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Editors: John Merriman and Jay Winter
Date: 2006
Europe Since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons
Document Type: Country overview
Pages: 9
Content Level: (Level 4)

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On the eve of World War I, about 80 percent of the roughly thirty-six million Ukrainians were subjects of the Russian Empire. The others, living in the western regions, were included in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The vast majority of Ukrainians, between 75–80 percent, were peasants living in a countryside characterized by overpopulation and land shortage. A tiny but active intelligentsia provided political and ideological leadership. In the west, cities and towns were largely populated by Poles and Jews, while in the east the urban centers were culturally russified. Given the relatively liberal nature of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the western Ukrainians, although socioeconomically weak, were able to develop a strong institutional and organizational infrastructure that encouraged national consciousness. This was intensified, especially in Galicia, by sharp conflicts with the Polish administrative and social elite of the region. In tsarist-dominated central, eastern and southern Ukraine, cultural and social distinctions between Ukrainians and the Russian minority were not extreme, Ukrainian national consciousness was less developed, and socioeconomic issues predominated. Despite political repression, Ukrainian areas in the Russian Empire were relatively vibrant economically. Their rich black earth made them the breadbasket of the Russian Empire and Odessa in southern Ukraine, on the Black Sea, developed into a major center of the international grain trade. In the eastern Donbas region, vast coal and iron ore deposits led to rapid industrial development as well as to an influx of Russian workers.


During World War I, Ukrainians found themselves on opposing sides, with 4.5 million fighting in the Russian imperial army and several hundred thousand serving Austria-Hungary. In 1914 the Russian invasion of Galicia and Bukovina led to flight, social upheaval, and repression of Ukrainian activities in western Ukraine. The impact of the war in eastern Ukraine was also great, especially in socioeconomic terms: as a result of mobilization and military casualties only 39 percent of the male workforce was left to engage in agriculture, causing severe economic hardship.

The Revolution of 1917 and the collapse of the tsarist regime provided eastern Ukrainians with an opportunity to gain self-government. It also led to a fierce and complicated civil war. In Kiev (Kyiv), the Central Rada, a democratic, left-leaning government led by Mykhailo Hrushevsky, was formed in March 1917. The Central Rada demanded autonomy for Ukraine from the Provisional Government based in St. Petersburg and the federalization of the former empire. After the Bolsheviks took power in Russia, the Central Rada declared independence on 22 January 1918. This led to war with the Bolsheviks who established and controlled a Soviet Ukrainian countergovernment in Kharkov (Kharkiv). Support for the Bolsheviks in Ukraine came largely from urbanized Page 2584  |  Top of Article Russians and Jews rather than the Ukrainian peasantry. Desperate for aid, on 9 February 1918 the Central Rada signed the Brest-Litovsk Treaty (which was negotiated between the Bolsheviks and the Central Powers in order to permit Russia to withdraw from the war) and allowed German and Austrian troops to occupy Ukraine. On 28 April 1918, the Germans disbanded the Central Rada and replaced it with the conservative, semi-monarchical government of Pavlo Skoropadsky. However, the defeat of Germany and Austria in November 1918 resulted in Skoropadsky's downfall. A new government, the Ukrainian National Republic (UNR), led by Symon Petlyura, was established. Meanwhile, Ukraine plunged into anarchy. The Bolsheviks declared war on the UNR and invaded. The pro-tsarist Whites moved in from the south. The anarchists of Nestor Makhno also gained control of large parts of the south. Pogroms against Jews, who were often identified with bolshevism, were carried out by the armies of the Whites and some of Petlyura's undisciplined units. Retreating westward under Bolshevik pressure, in April 1920 Petlyura allied himself with Poland and their combined armies launched an offensive that brought them to Kiev. However, the Bolsheviks launched a third invasion, forcing the armies of the UNR and their Polish allies from Ukraine. Simultaneously, the Bolsheviks defeated the White armies of Peter Wrangel in the Crimea and finally established control over most of those areas of Ukraine, after 1922 called the Ukrainian SSR, that had been part of the Russian Empire. Ukrainian historians, especially those in the diaspora, tend to view the events of the period from 1917 to 1920 in Ukraine as a particularly Ukrainian phenomenon. Soviet and Russocentric scholars in the West usually consider them to be an integral part of the Russian Revolution.

When the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed in November 1918, the Ukrainian majority in eastern Galicia established the West Ukrainian People's Republic led by Ievhen Petrushevych. However, Poles in the region, aided by French-trained troops from Poland, resisted and a Ukrainian-Polish war broke out, which ended with a Polish victory in July 1919. Meanwhile, the Bukovina region was taken over by Romania and Transcarpathia became a part of Czechoslovakia.


Soviet Ukraine

As part of the USSR, Soviet Ukraine was especially vulnerable to the traumatic upheavals associated with Soviet communism. During the 1920s, Soviet rule was relatively mild. Hoping to recover from the devastation of years of war and revolution, the leader of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin, introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP), which allowed for the revival of a partial market economy. Many Ukrainian peasants, who acquired land during revolution and civil war, profited from the opportunities of an open market. This led to the further growth of the kulaks, or relatively rich peasants who composed about 10–15 percent of the village population. Because Lenin argued that communist ideas could best be spread by means of native languages, the policy of korenizatsiya ("taking root") or Ukrainianization was implemented in Soviet Ukraine, leading to a widespread use of Ukrainian on all levels of the rapidly expanding educational system and scholarly institutions. Ukrainian-language cultural activities, reflecting highly innovative tendencies and experimentation, flourished. Ukrainization also had an unexpected ideological impact, national communism. Ukrainian communists such as Mykola Khvylovy, Oleksander Shumsky and especially Mykola Skrypnyk argued that a specifically Ukrainian form of communism, not based on Russian models, should be applied in Ukraine. However, with the rise of Joseph Stalin in the late 1920s, these views were brutally repressed, NEP was abolished, and the achievements of Ukrainianization were reversed.

Stalin's Five-Year Plans for the industrialization of the USSR, launched in 1928, and the collectivization of land had a tremendous impact on Ukraine; never before had such a vast and radical economic transformation of society been attempted in so brief a time. During the 1930s about fourteen hundred huge industrial complexes were built in Ukraine and by 1940 the republic's industrial capacity was seven times greater than in 1913. This initiated a massive change in a traditionally agrarian society. As millions of Ukrainians poured into cities in search of employment, urbanization spread rapidly. In 1920 Ukrainians, concentrated primarily in small towns, constituted 32 percent of the urban population; by 1939 they made up 58 percent of urban dwellers with many living in large, industrial centers. Another indication Page 2585  |  Top of Article of the great shift was that in 1926 Ukrainians were a mere 6 percent of the proletariat of the Ukrainian SSR while in 1939 more than 30 percent of the industrial workers were Ukrainians. As before, most of Ukraine's industry remained concentrated in the eastern Donbas region.

Stalin's policy of collectivization had an especially traumatic impact on the Ukrainian peasantry. It called for depriving peasants of private ownership of their land, herding them into collective farms, and imposing low state prices for their produce. This allowed the Soviet state to feed the growing proletariat and sell grain abroad to finance industrialization. But the costs were borne by the peasantry. In order to eliminate resistance from the recalcitrant Ukrainian kulaks, Soviet authorities expropriated their lands and deported about 850,000 to the gulag while the majority of the peasants were forced into collective farms that, by 1932, encompassed 70 percent of all farming households. By 1940 almost all of Soviet Ukraine's peasants lived in its twenty-eight thousand collective farms. Peasants resisted collectivization by slaughtering their livestock and cutting back production. But Stalin insisted on raising grain procurement quotas until they were impossible to meet. The result was the famine of 1932–1933 in which millions of Ukrainians died. In the historiography on the famine, there are two basic tendencies: some historians, especially Ukrainians, argue that this was a man-made famine, allowed to develop by Stalin and his associates, for the purpose of crushing Ukrainian peasant resistance in particular and Ukrainian national aspirations in general. While some non-Ukrainian historians see merit in this view, others argue that the famine was neither premeditated nor uniquely Ukrainian but rather an unfortunate result of Stalin's collectivization drive.

The trauma of the famine was accompanied by the Stalinist purges which, under leadership of Pavel Postyshev, began in Ukraine in 1933 and reached a high point in 1937–1938, victimizing a large part of the nationally conscious, politically and culturally active intelligentsia. As Moscow tightened its hold on Ukraine, it replaced Ukrainianization with russification. Because Russian was identified with modernization, cities became a major centers for transforming Ukrainian speakers into Russian speakers.

Western Ukraine

The experience of western Ukrainians during the interwar period, roughly seven million in number, was markedly different from that of their Soviet brethren. More than five million were incorporated into Poland. Hopes for autonomy, raised by the Western powers, were dashed in 1923, when the Council of Ambassadors in Versailles sanctioned the incorporation of eastern Galica into Poland. This set the stage for a fierce Polish-Ukrainian confrontation that characterized the entire pre–World War II period. Polish policy was either to assimilate the Ukrainians or treat them as second-class citizens. It included banning Ukrainian from government and educational institutions, following discriminatory employment policies, and encouraging Polish colonization in Ukrainian-inhabited areas. When Ukrainians resisted with acts of sabotage, the government responded with the Pacification of 1930, which resulted in the arrests of many Ukrainian activists and repression of Ukrainian organizational activity. In neighboring Volhynia, Polish policies led to the destruction of numerous Orthodox churches. Although the largest western Ukrainian party, the liberal Ukrainian National Democratic Alliance, sought to reach a compromise with the government, the extremist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), founded by Ievhen Konovalets in Vienna in 1929, committed itself to independence and an allout struggle with the Polish state.

In neighboring Romania, the approximately eight hundred thousand Ukrainians living there were also exposed to repressive and assimilatory policies that greatly limited their organizational activity. Most fortunate were the five hundred thousand Ukrainians in Transcarpathia, which became part of democratic Czechoslovakia. Prague's liberal policies brought educational and cultural benefits to the population. But minimal investment did not improve the stagnant, agrarian economy. In terms of national identity, the older generation clung to a regional Rusyn identity while young, dynamic elements, led by Avhustyn. Voloshyn, viewed themselves as Ukrainians.


During World War II the Ukrainians experienced the worst of both Hitler and Stalin. As a result of the Molotov-Von Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, when Page 2586  |  Top of Article the Germans invaded Poland, the USSR occupied much of western Ukraine, arguing that it was uniting Ukrainians with their compatriots in Soviet Ukraine. Initially, the Soviets Ukrainianized the administration as well as the cultural and educational sectors. Poles in these regions, meanwhile, were subjected to repressions and massive deportations to the Soviet east. Soon, the Soviets introduced other features of the Soviet system such as expropriations; attacks on the Uniate church, which was predominant in western Ukraine; and collectivization. The Soviet secret police (NKVD) arrested many Ukrainian activists. Meanwhile, the OUN split into warring factions: one, more dynamic and youth-based, led by Stepan Bandera, and the other by Andrii Melnyk. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 22 June 1941, the retreating Soviets executed more than ten thousand of their prisoners in western Ukraine, adding greatly to the already strong anti-Soviet feeling in the region.

After German forces captured Lviv in western Ukraine, Bandera's OUN attempted to proclaim an independent Ukrainian state there on 30 June 1941. The Germans reacted sharply, arresting the OUN leadership, including Bandera. Moreover. they dashed Ukrainians' hopes for independence by attaching Galicia to the Polish lands that comprised the General Government (the German-administered areas of Poland). Germany's ally, Romania, occupied Transdnistria, which included Odessa, all of Bessarabia, and parts of Bukovina. Transcarpathia came under Hungarian control.

Central and eastern Ukraine, called Reich-kommissariat Ukraine, was ruled by Erich Koch, who instituted the most brutal Nazi regime in all of occupied Europe. In line with Nazi concepts of racial superiority and Lebensraum (living space), Ukrainians were assigned the role of a slave population and their land was earmarked for German colonization. Hopes of independence or self-government were smashed, expectations that collectivization would be abolished were dashed, and mass repressions and executions were frequent. Intent on turning Ukraine into a strictly agricultural colony, Nazi rulers starved major cities. Kiev lost 60 percent of its population and Kharkov's population declined from 700,000 to 120,000. Especially hated was the policy of sending vast numbers of Ukrainians, about 2.2 million, to Germany as forced laborers. Jews in Ukraine were especially vulnerable. Within months of invasion, Nazi extermination squads, sometimes aided by Ukrainian collaborators, executed approximately 850,000. In Baby Yar in Kiev, 33,000 were killed in two days. Nazi rule was relatively less harsh in the General Government and in 1943 the Ukrainian SS Division "Galicia" was formed there to fight against the Soviets.

Resistance to both Nazi and Soviet rule commenced in 1942 when the UPA (Ukrainian Partisan Army), eventually controlled by Bandera's OUN, began operations in Volhynia. Led by Roman Shukhevych, it numbered about forty thousand men who were aided by a widespread civilian network. The UPA also sought to expel Poles from Volhynia. In summer of 1943, this resulted in a bloody conflict during which about fifty thousand Polish and twenty thousand Ukrainian civilians lost their lives. Historians in communist Poland and the Soviet Union often accused UPA of fascist tendencies, collaboration with the Nazis, and atrocities, while Ukrainian historians in the diaspora and in independent Ukraine generally view UPA and Ukrainian nationalists in general as engaging in a national liberation struggle. Soviet partisans, supported by Moscow and local communists, were also concentrated in the heavily forested northern regions. In 1943, led by Sydir Kovpak, their units launched a major raid into German-held areas in Galicia.

In the summer of 1943 Soviet forces launched a massive offensive, involving 40 percent of their infantry and 80 percent of their tanks, aimed at retaking Ukraine. By fall 1943 they recaptured the Left Bank and Donbas; on 6 November they entered Kiev; and by autumn 1944 all Ukrainian ethnic territory was in Soviet hands. To gain Ukrainian sympathies, Stalin also launched a propaganda campaign. It included calling some sectors of the front "Ukrainian," naming military honors after Ukrainian historical heros, and creating the impression that Ukraine was a sovereign republic.

Ukrainian losses in the war were staggering: the country lost 5.3 million people or about 15 percent of its population. More than seven hundred cities and towns and twenty-eight thousand villages were partially or totally destroyed, leaving about ten million inhabitants homeless. There were some gains, however. Galicia, Bukovina, and Page 2587  |  Top of Article Transcarpathia were annexed to Soviet Ukraine, uniting all Ukrainians in a single state and, in order to strengthen Soviet influence in the United Nations, Stalin allowed Ukraine to become one of its charter members in 1948.


As result of World War II, the ethnic composition of Ukraine changed dramatically. Nazi persecution decimated the Jewish population; most Poles moved to Poland during the postwar population transfers; and, in connection with industrial reconstruction, great numbers of Russians arrived in the country. For the Soviet regime, the incorporation of western Ukraine was a major problem. There the UPA continued to offer bitter, if hopeless, resistance into the early 1950s. The Uniate (or Greek Catholic) church, a bastion of national consciousness, was disbanded and driven underground and hundreds of thousands of recalcitrant west Ukrainians were deported to the gulags.

Industrial reconstruction was a priority during the fourth Five-Year Plan (1946–1950). In 1945 industrial production in Ukraine was at 26 percent of its 1940 level. As a result of the staggering demands placed on the population, by 1950 industrial output rose to 15 percent higher than in 1940, making Ukraine once again one of Europe's major industrial centers. However, agriculture continued to be a problem. Although collectivization was introduced in western Ukraine, in the 1950s food production in the inefficient system remained at only at 60 percent of the 1940 level.

After the war, Stalin instituted a policy of political and ideological retrenchment. Concessions made to Ukrainian national feeling were revoked—for example Volodymyr Sosyura's famous poem "Love Ukraine," written in 1944 and which helped the author attain the Stalin Prize in 1948, was denounced for its nationalism in 1951—and russification was intensified. However, Nikita Khrushchev's rise to power after Stalin's death in 1953 led to the inclusion of Crimea into the Ukrainian SSR in 1954 and during the so-called Thaw, Ukrainian scholarship and literature experienced a modest revival. This allowed a new generation of writers such as Vsyl Symonenko, Lina Kostenko, Mykola Vinhranovsky, Ivan Drach, Dmytro Pavlychko, and Vasyl Stus to make their mark. Some of them, notably Ivan Dziuba and Valentyn Moroz, were in the forefront of the dissident movement that emerged in the 1960s and was brutally crushed in early 1970s.

The Communist Party in Ukraine, although tightly controlled by Moscow, grew in importance in the post-Stalin period. In 1952 it had 770,000 full and candidate members; by 1959 its membership rose to 1.3 million, of whom 60 percent were Ukrainian. Numerous Soviet leaders began their careers in Ukraine, notably Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev. When Petro Shelest led Ukraine's Communists from 1963 to 1972, their numbers reached 2.5 million. This allowed him to be more confident in defending his republic's interests within the USSR. However, such "localist" tendencies led to his replacement by Volodymyr Shcherbitsky, a Moscow loyalist and a proponent of russification policies. Meanwhile, Ukraine's socioeconomic profile continued to change: by the 1970s urbanization encompassed more than 65 percent of the population; its industry accounted for 17 percent of total Soviet production; and, despite the fact that most Ukrainians now worked in industry, the country, which had 19 percent of the Soviet population, produced 23 percent of its agricultural products. The standard of living, however, lagged far behind that of the West.

Responding to the obvious need for reforms, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced his policy of glasnost or openness in the mid-1980s. In Ukraine it coincided with the Chernobyl disaster, the world's worst nuclear catastrophe, which occurred on 26 April 1986. The authorities' mis-handling of the situation increased the public's willingness to challenge them. Other revelations, especially long-suppressed information about the Famine of 1933, gradually undermined the legitimacy of the communist regime. In 1988, anti-Soviet agitation, centered in Lviv, surfaced. It led to the founding in Kiev, on 8–10 September 1989, of Rukh, an "informal" or unsanctioned organization concentrating on social, political, and environmental issues that soon had a membership of 280,000. Dissatisfaction also encompassed the industrialized east and in 1990 more than 250,000 miners in the Donbas region went on strike. Disconcerted by the rapid changes, Ukraine's Communists chose Leonid Kravchuk as their leader in 1990. Although Communists retained a majority in Page 2588  |  Top of Article parliamentary elections, they faced strong opposition from the Democratic Bloc led by Vyacheslav Chornovil. On 16 July 1990 the parliament issued a proclamation of Ukrainian sovereignty. The abortive coup in Moscow on August 1991 accelerated the process of Soviet disintegration and, on 24 August 1991, Ukraine's parliament voted for independence. More than 90 percent of Ukraine's population supported this decision in a nationwide referendum on 1 December 1991. On 7–8 December, Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine, the country's first president, Boris Yeltsyn of Russia, and Stanislav Shushkevich of Belarus declared the Soviet Union dissolved and Ukraine an independent state.


International recognition of Ukrainian independence came quickly, but Russia had difficulty adjusting to the new reality. Ukrainian-Russian tensions, especially disturbing because both countries were nuclear powers, arose over the issue of mutual borders, the Crimea, and particularly the fate of the Soviet Black Sea fleet. Another problem was Ukraine's ambiguous relationship to the newly formed and Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Tensions eased in 1994 when Ukraine agreed to give up its nuclear arsenal in the Trilateral Treaty with the United States and Russia. Meanwhile, the United States initiated a "strategic partnership" with Ukraine and closer cooperation with NATO ensued. Smooth relations were quickly established with Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia, but unresolved issues remained in the relationship with Romania. Most importantly, in 1997 Russia and Ukraine signed a treaty resolving many of their outstanding problems.

State-building and, especially, nation-building proved to be difficult. Existence as a Soviet republic provided Ukraine with a basic state structure. However, certain ministries, such as foreign affairs, had to be built anew. Especially delicate was the problem of transforming close to one million Soviet troops stationed in Ukraine into a national army of 350,000. A key feature of the post-Soviet transition was that much of the former Soviet elite retained positions of power and influence in the new state. The creation of a sense of well-defined national identity was greatly complicated by the cultural and linguistic divisions between the Ukrainian-speaking west and the Russian-speaking east of the country. These differences were reflected in the recognition of Crimea's autonomy in 1996.

As political parties, often based on regionally based economic and political clans, developed, Rukh splintered and the Western-leaning National Democrats lost influence. In 1994 Leonid Kuchma was elected president and was reelected in 1999. His ten-year tenure was characterized by growing corruption and the increased influence of oligarchic clans based in Donetsk, Dniepropetrovsk, and Kiev who used ill-gotten economic resources to dominate political institutions, utilizing them in their own interests. Nonetheless, the highly fractured parliament did manage to adopt a constitution on 28 June 1996.

The most pressing problem confronting Ukraine in the 1990s was the severe economic crisis that resulted from the Soviet collapse. Between 1991 and 2000 the country's GDP shrank by 63 percent. Early in the decade, inflation reached 10,000 percent, wiping out people's savings. Entire industries collapsed, leading to widespread unemployment, and about 70 percent of the population sank below the poverty line. Even though collective farms were gradually abolished, farmers lacked capital to engage in farming. In 2002 signs of an economic upturn appeared, fuelled largely by rising exports of steel and chemicals and by expanding construction. By 2004 Ukraine's rapidly improving economy had one of the highest growth rates in Europe but living standards rose very slowly.

The presidential elections of 2004 were a dramatic turning point in Ukrainian history. They pitted the reformist, Western-oriented Viktor Yushchenko against the current prime minister and Kuchma's hand-picked intended successor, Viktor Yanukovych. The latter was pro-Russian and had the open support of the Kremlin as well as of the oligarchic clans, especially those in his native Donetsk. Yushchenko narrowly won the first round. But in the second round, on 21 November, Yanukovych was declared the winner. However, evidence of massive fraud in the pro-Yanukovych eastern provinces led to massive, determined but peaceful demonstrations of people power—dubbed the Orange Revolution after Yushchenko's campaign colors—in Kiev. The controversial elections Page 2589  |  Top of Article also exacerbated tensions between Russia and the United States and European Union. On 1 December 2004 the Supreme Court declared that, due to widespread fraud, a new election should be held on 26 December. Yushchenko won this third and final election and promised his compatriots he would usher in a new, democratic era.


The political transformations of the twentieth century were matched by a set of major changes in the ethnic composition of the population of the Ukraine. Its demographic profile in 2001 was vastly different from that of 1901.


At the outset of the twentieth century, the highest concentration of Jews in the world, about 2.7 million people, lived in areas where Ukrainians formed the majority. When the Central Rada proclaimed Ukraine's independence in January 1918, Jews received national-personal autonomy. During the Revolution, some Jewish politicians supported Ukrainian independence but more sided with the Bolsheviks. With the formation of the USSR, Soviet policies were aimed at the dissolution of Jewish communal organizations and the banning of religious practices and education. However, those Jews who were willing to adopt a Soviet identity benefited from greatly expanded opportunities to gain a higher education and to obtain positions in the government, administration, and party structures in Ukraine. In 1922 about 13.6 percent of the Communist Party in Ukraine was of Jewish origin. As a result of the Soviet indigenization policies of the 1920s there was a renaissance of organized Jewish life in Ukraine, especially in areas of culture and scholarship. However, with Stalin's ascent to power, anti-Semitism became more prevalent and many prominent Jews perished in the purges.

The occupation of Ukraine by German forces during World War II had tragic consequences for the Jews. Within the enlarged Soviet borders of 1941, 2.5 of the 4.8 million Soviet Jews perished. In western Ukraine, where the Nazi Einsatzgruppen (special action groups) were especially active and deportations to concentration camps were all-encompassing, only about 2 percent of a Jewish population of more than 1.2 million remained. About fifty ghettos and 180 concentration camps were established throughout occupied Ukraine. However, Soviet evacuation of large numbers of their citizens to Central Asia did allow a significant number of Jews from Ukraine to survive the Holocaust.

After World War II, Soviet policies toward Jews were harshly discriminatory, resulting in a ban on cultural activities and the arrests of hundreds of Jewish leaders and writers. Following Stalin's death, conditions for individual Jews improved somewhat but assimilatory pressures and repression of religious and cultural activity continued. During the 1970s, international pressure allowed for a large Jewish emigration from the USSR in general and Ukraine in particular. After the disintegration of the USSR in 1991, another wave of Jewish emigrants left Ukraine.


Prior to World War II, Poles were a visible and influential segment of society in Ukraine, especially in eastern Galicia. In 1914, there were about eight hundred thousand Poles in Russian-dominated Ukraine, primarily on the Right Bank. The Central Rada planned to grant them a large measure of autonomy in 1918 and in 1920 Petlyura's government signed an alliance with the newly established Polish state that resulted in a common but unsuccessful anti-Bolshevik offensive into Ukraine. At the outset, Poles, many of whom emigrated to Poland, were treated as a distinct national minority in Soviet Ukraine. The Communist Party of Ukraine had a Polish Bureau that oversaw Polish activities, including a network of schools and numerous newspapers. However, Polish communal, religious, and cultural organizations were gradually disbanded. Worsening Polish-Soviet relations in the 1930s led to an almost total liquidation of Polish organizations.

In eastern Galicia and Volhynia, which were incorporated formally into the Polish state in 1923, Poles numbered about nine hundred thousand in the former and four hundred thousand in the latter region. They constituted about 20 percent of the rural and more than 40 percent of the urban population. Backed by the harsh policies of the Polish state that made few concessions to the Ukrainian majority, Poles dominated the political, Page 2590  |  Top of Article social and economic activity in these regions. The government also supported considerable Polish immigration into these lands. As a result, Polish-Ukrainian antagonism reached a high point as World War II began.

When the Soviet Union occupied western Ukraine in 1939, Polish influence declined markedly. Between 1940 and 1941, about 550,000 Poles from western Ukraine were exiled to Central Asia. When the border between Poland and the Ukrainian SSR was established on 16 August 1945, a massive exchange of borderland populations occurred. More than 1.2 million Poles moved from Ukraine to Poland and about 485,000 Ukrainians were dispatched from Poland to Ukraine. As a result, the number of Poles in Ukraine was reduced dramatically, numbering 363,000 in 1959.


In sharp contrast to the Jews and Poles, the number of Russians in Ukraine grew dramatically during the Soviet period. In 1926, there were three million Russians in the Ukrainian SSR; in 1959 their numbers rose to seven million; and in 1979 the figure was close to ten million, or about 20 percent of the population. They tended to concentrate in large cities in the south, particularly in the Donbas industrial region and especially Crimea. To a large extent, the influx of Russians resulted from Soviet nationality and integration policies that encouraged an in-migration of Russians and an out-migration of Ukrainians. Such policies were implemented under the guise of "the fruitful exchanges of personnel" between the Soviet republics. Thus, while huge numbers of Russians were brought into Ukraine, equally large numbers of educated Ukrainians were directed to jobs in other parts of the USSR (where they often identified with the Russians). Another reason for the increase of Russians in Ukraine was the fact that minorities such as Jews, Greeks, and Bulgarians assimilated into the dominant Russian nationality as have some Ukrainians. This process has been reinforced by a high rate of intermarriage. However, when Ukraine became independent in 1991, some Russians returned to their homeland while other Russians of Ukrainian descent chose to consider themselves Ukrainians again. As a result, the percentage of Russians in Ukraine's population had dropped to about 17 percent by the end of the twentieth century.

Other groups

Another major demographic shift occurred in Crimea where in May 1944, about 190,000 Crimean Tatars, whom Stalin considered insufficiently loyal during the war, were brutally expelled to Central Asia. During the Gorbachev period, the Crimean Tatars began to return to their ancestral homeland despite strong opposition from the Russians who had settled there. In the early twenty-first century, there are more than 250,000 Crimean Tatars in the Crimea.

Other sizable national minorities in Ukraine are the approximately 170,000 Hungarians of Transcarpathia and the more than 100,000 Romanians in the Bukovina region.


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Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3447000871