Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

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Union of Soviet Socialist Republics [Союз Радянських Соціялістичних Республік; Soiuz Radianskykh Sotsialistychnykh Respublik, or USSR]. A 20th-century federal state made up of 15 constituent socialist republics on the former territory of the Russian Empire. It was the largest state in the world, with a territory of 22,276,000 sq km (land area only), and spanned two continents, with 23 percent of its landmass in Europe and the remaining 77 percent in Asia. With a population exceeding 288 million (1 January 1990), it was, after China and India, the third most populous country in the world. During its existence after the Second World War, from 1944 to 1991, the USSR incorporated 93 percent of the Ukrainian contiguous ethnographic territory and was the home of approximately 95 percent of the Ukrainians in the world.

History. The assumption of power by Bolshevik forces in Russia following the October Revolution of 1917 precipitated a civil war between Communist and anti-Communist forces (also known as the Whites, see Volunteer Army), which lasted for three years, until the latter were defeated. At the same time the Bolsheviks waged war against non-Russian nations that had formed separate states after the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917; one of the major conflicts was the Ukrainian-Soviet War, 1917–21. By 1920 the Bolsheviks had assumed control of virtually all the lands that formerly had constituted Russia and the Russian Empire. The Baltic nations, Finland, and Poland were the only former imperial possessions to escape inclusion in the Soviet Union, and they emerged as independent states in their own right. Ukrainian and Belarusian lands were divided between Poland and the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic in 1921 by the Peace Treaty of Riga, which concluded the Polish-Soviet War. After the Bolshevik victory the formerly independent national republics were converted into Soviet republics under the control of the RSFSR, and on 30 December 1922 they were formally linked together in a federative union, the USSR.

In their drive to power the Bolsheviks instituted a policy of War Communism and practiced extensive terror (conducted by the secret police, the Cheka) to subdue the population. In order to consolidate its power and reconstruct the war-torn economy the Soviet government replaced those practices in 1921 with the concessions of the New Economic Policy (NEP). Several years of relative peace followed, until the assumption of power by Joseph Stalin, following the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924, and his elimination of both the Left Opposition and the Right Opposition (Leon Trotsky, Grigorii Zinovev, L. Kamenev, N. Bukharin, A. Rykov). In 1928–9 the NEP came to an end as the first five-year plan was instituted in an effort to industrialize the Union and collectivize agriculture. The plan was accompanied in the late 1920s and especially in the mid-1930s by the growth of totalitarianism, the application of mass terror by the secret police (the GPU, later the NKVD) against all groups of the population, the establishment of an enormous network of labor camps, the destruction of the peasantry as a class by means of forced collectivization and the liquidation of the so-called kulaks, and the destruction of non-Russian national intelligentsias. That first wave of Stalinist social policy, marked by collectivization, the enforcement of prohibitively high food and grain procurement in the grain-producing regions, and open hostility toward the peasantry (particularly in Ukraine), culminated in the massive Famine-Genocide of 1932–3, which claimed millions of lives. At the same time the nominally federative nature of the Soviet Union was undermined, proponents of national communism arrested or eliminated, and an increasingly centralized state structure established. Stalinist repressions continued throughout the 1930s and resulted in the devastation of the national cultures of most non-Russian peoples in the USSR. Stalin also launched a wholesale attack on the Union’s cultural, intellectual, military, and political elite that culminated in 1937–8 with the Yezhov terror.

In the earliest years of its existence the USSR, as a state ostensibly based on the ideology of communism, was regarded as a pariah among world powers, and remained largely isolated. Nevertheless it maintained a loyal following among Communists and Communist sympathizers beyond its borders and played a dominant role in the affairs of the Communist International (Comintern). In the 1930s the USSR began to seek rapprochement with Western democracies, particularly with the rise of anticommunist powers such as Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and imperial Japan. It entered the League of Nations (1934), signed several nonaggression pacts (with Poland and France in 1932, Italy in 1934) and mutual assistance treaties (with France and Czechoslovakia in 1935), and pursued a policy of establishing united fronts. Unwilling to risk its own security, the USSR chose not to participate openly in the civil wars of China and Spain. It even came to terms with Nazi Germany by signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939, which established a nonagression agreement between them and delineated their respective spheres of influence in Eastern Europe. The accord paved the way for the partitioning of Poland later that year. The USSR occupied the former western borderlands of the Russian Empire (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, a region of Finland, western Belarus, western Volhynia, western Polisia, and Bessarabia) and annexed Galicia and northern Bukovyna, lands that had never been part of the Russian Empire.

The German advance into Poland triggered the Second World War. On the eve of the conflict the USSR was militarily and politically weakened by the purges of the Yezhov terror of 1937–8. Its loss of strength had already become apparent during a war with Finland, which country, despite territorial losses, had managed to defend its independence. During the first months of the German invasion the Wehrmacht defeated and captured a large portion of the Soviet Army and advanced to the outskirts of Moscow and Leningrad. The German attack, launched on 22 June 1941, initiated a dogged war for the very existence of the USSR. Joseph Stalin and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union called it the Great Patriotic War and strove to harness Russian national sentiments (rather than a belief in communist ideals) to sustain their military efforts. Russian military tradition was rejuvenated, the Russian Orthodox church was used to promote patriotism, and the Comintern was abolished (1943). At the same time Soviet propaganda exploited the anti-German feelings of the non-Russian nations that were occupied and persecuted by the Nazis. Together with the Western Allies (the United States of America, Great Britain, France, and others) and with considerable material and technical assistance from the United States, the USSR came out of the war victorious. Its victory was also helped by the destructive and racist Nazi German policy toward Eastern Europeans, which gave rise to resistance on the part of both the non-Russian nations, particularly the Ukrainians (see Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, Ukrainian Insurgent Army, and Soviet partisans in Ukraine, 1941–5), and the Russians themselves, on the territory occupied by the Germans.

After the defeat of the Nazis the Soviets firmly re-established their authority in the parts of the USSR that had been overrun. The USSR increased its territory in Eastern Europe and the Far East through a series of agreements attained by means of a succession of tripartite meetings, notably the Yalta Conference. Included in the gains were Western Ukrainian lands previously ruled by Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. A bloc of communist satellite countries was formed in Eastern and Central Europe, with which the USSR established treaties of friendship and mutual assistance (1948), economic integration (the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance or Comecon, in 1949), and unified military command (the Warsaw Pact, 1955). Only Yugoslavia (1948) and Albania (1960) managed to slip out of Soviet control. There was considerable resistance to the extension of Soviet territory. The Ukrainians (in the western borderland regions) and the Balts continued guerrilla actions against the new regime until the mid-1950s. An anti-Soviet rebellion erupted in Hungary in 1956 and was suppressed by Soviet forces. Peaceful attempts to sever dependency in Poland (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) were also suppressed. The ‘legitimacy’ of Soviet interests in its Eastern European satellites was eventually provided by the so-called Brezhnev Doctrine, which provided an ideological justification for the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia.

As a result of its territorial expansion the Soviet Union emerged as a world superpower after the Second World War. Its cordial relations with its wartime allies, however, soured after a clerk in the Soviet embassy in Canada, Igor Gouzenko, after his defection in September 1945, revealed the extent and intentions of Soviet espionage in the West. The so-called Cold War between the USSR and the United States of America then erupted and was fought out for over four decades on political and propaganda fronts and occasionally in limited wars between their respective client states. The economic cost to the Soviet Union was enormous, as vast resources were allocated for military expenditures and economic and technical assistance for client states. The USSR managed to develop a formidable military and industrial capacity during that period, but it fell chronically short in providing its citizens with a high standard of housing, food stocks, medical service, and consumer goods.

Politically the USSR was totally dominated by Joseph Stalin and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in the immediate postwar period. Social control was maintained through an extensive internal security force (the KGB), and large numbers of people were imprisoned for political reasons (see Political prisoners). Even slave laborers, the Ostarbeiter, who had been forceably taken by the Germans and who after the war were subjected to repatriation to the Soviet Union against their will were sent to labor camps, their ‘crime’ being the departure, no matter how forced, from the Soviet Union. The Party also sought to extend its tenets throughout society and launched a campaign spearheaded by Andrei Zhdanov against ‘formalism, cosmopolitanism, and stooping to the decadent West.’ Marked strongly by anti-Semitism and chauvinism, the policy provided a convenient means of expanding a policy of Russification.

Joseph Stalin’s death (1953) and a change of leadership (G. Malenkov, Nikita Khrushchev) brought about a temporary détente or ‘thaw’ in Soviet life in 1956–9. Khrushchev’s dramatic revelations about the extent of Stalin’s crimes at the 20th Congress of the CPSU in 1956 provided a particularly important catalyst for the process. The successful removal of the ‘anti-Party group’ (Malenkov, Viacheslav Molotov, and Lazar Kaganovich) strengthened Khrushchev’s position and allowed him to combine his function as first secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU with that of the premier or head of the government (in place of N. Bulganin, who had resigned). Setbacks in the economy (notably the costs of developing highly mechanized state farms and amenity-supplied agrocities (see Agrotown), and the crop failures and dust storms in the virgin lands) and in foreign brinkmanship (the Cuban missile crisis, the border conflict with China), and, in particular, the strains on the Soviet bloc caused by liberalization in the USSR, prompted a reaction. In October 1964 Khrushchev was deposed and replaced by a ‘collective leadership’ headed by Leonid Brezhnev. Like Khrushchev before him, Brezhnev gradually strengthened his position in party and government leadership. In 1973 and 1977 two Ukrainians were removed from the Politburo, Petro Shelest and Mykola Pidhirny. Pidhirny lost his prestigious, albeit largely ceremonial, position as president of the Supreme Soviet to Brezhnev.

The Brezhnev leadership assumed a highly conservative course that in some respects returned to Joseph Stalin’s methods (neo-Stalinism). The role of the KGB increased, and the military assumed an even greater influence on the armaments policy. The party apparatus and government bureaucracy grew in importance, and corruption, already well established in Soviet life, became rampant. The limited dynamism seen in cultural and intellectual life during the Khrushchev thaw was largely brought under control. The economy did not expand to any significant degree. Critics later characterized the Brezhnev regime as being afflicted with a particular malaise and referred to it as ‘the period of stagnation.’

Political dissidents in the Soviet Union were repressed during the Brezhnev era, as they had been under previous administrations. The methods of the state security organs, however, had become more refined, and the sort of mass terror experienced by Soviet society under Joseph Stalin was not repeated. Publications, however, that did not conform to official ideology were closed down, and their editors commonly jailed. Ukrainians and other non-Russian peoples in the USSR constituted a disproportionately high percentage of dissidents, for in addition to general political rights they were also often concerned about the national rights of their respective peoples. The issue became particularly acute in the 1970s, after Leonid Brezhnev’s nationality policy downplayed the existence of different peoples in the USSR and began to promote the concept of a Soviet people. The regime also took a sharper course against religion (see Antireligious propaganda). Under the combined pressure of internal protests and external diplomatic action, the emigration of Jews increased, and a number of dissidents, chiefly Russian, were exiled to the West.

While tightening up controls internally and maintaining a Cold War with China, the Soviet leadership began, in the early 1970s, a policy of détente with the West. Negotiations and agreements were concluded with the United States of America that limited nuclear armaments and broadened trade relations. The USSR obtained nearly 15 billion dollars’ worth (1976) of credits from Western Europe, the United States, and Japan for the purchase of machinery and grain. Such help carried it through a series of poor harvests and aided its industries with modern Western technology. In 1976 the USSR signed the Helsinki Accords, which provided Western recognition of the post-Second World War boundaries in Eastern Europe. In return the Soviet Union and its satellite countries made certain human rights guarantees, agreed to broaden the access granted to Western media, and promised to allow greater emigration. The USSR did not abide by any of those commitments. Its failure to act was highlighted by dissident groups formed in 1976–7 in Moscow, Kyiv (see Ukrainian Helsinki Group), Vilnius, Tbilisi, and Yerevan to monitor the implementation of the Helsinki agreement. Three groups succeeded in gaining international publicity with their protests. In due course their leaders were arrested, and their activities repressed.

Leonid Brezhnev died in November 1982 and was succeeded, in rapid succession, by Yurii Andropov (who died in February 1984), Konstantin Chernenko (who died in March 1985), and Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev initiated major disarmament measures that diffused Cold War tensions with the West. He also launched the policies of perestroika (Ukrainian: perebudova), or restructuring, in an effort to stimulate the Soviet economy, and of glasnost (Ukrainian: hlasnist), or openness, in order to allow for greater freedom of social and intellectual life in the Union. The Party was increasingly criticized in the media and challenged politically by a host of new parties and unsanctioned civic groups known (in Ukrainian) as neformaly. National movements also threatened the power of the USSR. The competence of the Party and the Soviet system in general was particularly brought into question as the cover-up of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 came to light.

The visible collapse of the USSR began in 1989, when its satellite countries in Central and Eastern Europe (East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania) swept out their Soviet-backed Communist governments in rapid succession. In 1990 the three Baltic states declared themselves independent of the Soviet Union, and the majority of republics made claims to sovereignty (by which their local laws took precedence over those of the USSR). The uncertainty of the political situation was accentuated by a growing economic crisis. Matters quickly came to a head after an abortive coup attempt led by G. Yanaev in August 1991. The Ukrainian SSR declared itself independent of the USSR (on 24 August 1991); it was followed soon by most of the other Soviet republics. On 1 December 1991 Ukraine’s declaration was confirmed by a decisive vote in a national referendum. It proved to be the deathblow to the Union. A week later, on 8 December 1991, Leonid Kravchuk (Ukraine), Boris Yeltsin (Russia), and Stanislaŭ Sushkevich (Belorussia, now renamed Belarus) met in Minsk, ostensibly to discuss bilateral trading arrangements; they emerged from the gathering with a blueprint for the establishment of a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that would render the USSR obsolete. After a last-ditch effort to save the Union, Mikhail Gorbachev accepted the CIS as a fait accompli and resigned from his position as president of the Soviet Union, on 25 December. The state was formally dissolved the following day (26 December 1991) during the final session of the Supreme Soviet. Subsequently the RSFSR (reconstituted as the Russian Federation) sought and obtained international recognition as the legal successor state to the USSR and assumed its seat at the United Nations; in addition it seized a large portion of the USSR’s assets and appropriated numerous central institutions (bank, post office, and the like) directly into its own state structure.

Administrative-political structure. The existence of the RSFSR alongside a buffer of ‘independent’ Soviet republics tied to each other in a military, economic, and diplomatic union was considered by the Russian Communist party (Bolshevik) as a temporary phenomenon. It sought, in fact, to unite the Soviet republics tightly and to unify their internal and external policies under one monolithic leadership. The principle of unity was shared by many factions of the party, but there was no common concept as to how it should be achieved. The Russian centralists demanded the inclusion of the republics in the RSFSR as autonomous units (the so-called autonomy concept, represented principally by Joseph Stalin), whereas some national-Communists (see National communism) (such as Mykola Skrypnyk, Khristian Rakovsky, B. Mdivani) desired a union of equal partners on the basis of confederation. An intermediate formula, that of a federative union, was supported by Vladimir Lenin, and eventually won out. The founding act of the new state was the ‘Declaration and Agreement Concerning the Establishment of the USSR,’ approved at the First Congress of the Soviets of the USSR, 30 December 1922. The Second Congress, 31 January 1924, approved the ‘Constitution of the USSR.’ Despite the opposition of some non-Russian representatives, the constitution was formulated along the lines of a centralized federation.

The union republics and autonomous soviet socialist republics, autonomous oblasts, and autonomous okrugs were political-territorial units that formed the federative structure of the USSR. The krais (see Krai) (despite the presence of autonomous units within them) and the oblasts had only administrative-territorial significance. The chief criterion for the establishment and division of the political-territorial units was the presence of a particular nationality or people in a particular territory. The Soviet constitution provided the Union and autonomous republics with the characteristics of state structures, including their own constitutions. The Union republics thus had theoretical indicators of sovereignty. In that way the federal structure of the USSR was unique, and in many respects it evoked contradictory interpretations in constitutional law and political science (see Federalism).

Initially the main Soviet principle of political order was considered to be the dictatorship of the proletariat, with the soviets (councils) as the organs of administration. Following the 22nd Congress of the CPSU the emphasis in guiding principles shifted to the ‘general peoples’ nature of the Soviet state and the strengthening of social democracy through the participation of social organizations and the masses in the administration.

The governing state organs of the USSR in 1923–36 were the Congress of Soviets of the USSR and the Central Executive Committee of the USSR. The executive and administrative power was wielded by the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom), chaired first by Vladimir Lenin and later by A. Rykov. Deputies to the All-Union Congress of the Soviets were selected by the republics by indirect vote, with one deputy per 25,000 electors in the cities and one per 100,000 in the rural areas.

The Central Executive Committee consisted of two chambers, the Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of the Nationalities. The Congress of the Soviets elected members to the Soviet of the Union in proportion to the population of each republic. The Soviet of the Nationalities consisted of delegates from the Union and autonomous soviet socialist republics (five from each), and the autonomous oblasts (one each). The Central Executive Committee met three times a year. Between sessions the Presidium performed legislative and control functions and could exercise the prerogative for negating the acts of the republican organs.

The Sovnarkom consisted of the all-Union people's commissars (External Affairs, Transport, Post and Telegraph, Army and Navy, and External Trade) and the unified or directive commissars (Supreme Council of the National Economy, Finance, Land Affairs, Labor, Worker-Peasant Control), who had counterparts in the Union republics. Matters of sociocultural or local significance were deferred to the republics to be managed by republican commissars along general guidelines established by the USSR government. The Supreme Court both served as the highest judicial body of the USSR and had some control functions over the republican courts. Legislation tended to be unified, but in many matters there were separate republican codes (civil and criminal codes and process, administrative law, and the like).

Some institutional changes were brought about by the new USSR Constitution of 5 December 1936. The functions of the All-Union Congress of the Soviets and the Central Executive Committee were taken over by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, consisting of two chambers, the Soviet of the Union and the Soviet of the Nationalities. The Supreme Soviet convened two times a year for sessions, which were held either separately in each chamber or jointly in a plenary meeting. Between the sessions of the Supreme Soviet all the functions of the highest state organ were performed by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, with the president as its chairman. The highest executive-administrative organ of the government with broad managerial (in fact, legislative) functions became the Council of Ministers of the USSR (until 1946 the Council of People's Commissars), whose members were chosen by the Supreme Soviet or its Presidium. The individual ministries and bodies of state administration (committees, councils, administrations) were either all-Union, directly managing all matters throughout the USSR, or Union-republican, with respective organs at the republican level as well. The ministries encompassed almost all governmental, economic, cultural, and social matters and left the republics with jurisdiction over minor matters (usually of local significance). A movement to expand republican rights in the late 1950s and to decentralize the national economy through the establishment of regional economic councils (known as the Sovnarkhozy) was ended in the early 1960s.

The Supreme Court of the USSR was the highest court, and the USSR state public prosecutor and his prosecuting magistracy provided the central supervision of the execution of Soviet law. In October 1977 an extraordinary session of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR approved a new constitution for the USSR that broadened the prerogatives of the Union over the republics and strengthened the leading role of the CPSU in state affairs. Its provisions negated the previous constitutional right of Union republics to have their own national military units, although in practice the military forces of the USSR were strictly centralized and nationally mixed. It also repealed provisions that recognized most of the non-Russian languages as the official languages of their respective Union republics.

In accordance with the concept of democratic centralism, government administration in the USSR and the direction of its economy were highly centralized. The representative bodies of the government actually exercised nominal control; real power resided in smaller groups (such as the Presidium of the Council of Ministers) or individual administrators, who invariably were leading Party functionaries. Centralization among state political organs and administrative bodies was maintained through a tight chain of answerabilty.

The most characteristic trait of the Soviet political system was the leading role of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Effectively it was a superior body that gave direction to and controlled the state from the outside. Its members held all the key positions at every level of government. The real and highest power in the USSR was concentrated in the Politburo and the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the CPSU. The CPSU secretariat and the Secretariat of the CC CPU, and even those at the oblast and raion level of the party committees, had divisions structured parallel to the ministries and other government bodies. Those divisions carried out directives and maintained control functions over government establishments in addition to appointing people to leading posts or removing them from administrative responsibility.

The absolute political dominance of the Party (no other political organs or opposition was allowed), with its dogmatic ideology, control over economic resources, and monopoly over the means of communication, effectively rendered the Soviet Union a model totalitarian state. The CPSU was disbanded shortly after the abortive coup attempt of August 1991, and its assets were seized by republican governments.

The Ukrainian diaspora in the USSR. Although most Ukrainians lived within the limits of the Ukrainian SSR and in adjacent areas that constitute contiguous Ukrainian ethnographic territory, there were large numbers of Ukrainians who lived in other areas of the Soviet Union. (See Table.) The contiguous Ukrainian ethnic territory included (along with the Ukrainian SSR) the predominantly Ukrainian-settled territories in the bordering RSFSR, consisting of the southern parts of Belgorod oblast, Kursk oblast (see Kursk region), and Voronezh oblast (see Voronezh region) (northern Slobidska Ukraine), part of Rostov oblast, and most of Krasnodar krai (the Kuban), as well as a southern wedge in the Belorussian SSR, incorporating most of Brest oblast and the southwestern strip of Homel oblast. Contiguous mixed Ukrainian-Russian territory (in which the Ukrainians constituted a minority) could be found in central and in a portion of eastern North Caucasia (the rest of Krasnodar krai and nearly all of Stavropol krai) as well as in the southern part of Briansk oblast north of Chernihiv. Because Soviet census figures after 1926 do not provide nationality and language characteristics of the population for units smaller than the oblast or krai, it is impossible to ascertain the status of the contiguous Ukrainian and mixed territories beyond the Ukrainian SSR in a definitive manner. The 1926 census itself also underestimates the number of USSR Ukrainians outside the Ukrainian SSR.

To 1930. The Ukrainian diaspora in the USSR was distributed in a geographical pattern established before the Revolution of 1917. The first Russian census in 1897 recorded that the Ukrainian diaspora numbered 1,560,000 in the Russian Empire, with 1,232,000 in the European part, 311,000 east of the Urals, and 17,000 south of the Caucasus Mountains. Between 1897 and 1914 a major shift occurred as Ukrainians emigrated in large numbers beyond the Urals (nearly 1.5 million, after taking returnees into account). By 1914 the number of Ukrainians in the Asian part of Russia had increased to approximately 2 million. Meanwhile, in European Russia the assimilation of Ukrainians began to speed up, especially in those areas where they were not highly concentrated, or were dispersed among the Russian population. During and immediately after the First World War Ukrainian emigration to the east was insignificant, and the geographical pattern of Ukrainian settlement there remained unchanged. Therefore, the 1914 situation was closely reflected in the 1926 census, even though it tended to understate the number of Ukrainians (for example, in the Central, or Industrial, region of Russia it identified only 41,300 Ukrainians, in spite of the fact that 121,000 persons indicated their place of birth as Ukraine). Nevertheless the 1926 census noted that 3,450,000 Ukrainians lived beyond contiguous Ukrainian ethnic territory, 1,310,000 in the European USSR and 2,140,000 in the Asian.

The distribution of the Ukrainian diaspora in the European USSR in 1926 was similar to what it had been in 1897. Nearly 340,000 Ukrainians lived in the RSFSR borderland regions, including 170,000 in Kursk gubernia, 69,000 in Voronezh gubernia, and 79,000 in the Donets River subregion (later the western half of Rostov oblast). The largest number (771,000) lived along the Volga River and in the foothills of the Southern Urals in large concentrations. Those concentrations included approximately 440,000 in the Lower Volga region (15,000 in the Kalmyk ASSR, 14,000 in Astrakhan gubernia, 141,000 in Stalingrad (later Volgograd) gubernia, 202,000 in Saratov gubernia, and 69,000 in the Volga German ASSR), 206,000 in the Middle Volga region (Samara gubernia and Orenburg gubernia), 77,000 in the Bashkir ASSR, and 48,000 in Ural oblast. Fully 92 percent of that Ukrainian diaspora was rural population.

Other large concentrations of Ukrainians were in North Caucasia, not far from the contiguous Ukrainian territory. The largest ones were at Rostov-na-Donu (59,200, but only 5,600 in 1897), Groznyi (8,800), Novocherkassk (7,500, with 2,600 in 1897), and Vladikavkaz (now Ordzhonikidze, 4,000).

In the rest of the European USSR there were almost 100,000 Ukrainians in the diaspora (nearly 10,000 in the Belorussian SSR and the rest in the RSFSR). They resided mostly in large cities and had come there as workers or employees. The largest concentration of Ukrainians was in Moscow (16,100 in 1926, 4,500 in 1897); it was followed by those in Leningrad (10,800 in 1926, 5,200 in 1897), Kaluga (7,000), Orenburg (3,500), Voronezh (3,400), and Kursk (2,400).

The Ukrainian diaspora in the Asian USSR was, by 1926, more numerous than that in the European. According to the 1926 census it had reached 2,160,000 (only 328,000 in 1897) and thus represented 62 percent of all the Ukrainian diaspora in the USSR (only 20 percent in 1897). In other words, the Ukrainian presence in Asia increased from 1.6 percent of all the Ukrainians in the Russian Empire in 1897 to 6.8 percent of all the Ukrainians in the USSR in 1926. Its share of all population in the Asian USSR also doubled, from 3.2 percent in 1897 to 6.4 percent in 1926. Within the borders of Kazakhstan lived 861,000 Ukrainians, who constituted 13.2 percent of its population; within Siberia there were 853,000 Ukrainians (9.5 percent of the Siberian population); in the Far Eastern krai (see Far East) there were 315,000 Ukrainians (16.8 percent of the Far Eastern population); in the Kirgiz SSR, 64,000 (6.5 percent); in the remaining Central Asian republics, 33,000 (0.5 percent); and south of the Caucasus Mountains, 35,000 (0.6 percent).

The Ukrainian population in Asia was not uniformly distributed. The Ukrainian peasants, who migrated beyond the Urals, searched for physical conditions comparable to those in Ukraine: they shunned arid deserts (in the south) and forests (in the north) and settled where possible in a forest-steppe or steppe zone. Consequently the Ukrainians were concentrated in two areas, the Far East and the Siberian-Kazakh steppe. The latter area, located in southwestern Siberia and northern Kazakhstan, is the eastern extremity of the broad zones of chernozem soils and the forest-steppe and steppe zones that extend all the way from Ukraine. In both the Far East and the Siberian-Kazakh steppe the Ukrainians constituted a majority in some places. Ukrainians in the Asian USSR were almost exclusively rural (97 percent).

According to the 1926 census about one-quarter of the Ukrainian diaspora in the USSR claimed Russian as its native tongue. That indicator should be considered with caution, for linguistic Russification was impeded by the fact that 95 percent of the Ukrainians were rural and lived in large concentrations or villages with their own way of life, seldom intermarried with members of other nationalities, and were first- or sometimes second-generation immigrants from Ukraine.

As of 1 January 1933 the Ukrainian diaspora in the USSR was estimated at 4.5 million, or some 14 percent of all the Ukrainians in the USSR, with 3 million in Asia and 1.5 million in Europe. By comparison, at that time there were 1.2 million Ukrainians in North America and up to 0.6 million in Europe beyond the contiguous Ukrainian ethnic territories in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania.

Changes after 1930. Changes in the 1930s and later concerning the Ukrainian diaspora cannot be firmly documented because of scanty and less reliable subsequent census data (1959, 1970, 1979, and 1989). In the 1930s the Ukrainian diaspora in the European USSR suffered disruptions of the sort experienced by the Ukrainian population in its contiguous ethnic territory, though with proportionately smaller losses. Those disruptions included deaths resulting from repression, hunger, and deportations, escapes from repression to other parts of the USSR, and escapes, deportations, and deaths during the Second World War. Moreover, more individuals preferred not to identify themselves as Ukrainians, and succumbed to the increasing tempo of Russification. By contrast, the number of Ukrainians in the Asian USSR continued to grow as a result of new immigration from Ukraine. During the period of collectivization the immigrants were exiled peasants and those who saved themselves from famine and repression by fleeing to industrial towns in Asia. Subsequent immigration included Second World War evacuees (only some of whom subsequently returned to Ukraine), exiles and prisoners of concentration camps (many of whom remained in Asia after their release), settlers recruited for the virgin lands program in the 1950s and for major construction and industrial projects, and those who migrated to the Asian USSR in search of higher income or better living conditions. Similar immigration processes (though much weaker) in the European part of the RSFSR involved the forced or voluntary migration of Ukrainians to the north or to industrial centers. The Soviet authorities also encouraged interrepublican transfers of population, with the migration of Ukrainians to other republics and a reciprocal movement of other populations to Ukraine.

The present state of the Ukrainian diaspora in the former USSR is the product of the aforementioned processes and of a constant and increasingly intense process of Russification. Beyond the borders of the Ukrainian SSR Ukrainians had no national rights, not even on the territory of the Kuban (part of the contiguous Ukrainian ethnic territory, where Ukrainians once constituted the majority of the population). There were no Ukrainian schools, societies, or organizations outside the Ukrainian SSR, and no newspapers or books published. The dissemination of printed matter in Ukrainian from the Ukrainian SSR as well as cultural contacts with the Ukrainian SSR was difficult. Such a state of affairs resulted in the linguistic and national Russification of the Ukrainian diaspora. The greatest losses within the Ukrainian diaspora (in census terms) occurred in the Ukrainian-Russian borderland, in those oblasts or krais which in whole or in part made up the contiguous Ukrainian ethnic territory beyond the Ukrainian SSR—Belgorod oblast, Kursk oblast, and Voronezh oblast—and in Western Caucasia and Northern Caucasia, which consisted of the Kuban, Stavropol region, and, partly, Terek region and is now encompassed by Krasnodar krai and Stavropol krai and Rostov oblast.

The Soviet census indicates a drop in the Ukrainian population in the Ukrainian northeastern borderlands by 1959 to 17 percent of the 1926 numbers, and a reduction in the use of the Ukrainian language as the mother tongue (among Ukrainians) from 84 to 8 percent. For the southeastern borderlands official Soviet figures indicate a Ukrainian population drop to 10.5 percent of 1926 numbers and a reduction in the use of Ukrainian as the mother tongue from 50 to 42 percent. The situation is comparable to that in the northern Chernihiv region, in the southern part of the present Briansk oblast, where the number of census Ukrainians declined from 128,000 in 1926 to 21,000 in 1970. A similar decline is indicated for that portion of Ukrainian Polisia that in 1939 was joined to the Belorussian SSR (nearly 600,000 Ukrainians): the proportion of Ukrainians there fell from 68.8 percent in 1931 (calculations by Volodymyr Kubijovyč) to 2.3 percent in 1959 (official Soviet figures).

The Ukrainians of the diaspora in the USSR living in the non-Russian republics tended to rely on the Russian language for communication with others rather than the language of the local national population. According to the 1979 census only 17 percent of the Ukrainians in the Belorussian SSR knew Belarusian, and 14 percent in the Moldavian SSR knew Moldavian. In the Baltic republics 17 percent in Lithuania knew Lithuanian, 7 percent in Latvia knew Latvian, and 6 percent in Estonia knew Estonian. In Central Asia the figure for those Ukrainians knowing the local language reached only 3 percent in the Uzbek SSR (see Uzbekistan), 2 percent in the Kirgiz SSR and Tadzhik SSR (see Tadzhikistan), 1 percent in the Turkmen SSR (see Turkmenistan), and scarcely 0.4 percent in the Kazakh SSR (see Kazakhstan). Conversely, non-Russians settled in Ukraine commonly lacked a knowledge of the Ukrainian language and relied on Russian.

The Ukrainian diaspora in the USSR has changed dramatically, from being overwhelmingly rural (92 percent in 1926) to being predominantly urban (65 percent in 1970). In the 1970s the level of urbanization of the Ukrainian diaspora exceeded the USSR average (56 percent in 1970) and especially that of the Ukrainians in the Ukrainian SSR (46 percent in 1970). The level of urbanization of the Ukrainian diaspora was not uniform: it was highest in the Baltic republics, the industrial regions of the RSFSR, and Transcaucasia, but it fell below the average in the Kirgiz SSR (51 percent in 1970). It was particularly low in the Moldavian SSR (44 percent in 1970). The high levels of urbanization resulted in major changes in life-style, with an increased frequency of mixed marriages and accelerated Russification.

The largest Ukrainian concentration in the European USSR was found, as in 1926, in the Volga region and the Urals (771,000 in 1926, 779,000 in 1989). Ukrainian as the mother tongue was claimed by 41 percent of the people; an additional 12 percent claimed Ukrainian as their second language (1989). By 1970, 65 percent lived in cities, whereas in 1926 only 8 percent were urban. The distribution by oblast was also similar to that in 1926: the largest number (1989) lived in the oblasts of Cheliabinsk (110,000, or 3 percent of the population), Orenburg (102,000, or 5 percent), Saratov (see Saratov oblast) (102,000, or 4 percent), Sverdlovsk (82,000, or 1.8 percent), Kuibyshev (82,000 or 2.5 percent), Volgograd (79,000, or 3 percent), and in the Bashkir ASSR (75,000, or 2 percent).

A new concentration of the Ukrainian diaspora had emerged in the Central (Industrial) region of the RSFSR. In 1968–9 alone approximately 96,500 persons migrated there from the Ukrainian SSR (in their place, the Central region provided 59,400 migrants to the Ukrainian SSR). The number of Ukrainians in the Central region had grown constantly, from approximately 13,000 in 1897 to some 675,000 in 1989. The largest concentration of Ukrainians was in the city of Moscow (253,000 in 1989). Of the Ukrainians living in the Central region, 86 percent (1970) were urban, with 44 percent declaring Ukrainian as their mother tongue, and another 22 percent declaring it as their second language (1989).

Similar conditions existed in the Western region. As in the Central region, the Ukrainian diaspora was more recent, having grown from 6,000 in 1897 to 293,000 in 1989, and was predominantly urban (88 percent in 1970). The main concentration of Ukrainians was in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg; 151,000 in 1989, or 3 percent of the city’s population, compared to approximately 5,000 in 1897), although significant numbers were also found in Leningrad oblast (49,200, or 3 percent) and Kaliningrad oblast (formerly East Prussia, 62,800, or 7.2 percent). Some 42 percent (1989) indicated Ukrainian as their mother tongue, and another 22 percent declared it their second language.

Ukrainian settlement in the European north was also relatively recent. In 1926 approximately 1,100 Ukrainians lived there, but by 1959 their number had grown to 194,000, and by 1970 to 230,200, mostly (78 percent) urban. Whereas the number of Ukrainians in the old-settled Vologda oblast was relatively small (13,000, or 1.4 percent of Vologda’s population), the number increased to the north, in the Karelian ASSR (27,400, or 3.8 percent), in Arkhangelsk oblast (51,200, or 3.7 percent), in Murmansk oblast (56,300, or 7 percent), and, especially, in the Komi ASSR (83,000, or 8.6 percent). Ukrainian males outnumbered females in the region two to one (1959), especially in older age cohorts; that fact indicated the substantial number of former prisoners of concentration camps (notably Vorkuta) and exiles. The number of Ukrainians continued to grow with immigration from the Ukrainian SSR. By 1989 there were 310,000 in the northern region (with increases to 104,200 in the Komi ASSR and 105,100 in the naval base of Murmansk).

Linguistically the Ukrainian diaspora in the European north was the least assimilated. In 1970 some 59 percent considered Ukrainian as their mother tongue, and 15 percent used Ukrainian as their second language; by 1989 the figures had declined to 47 and 17 percent respectively.

Among the other neighboring Union republics there was a very large Ukrainian presence in the Moldavian SSSR (600,400 in 1989). In the Belorussian SSR the Ukrainians (according to the 1989 census) numbered 291,000 (2.9 percent of the republic’s population), of whom 132,100 (45 percent) declared Ukrainian as their mother tongue. Most were urban residents, scattered through all the oblasts. Even in those regions that contained parts of the contiguous Ukrainian ethnic territory Ukrainians were identified by census figures as a tiny minority—in Brest oblast, 60,600 (4 percent) and in Homel oblast, 68,600 (4 percent).

Ukrainians came to live in the Baltic republics in substantial numbers only after the Second World War. Most (88 percent in 1970) have resided in cities, many as civil servants, notably the capital cities of Riga (43,600 in 1989, nearly half of the Ukrainians in Latvia and 4.8 percent of the city’s population), Tallinn (24,200, or 50 percent of the Ukrainians of Estonia and 4.8 percent of the city’s population), and Vilnius (13,300, or 30 percent of the Ukrainians in Lithuania and 2.3 percent of the city’s population). A large proportion declared Ukrainian as their mother tongue (53 percent in 1970, 48 percent in 1979) or knew it as their second language (15 percent in both 1970 and 1989).

Despite a large influx of Ukrainians into the Asian USSR census figures suggested only a slight absolute growth, from 2,160,000 in 1926 to 2,378,000 in 1959, and a declining share of the Ukrainian population, from 6.7 to 4.2 percent. Although increases in the numbers of Ukrainians in the Far East and especially in eastern Siberia were noted, the census suggested a decline in their number in western Siberia and the Kazakh SSR (see Kazakhstan) despite an influx of Ukrainian workers for the virgin lands program. By 1970, census figures indicated losses in the regions of western Siberia, eastern Siberia, and the Far East, thereby suggesting the continuing Russification of the second-generation Ukrainians. Meanwhile, the number of Ukrainians in the Asian north and northeast increased, from 4,000 in 1926 to 116,300 in 1970 and 252,100 in 1989. Many settled in the Yakut ASSR (see Yakutiia) (in 1989, 77,100, or 7 percent of the ASSR’s population), in Kamchatka oblast (43,000, or 9 percent), in Sakhalin oblast (see Sakhalin Island) (46,200, or 6.5 percent), and, especially, in Magadan oblast (85,800, or 15.4 percent), with its infamous Kolyma (see Kolyma region). Magadan oblast represented the highest proportion of Ukrainian population in any oblast of the RSFSR. Clearly the Ukrainian element continued to play a prominent role among the exiles and workers of the north. Urbanization in Siberia and the Far East was above the USSR average, especially in the north, a trend that also pertained to Ukrainians (66 percent for all Siberia and the Far East in 1970). In all of Siberia and the Far East 44 percent of Ukrainians declared Ukrainian as their mother tongue, and 14 percent knew it as their second language, in 1989. The respective percentages for the three separate regions were 46.5 and 10.9 percent for western Siberia, 48.7 and 15.4 percent for eastern Siberia, and 37.4 and 16.7 percent for the Far East.

In the Kazakh SSR and Kirgiz SSR the size of the Ukrainian diaspora (according to the official statistics) changed little over time: from 925,000 in 1926 to 1,007,300 in 1970 (largely in Kazakhstan, offset in part by a small decline in Kirgizia), followed by a decline, and then to 1,004,000 in 1989. The proportion of the Ukrainian population declined throughout the period, as both the Kazakh and Kirgiz populations experienced rapid growth. Urbanization among Ukrainians was not rapid, because many of the newcomers were settled on the virgin lands (54 percent in Kazakhstan and 51 percent in Kirgizia in 1970). Ukrainian as the mother tongue was claimed by 36.6 percent of the Ukrainians in Kazakhstan (1989); another 5.8 percent used Ukrainian as their second language; the respective indicators for Kirgizia were 34 and 6.0 percent.

Most Ukrainians in Central Asia (formerly Turkestan) settled there in the post-Second World War period. In 1926 the old settlers, mostly grain farmers in the border foothills or workers in the cities, numbered 33,000; by 1959 their number had grown to 136,000, by 1970 to 179,000, and by 1989 to 230,100, virtually all in the cities. The largest Ukrainian concentration in Central Asia is in the Uzbek SSR (153,200, or 0.8 percent of the republic’s population in 1989). In 1970 approximately 87 percent of the Ukrainians in the republic were urbanized. In the capital city of Tashkent lived 60,000 Ukrainians in 1989 (2.9 percent of the city’s population), the largest known urban concentration of Ukrainians in the Asian USSR. In the Turkmen SSR there were 35,600 Ukrainians (1 percent of the republic’s population) in 1989. Of those, 29,500 (82 percent) lived in cities, mainly (11,000) in the capital of Ashkhabad (where they constituted 4.3 percent of the city’s population). In the Tadzhik SSR the 41,400 Ukrainians (0.8 percent) in 1989 indicated a rise from 31,700 (1.1 percent) in 1970, when 29,400 (92 percent) were urban, and 13,300 lived in the capital, Dushanbe (constituting 3.6 percent of the city’s population). In sum, over one-third of all Ukrainians living in Central Asia resided in the capital cities of their respective republics. Since that diaspora was mostly recent, its language retention indicators were somewhat higher: 50.0 percent declared Ukrainian as their mother tongue, and 6.5 percent indicated Ukrainian as their second language.

In the Transcaucasian republics most Ukrainians lived in Georgia (52,400, or 1 percent of the population in 1989); it was followed by Azerbaidzhan (32,300, or 0.5 percent) and Armenia (8,300, or 0.3 percent). The largest urban concentration of Ukrainians in Transcaucasia was in Baku (14,400 in 1970); it was followed by Tbilisi (10,600) and Yerevan (2,600). Their linguistic retention was slightly better than that of their counterparts in Central Asia: in 1989 fully 59 percent declared Ukrainian as their mother tongue, and another 7.2 percent gave Ukrainian as their second language.

The census data provided only a sketchy indication of the status of the Ukrainian diaspora in the Asian USSR. The large migrations (until the 1960s) from Ukraine, along with a relatively high level of natural increase, presumably would have resulted in a population of Ukrainian origin in the Asian USSR of seven to eight million. As they stand, the official figures suggest that the majority of the migration had undergone extensive Russification.

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 Volodymyr Kubijovyč, Vasyl Markus, Ihor Stebelsky

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]




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