July 15, 2021
While the Holodomor marked the height of Russian genocide against Ukrainians, it was by no means an isolated event. Under Russian rule, Ukrainians were subjected to tyranny that went beyond traditional interpretations of genocide, to what this author terms “metagenocide” – long term ongoing genocide systematically targeting for destruction not just a group of people but also all that defines them as that group. The goal is not just to deny the group’s right to exist, but to deny that it ever existed as a nation in the first place, to wipe it from humanity’s collective memory.
Russia’s metagenocide in Ukraine was pervasive, calculated, insidious and covert. It was at times incremental, at times opportunistic, but never losing sight of its ultimate goal – to eliminate once and for all, all things Ukrainian and leave unchallenged Russia’s claim that all those things were and are really Russian.
It combined the worst aspects of classic genocide with long term intentional ethnocide. Russia’s metagenocide in Ukraine targeted not only Ukrainian persons, but also the Ukrainian language, culture, history, churches, traditions and all else that contributes to defining Ukrainians as Ukrainians and not as just another subset of Russians.
Russian destruction of the Ukrainian people systematically targeted first one segment of the Ukrainian population and then another, the ultimate goal to eliminate them all. The killing of Ukrainians who insisted on being Ukrainian lasted throughout the twentieth century and for some, into the twenty-first.
Before World War II, several waves of killing destroyed the bulk of the Ukrainian nation’s leadership class. Ukrainian civil authority was eliminated during and after the revolution (1918-1921). The Ukrainian clergy and churches were eliminated in the early 1930s, leaving only a handful of Moscow Patriarchate affiliated churches controlled by the Russian secret police.
The destruction of the intelligentsia, begun in earnest in 1929 with the destruction of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, peaked in the late 1930s as the remaining survivors were executed or exiled, Ukraine’s premier historian Mykhailo Hrushevsky being among the last to fall. The Holodomor was designed to destroy the Ukrainian peasant class, the roots of Ukrainian national identity. Ukrainian nationalist leaders abroad were also assassinated, including Symon Petliura (Paris, 1926) and Yevhen Konovalets (Rotterdam, 1938).
Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 and the subsequent obliteration of Ukraine’s western border created the opportunity for Russia to extend its rule and anti-Ukrainian state terrorism into western Ukraine (until then under Polish rule). Ironically, Ukrainians were perhaps the only major nationality that got it right in World War II.
To Ukrainians, the Nazis and Communists were equally evil – two sides of the same fascist coin. Wanting only their own freedom, Ukrainians fought both the Germans and the Russians, and paid the ultimate price when Germany was defeated but Russia was not. As a victor and partner of the Allies, Russia was allowed to take control of all of Ukraine.
Instead of peace, the end of World War II brought continued death and destruction to Ukraine and Ukrainians. In 1946, the Ukrainian Catholic Church, predominant in western Ukraine, was closed, its property was seized, its churches demolished and its clergy killed or exiled to Siberia. In 1947, Russia inflicted another massive slaughter by starvation on Ukrainians, as more than a million died when their food was once again seized and shipped out to feed Russians and their newly acquired satellite states in Eastern Europe.
The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which had fought both Hitler and Stalin during WW II, continued to fight Russian forces in Ukraine into the 1950s, when its leader, General Roman Shukhevych, was killed in a shoot-out with Russian forces near Lviv. The struggle against Ukrainian nationalists abroad also continued with the assassinations of Ukrainian leaders, notably Lev Rebet (1957) and Stepan Bandera (1959), both of whom were assassinated in Munich by the same self-confessed KGB assassin.
Having lost perhaps half their population to genocide, terror, slaughter and war, for a while Ukrainians were too weak to resist. Russia used this period to consolidate control over all details of everyday life in Ukraine, while implementing a broadly based program of ethnocide to de-Ukrainianize Ukraine and try yet again to make it just another part of Russia.
In the 1960s and 70s numerous Ukrainian intellectuals, writers, artists and cultural figures were arrested and exiled to Siberia. Songwriter Volodymyr Ivasiuk was murdered in 1979 in an effort to stop a nationalist resurgence in popular music. At the same time, the archives were purged of much damning evidence, and crucial historical and cultural materials were transferred as Russia sought to rewrite history to suit its propaganda purposes. Once again, it all proved to be only a temporary solution.