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Soviet Rule and World War II in Ukraine

Pre-war years

In 1922, Ukraine became one of the Soviet Union’s founding republics. The first Bolshevik republic in Ukraine was proclaimed following the Russian revolution in 1917; however it dissolved a year after. In 1919, the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic was proclaimed on the territory of east Ukraine, claiming Kharkiv as its capital. Meanwhile the Bolshevik forces continued hostilities towards the Ukrainian People’s Republic with the heart in Kyiv. When the latter fell, its territories were also incorporated into the Soviet Ukrainian republic.

In 1928, Soviet government introduced the so called policy of collectivization with an aim to strip country’s peasants of their private property and foods produced and consolidate it into the collective farms. Not a single national entity of the USSR opposed the collectivization as vehemently as Ukrainians, traditionally used to individual farming and unwilling to give up their land and possessions to the Soviet “kolkhoz” communities. The rich peasants who were openly sabotaging grain and food collection were the main obstacle for the Soviet rulers that had continuously raising grain production quotas in order to finance the almost unrealizably ambitious industrialization plans.

By 1932 the heavy-handed collectivization policies multiplied by the repressive measures towards the Ukrainian peasantry, which were forcibly stripped of their crops and forbidden to leave the villages, resulted in the worst national catastrophe in history of modern Ukraine, the Great Famine. The aftermath of artificially created famine, the Holodomor (literally “death inflicted by hunger”) was terrible: according to the rough estimation from 3.5 to 5 million people starved to death in the Soviet Ukraine. Total losses, including the decrease in the birth rate, amounted to the insufferable blow to the Ukrainian population and nation as the whole, the core of which at that time was peasantry.

On September 1, 1939, the attack of Poland by Adolf Hitler marked the beginning of the Second World War. According to The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, signed in August of 1939, the Soviet Union increased its geographical borders by adding previously Polish lands, which now became Western Bielorussia and Western Ukraine. In June 1940, Bessarabia and Northern Bukovyna was annexed from Romania. After the reunification of the Ukrainian SSR and Western Ukraine, the population of Ukraine estimated over the 41 million people and the republic territory made for 560 thousand square miles. The crude Soviet policies introduction with totalitarian style repressions and persecutions began in Western Ukraine.

Ukraine in World War II

On June 22, Germany and its allied powers invaded the Soviet Union. Suffering great losses, the Red Army was retreating leaving vast lands to the enemy. A considerable part of Ukrainian lands was given to Hitler’s ally Ion Antonesku. A new Romanian province was created called “Transnistria,” with a center in Odesa. West-Ukrainian lands were subject to governor-generalship which embraced the greatest part of Poland. The Right Bank and the greater part of the Left Bank, and areas adjacent to the Crimea, created “Reichscommisariat of Ukraine.” Terror swayed in the lands occupied by Germans, who completely exterminated Jewish and Gipsy populations, as well as all other people suspected of not being loyal to the Reich. Ostarbeiters (Eastern Workers) in a number close to 2.4 million were forcibly taken to work in in Germany. Nearly 320 villages were burned down. Historians give as an approximate estimation of Ukraine’s war-time losses in figures from 7 to more than 10 million of people.

In Western Ukraine underground movement was led by the OUN, Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists established back in 1929 in response to Polish authoritative governance of the Western Ukrainian lands and repressions against Ukrainian population. On the eve of the World War II, OUN split into two parts, the OUN (B) headed by Stepan Bandera and OUN (M) headed by Andriy Melnyk. When German troops occupied Lviv, Bandera and his supporters announced “Act to Restoration of the Ukrainian State.” A provisional government was appointed, headed by Yaroslav Stetsko. When Berlin authorities came to know about the unwarranted actions of the nationalists, the OUN leaders were imprisoned in concentration camps. After two tides of arrests and executions (in September and December 1941), the OUN under Bandera went underground.

In the autumn of 1942, Bandera’s OUN established its military wing – the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), called upon to fight with the Polish and Soviet partisan-underground formations. Bandera ideas’ supporters defended the local population from occupying forces and periodically entered into the armed struggles with them. As a whole, the command maintained its troops in the state of armed neutrality. They were guided by the pragmatic desire to spare their strength for the struggles with the Red Army, since it became apparent that it would return. Their mostly doomed struggle with the Soviet forces after war, continued up to mid-1950s.

On December 19, 1942, the Nazi forces were dislodged from the first Ukrainian villages. Kyiv was liberated on November 6, 1943. In October 1944, the entire Ukrainian territory was free from Hitler’s forces. Trans Carpathian Ukraine was liberated on October 26-28. In November, the congress of people’s committee in Mukacheve made a resolution about the Trans Carpathian withdrawal from Czechoslovakia and its reunification with Ukraine. The new region expanded Ukraine’s territory to 577 thousand square miles.