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Naboth's Vineyard: The Rich, Unhappy Ukrainians

January 10, 1919

If bitter experience had not taught me the danger of sweeping statements I would say that the Ukrainian problem is the most complicated of the many with which the Conference is confronted, Happily for them, at least, few of the delegates know it. There are probably forty-five million of these vigorous and interesting people, all hitherto held in leash (indeed often under the lash) by half a dozen alien rulers, and today unhappily they are divided in their allegiance to about the same number of ideologies. The Great Russians, who also claim to be Herrenvolk, are inclined to despise them as an inferior category of the Slav family and also maintain that the Ukrainian language, they call it a patois, is simply a degenerate Russian gone to seed.

Nothing so infuriates the Ukrainians as this slur upon their speech; they answer it by bursting into song, generally the ballads of Schevenko, with which my office has often resounded during the past weeks. "We are the free men of the border," they sing. "Our home is on the rolling steppes. We preferred liberty and struggle to tyranny in relative comfort. We are the men who stem from those who fled the slave-driving practices of the Polish and the Lithuanian landowners. Bringing with us only our democratic ideals we founded the state of the Free Cossacks, and soon our rich lands extended from the Vistula to the Black Sea. We are here to demand their return and our right to live as free men."

As to the authenticity of their language I maintain an attitude of strict neutrality, but there can be no question as to the richness of the lands they have acquired. In these starving, freezing days in southeastern Europe, indeed in all Europe, their grain fields, their oil wells, and perhaps above all their coal mines in the Donetz Basin have become very important factors in a desperate situation. In 1917, when the blockade was bringing the Germans to their knees, the fertility of the Ukraine "and the fatness thereof" seemed a plank of salvation to Berlin. Today, when all Europe is cold and hungry, unfortunately for the Ukrainians their possessions have assumed even greater importance.

Whether they are Ukrainians or Ruthenians or Carpatho-Russians, they all have broad flat faces, high cheekbones, and snub noses which probably reveal their Mongolian origin. Physically alike they are widely separated by their political experiences. Yet all of them dream of a greater Ukrainia with the fragments and the segments of their race joined together in one happy family those who have been held down by Austria, or oppressed by the Magyars, by Russia, and even by little Rumania, brought happily together in one independent glorious state. But, and what a but it is, as to how this noble ideal is to be achieved and under what auspices, the good Ukrainians are as wide apart as the Poles. The members of the American-Ukrainian committee who through political experiences in our country have learnt the wisdom of compromise often intervene with words of conciliation, but it is far from certain that these common-sense views will prevail. I confess I shall be surprised if they do. The Free Cossacks of the steppes place a higher value on the money contributions of the Ukrainians from Pennsylvania than they do upon their advice.

Here is the baffling situation, as it appears to me: All the neighbors covet the Ukrainian lands, and I fear that is not surprising. What is surprising is the fact that even after the terrible experiences which all the Ukrainians have experienced nothing even approaching unity of purpose has evolved. When you talk to them about self-determination and the right of all peoples to govern themselves, they are in perfect agreement. But when you suggest putting into practice these wise precepts, they rear and break away in a dozen different directions like Mazeppa's wild horses of the plains.

This want of harmony opens the way for the specious promises of covetous neighbors. The Russians say blood is thicker than water; the Poles say, "Come with us and we will confer upon you our world culture." Even the Germans have the audacity to say, "Without us you will not have law and order, there will be no peace, and no man or woman either can hope to live in peace and tranquillity."

Of course there are also conflicts of ideologies and of contrasting experiences at the hands of more powerful neighbors. At moments my visitors admit, "Russia must have our Black Sea ports of Odessa and Kherson, or cease to be a great power. Germany will have to have the oil fields, and all Mittel-Europa will starve without our grain." Sometimes I conclude that these people would be happier, much happier, if the land of their hard-riding forefathers was what my Virginia soldier in Vienna called Austria "A porefolksy land."

February, 6, 1919

Yesterday the Colonel demanded a résumé of the present situation, and I have submitted it today with, however, the express reservation that I am not prepared to vouch for any of the alleged facts.

When the fall of Russia became apparent in April, 1917, delegates representing nearly two million Ukrainian front-line soldiers got together and formed an association to cope with the situation and shape their future. At about the same time a sort of parliament, or Rada, was formed in Kiev, and while there was little harmony in their deliberations, a provisional government was constituted. A few days later a certain Petliura demanded of the then shaky government in St. Petersburg the right to constitute a national army and began to enroll Ukrainian regiments. On the eighteenth of June following, the Rada, or parliament, issued its first Universal, or manifesto, formulating the demands of the Ukrainian people in Russia and elsewhere. The principal demand was for the right of the people, without separation from Russia, to organize an autonomous government on its own territory and coupled with it was the announcement that the future form of government would be shaped by a national assembly shortly to be convened.

St. Petersburg, under the provisional government, rejected these demands, and the Ukrainians then announced that as Russia could not give them a stable government they would do what they could aided. This brought Kerensky and Tseretelli post-haste to Kiev and after long debates they recognized the right of the Ukrainian groups to self- determination and self-government. As it soon developed, the groups that sat in this body were unfortunately far from harmonious. Some were Social democrats and some were advocates of national independence, but at least they were united in their detestation of both their enemies, the Bolsheviki and the Tsarists.

Late in October (1917) the Rada called upon the Allies to aid the Ukraine. Russia was crumbling; Kerensky was on his way out; the Bolsheviki were getting the upper hand. Its members asked for an Allied force to aid the national army, to carry on the war against Germany, and to stem the Bolsheviki tide which was threatening to overwhelm all of southern Russia. On November 20 the Rada published its third Universal: it proclaimed the autonomy of the Peoples Republic of the Ukraine and gave the war ministry into the hands of Petliura while Vinnichenko remained in charge of foreign affairs. Many Allied officers now appeared in Kiev, but apparently they brought only advice and no munitions. The Allied officers demanded that the war against the Germans be pressed but offered no substantial assistance. Among the Ukrainian soldiers, Bolsheviki tendencies now became apparent. Many withdrew from the front and some spent their time in pillaging. In his desperate plight Vinnichenko asked the Allies, as military aid from them was not forthcoming, to arrange an armistice along the Ukraine front with the Germans to stop the invasion and so to give him a chance to organize his forces to cope with the Bolsheviki, and he demanded the recognition of his regime as the de facto government.

'The only result of these negotiations was an unhappy split. Petliura and his group of young soldiers declared that they were ready to fight the Germans to the last. As the old army seemed unreliable, he began to recruit groups of Free Cossacks and peasants who were anxious to defend their little farms against both the Bolsheviki and the Germans. This action weakened the Vinnichenko de facto government, and the civil war between the factions got under way, which has unfortunately continued to the present day.

February 11, 1919

Two more Ukrainian delegations appeared yesterday and frankly deposited their problems on our doorstep. They are a pleasant-looking group garnished with gay Parisian clothes, striped trousers and all that, but Cossack boots are not wholly concealed. Their leader, M. Sydorenko, speaks excellent French and has his indignation under diplomatic control. "How can we sit at a Peace Conference with the Bolsheviki, murderers and bandits who have invaded our country and are still burning our villages and committing crimes at which even the Germans would blush?"

Sydorenko gave me a very dramatic account of the vicissitudes to which his people had been exposed during the eighteen months of their recent existence as an independent republic. The clash with the Bolsheviki came in December, 1917. Apparently the young Republicans held their ground and the local Soviet Socialistic state was but a flash in the pan. Their more serious trouble came in April, 1918, when the Germans put in an appearance, ostensibly to protect the young republic but in reality to loot the only remaining full "bread basket" in Europe and to secure the wheat and above all the oil at the time so desperately needed in Germany.

"In this emergency our National Union selected General Petliura to command our forces, and we faced the struggle for independence on three fronts," said Sydorenko. "On one were the so-called 'White Russians, mostly former Tsarist officers who were seeking to carve out for themselves estates in the lands which our peasants had long tilled and of which they were now in rightful possession. On another front were the Soviet forces whose purpose was as unsocial and as imperialistic as ever had been the emissaries of the Tsar. We were holding our own when the Germans threw off the mask of friendship and entered the field with large armies. We met at first with defeats, but in the end we conquered, and on December 15 we recaptured our Holy City of Kiev and about twenty thousand Germans who garrisoned it. Unfortunately their leader, Skorapadski, escaped to Berlin where he is still plotting against us."

"Our future is by no means promising," continued Sydorenko, "but now that we are united and all the Ukrainian peoples are as one in our struggle for liberty, we have no fear of the ultimate outcome. The Ukrainian brothers, from what was the Bukovina, the Hungarian Carpathians, and Austrian Galicia, have asked and received permission to join our patriotic union. The federal state which we are forming is larger than Germany and much richer in resources. We have come to the Peace Conference to demand that our undoubted right to self-determination be recognized. It is unthinkable that we should be returned to Russia now that from our devastating experiences it is quite clear that the Bolsheviki are as tyrannical as ever was the autocrat. You are restoring to the peoples today the rights that were taken away from them by the Russian Empire and by the monarchy of Austria-Hungary, and so we have come with our plea for the recognition of our just rights. Unless this is done a stable peace cannot be established."

I asked Sydorenko to put his plea in writing and promised to see that it would reach the President, M. Clemenceau, and the members of the American delegation. The memorandum came this morning and I have fulfilled my promise. But I have my fears; under various disguises, Europe is still in a predatory mood, and this land of the long-submerged Ukrainians presents to the underfed and overcrowded peoples of war-ruined states a very tempting picture of Naboth's vineyard.

April (undated), 1919

It is certainly no secret that some of the Ukrainians have no more love for the Poles than they have for the Russians. Today a committee, representing as they said the "former Crown land of Galicia in Austria," "an artificially created administrative unit which conflicts with historic and national rights," filed with us the following protest. It reads:

The representatives of the Ukrainian people protest against even the smallest portion of the Ukrainian territories of Cholm, Podlachia, and Wolhynia ever being added to the Kingdom of Poland which is in process of formation and regard any attempt in this direction as an outrage upon the living body of the Ukrainian people, as a violation of its historic rights and a mockery of the principle of self-determination of peoples. We declare we shall not abandon the struggle until the great Ukrainian nation has acquired the fullest rights upon the whole of its national territory.

I take it this means the death knell of many panaceas and compromise proposals which would be so satisfactory if only they were practicable.

May 3, 1919

Today there is undeniably a crisis in our archives. There simply isn't any more room in our safe for the countless memoranda that I have drawn up and the innumerable statements that I have taken down from the authorized Ukrainian delegates and from the free-lance volunteers who also abound. I will not assert that what they have had to say has gone entirely unheeded by the commissioners, but it has not been as carefully weighed as in my opinion it should have been. In my judgment, if we are to bring the blessings of peace to Eastern Europe, forty million of its inhabitants should not be ignored. But what was I to do with this mass of neglected and also I must admit often quite contradictory information? This dossier weighs about ten pounds, and now that the safe is jammed full, where can I stow it away?

Fortunately an hour ago a "directive" came from Captain Patterson, the "executive officer" of our ship, the Crillon. He urges us not to throw into the wastepaper baskets memos and papers "that have outlived their usefulness" (what a charming way of putting it). He warns us that even in the precincts of our closely guarded domain the presence of spies is suspected. "Take your papers down to the cellar, personally," he urges, "and stand by the furnace until they are incinerated."

Well, I obeyed Captain "Dick s" injunction. I took the papers down to the cellar and placed them with my own hands in the furnace that was red hot; and then a surprising thing happened. The Ukrainian dossier did not go up in flames it simply curled up and smoked and smouldered. When I reported this to the Colonel, he said, "I hope that is not prophetic." And so do I, but I have my doubts. The pleas and the supplications of forty million people have been, to put it mildly, disregarded; they will smoulder on and some day, perhaps at a moment even more inopportune than the present, they may break out into flames that will spread. I hope the League will do better by the problem and the opportunity than we have done.

May 4, 1919

I had a general roundup today of all the Ukrainian delegates that are available and listened once again to what they had to say. I urged them, as instructed, to compose their differences, to combine to secure what they all or nearly all want to see, a greater and an independent Ukraine on both banks of the Dnieper. Again they spoke at length of their past glories, of the Cossack republic, of their hard-riding ancestors who formed a living bulwark against the Tartar horde, of the Rus-Kiev state, so long the valiant outpost of Christian civilization. They denounced with equal bitterness the Russians and the Germans and the Poles.

"The Russians seek to destroy our belief in God, and the Germans try to rob us of our language, which is the voice of our souls, and take away our farms. We can trust no one, and yet, can we stand alone? Ukrainia must be reestablished but how? Our democratic friends are far away, and the predatory people who want our grain and oil are very near. The Allies, thanks to America, have won the war; but will they win the peace?"

One of the delegates from Pennsylvania says he has bad news from home. He is advised that people beyond the Atlantic are saying:

"Bring our boys home and let us leave Europe to its own devices."

Then a delegate from Galicia reveals that the Lenin program, "peace, bread, and land," has a strong appeal to his people who have suffered an imposed serfdom for generations.

"But can we trust the new Russian?" he asks. "Is he very different from the old Russian? Has the leopard changed his spots?" And who can answer that?

Then the Germans are discussed. They, at least, have not concealed their purpose. They covet the Ukraine as a war granary which would help them to regain the position they have just lost. All agree that the selfish purpose of the Germans is plain.

Again another delegate voices the familiar lament:

"America is so far away and we cannot stand alone." Then he makes a very intelligent analysis of the changes that have come over and so completely transformed the military scene:

"In America, the embattled farmers achieved freedom; they fought behind hedges and trees. At Yorktown and at New Orleans they met and defeated guard regiments, the trained soldiers of Europe; but today that is impossible. The farmer with such weapons as he now possesses cannot with any hope of success stand up against the trained soldier with modern equipment. We tried it against the Germans and we tried it against the Russians. The result has been the slaughter of our sons. And so we are forced to ask: 'Will the world stand by and see forty million liberty-loving people trodden under foot by despots whose purpose is to enslave the democracies all of them?"

After everyone has spoken, I have my say, as per instructions:

"You must place your trust in the League of Nations, which is being fashioned now by the forward-looking peoples. Its purpose is collective security and freedom for all. It will be vigilant and always ready to smash the land-grabbers. It will be watchful and ready to curb any movement that threatens the peace of the world. It has been created for that very purpose."

"I suppose it is our best bet," said the Ukrainian delegate from Pittsburgh none too enthusiastically.

All the delegates nodded and silently filed out. I am sorry for the Ukrainians. After all, the Covenant is an untested experiment and the sealed book of the future may have surprises for all of us. America is far away and there are many among us who would like to withdraw still farther into our transatlantic shell. Today as so often before it is only too apparent that the President's "clearly distinguishable frontiers of nationality" is a pipe-dream. And, as my chief well says, "When you change a boundary line, look out for squalls!"

May 8, 1919

One of his henchmen came in this afternoon and whispered that Petliura, the great partisan who had perplexed us all by fighting under so many flags and on so many opposing fronts, had, after escaping many dangers by land and sea, reached Paris and naturally was most anxious to get in touch with the Colonel. "But there is difficulty," he explained. "There are many assassins wandering along the boulevards of Paris and many of these misguided men would not hesitate to shoot our noble leader on sight. In these circumstances, wisely I think, we have decided that he must not leave his hideout. Could you not visit him there and pave the way to a meeting with your chief, waiving the protocol and all those obstacles to fruitful intercourse?"

There was nothing I would have liked better, and perhaps personal contact would have cleared up many obscure points in the Ukrainian situation; but as in duty bound I consulted my chief, and he vetoed the adventure, although he admitted that to him also it had many attractions. "Perhaps he will give us the key word to the enigma that has for so long evaded our researches," I suggested. But the Colonel was adamant; he argued that these Cossack assassins are not sharpshooters; you might get in the line of fire. No! This invitation you just pass up - and I did so, regretfully I admit.

[1921. For months Petliura remained in his hideout, and the asassins must have been discouraged; but they hung on, and two years later a young Ukrainian Jew came up behind him on the Boule' Mich and shot him in the back. He had the very German name of Schwartzrod.

For many months after our failure to tackle the Ukrainian problem in Versailles, anarchy reigned throughout the Cossack lands. The murders and the other atrocities that persisted throughout 1919 and the first months of 1920 are said to have been without a parallel even this unfortunate country until you reach back to the Cossack uprisings of the seventeenth century. By all accounts this rich and lovely land was again drenched with the blood of its children and of invaders. Everyone was engaged in putting to death anyone they could lay their hands on. The so-called Whites went in for rather normal hangings, the Bolsheviki showed a decided preference for firing squads, and the peasants used their short, sharp knives very effectively on all invaders. The so-called Peace of Riga, celebrated in October, 1920, put an end to the anarchic conditions which had so long prevailed. For the most part the peasants were rescued from their Polish landlords, and outside of Galicia, at least, they settled as a Soviet state closely affiliated with Moscow. It is clearly temporary solution; but it is better, much better, than the anarchy it has so long prevailed.]

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