Harvest of Despair



In the first years after the victory of the Communist Revolution, a policy of indigenization, or korenizatsiya, was introduced in the USSR. The general idea of the policy was to promote the development of the titular nations of the Soviet republics. Members of titular nations and national minorities were promoted to positions of authority within the bureaucracy of the national republics, and the local languages were introduced in schools, culture, government and the Communist Party. In part, the policy of korenizatsiya was a reaction to the assimilationist and chauvinist policies of the tsarist empire, and was an attempt to gain adherents to Soviet power.

In Soviet Ukraine, the policy of korenizatsiya led to an impressive Ukrainization of the republic. Ukrainian was introduced as the language of instruction in schools – by 1927 over 97% of high-school students were obtaining their education in Ukrainian. The rates of literacy in the countryside were raised dramatically, and the membership of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine [CP(b)U] became more Ukrainian. In 1922 only 23 % of the members of the Party were Ukrainians – by 1927 Ukrainians made up 52% of the Party membership.

Ukrainization also saw a revival in national culture. The number of books, newspapers and journals published in Ukrainian rose exponentially. Literature and art adhered to the concept of “socialist in content, national in form.” As a result much of the art and literature of this time focused on reviving the Ukrainian cultural heritage within the Soviet context. Poets and writers of the 19th century such as Taras Shevchenko, who criticized the Tsarist Empire and called for the self-determination of the Ukrainian people, enjoyed a renewed popularity, and young socialist Ukrainian writers were allowed to express themselves. These activities saw a renaissance in Ukrainian culture.

After the consolidation of Stalin’s regime, however, the policy of korenizatsya was reversed. Politicians who called for greater autonomy for the Ukrainian SSR and equal relations with Moscow were accused of Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism and ruthlessly purged. Writers and artists who expounded similar ideas through literature and art met similar fates. Ukrainization was reversed in 1931 and replaced with a massive policy of Russification – in the 1930s approximately four-fifths of the Ukrainian cultural elite, writers, artists and clergy were executed or imprisoned. Ukraine’s cultural and national revival of the 1920s became known as “the executed renaissance” (rozstrilyane vidrodzhennya).