Pioneer Organization of Ukraine

Image - Soviet Pioneer uniform Image - The Pioneer Palace in Kyiv (1970s).

Pioneer Organization of Ukraine (Піонерська організація України; Pionerska orhanizatsiia Ukrainy). A communist mass organization in Soviet Ukraine for children aged 10 to 15. It was an integral part of the All-Union Pioneer Organization; its direction was assigned by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) to the All-Union Communist Youth League (Komsomol). The Republican Council of the All-Union Pioneer Organization formed the leadership of the organization in Ukraine, under the control of the Communist Youth League of Ukraine.

The precursors of the Pioneer organization were youth groups established in 1920–1 by various branches of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine, such as the Children’s International in Kyiv and the Soviet of Children’s Deputies in Katerynoslav. In addition groups of Young Communist Scouts or Young Communists were organized in many cities in Ukraine. Modeled on the Boy Scouts organization, they were disbanded by a 1919 decree of the Second All-Russian Congress of the Komsomol. Because those diverse children’s groups often did not address the political priorities of the communist leadership, in 1922 the Komsomol called for the fusion of all children’s and youth groups into a single organization. In Ukraine the organization was called Yunyi Spartak (Young Spartacus), and published a newspaper by that name. Under the leadership of the Komsomol its groups participated in the rebuilding of the ruined economy, in spreading atheist propaganda, and in helping the large number of orphans left homeless by the Ukrainian-Soviet War, 1917–21. In July 1922 the Central Committee of the Komsomol of Ukraine approved the statute of a new children’s organization, and in January 1923 it created the Central Bureau of the Communist Children’s Movement, with bureaus at the gubernia level. In 1924 the Yunyi Spartak groups were renamed Young Pioneers, and a centralized organizational structure was established, with 360,000 members in Ukraine. The First All-Ukrainian Rally of Young Pioneers took place in Kharkiv in 1929. That year the organization had 550,000 members.

Following the April 1932 resolution of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik), which criticized the Pioneer organizations for their tendency to merge completely with the schools, the Pioneers were given responsibility for intensifying school discipline and actively promoting industrialization and collectivization. Between 1930 and 1940, Pioneers were encouraged to co-operate with the police and the NKVD in exposing ‘enemies of the people’ and reporting their parents’ opposition to collectivization. Military defense training was also introduced in Pioneer groups. During the Second World War many Pioneers were active in the Soviet underground (see Soviet partisans in Ukraine, 1941–5) and war effort. Following the Soviet occupation of Western Ukraine in 1939, the Pioneer organization was established there. (In the 1920s and 1930s there existed a small illegal organization called the Red Pioneers of Western Ukraine. In 1938 it was dissolved by the Communist International, together with its parent organization, the Communist Party of Western Ukraine.)

All schoolchildren of appropriate age were eligible to join their local Pioneer organization at their school or apartment building, and virtually all did so. Entrants took the Pioneer oath, observed Pioneer laws, and wore a red Pioneer neckerchief, the three corners of which represented the unity of the Pioneers, the Komsomol, and the Communist Party. Pioneers held regular meetings to discuss organizational matters and films, books, and other subjects; they also paraded on numerous occasions, visited local places of communist or military significance, formed honorary guards at war memorials, and attended summer camps. Military rituals were widely used, especially from the 1960s, to develop positive identification with Soviet state symbols and to foster Soviet patriotism. Although Pioneers were eligible to join the Komsomol upon reaching the age of 14, a significant number of them chose not to do so. Most children, prior to joining the Pioneers, were members of the Young Octobrists (Zhovteniata), an affiliated organization for children aged seven to nine.

The Ukrainian Pioneers had their own newspapers (Zirka and the Russian Iunyi leninets), journals (Pioneriia and, for younger children, Barvinok and Maliatko), daily radio program (‘Pioner Ukrainy’), and television program (‘Vpered, orliata’).

In the 1980s, Pioneer membership declined (in 1981 there were some four million members). In 1986 there were over 3.5 million Pioneers in Ukraine. That year the Pioneer organization ran 16,700 summer camps. With the erosion of communist power an increasingly large number of parents (especially in the western oblasts) refused to enroll their children in the Pioneer organization. The Pioneers’ militarism and veneration of Soviet state symbols were criticized, and the organization was enjoined to focus more on pedagogical and humanistic goals. With the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the disbanding of the Communist Party of Ukraine in 1991 the Pioneer organizations ceased to function, although they were not officially liquidated. Many of their functions were taken over by newly formed youth organizations.

Ivan Bakalo, Doug Goshko, Bohdan Krawchenko

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

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