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Conditions for the existence of Ukrainian identity in the Crimean ASSR (1921-1945)


After the defeat of the Ukrainian National Liberation Struggle of 1917-1921, the Bolsheviks created the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (CSR), which became a unique autonomous entity. The local population census of 1921 showed that the total population of Crimea at that time was 719.5 thousand people, among which 5 large national groups stood out in terms of numbers, the combined number of which approached 90% of the entire population: Russians, Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars , Germans and Jews. The majority of the population of the peninsula – 51.5% – consisted of the first two national groups, which the census counted as one, which indicates that the Crimean Ukrainians at that time were denied the right to any independence. Similarly, during the time of the Russian Empire, Ukrainians were often not even called “Little Russians”, but were enrolled in the “Orthodox” or went in the same column with Russians or were generally presented as “Russians”. The same trends in the 1920s took place on the territory of the Ukrainian SSR, even during the times of “indigenization”, but they did not acquire such a mass as in the “autonomous” Crimea.

The brief testimony about the Ukrainian life in the KrARSSR by the founder and head of the Yalta community of Ukrainians and the head of the Small Council (executive committee of the Regional Council) of the Ukrainians of Crimea, Pavel Horyanskyi, who during the Denikin occupation of the peninsula had an assignment from the Ukrainians of Crimea to undertake their protection as a consul of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, is noteworthy. . After the capture of the peninsula by the Bolsheviks in 1920, he continued his teaching and educational activities, and in June 1924 he became the librarian of the Yalta Central Library, having begun to actively study librarianship. Within a year, he renewed communication with the director of the National Library of Ukraine (now V.I. Vernadsky NBU) Stepan Posternak, asking him to help move to Kyiv: in particular, Horyansky dreamed of “giving his sons a Ukrainian education, because there will be no Ukrainians among them in Crimea “.

In 1925, in No. 200 of the Lviv magazine “Dilo” under the initials “H.” the article “Republic of Crimea: who is it made up of and who rules it” was published. Its author expressed surprise at the fact that Crimea is an autonomous republic within Russia, and not Ukraine, to which it belongs ethnographically, economically, and even ethnically, since the Ukrainian population of the peninsula at that time occupied a “respectable place.” “The denationalization of the Crimean population in favor of Russian culture continues: primarily this applies to the Ukrainian population. Ukrainians, very old immigrants who have already acquired the right of natives, play no or almost no role in the administration of the region,” the text stated.

In the local history collection “All of Krym (1920-1925)”, published in Simferopol in 1926, it is noted: “In terms of national composition, the population of Crimea is characterized by considerable diversity due to its geographical location and historical past.” At the same time, it was stated that about 45,700 Ukrainians are only a “national subgroup” of “Russians”, which also included almost 275,000 “Great Russians” and about a thousand Belarusians.

This guidebook was criticized by the Ukrainian Orientalist Vasyl Dubrovsky for the incorrect coverage of data on the number of Ukrainian population in Crimea, which was calculated at 11%: “One can safely doubt this, knowing how official and “scientific” statistics willingly include the Ukrainian population of Crimea in the column “Russian “. Undoubtedly, the Ukrainian population in Crimea is much larger, and only the shortcomings of statistics and insufficient attention to the religious service of the Ukrainian population in Crimea, which is thereby forced to Russify, lowers this statistical indicator.”

It should be noted that the creation of national districts was practiced in the KrARSSR. However, despite the significant share of the Ukrainian population, in the 1930s there was only one Ukrainian national district in Crimea – Ishunskyi, which constituted a kind of “buffer zone” between the peninsula and mainland Ukraine.

In 1926-1927, Ostap Vyshny’s feuilletons, reprinted from Soviet editions, devoted to the issue of the actual ethnocide of the Ukrainian population in the Crimea, were published on the pages of “Dila”. In particular, according to the data published by the Central Statistical Office in 1926, not a single Ukrainian lived on the peninsula – although, according to rough estimates, the Ukrainian population of Crimea amounted to 100-150 thousand people. In March 1926, an initiative group of Ukrainians from Sevastopol barely managed to get permission to establish a Ukrainian club in the city, which was registered as a “association” and did not receive financial aid, which is why it did not conduct proper work. Similarly, the estimate of the Simferopol Ukrainian Club was not approved. In 1927, there were no representatives of Ukrainians in the Crimean Council of National Minorities, who, according to the imperial tradition, continued to be counted among the Russians. No official announcements were issued in Ukrainian. Also, in villages where the majority of the population was Ukrainians, representatives of other nationalities worked as teachers, instead, Ukrainian teachers were sent to work in villages with a Russian and Bulgarian population.

Ostap Vyshny’s notes also mentioned the Ukrainian gymnasium named after T.G. Shevchenko, created at the beginning of 1918 in Sevastopol. In 1921, the gymnasium was dissolved, and its premises were temporarily occupied by a military unit. In the winter of 1921-1922, a school based on the territorial principle with teaching in the Russian language was opened in its premises. Before that, the employees of the gymnasium reported that at that time “there was, as it were, such a trend in the Crimea – isn’t it better for Ukrainians to die out just in case.” And this trend continued for years: in February 1926, members of the Ukrainian drama group of Sevastopol published an open letter in which they outlined the facts of the persecution of Ukrainian-speaking people.

In 1927, due to the indifference of the local authorities, the Yalta Ukrainian troupe, created in 1922 under the direction of the director Pavel Delyavskyi, self-liquidated. The troupe had a mixed choir, a dance group, a small symphony orchestra, theater staff and gave performances not only in sanatoriums of the Southern coast of Crimea, but also in mainland Ukraine. One of the actors of the troupe was the future organizer of Soviet film production Oleksandr Gorskyi – the father of the famous Ukrainian artist and human rights activist Alla Gorskyi.

However, in 1927-1928, there was a certain change in the attitude of the Bolshevik authorities towards the Crimean Ukrainians. In November 1927, the Crimean Regional Committee of the CPSU(b) received a report from the People’s Commissariat of Education of the RSFSR, in which it was noted that there was no work at all among a group of 51,519 Ukrainians who did not have any national school (it was mostly about residents of villages). In the same year, a 10-year Ukrainian secondary school, a library with a reading room and a Ukrainian club were opened in the central part of Simferopol, which had several sections – drama, choir, dance, kobzar (on its basis the first of the famous bands of Crimean bands), embroidery, cutting and sewing, production of Ukrainian folk costumes, etc. These cultural and educational institutions worked successfully until World War II.

In May 1928, according to the decision of the Ukrainian section of the All-Crimean National Council of Culture, the Ukrainian Pedagogical Team was formed to carry out preparatory activities for the transfer of schools and educational institutions serving the compact masses of the Ukrainian population of the Crimea into the Ukrainian language. The members of the teaching team concluded that Russian culture influenced only a small wealthy part of the literate population of Crimea, who used Ukrainian-Russian jargon to answer Russians and “people from the city in general.” In rural and family communication, Ukrainian was spoken mainly. In the settlements of Simferopol, Dzhankoy, and Yevpatoriya districts, speech and daily life “remained in full Ukrainian originality.”

On the eve of World War II, the all-Union population census as of January 17, 1939 testified that 154,123 Ukrainians live in Crimea – 13.68% of the population of the peninsula. However, despite the fact that Ukrainians were, according to various estimates, the second or third largest national community in Crimea, there was no question of giving the Ukrainian language the status of an official language on a par with Russian and Crimean Tatar. In 1938-1939, Russian was the language of instruction in 63.3% of Crimean schools: more than 74% of students studied it, 85.5% in grades 8-10.

During the German occupation of Crimea, Ukrainian public life developed in the northern regions of the peninsula: city and district administrations, schools and enterprises were organized. On June 1, 1942, the Ortskommendant of Simferopol issued an order that all Ukrainians of the city and its surroundings, who “for some reason have registered as Russians” and have relevant documents, should, if they wish and have evidence, apply to the commission at the main city police department from 5 to 20 in June to receive new passports with correctly indicated nationality. This action was not only voluntary, but also optional. On June 28, 1942, a similar order was issued for the Ukrainians of the suburban villages of Simferopol for the period from June 29 to July 4, after which the commission stopped its work. At the same time, it should be noted that the Ukrainian population of Crimea, occupied by the troops of the Third Reich, did not have special benefits or privileges.

It is not known exactly how many Ukrainians of the peninsula at that time took advantage of the opportunity to return to their true ethnonym – just as how many Ukrainians registered as “Russian” after the return of Soviet power to Crimea. However, another fact remains noteworthy: in the second half of the 1940s, the Soviet authorities closed Ukrainian schools in the Crimea, the German occupiers had given permission for their establishment in response to a request from the population. In particular, in June 1942 in Simferopol, a Ukrainian primary school operated under the leadership of Penteleychuk; in the future, it was planned to increase the number of Ukrainian folk schools and establish two Ukrainian gymnasiums – for boys and girls.

The revival of Ukrainian public education, in particular the introduction of the study of the Ukrainian language in schools, albeit for a relatively short period, began in Crimea due to the influx of immigrants from mainland Ukraine in early 1954, almost a decade after the peninsula was deprived of the status of an autonomous republic. However, as early as 1947, as part of the Vistula operation, Ukrainians from Lemkivshchyna and Boykivshchyna were forcibly relocated to Crimea. But this is another story.

As of 1942, the number of Ukrainians in the Crimea was calculated according to various data from 20 to 40%; the Ukrainian population predominated in the northern part of the peninsula and in rural areas. Its share was the largest in Dzhankoya (51%) and district (53%); in Sevastopol and Kerch, it was about 30%. In Simferopol, where the Bolshevik underground cooperated with the Germans in exterminating conscious Ukrainians as “traitors”, there were 14-18% of the Ukrainian population. “The language of Ukrainians is Russified. But the locals know themselves, they distinguish themselves in spite of everything, because in the depths there is still an undiminished national sense. However, the national consciousness is weak, but it is there. It was scattered mainly by fugitives from different regions of Ukraine who got lost here to get lost from their localities from the eyes of the GPU. Conscious Ukrainians got lost the most here after the period of “decentralization” and famine in 1933. Even very conscious and active units live among them, which fully correspond to the level of a conscious Ukrainian nationalist. But these are only units so far. The Ukrainian movement is very weak. Muscovite captures everything. But a handful of local Ukrainians are trying to resist this, are slowly mobilizing Ukrainian cultural and educational life, and have even appealed to the German authorities with a bold protest against the trampling of the Moscow Region,” the reports of Ukrainian undergrounds who were in Crimea stated.

In 1942, the “Bureau of Aid to Ukrainians” was established in Simferopol, which existed as a department of the city administration. Its task was to provide material and moral assistance to the Ukrainian population and to defend its rights to cultural development. Thanks to the efforts of “Bureau”, Ukrainian primary schools were created, and in some districts – seven-year-old schools.

On June 2, 1942, in the Simferopol City Theater under the direction of H. Petrenko, the first performance for the civilian population of Hulak-Artemovsky’s opera “Zaporozhets za Danube” took place, which was organized at the beginning of the year by the Ukrainian Music and Drama Theater named after T.G. Shevchenko, whose team consisted of about 60 people. The Shevchenko concert organized in March 1943 by the events of the theater turned into a spontaneous manifestation of Ukrainians. The theater played a major role in the national and cultural life of the Ukrainians of Simferopol and the entire Crimea and greatly contributed to the growth of their national consciousness. At the end of 1943, the Germans arrested the director of the theater for some time. At the beginning of 1944, by order of the German security service, the Ukrainian theater was closed, and a number of its actors were arrested for connections with the Ukrainian underground.

The administrator of the mentioned theater, one of the figures of the Ukrainian underground in Crimea, Ivan Yantsyshyn, divided the Ukrainian population of Crimea during World War II into three groups. The first, according to him, consisted of people who settled on the peninsula a long time ago and differed from the population of the south of Ukraine except for their greater conservatism, identified themselves as “free Ukrainian Cossacks” and were mainly engaged in farming and sea fishing. In the second group, Yantsyshyn included a conscious peasant and intellectual element that arrived in Crimea during the defeat of the cultural revival in Ukraine and forced collectivization and settled mainly in cities and industrial centers. The third group consisted of local youth, who could be considered “the most conscious element of the Ukrainian population.” “She surprisingly had a healthy and deep sense of national separateness and pride. She also had a peculiar sentiment for everything Ukrainian. They were not ashamed of their origins, speaking Ukrainian, and were keenly interested in Ukrainian life. The youth groups that we managed to organize diligently and willingly studied the history of Ukraine, the history of our literature and our liberation struggles,” Yantsyshyn recalled.

After the war, the already mentioned Vasyl Dubrovsky noted that Crimea, where Ukrainians made up, again, the “relative majority” of the population, the Bolsheviks “contrary to the geophysical conditions of connections” administratively separated it from Ukraine and kept it all the time as part of the Russian RFSR in order to “detach from the Ukrainian nation this its southern branch”. According to the scientist, the Bolsheviks, taking into account the exceptional geopolitical importance of Crimea for the USSR, aimed to Russify its Ukrainian and other “non-Russian” population. And they succeeded in this – however, with intermittent success.

Every occupying regime that seized power in Crimea during the 20th century erased any few achievements of the Crimean Ukrainians that they managed to acquire under the previous government despite all the difficulties. The restoration of Ukraine’s independence in 1991 gave hope for a change in the situation for the better and an incentive for further actions. However, after the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in February-March 2014, another assimilation threat appeared before the Ukrainian population of the peninsula. The current regime in the occupied territories of Crimea and Sevastopol destroys Ukrainian identity much more brutally than the Bolsheviks did in the first half of the 20th century. Having tightened their hearts, the occupiers gave the Ukrainian language the status of “state” in the “Republic of Crimea” created by them, on a par with Russian and Crimean Tatar – however, it ended up being virtually erased not only from the political, cultural and educational fields, but also from public life. In the “neighboring federal subject” of Sevastopol, the Ukrainian language has a single status – persecuted and neglected. Ukrainian grammar school, Ukrainian theater, All-Ukrainian information and cultural center in Simferopol, Ukrainian cultural and information center in Sevastopol, schools named after Lesya Ukrainka in Sevastopol, Stepan Rudanskyi in Yalta and Olena Teliga in Feodosia, parishes of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church – not far a complete list of Ukrainian institutions and organizations that were renamed, reformatted or completely destroyed after the occupation of Crimea. For 8 years, significant efforts of the occupiers and their puppets have been aimed at creating the illusion of the absence of Ukrainians in Crimea.



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