Pogrom. In its widest meaning the term refers to a violent attack on the persons and property of any weaker ethnic, religious, or national group by members of a dominant group. The measures taken against the Ukrainian population during the Russian occupation of Galicia in 1914–15, for instance, sometimes figured as the ‘Galician pogroms’ in contemporary accounts. In its most common sense, however, the term ‘pogrom’ refers to the attacks accompanied by looting and bloodshed against the Jews of the Russian Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. More precisely the term refers to three waves of widespread assault on the Jewish population that occurred in 1881–4, 1903–6, and 1918–21 as offshoots of larger crises in the Russian Empire as a whole. The first disturbances of the sort actually occurred in 1859, following the Crimean War (1853–6), and in 1871 in Odesa, when Greeks and Jews clashed over the grain trade.

The first major series of pogroms took place after members of Narodnaia Volia assassinated Alexander II on 13 March 1881. The attacks began in Yelysavethrad at the end of April and spread to Chernihiv gubernia, Katerynoslav gubernia, Kherson gubernia, Kyiv gubernia, Odesa gubernia, Poltava gubernia, and Tavriia gubernia in early May. In July and August they flared anew in Poltava and Chernihiv provinces. Pogroms also took place in Warsaw, Balta, and several towns of Belarus and Lithuania. Pogrom activity largely ceased after a decree issued by the new interior minister, Dmitrii Tolstoi, on 21 June 1882, although there were isolated outbreaks in the spring of 1883 in Rostov-na-Donu and Katerynoslav and in the summer of 1884 in Nizhnii Novgorod.

In Ukraine the attacks were carried out largely by urban dwellers, mainly seasonal workers in factories, railways, and ports who had migrated from Russia. They did not spread to the villages in a significant way. Destruction and looting of property and beatings were characteristic of the pogroms. A relatively small number of people were killed. The pogroms had an electrifying effect on the Jewish population and provided an impetus for the Zionist movement as well as emigration to the New World. Ironically the imperial Russian government responded to the attacks by instituting further legislative restrictions on the Jews within and outside the Pale of Settlement and expelling Jews en masse from Moscow in 1891–2. A common explanation offered for that wave of pogroms has been that a spontaneous uprising resulted from rumors that Jews had been instrumental in the tsar’s assassination. A more likely explanation is that alienated (and commonly migrant) workers were venting personal and economic frustration. The attacks were not officially condoned, although the imperial authorities showed their duplicity by failing to maintain public order.

The pogroms of 1903–6 had a different character. Faced with growing unrest and hoping to divert discontent arising from the Russian Empire’s losses in the Russo-Japanese War, the imperial authorities granted reactionary newspapers and ultraconservative loyalist groups known as Black Hundreds a free hand to agitate against ‘Jewish machinations’ as the cause of the social upheavals of the time. The pogroms followed as an intensification of that campaign. The first in a series of attacks occurred in Chişinău (Kishinev), in Bessarabia, during Passover in 1903, and the next in Homel, in Belarus, in September. In the fall of 1904 army recruits and local rabble perpetrated a series of pogroms in Ukraine, in Oleksandriia, Rivne, Smila, and elsewhere. As the revolutionary movement gained strength in 1905 (see Revolution of 1905), the attacks intensified. In February a pogrom took place in Teodosiia, in April in Melitopol, and in May in Zhytomyr. The severest pogroms followed the proclamation of the October Manifesto, particularly in the first week of November 1905, when the non-Jewish intelligentsia was also attacked. In Ukraine major pogroms occurred in Kamianets-Podilskyi, Katerynoslav, Kyiv, Kremenchuk, Mykolaiv, Odesa, Romny, Chernihiv, Simferopol, and Yelysavethrad. Altogether about 700 pogroms were recorded. The scope of the attacks went beyond the wholesale destruction of property seen in 1881–2, to include rape and the killing of several hundred Jews. Again the most prominent participants were industrial and railway workers, small shopkeepers, and artisans. Peasants mostly joined in order to loot property. The second wave of pogroms intensified the desire of Jews to emigrate from the Russian Empire.

The last wave of pogroms took place in connection with the Revolution of 1917 and the chaos that accompanied the Ukrainian-Soviet War, 1917–21. Those pogroms far exceeded the earlier outbreaks in both size and severity. According to somewhat conservative (but wide-ranging) estimates made in the 1920s by N. Gergel, 887 major pogroms and 349 less severe attacks against Jews took place in Ukraine in 1918–20 and resulted in the death of 31,071 people and the injury of tens of thousands of others. Other estimates have put the number of dead as high as 60,000. The Gergel figures put the annual figure for pogroms at 80 in 1918, 934 in 1919, and 178 in 1920. Most (80 percent) were perpetrated in Right-Bank Ukraine, where the majority of the Jewish population in the Russian Empire lived. The pogroms began with the slaughter of Jews by Bolshevik units in the spring of 1918 in Hlukhiv and Novhorod-Siverskyi. In time, however, the Red Army was able to restore military discipline (and curb pogrom activity) among its troops, and it eventually established itself in the minds of Jews as the only force capable of protecting them. The Army of the Ukrainian National Republic, under the command of Symon Petliura, was unable to control its troops in the same manner. A decree from Petliura in January 1919 to stem a growing wave of violence was ineffectual, and several of his commanders carried out a series of violent attacks against Jews in Berdychiv, Gvardiisk, Zhytomyr, (particularly) Proskuriv, and other locations. In spite of petitions from Jewish representatives Petliura remained silent on the pogrom issue until April. By that time Jewish leaders had lost faith in the Directory of the Ukrainian National Republic. N. Gergel’s figures attributed 40 percent of the pogroms carried out in 1918–20 (355) to Directory troops, as well as nearly 54 percent of the resulting deaths (16,706). Various independent leaders of the partisan movement in Ukraine, 1918–22 (known commonly as otamans) also perpetrated pogroms (estimated at 28.8 percent of the total number of pogroms, and 26 percent of the total mortalities). They included otamans Nykyfor Hryhoriv (who led the bloodiest of the pogroms), Anhel, and Danylo Zeleny. The Russian Volunteer Army commanded by Gen Anton Denikin, often inspired by a Black Hundreds ideology, perpetrated numerous pogroms. In Ukraine alone it was responsible for 183 pogroms (20.6 percent of that country’s total) and an estimated 5,235 deaths (nearly 17 percent). Its largest action took place in Fastiv in September 1919 and claimed approximately 1,500 lives.

Because the majority of Jews within the Russian Empire lived in Ukraine, the majority of pogroms in the Russian Empire were perpetrated there. Their number and intensity there has given rise to the assumption that they were carried out by the local population, and to a stereotypical image of the Ukrainian as an inherently anti-Semitic pogromchik. The notion became particularly widespread in the West as a result of the public sensation caused in France by the Schwartzbard Trial, which followed the assassination of Symon Petliura in Paris in 1926. Petliura was assassinated by a Bessarabian Jew on the grounds that Petliura personally was responsible for the horrors of the pogroms in Ukraine.

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Peter Potichnyj

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]

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