People's Secretariat

People's Secretariat (Народний секретаріят; Narodnyi sekretariiat). The executive body of the Provisional Central Executive Committee of the Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies of Ukraine, established in Kharkiv on 30 December 1917 by Russian and local Bolsheviks. It was set up as a rival (Soviet) government in opposition to the Central Rada and the General Secretariat of the Central Rada in Kyiv. The first People's Secretariat consisted of S. Bakinsky (a representative of the Council of People's Commissars of Russia) as secretary of nationalities, Vasyl Shakhrai (military affairs), Yevhen Bosh (internal affairs), F. Artem-Sergeev (industry and trade), E. Luganovsky (food supplies), Volodymyr Aussem (finance), V. Liuksemburg (justice), Ye. Terletsky (agrarian affairs), and V. Zatonsky (education). Terletsky was a left-wing Russian Social Revolutionary; all other members were Bolsheviks. Only Shakhrai and Zatonsky were nationally conscious Ukrainians. At first Yukhym Medvediev (a Social Democrat who became a Bolshevik), as chairman of the Provisional Central Executive Committee, headed the secretariat. Later the secretariat was joined by Mykola Skrypnyk (labor, and then industry and trade), Ya. Martianov, Ivan Kulyk, and Yurii Kotsiubynsky (military affairs). At first the People's Secretariat was located in Kharkiv. On 12 February 1918 it moved to Kyiv, on 27 February to Poltava, and in March–April to Katerynoslav and Tahanrih.

The secretariat had little power: representatives of the Petrograd Soviet and the Party watched its activities and even ignored the authority of the Ukrainian Soviet government (notably the Supreme Soviet of the National Economy and the departments of certain industrial oblasts of Ukraine) in a number of areas. The commander of all Soviet armed forces, Volodymyr Antonov-Ovsienko, as member of the Council of People's Commissars of Russia at that time, was responsible only to the Russian center. Vasyl Shakhrai protested strongly against that state of affairs. But the secretariat was in crisis: its governmental role and powers were unclear, and there were personal conflicts. Those difficulties resulted in its disintegration by the end of February. Then Mykola Skrypnyk, who became its chairman, reorganized it and brought in more Ukrainians, such as Yevhen Neronovych, a left-wing Ukrainian Social Democrat (military affairs), Yurii Lapchynsky, a Ukrainian Communist, I. Klymenko, a Ukrainian Social Democrat, and Ivan Kulyk. Volodymyr Zatonsky, the representative of the secretariat to the Russian Soviet government, assumed the provisional portfolio of foreign affairs. On 7 March 1918 Antonov-Ovsienko was appointed secretary of military affairs and ‘supreme chief commander of the Ukrainian Soviet armed forces.’

The signing of the Peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk by the Russian Soviet government resulted in the proclamation of the ‘independence’ of Soviet Ukraine from Soviet Russia by the Second All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets in Katerynoslav on 17–19 March 1918. At the same time the People's Secretariat was reorganized: Mykola Skrypnyk remained chairman, but two new members, A. Bubnov and Stanislav Kosior, both so-called left Communists, were added. The new secretariat could not resist the advancement of Ukrainian, German, and Austrian troops into eastern Ukraine; Russia, in turn, respected the terms of the peace treaty and could offer it no assistance. Hence, on instructions from the Russian authorities the Central Executive Committee and the People's Secretariat were dissolved on 18 April 1918 in Tahanrih. They were replaced by the Bureau for Directing the Partisan Resistance in Ukraine.

The primary purpose of maintaining the secretariat as a separate Soviet government in Ukraine was to cover up the direct aggression of the Russian Bolshevik forces against the Ukrainian National Republic and to create a diversion at the peace negotiations in Brest. For that reason a name similar to that of the General Secretariat of the Central Rada was chosen for the executive body, and the Soviet regime also called itself the Ukrainian National Republic. Its organ was titled Vestnik UNR.

Bosh, E. Natsional'noe pravitel'stvo i sovetskaia vlast' na Ukraine (Moscow 1919)
Khmil’, I. Z praporom myru kriz' polum'ia viiny (Kyiv 1962)
Mazlakh, S.; Shakhrai, V. On the Current Situation in Ukraine, ed Peter Potichnyj (Ann Arbor 1970)

Vsevolod Holubnychy

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]

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