-political nature.  Under the influence of these conditions the conflict developed differently in Ukraine than in Russia.


Having overthrown the tsarist autocracy, all the so-called stateless peoples of the former Russian Empire called for rebuilding Russia on a federal basis, intending in this way to destroy in the new Russia all traces of national slavery and to transform the common fatherland into a union of politically equal peoples enjoying full civil rights.  Georgians, Tatars, Belorussians, Finns, Latvians, Estonians and other peoples wanted to see in the revolution not only the change from a reactionary autocratic to a republican democratic form of government.  They also wanted the complete removal of the old iron muscovite centralism  from the new practice of Russia’s government.  That old system had been built not  on national oppression alone, but also on the economic exploitation of the stateless peoples by the centre.  this was also the attitude of revolutionary Ukrainian society toward  the revolution.  After long centuries of national oppression and exploitation, the stateless peoples did not want even to hear about the old “superiority” of the so-called “Rus’ian” or Muscovite people in whatever form it might be expressed.  Having broken out of the prison of peoples, as the former Russian Empire was appropriately called, the enslaved peoples set about strengthening their national gains with extraordinary tenacity and raised the slogan of national-political revolution.

Unfortunately, the passionate drive for full national freedom on the part of these peoples who had been oppressed for centuries was incomprehensible to the broad masses of the Russian people and their leaders, brought up as they were in the spirit of Russian great-power centralism, or–what amounted to the same thing–Russian “socialist internationalism.”  

The attitude of Russian democrats was dismissive and hostile, while socialist revolutionary circles considered the national movements bourgeois and counter-revolutionary.

Instead of recognizing that it was not only the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois classes which had an interest in  national revolution (especially in their early stages), but also the proletarian and peasant classes of the oppressed nations, just as mutually hostile social classes had had an interest in overthrowing the tsarist order,  Russian revolutionary democracy lumped them all together.  Instead of supporting the national demands of the proletarian and peasant masses, while at the same time moderating the national struggle and tearing them away from their temporary bourgeois allies in that struggle, Russian revolutionary democracy preferred simply to dismiss national problems and to soothe its conscience by referring to the counter-revolutionary nature of the national revolutions.

Nothing good for the revolution came of this.

A faulty understanding of and attitude toward the national revolutions on the part of Russian revolutionary democracy, which could rightfully aspire to revolutionary leadership on an all-Russian scale, greatly harmed the revolutionary cause.  The common Russian revolutionary front was immediately split along national lines, with the result that the revolutionary struggle on the great expanses of the former Russian Empire went simultaneously in two directions: in the direction of a socio-economic struggle of workers against exploiters and in the direction of a national-political struggle of nation against nation, workers and peasants against workers and peasants.

The National-Cultural Period of the Ukrainian Revolution


As one would expect, the first to take the leadership under the new conditions in Ukraine were the better organized sections of Ukrainian society–the petty, democratically inclined bourgeoisie, the declasse intelligentsia with its populist sympathies and, finally, the middle and wealthy peasants, who were also democratically inclined and organized in co-operative societies and unions.  The unorganized Ukrainian workers and poorer peasants had first to examine the circumstances and organize themselves.  Likewise, at the outset the Ukrainian socialist parties  had  to go through a brief period of organizational work before they could take the leadership of the workers and peasants into their hands.  It is not surprising, therefore, that in this  period of the revolution the petty-bourgeois and intelligentsia circles took the lead and the mass movement itself took on a national-cultural character with a faint colouring of political autonomy.

Characteristic of that time is the Kiev proclamation (9 March 1917, Old Style) of the Society of Ukrainian Progressives, an old Ukrainian political organization which had existed secretly before the revolution.  In the proclamation the Ukrainian petty-bourgeois intelligentsia sets forth its ideals and calls on all revolutionary forces in Ukraine to help realize them.*  It also calls on Ukrainian society to set to work on a national-cultural basis, to found Ukrainian schools and cultural and educational societies as well as to propagate the Ukrainian press and Ukrainian books.  In the opinion of the progressives, this cultural and educational work would lead Ukraine to realize the long-standing demand of “Ukrainian society”–broad autonomy for Ukraine in a federative Russian republic.  In the appeal of the progressives there is no hint of the necessity of carrying out any sort of socio-economic reform in the interests of the workers and peasants.  Having set forth their national-cultural “revolutionary” platform in this manner, the progressives called on the whole of Ukrainian society to work jointly for its realization, warning that  “this is not the time for strife and quarrels.”  It is characteristic of the progressives that they did not go so far in their national-cultural demands as to require the Russian government to cover the costs of satisfying the cultural and educational needs of the Ukrainian people from the state treasury.  Instead, they called on society to create the necessary national capital through its own sacrifices.

To be objective, one should say that this appeal of the progressives and their work in this direction were entirely appropriate to the time.  Ukrainian society–democratic, of course–really did sincerely take to national-cultural work at the beginning of the revolution and put forward its national-political ideal, “broad autonomy” for Ukraine. In the first days of the revolution this cultural platform (to be discussed in greater detail below) united not only the various sections of nationally conscious Ukrainian society, but also a certain part of the russified and wholly Russian democratic and bourgeois liberal circles in Ukraine.  There was nothing abnormal or counter-revolutionary in such a union as long as it had exclusively national-cultural aims.  On the contrary, it was entirely natural, understandable and revolutionary to the extent that it was directed toward breaking the chains of national oppression that had long held the masses of Ukrainian peasants and workers in spiritual and class blindness; to the extent that it helped the Ukrainian working people remove  the cataract of national oppression and look around with seeing eyes. There could not and cannot be any doubt that this work laid the foundation, though slowly and cautiously (so as not to offend the government), for the cultural rebirth of the Ukrainian people.  The Ukrainian socialist parties, the Social Democrats and the Socialist Revolutionaries, also understood this and in their time eagerly supported the national-cultural movement, although it was led by non-socialist parties and did not concern itself with socio-economic questions.

picDEDemonstration near Kyiv duma Summer 1917
Demonstration in Kiev – summer 1917

A sense of national freedom and an instinctive consciousness of the great hidden potential of the revolutionary creative forces of the Ukrainian people evoked extraordinary enthusiasm among the widest circles of Ukrainian society.  Uncalculatingly and entirely without personal interest or ambition, thousands of conscious, industrious hands took up national-cultural work with a sort of holy ecstasy.  Wherever there were Ukrainian forces work was begun founding cultural and educational societies, associations, library reading rooms and national committees and councils.  The publication of Ukrainian books, newsletters and newspapers was begun, as were the founding of Ukrainian schools and the  collection of money for a national fund.  Cultural life in Ukraine, especially among the peasant and worker masses, quickly assumed national forms.  In Kiev the co-operative weekly, Komashnia, which during the war had been forced to publish in Russian, immediately switched to Ukrainian.  Shortly after the old regime was overthrown the democratic newspaper, Nova Rada, began to appear, and a little later Robitnycha Hazeta, followed by Narodnia Volia (a socialist peasant newspaper) and Borotba, the weekly organ of the Socialist Revolutionary Party.

Below we shall characterize the active social forces of that period and their endeavors in greater detail in order to give a true account of the origins of the Ukrainian revolution.


The all-Russian revolutionary civic organizations created in Ukraine in the first days of the revolution–the committees of united civic organizations and the councils of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies–immediately and clearly assumed a “all-Russian,” i.e., Muscovite, character and for that reason could not satisfy the revolutionary needs of Ukrainian society.  For them the matter of Ukrainian’s rebirth was alien, uninteresting and secondary.  Knowing all this and knowing that the struggle for the national liberation of the Ukrainian people would fall exclusively on the shoulders of Ukrainian society, without help from anyone, the active forces of the Ukrainian liberation movement made the creation of a Ukrainian national-cultural and political centre the order of the day.  Members of the Society of Ukrainian Progressives, led by the future Socialist Federalists, took the initiative of founding such a centre.  Under their leadership the Ukrainian Central Rada [Council] was created in Kiev at the beginning of March (Old Style).  The Central Rada was modelled on the all-Russian “committees of united civic organizations,” with the sole difference that the Rada was to be not a local or provincial, but an all-Ukrainian centre. From the outset, therefore, the Rada included delegates of local Kiev Ukrainian cultural, educational, civic and political institutions, as well as those of all-Ukrainian institutions which had their headquarters in Kiev (representatives of political parties, co-operatives, the clergy, teachers, students, and soldiers).  At the beginning of its existence the Central Rada had no definite, prearranged plan of action.  Similarly, its composition was not settled.  Later this turned out to be for the good.  The composition of the Rada, its tasks and methods of work evolved, without great internal conflicts, together with the development of the Ukrainian revolution.

At first its work was limited to the sphere of tasks touched upon in the resolutions and proclamations of the Ukrainian progressives which we have already discussed above.  Soon, however, its sphere of tasks widened, assuming  more and more a national-political character.

The Central Rada conducted its work under the leadership of Professor M. Hrushevsky who, even before he returned to Kiev from exile in March, had been elected head of the Central Rada in absentia.  Initially, when the Rada was being formed and taking its first steps, Hrushevsky was assisted by V. Koval and Kh. Kryzhanovsky (representing the cooperatives), D. Antonovych (Ukrainian social democrat) and representatives of Ukrainian student youth (Mrs. Skrypnyk).

 In a comparatively short time threads linked the Central Rada with the various Ukrainian cultural and educational, co-operative, civic, military, professional and political organizations that existed inside and outside of Ukraine, in the Caucasus, Siberia, Muscovy and even in America.

The national committees, soviets, “Prosvita” societies and associations which appeared in various localities of Ukraine sent their delegates to the Central Rada either to take part in its work or for mutual information and support from the Rada’s directives, since they considered the Central Rada their administrative centre.  The popularity of the Central Rada grew extremely rapidly, especially among the peasant and soldier masses.  The popular masses huddled under its wing with extraordinary trust, considering the Rada their protector and leader.


Before the revolution co-operatives, primarily rural, credit, consumer and agricultural, were virtually the sole organized Ukrainian socio-economic force.  The co-operative movement united mostly the wealthy and middle peasantry on an economic basis and at the same time carried on national and cultural work.  In its continual struggle with the Moscow co-operatives for the creation of separate financial-economic co-operative centres in Ukraine, independent of Moscow, it propagated not only the national-cultural idea, but also the economic separation of Ukraine from the Moscow centre.  Because of the weakly developed political life in autocratic Russia, it was the more nationally and politically conscious forces of Ukrainian democracy that took up co-operative work in pre-revolutionary times (especially during times of reaction), forces that wanted to work on a community basis for the toiling masses of Ukraine.  For the most part these were activists with no clearly defined party ideology, but with incontestable populist sympathies.  These forces gave the Ukrainian co-operative movement ideological content and, thanks to this, made it a significant factor not only in the economic, but also in the cultural and political life of Ukrainian society.  It is not surprising, therefore, that the co-operative movement emerged earlier than other organized Ukrainian groups as an active factor in the first period of the revolution.

At the beginning of March (Old Style) the Central Ukrainian Co-operative Committee (the cultural, educational and organizational centre of the Ukrainian cooperative movement) was already operating in Kiev.  In the first days of its existence, in addition to questions of an organizational and cooperative nature, it posed a series of questions about aiding Ukrainian peasants and workers with political information and also took up the issue of “Ukrainianizing” local state and civic organs.  The latter was carried out by the introduction of representatives of local co-operative associations into the newly created “councils of united community organizations” (town and provincial), and into district meetings and civic supply committees.  Members of co-operatives also participated closely in general national-political organizations.  A little later, when the revolution in Ukraine assumed a clearly national-political character, many co-operative activists became involved either entirely or to a significant degree in political work (M. Stasiuk, M. Kovalevsky, D. Koliukh, P. Khrystiuk, B. Martos and others).

The co-operative movement carried on its revolutionary work through co-operative associations (making use of their well-trained and rather numerous teaching personnel), co-operative committees (organizations that were cultural, educational and organizational in nature) and also through congresses.  The latter demonstrate best how closely the co-operative movement stood to the Ukrainian revolutionary movement in its first national-cultural period.  Typical of the “co-operative”  mood of that time was the so-called “First Free Co-operative Congress of the Kiev Province”, which was held on 14 March (old style) in Kiev.  Although it was called a provincial congress, many co-operative activists from the other provinces of Ukraine also took part in it.  A great many people attended the congress and it was turned into an all-Ukrainian holiday*.  Not only representatives of all Ukrainian (Kievan) organizations, but also representatives of the local authorities came to welcome the Congress.  

Land and Freedom 1917 Ukrainian peasants
Land and Freedom – Ukrainian peasant demonstration

The Congress resolved “to support the new government with all forces, to call on all institutions to strengthen the new order.”  Also, “recognizing the need for power to be elected from top to bottom by the people itself,” the Congress expressed the conviction that “only a democratic federative republic in Russia, with national-territorial autonomy for Ukraine and the rights of national minorities safeguarded, would safeguard the rights of the (Ukrainian) people.  All other resolutions of the Co-operative Congress were also clearly national and political.  These included a resolution on the speedy introduction of the Ukrainian language into the schools, courts, all civic and state institutions and the church.  The Congress also appealed to the Provisional Government to free all Galician exiles  and release them from other punishments.  For the time the delegates of this congress were the first, if not the best, informants and agitators for the Ukrainian rebirth among the peasantry.*

Many such congresses were held at that time in Ukraine.  Without exception they declared the necessity of creating a new life in Ukraine in national Ukrainian forms.  They assigned first priority to Ukrainian schools, as well as state and local civic institutions.

The tendency of all revolutionary co-operative work in Ukraine was set in broad outline by the First Co-operative Congress of Unions of Ukraine, which was held 9-10 April (Old Style) in Kiev and included representatives from the territory of Kuban.* Besides strictly co-operative matters, this congress devoted much attention to the cultural and educational activity of the co-operatives, worked out a detailed plan for the organization of this activity and declared the necessity of having classes on the co-operative movement in Ukrainian schools (with the obligatory language of instruction Ukrainian).  It is worth noting that the Ukrainian cooperatives did not wait for the government to implement these desires, but on their own initiative and at their own cost undertook during the revolution to found cooperative schools.  We shall not  go into the numerous resolutions of the congress in greater detail here except for one, which we have not yet mentioned and which is of particular interest at this point–the resolution to publish, at the cost of the co-operatives, a socialist newspaper in Ukrainian for peasants and workers.

In view of the lack of democratic propaganda and information in the villages and the absence of funds for publishing popular newspapers among the appropriate  Ukrainian political parties, the congress unanimously resolved to undertake without delay the publication of a non-party popular socialist newspaper under the title, Narodnia Volia.  The newspaper did, in fact, begin to appear soon after the congress under the editorship of  the SRs M. Kovalensky and P. Khrystiuk.*  The newspaper quickly won the sympathy of the Ukrainian peasantry and, during the entire course of the revolution in Ukraine, was the only large socialist peasant daily.

Always  broadly democratic, the co-operative movement declared itself such early in the revolution by, among other things, casting its votes in the election to the constituent assembly for the list of socialist parties, the SDs and SRs.  With the development of the political and social struggle in Ukraine, the co-operative movement slowly and quite naturally lost its significance as a revolutionary factor, confining itself more and more to strictly co-operative work.  This, of course, does not diminish its significance at the beginning of the revolution, especially in view of the fact that the class-conscious organization of Ukrainian peasantry into the so-called “Peasant Union” in many localities of Ukraine was closely aided by the co-operative movement.

Close to the co-operative movement in the thrust of its work and in its participation in the Ukrainian national-cultural revolutionary movement was the revived self-governing zemstvo.  The first revived zemstvo meetings (revived by introducing representatives of various community organizations, including cooperatives), were very characteristic in terms of their relationship to the Ukrainian rebirth.  From the very beginning of the revolution most of the cities in Ukraine took a position either hostile to or, in several cases, completely negating the Ukrainian rebirth.  The zemstvos, om the other hand, even in their old bourgeois composition, were favorably disposed toward the national-cultural and even, within certain limits, the political rebirth of Ukraine and did much to enlighten the Ukrainian peasantry by means of zemstvo newspapers and journals published in Ukrainian.  The mood that prevailed at the Kiev district and provincial zemstvo meetings, held at the end of March (Old Style), was typical of  the zemstvos at that time.  Demchenko, head of the zemstvo administration, an honest zemstvo activist and a great landowner and proprietor, had never, before the revolution (being a “practical activist”), declared himself a Ukrainian.  However, in his speech to the revived district Kiev zemstvo assembly he greeted the free citizens “on the beginning of a rebirth of free life in Ukraine.”  Further in his revolutionary speech even gave evidence of  belonging to the Ukrainian nation and of his sympathy with the rebirth of Ukraine by saying that “we Ukrainians more than all others have suffered from the old regime; our Ukraine, our people have suffered the most oppressive persecution.  They forbid us even to pray in our native language and have confiscated even the gospel.”  Other zemstvo members, representing the peasantry and the co-operatives, were even more favorably disposed toward the rebirth of Ukraine.  There is proof of this in the extraordinary stipulation which the district assembly proposed regarding elections to the new government, namely that candidates be limited to those supporting autonomy for Ukraine and the restructuring of Russia on a federative basis.  The provincial Kievan zemstvo assembly had the same national Ukrainian character and sent a telegram under the signature of Prince Kurakin, head of the assembly, to M. Hrushevsky as “a fighter for the freedom and happiness of the Ukrainian people.”  The composition of the provincial zemstvo administration was renewed at this meeting with the addition of community activists (Pozharsky, Serbynenko, Pokropovych).  It is also worth noting here that a non-Ukrainian, Sukovkin, who was an old Kievan zemstvo activist, head of the provincial administration and the Provisional government’s Provincial Commissar for the Kiev region, declared himself an active advocate of the Ukrainian rebirth.  Later, in the negotiations between the Ukrainian Central Rada and the Provisional Government, he participated closely on the Rada’s behalf.

The first revolutionary zemstvo assemblies throughout Ukraine had more or less the same character.  Even in the zemstvos with the most russified populations as, for example, in the Kharkiv district zemstvo, the first meetings had to one degree or another a Ukrainian national character.  Thus at the beginning of April (Old Style) a meeting of the revived Kharkiv district zemstvo* unanimously recognized the necessity of introducing  Ukrainian national schools into the district.  Only technical questions of exactly when and how to begin ukrainianization were cause for disagreement.  After a majority of the meetings came out in favor of speedy ukrainianization, the zemstvos were allocated a certain sum of money for the purchase of textbooks for Ukrainian schools and for organizing summer courses for teachers.  It was also decided to ask the Ministry of Education to help the zemstvos defray the cost  of introducing Ukrainian as the language of instruction in the schools.  The fact that the zemstvos,  even their bourgeois elements (in Ukraine, the large landowners), were directly connected with the life of the people, with the peasantry, “ukrainianized” them and convinced them of the need to recognize the existence of a living and vital Ukrainian people on the territory of Ukraine.  Moreover, it convinced them of the need to rebuild national-cultural and political relations in Ukraine to conform to the facts of life and  actual conditions.  Even before the revolution  all  the zemstvos in Ukraine had fallen under the influence of the Ukrainian peasant element, but the revolution forced them into action, including those elements whose sympathy for the Ukrainian rebirth had been only potential.  It would be a mistake to think that all of these Demchenkos, Kurakins and Sukovkins simply disguised themselves in a protective camouflage.  No, as long as the Ukrainian national-cultural and political movement did not touch their economic interests they had not the slightest reason for being hostile toward it.  On the other hand, they did have reasons to be favorably disposed.   They lived and worked in Ukraine, did business with the Ukrainian peasantry and were very familiar with local conditions and national relations.  Therefore, it was easy for them to see the advantage in taking account of the facts and following the national element rather than opposing it by going along with great power Moscow tendencies which, for them,  were more or less abstract.

Besides cultural, educational work and national-political education of the Ukrainian peasantry, the zemstvos also served the Ukrainian revolution at its inception with allocations of money to the Ukrainian Central Rada early in its existence when the Rada was in great need of money* and with their constant, clear and active support for the Central Rada during its struggle with the Provisional Government. …………………………………………………………….

Soldiers in Kiev
Revolutionary Soldiers marching in Kiev


We have already mentioned that, in its initial phase, the Ukrainian revolution was lead by petty bourgeois and intelligentsia groups.  The labouring classes–the poorer peasantry, workers and soldiers–used this time for their own class organization.  The first to begin talks were the soldiers.  The war between Russia and the central powers forced the tsarist regime to draft into military service nearly the entire male population capable of bearing arms.  In the history of the Ukrainian (and Russian) revolution this circumstance played a major role.  Immediately after the overthrow of the tsarist regime Ukrainian soldiers were firmly resolved to organize themselves on a national basis.  In the rear and at the fronts, in Ukraine and in faraway Russia, in Siberia and in the Caucasus–wherever there were military units more or less Ukrainian in composition, Ukrainian military committees, hromady, clubs and societies sprang up.  These were followed by the organization of separate Ukrainian military units.  To completely understand the extremely strong process of national awakening among the soldier masses one must keep in mind the fact that the lower officer ranks of the Russian army were filled with former teachers, mainly from the village elementary schools.  Ukrainian teachers were a nationally conscious and democratic element in the army that fostered the appearance and development of national feeling among the Ukrainian soldier masses.  Kiev, where Ukrainian military organizations were quickly formed, became the centre of the Ukrainian military movement.  After some time the first Ukrainian military units began to be formed there.

Like the rest of the Ukrainian rebirth, the military movement was, to a large degree, spontaneous.  Having united into separate national units, Ukrainian soldiers did not at first set themselves far-reaching goals.  The soldiers were fed up with war and wanted peace, but as long as the war dragged on and Ukrainian peasants and workers were forced to don the grey uniform and bear its burdens, they wanted to do so as Ukrainian soldiers and as Ukrainians.  Having heard about freedom and full of faith in the wonder-working power of the new order, they instinctively endeavored to apprehend the connection between this new creation and the necessity of maintaining the front at that moment.  Since the revolution in Ukraine was a precious cause for the soldiers and intimately theirs, on the front they easily took up the slogan, “Fight for free Ukraine.”  Of course, what  the peasant and worker in military uniform  meant by “their own free Ukraine” may not have been the same as what their intellectual leaders put into the numerous resolutions and decrees of the Ukrainian soldiers.  With the fresh, clear, brisk air of the revolutionary spring the soul  of the people twice oppressed (nationally and socio-economically) began to flourish.  The Ukrainian soldier thought, “If I must be a soldier and shed blood, then I want to be a Ukrainian soldier and shed my own blood for my own native home, for my own free Ukraine.”  As a result, all the demands of Ukrainian soldiers, scattered throughout the vast expanses of the former Russian Empire, simultaneously took the same simple, but real and vital forms.  In one voice the soldiers demanded that all regiments in Ukraine be composed exclusively of Ukrainians (in other words a territorial system of troop formation) and served by a Ukrainian officer corps.  They further demanded the assignment of Ukrainian soldiers beyond the borders of Ukraine to separate Ukrainian military units and their transferal to Ukraine and, finally, the assignment of Ukrainian soldiers at the front to separate units and their transferal to the Ukrainian front*.  There was nothing reactionary, chauvinistic or even harmful to the front in these demands.  The Ukrainian soldiers well understood and had reconciled themselves to the technical and strategic retraining that might be involved in the implementation of these demands.  Initially it would not be so much a matter of their  urgent implementation as of their recognition as correct in principle by the Provisional Government and  Moscow democrats.  In a mild, joyful and brotherly mood, the Ukrainian soldier simply declared, “at last I feel like a free man.”  All that was needed was to recognize his right to be a man and all technical questions could have been resolved easily.

But that is not how it happened. Neither the Provisional Government nor the Moscow democrats understood or wanted to understand any of this.  What they wanted to do was smear the great problem of the rebirth of the Ukrainian people with malicious talk about technical obstacles, about the impossibility of “ukrainianizing” the troops and the harm it would do to the front, and about the danger that chauvinistic tendencies posed for the revolution.  And this very misunderstanding of the nature of the Ukrainian military movement, the unwillingness to understand it at the outset, the a priori hostility to it on the part of the Moscow democrats are best revealed in insignificant trifles.  In no way could these trifles be  connected with such lofty matters as the interests of the revolution, always Russian democracy’s justification of its transgressions against the Ukrainian liberation movement.  These trifles were most varied, from the hostile attitude of Russian soldiers to the very existence of Ukrainian military councils, clubs and societies to the unwillingness of regimental, army and other revolutionary committees to subscribe to Ukrainian newspapers and books for Ukrainian soldiers.

The ill-will and bitter hostility  which met the Ukrainian military movement  was  painfully offensive to the grey mass of soldiers who were completely innocent of the sins imputed to them by the Moscow democracy.   The soldier began to respond more sharply to each insult to his national feeling and dignity. He began to declare his national demands more loudly. Finally he began to prepare to defend his national rights, what he firmly believed were his just national-political demands, by force of arms.  These elemental conflicts, misunderstandings and insults, which the Ukrainian Cossack experienced, forced him to be more active.  It is to him that the Ukrainian movement in the army is largely indebted for its exuberant development.


Borotba 1917
Borotba [Struggle] paper of the Ukrainian Socialist

Just as it did among the soldiers, the Ukrainian national movement also enjoyed a lively development among Ukrainian peasants, taking on forms peculiar to that class.  The peasants responded enthusiastically to appeals of a cultural nature.  They eagerly organized Prosvita societies, supported the national and cultural activities of the co-operative unions and embraced Ukrainian newspapers, books and schools.  At the same time, the peasants realized with their class conscious understanding that national and cultural work was only one of their tasks during the revolution.  Having considered the situation, the hard-working peasantry lost no time in organizing its own forces on the basis of its own class interests.  The old peasant associations*, which had proven themselves since the time of the Russian revolution  of 1905-6, served as the organizational model.   Old “associates” such as M. Stasiuk, M. Osadchy, Ark. Stepanenko, Storubel, Stenka and Odynets early carried on a broad organizational work, significantly strengthening their forces with with new activists, mainly from the Ukrainian Socialist-Revolutionary Party.  The so-called Congress of Activists of the Ukrainian Village was held in Kiev, 6-7 April 1917 (Old Style) on the initiative of these “associates.”  The congress proceeded with the greatest enthusiasm.  Representatives of local peasant associations (which had already renewed their activity locally before this time and sent delegates to the congress*) reported the great popularity of peasant associations among the peasantry and the readiness of the working peasants to organize themselves.  The congress recognized the necessity of organizing Ukrainian peasantry in an all-Ukrainian central association.  Toward this end it was resolved to convoke an all-Ukrainian peasant congress in the near future for which an organizing committee was struck.  On the basis of organizing a peasant association, the congress passed two brief, but significant resolutions: 1. to demand implementation of national-territorial autonomy of Ukraine, and 2. to demand that the land question in Ukraine be resolved by a Ukrainian parliament (soim).  By means of these two resolutions the future development of the revolution in Ukraine could be hinted at only in the most general terms.  Its two equally important aspects, the national-political and the socio-economic revolutions, were connected in the understanding of the peasant masses with the great question of liberating man from all oppression and from all slavery.  The congress considered  the land question one of the most important problems facing the peasantry in the revolution.  In order to facilitate the future resolution of the land question the congress resolved to urge the Russian Provisional Government to pass a law,  effective from the beginning of the revolution, banning the sale of estates and land and forests under long term lease.  This small detail about the brief resolution of the congress concerning land does more than any words to characterize the mood and most urgent needs of Ukrainian peasantry at that time.

This congress was followed by enthusiastic organizational work among Ukrainian peasants under the leadership of the so-called “associates” (most of whom belonged to the Ukrainian Socialist Revolutionary Party).  Throughout Ukraine peasant associations were founded in villages, districts (volosti), counties (poviti) and provinces.  Peasant congresses were convoked which elected councils of peasant deputies and their executive committees. The Russian Socialist-Revolutionary Party had attempted at first to work independently among Ukrainian peasants, but abandoned its efforts when it encountered complete apathy as well as hostility.  In right bank Ukraine this nearly resulted in the complete destruction of that party (here only a few local committees were active, with support among the petty bourgeoisie and intelligentsia and only partly among the working class).  In left bank Ukraine, in the more or less russified provinces, the Russian Socialist-Revolutionaries were compelled to forego a leading role among Ukrainian peasants and work under the leadership of and in contact with Ukrainian Socialist-Revolutionaries.  Thus, from the very beginning of the revolution, the Ukrainian peasant masses consciously ignored the old, “all-Russian” (in fact, Muscovite) party of Socialist-Revolutionaries and, just as consciously, followed the Ukrainian party of Socialist-Revolutionaries.  This is further evidence that Ukrainian peasants firmly connected their own national liberation with socio-economic liberation. 

At the same time that the party of Ukrainian Socialist-Revolutionaries was directing its main attention to the peasantry, the Ukrainian Social-Democratic Party, while also working among the peasants, was having considerable success in organizing the Ukrainian industrial proletariat.


The great national-cultural organizational work, which began early in the revolution in various areas of Ukrainian social life, proceeded quietly and almost unnoticed by outsiders, especially by outsiders who preferred not to notice it.  Non-Ukrainian newspapers of the time briefly chronicled the creation of new Ukrainian cultural and educational organizations.  Sometimes they supported the introduction of the Ukrainian language into elementary schools in Ukraine, but no one took seriously the idea of a Ukrainian renascence or the work of Ukrainian society in this field until Ukrainian society gave clear evidence of its strength by means of mass demonstrations.  However primitive this was in itself, it achieved completely unexpected results, opening the eyes, as it were, of the reigning (Moscow and so-called “all-Russian”) democrats to all the surprises the Ukrainian liberation movement might have in store for it. 

Demonstration of Ukrainian Soldiers in Petrograd 1917
A Ukrainian Soldier Demonstration in Petrograd 1917

The first large Ukrainian demonstration took place in faraway Petrograd, in the heart of the Russian revolution on 12 March (Old Style).  On that day Ukrainians in Petrograd held two great celebrations: the triumph of the revolution and the anniversary of Shevchenko’s death.

Petrograd had already seen many demonstrations and celebrations, but never one so magnificent and large.  Around twenty-five thousand Ukrainians–soldiers*, workers, students and intellectuals–came into the streets of Petrograd in a single body with a single will, passionately intoning “Long live free Ukraine in a free Russia! Long live the revolution!”  Representatives of other peoples who had been enslaved in tsarist Russia, Finns, Estonians, Lithuanians and Poles, turned out to greet the Ukrainians on the occasion of their national holiday.  This gave the demonstration a particularly exalted and solemn aura and led one Petrograd-Moscow newspaper to write that the Ukrainian holiday “was transformed into a celebration of peoples who had cast off the heavy chains of centralism.”  The Moscow and Petrograd press wrote about this demonstration for several days.  After the first brief press reports, it was evident that the demonstration had made an extraordinary impression on the citizens of Moscow.  Brief newspaper accounts were followed by entire articles intended to shed some light on the question of the Ukrainian renascence. The contents of these articles were, however, more in the nature of humanitarian and revolutionary sentiment than a clear and candid view of the matter.  It was evident that those who wrote the articles had not achieved a new and lucid revolutionary attitude toward the Ukrainian problem.  On the one hand the demonstration was evidence that a large Ukrainian national liberation movement was beginning, and on the other hand, from all their previous education, Moscow democrats were deeply imbued with the thought, the fundamental (not theoretical) conviction that, as a separate national organism, even potentially capable of a national-political rebirth, no Ukrainian people existed.  But now Russian democrats had to give serious thought to the Ukrainian problem.  The Ukrainian national problem was one of the most difficult national issues and Russian democrats were under the influence of the prevailing springtide atmosphere of the revolution.  As a result they “lauded” Ukrainian songs and language and decried the old tsarist order for its suppression of Ukrainians, but stopped there, without giving their own views on the concrete demands put forth by the Ukrainian liberation movement.  Russkaia Volia, organ of the liberal bourgeoisie,  in its report on the demonstration noted that “the thousands of workers and soldiers who came to declare their national demands are an answer to the shameful ideologues of the defeated autocracy, who considered Russia strong only on the condition that all national differences were completely destroyed, and nearly succeeded in completely destroying them.”  In its following issue (14 March, Old Style) Russkaia Volia carried an entire article on the Ukrainian question in which it endeavored to inform its readers that Ukrainian national demands (national-cultural autonomy) were “legal and not harmful to the existence and well-being of the Russian state.”  Among other things, the newspaper wrote, “One cannot but say that we are provoking a question here that is very painful for Ukrainians and very `dubious’ for Russian citizens.  Ukrainians have always justifiably complained that even progressive Russian citizens would not recognize the national demands of Ukrainians.  And many, even a great many, Russian citizens have answered these complaints by saying: `which national demands are these?  Perhaps a small group of intellectuals “invents” them and uses them to “confuse” the question to the detriment of Russia and her political and cultural development…’ This has been the mental outlook of Russian citizens on the `Ukrainian’ question until now and this is, perhaps, what it remains.”

The semi-governmental newspaper Rech* (organ of the Cadets) wrote in approximately the same vein in a lead article on the demonstration.  The article began, “only in recent times has the significance of the Ukrainian question begun to impress itself on the consciousness of Russian citizenry.”  It continued:

“There is no national movement in Russia which was treated with such cynicism and disregard by the old regime as the Ukrainian movement.  From 1876 to 1905 printing anything in Ukrainian, sometimes without any exceptions, was prohibited.  The Ukrainian press was prohibited at the beginning of this war.  It was subjected to prohibition earlier than the German language.  Until the revolution Ukrainian schools were not permitted and instruction in the Ukrainian (Little Russian) language was considered a criminal act.  In unofficial acts bureaucratic fools unashamedly ridiculed the Ukrainian language which has its own history and literature and is one of the greatest spiritual creations of the Slavic tribe most closely related to us by blood and descent, inextricably united to us by historic ties.  Crackpots imagined that if they refused to recognize the existence of this language, it really would disappear from the face of the earth.  But they only bred great anger in the hearts of free men and sowed the seeds of discord in the farthest reaches of the Russian state…Free Russian democracy has the great task of repairing the harm done to Russia by these mistakes and misdeeds.  In a free and democratic Russia it is possible to crate new forms of life which will allow the full, broad and free development of the Ukrainian people with the sovereign unity of Russia preserved.”

The progressive newspaper Den in its article also noted that “the national question, which hitherto the Russian press has treated indifferently and considered academic, is now a question of current politics, an urgent matter.  The massive demonstration organized by Ukrainian parties here in Petrograd has done its work.”

Thus did the Moscow press unanimously condemn the cruel and cynical policy of the tsarist regime toward Ukraine.  With unanimity it indicated that the tsarist government had carried out its loathsome, insane and cruel policy with complete “indifference” to the Ukrainian question and the oppression of Russian democracy.  And finally, also unanimously, it expressed the general desire that the Ukrainian question, “dubious for Russian citizenry”, would finally be resolved in a new and free Russia.  But on the question of exactly how and in what form it might be resolved Russian citizenry was silent, having indicated beforehand only one condition for its resolution, namely that “the sovereign unity of Russia not be violated” and that no harm be done “to the existence and welfare of the Russian state.”*  To put it briefly, the lord of the manor declared that, for the sake of the holidays, he could make things somewhat lighter for his hireling, but on the condition that his holiday mood not be spoiled and, God forbid, no harm come to his estate.  In those days Ukrainian democrats were  happy even with this.   “For now it is good that at least they admit (and fairly widely) their past mistakes; having done so, later they will recognize our right to freely organize our own life,” thought the Ukrainian democrat who respected the unity of the all-Russian revolutionary front no less than the Russian democrat.

However, this “idyll” of brotherly relations between Ukrainian and Russian democrats quickly disappeared, and more quickly in Ukraine itself than in the far north.  Here in Ukraine where the lord of the manor himself was master of his neighbor’s property and was face-to-face with the threat that the Ukrainian renascence might pose to his dominance and mastery; where the Ukrainian liberation movement was not limited to statements, declarations and demonstrations, but manifested itself in living, concrete forms, irresistibly bound up with so-called ukrainization of all spheres of cultural, political and economic life in Ukraine–here the reigning democrats (no need to mention the bourgeoisie) very quickly broke the spell of the revolutionary romantic and put the question clearly, on a gut level, without bothering much about the ideological justification of their Moscow-centralist nationalist positions.  In Kiev as well as in Petrograd it was a Ukrainian demonstration that served to provoke a broader and more serious treatment of the Ukrainian question by the reigning democrats. 

Demonstration in Kiev 1917

The Kiev demonstration took place a week after the Petrograd demonstration on 19 March (Old Style).  The Central Rada organized the demonstration in order to review Ukrainian forces in the capital of Ukraine and publicly demonstrate the revolutionary national demands of Ukrainian citizens.  The demonstration was truly massive and grand.  According to newspaper reports the number of participants reached one hundred thousand.  Soldiers, workers from various factories and plants, railway workers and postal-telegraph workers, captured Ukrainian Galicians, teachers, artists, school children, co-operative activists, and, finally, representatives of various Ukrainian political parties–in a word all nationally conscious Ukrainian citizens, without regard to class or political conviction, came out into the streets of Kiev that day, united in a solemn celebration of national liberation. Marching at the head of the demonstration was Professor M. Hrushevsky, recently returned to Kiev from internal exile, an old man with a great silver beard–a living symbol of the unbroken will of the Ukrainian people to have a national renascence.  A public meeting was held in Sofia Square.  Speeches were made by the more eminent Ukrainian civic activists–representatives of various Ukrainian cultural, educational, professional, military, co-operative, and other organizations, including political parties.  M. Hrushevsky spoke on behalf of the Central Rada.  All the speakers and all the participants were united by a feeling of joy at the victory of the Russian revolution and a single desire–to strengthen and reinforce the new order in which there would be no memory of the painful slavery the Ukrainian people had known for two centuries under Muscovite rule.

The meeting unanimously accepted a resolution which, in view of its importance for a correct interpretation of the mood and national desires of the Ukrainian people at that moment of the revolution, we quote here in full.  The resolution of the meeting was as follows:

“We Ukrainians, gathered in Kiev on 19 March at the first Ukrainian celebration of freedom, welcome the restoration of popular power, the destruction of tsarist despotism, and unanimously resolve:

  1. To support the Central Government, helping with all our strength to protect the new freedom against all hostile endeavors, in the firm conviction that it will continue to spare no effort to strengthen freedom and democracy;

  2. To inform it (the Central Government) of our expectation of an immediate convocation of the Constituent Assembly on the basis of universal, equal, direct and secret elections, which (Constituent Assembly) will confirm the autonomous order that we are establishing in Ukraine;

  3. To demand that the Provisional government strongly link the question of Ukrainian autonomy to the interests of the new order and encourage its population to make every sacrifice, followed forthwith by a declaration recognizing the need for a broad autonomy of the Ukrainian lands, and further that it make every effort to give public institutions (in Ukraine) a national character, with the rights of national minorities preserved;

  4. In the matter of implementing these resolutions, the meeting commissions the Ukrainian Central Rada to seek an understanding with the Provisional Government.”

Thus, in the resolution of the meeting, as in the entire Ukrainian revolutionary movement of that time, there was nothing anti-revolutionary, or particularly anti-Russian in the mood or demands of the Ukrainians.  On the contrary, all the national-cultural work and the national-political demands put forth by Ukrainian society  were placed entirely within the context of a single all-Russian revolutionary front and a single restored Russian statehood built on a federative basis.  The resolution of the Kiev meeting is very clear evidence of this.  Ukrainian society declared itself in favour of genuine autonomy in Ukraine.  At that time  the creation of this autonomy was  manifest first of all in a large-scale national-cultural movement (the founding of schools, Prosvita societies, etc.).  It was further manifest in the introduction of the Ukrainian language in some civic and state institutions (zemstvos, committees of united civic organizations, and so forth), as well as in the filling of administrative-state positions in Ukraine, whenever possible, with Ukrainians or persons who knew Ukrainian and local conditions and were not hostile to the Ukrainian national renascence.  Ukrainian society demanded a special declaration from the Provisional Government recognizing the necessity of establishing autonomy in Ukraine and approval of the work by which it had already been realized it in its initial forms.  At the same time, Ukrainian society clearly indicated (points 1 and 2 of the above resolution) that it considered the successful development and victory of the all-Russian revolution the guarantee of the success of its own national liberation movement.  The reigning democrats, however, viewed the development of the Ukrainian liberation movement and this resolution in particular differently.  Noting the rapid growth of several different Ukrainian national-cultural and civic organizations and even expressing an ostensible, if very restrained, joy over it, the democrats became seriously worried.  After the portentous demonstration in Kiev their worry became genuine alarm.  Those points of the resolution passed at the Kiev meeting which spoke of supporting the Provisional Government, the necessity of strengthening freedoms and democracy, and the earliest possible convocation of the all-Russian Constituent Assembly on the basis of a four-member formula did not engage the attention of the reigning democrats at all.  On the other hand, they devoted extraordinary energy to deciphering what would appear to be the simple, straightforward and completely “innocuous” declaration of the meeting concerning the actual creation of autonomy in Ukraine and the demand that the Provisional Government recognize in principle the “need for a broad autonomy of the Ukrainian land.”  To the hot heads it seemed that the key to the “riddle” was afforded by the news that the Ukrainian Central Rada was preparing to convoke the National Ukrainian Congress at the beginning of April (Old Style).  The “lord of the manor” was terrified and decided that the National Congress represented nothing other than the “secession” of Ukraine from Russia which he found so frightful.

Kiev soviet
Paper of the Kiev Soviet (Council) of Workers and Soldier Deputies

In the Kiev Committee of United Civic Organizations, in the Council of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, and at various meetings and conferences of the non-Ukrainian democrats  rumours began the spread that the Ukrainian Central Rada wanted to establish autonomy in Ukraine quickly, without the consent of the Provisional Government and the future Constituent Assembly.  The more radical hot heads* openly affirmed that “the Ukrainians want to secede.”  Russian military units stationed in Kiev grew restive as a result of these rumours.  Some attempted to engage in sabre rattling.  The social atmosphere became nasty and completely inappropriate for the general celebratory mood of the revolutionary spring.  Ultimately that mood forced the reigning democrats to seek ways of clearing the air.  Ostensibly in order to explain the real position of the Central Rada on the establishment of autonomy in Ukraine (in reality there was nothing to explain since the position of the Central Rada was generally known and the rumours of Ukraine’s immediate “secession” from Russia were an obvious provocation, or a fantasy of the terrified “Russian” democrat in Ukraine), on 4 April (Old Style) the Kiev Committee of United Civic Organizations called a joint session of the presidiums of the following organizations: the Central Rada, the Committee of United Civic Organizations, the Council of Workers’ Deputies, the Council of Military Deputies, and the Coalition Students’ Council.  The representatives of the Central Rada* were subjected to a genuine political interrogation at this meeting.  It was a case of “big brother”–the Russian and Russified Jewish democracy, with evident anger and even threats, sharply interrogating “little brother”–the young Ukrainian democracy which, recently liberated from the prison of peoples,  had sincerely and without “falsehood” set about restoring order to its peasant-worker hovel, in ruins as a result of oppressive slavery.  M. Hrushevsky corrected the rumours of an imminent proclamation by the Ukrainian Congress of Ukraine’s secession from Russia.  He indignantly protested the threats made by the reigning democrats to Ukrainian society in general and to the future Congress in particular.  Hrushevsky put an historic question to the reigning democrats at this meeting:  “With whom have we met here?  With friends or with enemies?”  At that time the entire Ukrainian people and Ukrainian democracy–the soldier at the front, the teacher in the school, the worker in the factory, and the peasant in the village–might have repeated the Hrushevsky’s question.  For wherever the Ukrainian people began to straighten its back after the weight of national oppression, it hit some sort of obstacle, someone’s hand, seeming to hold it down, not allowing it once and for all to stand up straight.  When the Ukrainian worker looked closely at this hand, he was greatly astonished to recognize what appeared to be the hand of another worker like himself–that of the Russian and Russified Jewish democracy.  Not believing its eyes, the Ukrainian people asked: “Whose hand is this that presses me to the ground again?  Can it be the hand of another worker like me?”

The exchange of opinions at this conference clarified somewhat the atmosphere of mutual distrust and, most importantly, made open and public the profound divergence of views on the Ukrainian liberation movement which existed between the Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian democrats in Ukraine.  It was yet another occasion for Ukrainian democrats to be persuaded that the realization of their national-political ideals would require a fierce struggle, this time not with a reactionary Russian bourgeoisie, but with a purblind Russian democracy.  The reigning democrats, on the other hand, also began to realize that they were dealing with a serious national movement that could not be stopped with threats of dispersing this or that Ukrainian meeting with “bayonets.”  M. Hrushevsky’s question, “With whom have we met here?  With friends or with enemies?” gave them much material for thought and for recalculating  costs.


The stifling national oppression that reigned in tsarist Russia did not permit Ukrainian national-political and socialist thought to develop freely.  Already by the 1840s Ukrainian political thought had clearly formulated the demand of a democratic system in an autonomous Ukraine, linked with other peoples and regions only by federal ties.  Later, during the time of Drahomanov, Ukrainian political thought attained a level of development that was at times comparable to that of European political thought. Nevertheless, the prohibitions of censorship alienated it from its source–the Ukrainian popular masses who remained in ignorance and misery, cruelly oppressed both nationally and socially.  Under the circumstances, Ukrainian political thought could not adequately develop even its most basic tendencies which were profoundly democratic and connected with the ideas of the people’s sovereignty and a universal federation of peoples.  The Ukrainian people had lived in such difficult circumstances during the preceding two centuries that, until the beginning of the twentieth century, Ukraine had almost no mass political parties in the European sense.  Only when the first Russian revolution of 1905-6 removed the shackles of the tsarist regime for a time was the ground cleared for the organization of Ukrainian political parties.  Parties began to be organized and political thought to crystallize, but this process was stifled again by the fierce post-revolutionary reaction that destroyed not only Ukrainian political organizations, but cultural, educational and economic organizations as well.  Ukrainian political groups did not succeed in properly organizing and strengthening themselves before they were either liquidated or driven deeply underground.  Thus it was quite natural that  Ukrainian political groups had to use the first days of the revolution to organize themselves and work out firm party programmes, which they did.  This was certainly the reason why the first period of the revolution in Ukraine was so clearly national-cultural in character and a sort of preparation for a second, genuinely revolutionary period– that of the national-political struggle.  In the first days of the revolution several organizational and constituent meetings and congresses of Ukrainian political groups took place in Kiev.  We shall describe the more important ones in greater detail here.

The first congress to be held was that of the so-called “Progressives” whom we have already mentioned.  Theirs was an older Ukrainian national-political organization which had existed secretly before the revolution and had engaged in some national-organizational, and sometimes political, work.  Their congress was held in Kiev, 26-7 March (Old Style) and included many Ukrainian political and social activists who, although they had no joint socio-economic platform, were united by a national-political programme*.  The central question of the congress was the autonomy of Ukraine.  The congress resolved to work immediately on establishing autonomy in Ukraine.  In the opinion of the congress, the Russian Constituent Assembly had only to ratify the new autonomous regime in Ukraine and a federative system in Russia.  The congress emphasized that the successful establishment of an autonomous regime in Ukraine depended on the economic, cultural, educational, and political organization of Ukrainian society, and on preparations for Ukrainizing all civic institution in Ukraine.  The congress recognized the necessity of retaining the “Society” as a political organization, but resolved, among other things, to change its name from “Society of Ukrainian Progressives” to “Union of Ukrainian Autonomists-Federalists” and gave separate groups within the Union the right of “self-determination in a party sense.”  The congress ended its work with an appeal to organized Ukrainian society to take an active part in the future All-Ukrainian National Congress.  Although this new organization played a significant role in preparations for the All-Ukrainian National Congress, which was so important in the history of the Ukrainian revolution, the Union of Ukrainian Autonomists-Federalists itself played almost no role in the further development of the revolution.  The congress was convoked and came about with the active participation of political groups united in the Union of Federalists.

In early April (Old Style), on the eve of the National Congress, two more congresses were held in Kiev–the Conference of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Workers’ Party and the Constituent Congress of the Ukrainian Party of Socialists-Revolutionaries. 

Long Live the International – Workers Gazette paper of the Ukrainian Social Democrats

The Conference of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party* took place on 4-5 April under the leadership of the outstanding party worker and famous Ukrainian writer V. Vynnychenko and was devoted primarily to revising the national-political section of the 1905 party programme.  Although, from the first day of its existence, the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party had demanded autonomy for Ukraine, before the Ukrainian revolution it did not completely think through the national problem.  It insisted on the slogan of autonomy for Ukraine, but did not oppose the political and economic centralization of Russia.  Moreover, ideologically the Ukrainian Social Democratic Workers’ Party was heavily dependent on the All-Russian Social Democracy.  In imitation of their Moscow teachers, Ukrainian Social Democrats bowed to the god of economic centralization and, at first, intended to place the satisfaction of Ukrainian national needs within a framework of something approaching national-cultural autonomy.  As a result, they were even opposed in principle to a federative system for Russia.  Real life, however, turned out to be a better teacher than Russian social democracy, especially of the worst, Menshevists sort.  Even before the revolution there were many in the ranks of the Ukrainian Social Democrats who were dissatisfied with the programme’s vague, compromise solution of the Ukrainian national problem.*  Now, however, in the turbulence of the great spring flood of national renascence that inundated all sections of Ukrainian society, the situation was different.  Now that the entire Ukrainian people–the worker in the factory, the peasant in his miserable hovel, and the soldier at the front, not to mention the intelligentsia–evinced an wholly elemental strength and manifest will to self-affirmation as a separate national organism, the Ukrainian Social Democratic Workers’ Party faced the necessity of fundamentally revising its national-political demands.  The Party conference did just that, albeit with a cautious eye on its Russian mentor.  The conference passed the following resolution on the autonomy of Ukraine.

“Whereas, the most complete development of the creative forces of Ukraine possible demands the broadest economic and political self-determination; whereas, a federative system of the Russian state as a union of autonomous national-territorial, or simply territorial, units not only cannot harm the development of the proletariat of all Russia–much less of Ukraine–but is even advantageous for it; and whereas, a federation of autonomous national or territorial units is the best guarantee of the democratic and national-political rights of each nation or region, therefore the Conference of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Workers’ Party puts forward with unswerving determination the long-standing demand of the Party–the autonomy of Ukraine as the first, urgent and burning task of the present moment for the Ukrainian proletariat and all Ukraine.  At the same time, on the basis of the party programme of 1906, and taking into consideration the particular events and requirements of life, the Conference claims the right to allow party comrades to support the principles of a federative structure of a Russian democratic republic and to support the autonomous demands of the democrats of other nations.”

The Conference recognized that the attainment of the best autonomous system for Ukraine depended on immediate, active and all-encompassing work to bring about an all-Ukrainian territorial meeting at which Ukrainian democrats and the democrats of other nations living on the territory of Ukraine might express their will.

At the same time the conference clearly indicated that the creation of an autonomous order in Ukraine should take place within the revolutionary process itself, on the initiative of local revolutionary popular forces.  The Provisional Government should see in this means of establishing autonomy in Ukraine the basis for its own efforts to democratize Russia, by implementing the national demands of the numerous formerly stateless peoples of Russia.  The Ukrainian Social Democrats’ conception of how autonomy should be created in Ukraine was highly significant for the Ukrainian revolution since it both suited the Ukrainian reality and was truly revolutionary.  As such it went contrary to the general tendency of Russian democracy to make the national question secondary and leave its resolution entirely to the Constituent Assembly and was the reason why, from the beginning of the revolution in Ukraine, Ukrainian Social Democracy went its own way, sometimes sharply opposing its former comrades, the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Social Democratic Party was not at all inclined to aggravate particularly the national question and, in its assessment of the moment and the tactics of a revolutionary party, favoured the interests of the proletarian class of Russia without regard to nationality.  And yet already at its first conference this party demonstrated that the revolution in Ukraine would go its own separate way without dissolving into the all-Russian revolution, and that it would proceed in original forms, by means of its own local revolutionary forces .

To better characterize the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party at the beginning of the revolution we can add here that the party conference firmly resolved to demand an end to the war by the efforts of the world-wide organized proletariat.  It was the opinion of the conference that, to develop and strengthen the gains of the Russian revolution, the Provisional Government had to begin peace talks immediately through representatives of the international proletariat, including the Ukrainians.

The constituent Congress of the Ukrainian Party of Socialists-Revolutionaries (4-5 April 1917 (Old Style) was even more revolutionary on the national question.  Before the great Ukrainian revolution the Party did not have its own programme, though separate party currents and organizations had existed during the first Russian revolution of 1905-6.  These groups existed and carried on their work independently in Kiev, Baryshpil, Novobasan, and elsewhere and were in one way or another connected with the Russian Party of Socialists-Revolutionaries.  Borotba (Struggle), the organ of the Kiev group of Ukrainian Socialists-Revolutionaries, was published illegally in Kiev from 1913 to the middle of 1915.  Among other things, Borotba published an outline of the party’s programme.

Pre-revolutionary party organizations had carried on their work mainly among student youth and the peasantry and only partly among the workers.  The revolution broadened area for party activity. At the first news that the tsarist regime had been overhtrown a vigorous organizational work was begun in the towns.  Throughout Ukraine old organizations that had been victims of the reaction revived and new ones were founded.  It was precisely the rapid and abundant growth of party organizations in the towns that made it possible to convoke a constituent congress of the Party in April*.

The congress considered a whole series of programmatic questions,  of which the two most urgent were the national question and the land question.  The national question occasioned very heated debates.  The delegates included a group that clearly leaned toward independence.  The result was the following resolution that, though it did not call for independence, was nevertheless fairly radical:

“At this time of great creative work among the free peoples of Russia, the constituent congress of the Ukrainian Party of Socialists-Revolutionaries recognizes that the greatest need of the Ukrainian people is for the immediate implementation of a broad national-territorial autonomy of Ukraine, with the rights of national minorities guaranteed, and the immediate convocation of a territorial Ukrainian Constituent Council.  It will be the task of the Council to work out the basis for autonomy and the form it should take and to prepare to elect delegates to the all-Russian Constituent Assembly from among the Ukrainian people and other peoples of Russia.  The congress also recognizes that the best form of government for the Russian state is a federative democratic republic the establishment of which the Ukrainian Party of Socialists-Revolutionaries will demand at the all-Russian Constituent Assembly.”

Thus the Party broke decisively with historical precedent and tradition, clearly basing its resolution of the national problem on the principle of the national sovereignty of the Ukrainian people.

This principle was to be realized through the Ukrainian Constituent Council which would be convoked before the Russian Constituent Assembly.  Finally, the congress dotted the `i’ by underscoring in a separate resolution that “every impediment to the convocation of the Ukrainian Constituent Council from the Russian government, every attempt to apply pressure by force will be considered by the Ukrainian Party of Socialists-Revolutionaries to be a continuation of the same imperialist policy of usurpation and oppression of Ukraine pursued by the Muscovite tsars and Russian emperors.  The Party will demand that the Provisional Government make an official declaration of its attitude toward the autonomy of Ukraine.”  Here the congress resolved that the Party would demand that Ukrainian soldiers be assembled into separate regiments.  Thus, of all Ukrainian parties, the Ukrainian Party of Socialists-Revolutionaries took the most radical position on the national question, thereby joining the vanguard of the Ukrainian toiling masses in their revolutionary struggle for national liberation.

We shall not discuss here the resolutions of the congress on other questions (workers, the war, etc.) which were touched upon in the Party programme and were the focus of the Party’s day to day tactical work.  In these resolutions the Party differed little from other socialist parties of the time, especially the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party.  This is one of the reasons why the congress also discussed the question of merging all socialist parties of Ukraine into one.  We shall note only that on the agrarian question, after hearing and discussing the general analysis of M. Kovalevsky which made no mention of a concrete plan of land reform, the majority of the congress accepted the view that, given the Ukrainian economic reality, it would be difficult to introduce the desired land reform, namely socialization of land.  In view of this, the congress would insist on the transferral of all government and private land in Ukraine to a Ukrainian land bank from which it would be distributed (as property) among the peasantry through communal organizations.  The question of compensating landowners in the land reform was covered by the vague stipulation that “costs of introducing land reform must be born by the state.”

After the Constituent Congress at which a Central Committee was elected and charged with reviving (now legally) the party weekly, Borotba, the Ukrainian Party of Socialists-Revolutionaries began to grow extremely fast and increased its work among peasants, workers, and soldiers at the fronts.  The main forces of the party were directed to work among the peasantry which made it possible for the party to take complete control of the Ukrainian peasant organization, the Peasant Union.

In early April (Old Style) a conference of the Ukrainian Radical-Democratic Party (the future Socialists-Federalists*) was also hel in Kiev. This party united primarily the Ukrainian intelligentsia and liberal-bourgeois circles that were the principal active element of the Society of Ukrainian Progressives.  The conference reached an agreement to abandon the the party’s old programme and name before holding a congress.  The party renewed its activity only after this conference when it rather successfully embarked on party work among the Ukrainian declasse intelligentsia and developed a fairly broad non-party cultural, educational and national consciousness activity.  This work was carried on under the leadership of the Temporary Central Committee of the Party, elected at the conference.  This Committee included V. Bidnov, D. Doroshenko, S. Iefremov F. Matushevsky, A. Nikovsky, V. Prokopovych, O. Shulhyn, S. Erastov, and others.  In its main features, then, this was how the political baggage of Ukrainian democracy looked as it embarked on the struggle for national liberation: two socialist-revolutionary parties and one democratic party of the intelligentsia with an express belief in the principle of the evolutionary development of socio-economic relations.  All the other parties which later played a rather considerable role in the Ukrainian revolution–and with greater success in the counter-revolution–were at that time in a barely discernible, or completely indiscernible stage of development.   From the outside this baggage could seem very inadequate, but, in fact, it was quite quite important.  The three parties mentioned embraced fairly completely the three social strata which largely made up the Ukrainian nation: the peasantry, the workers and the intelligentsia.  These three parties collaborated in the national liberation struggle for a considerable time and were able to lead the entire Ukrainian people,  in fact, did lead it until its national demands were realized and a period of intensified scio-economic and class struggle ensued.  When the latter  began, new Ukrainian political parties were born, both of a leftist-communist and a rightist-hetmanite tendency.


In one month the development of the revolutionary Ukrainian liberation movement  was so broad and so profound that the Ukrainian Central Rada, as originally constituted, was unable to lead the movement effectively.  Both the whole of society and the Rada itself felt the need to reconstitute the Central Rada as a more authoritative and legitimate organ than it was with representatives primarily from Kiev civic organizations.  At the same time the need was felt for an assessment and indication of Ukrainian forces on an all-Ukrainian scale and for the said authoritative organ to take a moderate, basic line on the national liberation struggle, the inevitability of which was already more or less obvious.  For these reasons the Central Rada decided to convoke the All-Ukrainian National Congress on 4-8 April (Old Style) in Kiev.

News that the congress had been called reached every backwater corner of ukraine within days and was greeted with great satisfaction by all of Ukrainian society from the peasant and worker to the intelligentsia and front-line soldiers.  Several days before the congress opened delegates converged on Kiev from the far corners of Ukraine.  They came from the Kuban and Black Sea regions, from the fronts, from Petrograd, and from the Baltic and Black Sea fleets.  The congress turned out to be very crowded.  In attendance were some nine hundred delegates with mandates from various Ukrainian military, peasant, worker, cultural, educational, and economic organizations, as well as from political parties.  Representatives of peasant and military organizations made up the great majority of the congress.  In all there were more than fifteen hundred  participants at the congress.*

Opening the congress, M. Hrushevsky, Head of the Central Rada called it an historic congress.  And it really was historic.  Before the congress was a task of historic importance: to reveal the true will of the organized Ukrainian people; to bear witness before the whole world, but especially before the russian democrats, to the fact that the people whom, in their hostility, they had long ago buried, about whom they had declared not only that it did not exist, but that it had never existed and never could exist–that that people (and not a little band of intellectuals) that was buried alive–lives and desires to live.

Avtonomiia_Ukrainy_i_sotsialdemokratiia Porsh-1
The Autonomy of Ukraine and Social Democracy by Mykola Porsh, the Ukrainian Marxist theorist was widely circulated in 1917.

It must be said that the congress gave a splendid account of itself in its task.  The immense hall full of peasants, soldiers and sailors, the extraordinary sense of elation that constantly reigned at the congress–all this spoke for itself.  Even the non-Ukrainian press, which was restrained in its attitude toward the Ukrainian liberation movement, marveled with obvious enthusiasm at this almost elemental manifestation of the Ukrainian people’s will to be reborn (11).

“One had to see the general joy at this meeting of free citizens of a free country,” wrote Kievskaia mysl (Kievite Thought), “–a joy which, perhaps, is best expressed in the Ukrainian character, long-suffering in the extreme and, in displays of enthusiasm, volcanic in the extreme.  Faces beaming with fresh, excited smiles, eyes burning with joy and everywhere the crisp, melodious, pure Ukrainian language.  Friendly embraces, ardent kisses…in a word–a family.  The members of a single family had gathered for their communal celebration.  Thus it is in reality.  Long and bitter suffering, centuries of enslavement to national and political oppression are needed to produce such a tumultuous celebration of liberation.”

The work of the congress proceeded briskly and productively.  The groundwork for it had been prepared significantly by the Ukrainian congresses that preceded it.  The main issue that the congress considered was, of course, the question of Ukraine’s autonomy and the restructuring of Russia on a federative basis.  The congress heard and discussed a whole series of reports on this subject (12) and unanimously passed the following resolutions:

  1. In accordance with the historic traditions and the real and present needs of the Ukrainian people, the congress recognizes that only the national-territorial autonomy of Ukraine can secure the needs of our people and all other peoples living on Ukrainian soil.
  2. An autonomous system in Ukraine, as well as in other autonomous regions of Russia, will be completely guaranteed in a Russian federative system. Therefore, the congress recognizes a federative democratic republic to be the only form of government appropriate for Russia and the full guarantee of the rights of national minorities living in Ukraine to be one of the main principles of Ukrainian autonomy.
  3. While acknowledging the right of the Russian Constituent Assembly to ratify the new government of Russia, as well as the autonomy of Ukraine and the federative system of the Russian Republic, The Ukrainian National Congress maintains that the advocates of a new order in Ukraine cannot remain passive until the Russian Constituent Assembly is convoked and must, without delay and in agreement with national minorities, establish the foundation for its autonomous life.

In order to meet the wishes of the Provisional Government regarding the organization and unification of social forces, the congress recognizes the urgent need to organize the Territorial Council with representatives of Ukrainian regions and towns, peoples and social classes for which the Central Rada should take the initiative. 

  1. The Ukrainian National Congress entrusts the Central Rada with the initiative for creating, as quickly as possible, a strong union of those peoples of Russia who, like the Ukrainians, demand national-territorial autonomy in a democratic Russian republic.
  2. The Ukrainian National Congress recognizes the right of all nations to self-determination and holds: a) that the borders between states should be established in accordance with the will of the border populations and, b) that in order to ensure this it is necessary that the peace conference have representatives not only of the belligerent states, but also of the territory on which the war is being waged, including Ukraine.”*

These resolutions, then, left no doubt about the direction and content of the Ukrainian national liberation movement.  The national-territorial autonomy of Ukraine, with the rights of national minorities safeguarded, in a federative democratic Russian republic–this is the brief formula that expressed the demands of the Ukrainian people at that moment.  There was no disagreement in Ukrainian society on the methods of attaining the autonomy of Ukraine.  The popular revolutionary genius was unanimous in seeing it attained by the will, the strength and the understanding of the Ukrainian people itself. Once it had clearly indicated the direction and method of struggle for national-political liberation, the congress decided a series of technical questions connected with the implementation of this plan.  Of the resolutions passed by the congress on these questions the most important was the one outlining the organization of the Ukrainian Central Rada.  According to the resolution the Rada was to be made up of some 150 deputies, two thirds of whom would represent the provinces and towns and one third various Ukrainian organizations of Kiev such as the central co-operative unions, the central committees of political parties, and other central institutions.  According to this model national minorities could also send representatives to the Rada.  Some deputies to the Central Rada, including the Head and his assistants, were elected at the congress itself.

The election of the Head of the Rada was the occasion for a demonstration of unity among the national-political currents represented at the congress.  When M. S. Hrushevsky (Head of the Central Rada) raised the question of electing a new Head of the Central Rada, he was interrupted and drowned out by shouts of “Hrushevsky is our Head! Long live Hrushevsky!”  At M. Hrushevsky’s insistence, the congress held a secret ballot and unanimously elected Hrushevsky himself Head of the Ukrainian Central Rada.  V. Vynnychenko and S. Iefremov were elected assistants to to the Head almost unanimously in an open vote.

Having dealt with the national-political questions, the congress ended its work.  Socio-economic questions were not on its agenda and only after the rise of a peasant faction did the congress pass a resolution on the land question.  The resolution commissioned the Central Rada to demand that the Provisional Government prohibit the sale, mortgaging and long-term leasing of lands, forests, underground natural resources as well as mills and factories.  The socio-economic and revolutionary expectations of Ukrainian workers were reflected in this extra resolution which the congress passed without debate. 

The first period of the Ukrainian revolution, the national-cultural and preparatory period, ended with the National Congress and a second period of national-political struggle began.  This new moment in the Ukrainian liberation movement was indicated by N. Sukovkin, the Kiev Provincial Commissar of the Provisional Government, in his telegram to the latter concerning the congress.  Among other things, Sukovkin wrote in his telegram that the Ukrainian National Congress had expressed satisfaction with his declaration “that the Provisional Government would consider the organized Ukrainian citizenry should have the first say in matter of creating a new government in Ukraine ” and that the organized Ukrainian citizenry, as embodied in the congress had already had that say, “having acknowledged the need to create a territorial council and a territorial executive committee in Kiev.”

Although they could see that the matter was getting serious, Russian democrats were still unwilling to look reality in the face and continued to pretend that the will of the Ukrainian people was not clear to them.  They endeavoured to deceive themselves and others with the hope that somehow they would manage to check this unwanted Ukrainian liberation movement, somehow obliterate it, dissolve it in “the great Russian sea” that was now both revolutionary and “democratic.”  In as much as Ukrainians refused to be dissolved, were completely unwilling to be, relations between Ukrainian and Russian democrats became embittered and enveloped in national-political struggle.  The will of Ukrainian democracy was tempered in this struggle and emerged seeking a new national liberation.  The new Central Rada elected at the National Congress, full of enthusiasm and energy and conscious of the great moral strength of the people that supported its every word and action, stood boldly in the vanguard of the national political struggle.  Under its leadership the Ukrainian people waged a resolute struggle for national-territorial autonomy of Ukraine in a federative Russian republic, already holding in its hands the banner of Ukrainian independent statehood–the symbol of national liberation in the conditions of a capitalist-bourgeois society.


  • Thus the newspaper Rech (organ of the Cadets) ran an article at the end of 1916 entitled “Zemstvos for the Ukrainian Language and School” which stated inter alia that “awareness of the inevitable  need for the state to raise the cultural level of the popular masses in areas of Ukrainian  population has again put on the agenda the question of permitting Ukrainian to be used as the language of instruction in elementary schools.”  The Ukrainian school question was favourably debated at a Moscow teachers’ conference in January 1916 Ukrainian community organizations presented petitions to the Minister of Education and sent delegations on this matter, but without success.

* Guard regiments composed of Ukrainians were the first to rise in arms against tsardom.  They were prepared for this action by Petrograd Ukrainian organizations.

* Numbers in parentheses refer to notes at the end of this volume.

** Manifesto of 16 March, Pskov.

*** Manifesto of 17 March, Petrograd.

* Kievskaia Mysl, no. 68 (22 (9) March 1917).

* The presidium of the Congress included among others: M. Hrushevs’kyi, Kh. Baranovs’kyi, M. Stasiuk and P. Khrystiuk.  The hall of the Pedagogical Museum where the Congress was held was decorated with Ukrainian flags, a portrait of Shevchenko, etc.  The Congress ended with singing of The Testament and Ukraine Has Not Yet Perished.

* Among other things, the Congress worked out a plan for the organization of a new administration in the villages and counties and called attention to the necessity of organizing a people’s militia in the villages.  As for the old police, guards, inspectors, village magistrates and functionaries and higher agents of the autocracy, it was resolved to dispatch them quickly to the front.

* It is worth mentioning that, at the beginning of the revolution, Ukrainian society of all *etthnographically Ukrainian territories (with the exception, of course, of Galicia) acted as one national body in national-cultural, economic and political matters.

* With the close participation of M. Hrushevs’kyi, M. Stasiuk (“associate”) and I. Puhacha (SR).

* Political party organizations and the so-called Ukrainian hromady, of which the Petrograd, Kiev and Moscow student hromady carried on notable work.

* 17 March 1917 (old style) saw the solemn opening of the first Ukrainian Gymnasium in Kiev.

* This is approximately the content of the resolutions passed by a meeting of Ukrainian military students from all the military schools of Kiev in March 1917.  They were printed in almost all contemporary Kiev newspapers.

* The first Ukrainian peasant congress approved a report on a constitutional form of peasant organization which we will discuss in more detail below.

* Representatives of 18 local organization were represented

 at the congress.

* Some military units (composed of Ukrainians) turned out in full.  In front of the military units rode the former escort of the former tsar (composed of Black Sea Cossacks from the Kuban region) with the Ukrainian Sich banner and the Zaporozhian Cossack standard.

* Rech, no. 64, 14 March 1917.

* In one of his speeches the Minister-President, Prince Lvov, declared that national demands of the peoples of Russia do not go further that demanding the right of cultural self-determination.

* These included such Kiev heads as the Head of the Council of Workers’ Deputies, Nezloby and the Head of the Council of Soldiers’ Deputies, Task (both socialists) who threatened to disperse the future congress with bayonets.

* M. Hrushevsky, V. Vynnychenko and D. Antonovych.

* The conference was attended by representatives of Social Democratic party organizations from the following cities: Katrynoslav, Poltava, Kiev, Kharkiv, Odessa, Cherkasa, Novograd-Volyn, Berdin, Moscow, Petrograd, and others. 

*  Some Ukrainian Social Democrats, such as M. Porsh,produced scholarly work that laid a solid foundation for demanding not only national-territorial autonomy for Ukraine, but its independence as well.

* The conference was held at the same time as the National Congress.  The initiators took advantage of the presence of a large number of party members at the Congress and organized the conference.

*  All parts of Ukraine were represented at the Congress.  Even Galicia was represented by Galician citizens who had been transported to Russia from Galicia by the tsarist government as “hostages.”  Representatives of every startum of Ukrainian society were elected to the presidium (peasants, workers, the intelligentsia, the clergy, etc.).  Others elected to the presidium were: V. Vynnychenko (Ukr. SD), Avdiienko (Ukr. SD) and Gaidar.  The latter two were from the Petrograd Guard Regiments which were the first to enter the struggle against the tsarist regime.  M. Hrushevky was elected honorary head of the Congress and chaired the elections.

* This resolution was intended to unite Galicia and eastern Ukraine.  Toward this end the congress passed another resolution protesting the claims made on Ukrainian land in the declaration of the Provisional Polish State Council.