It was led, of course, by the great Ukrainian historian Mikhailo Hrushevsky, for whom everything in todayís Ukraine is named that isnít named for Taras Shevchenko (and whose avuncularly bearded face stares out from that 50-hryvnya note in your pocket). Students of local history will remember that the Republic came into being in November of 1917, in the chaos following the October Revolution. In its first days, however, the Republic still maintained ties with Bolshevik Russia. In fact, during previous Kyiv fighting between the Bolsheviks and forces loyal to Russiaís old Provisional Government, the Central Rada, the institution that would eventually form the core of the Republican
The Republic, of course, is beloved to the memory of Ukrainian patriots for being this historically subjugated countryís first real stab at ruling itself
Republican government, supported the Bolsheviks. By January the new Kyiv government was ready to break ties with Russia, and in the Fourth Universal it did exactly that. The idealistic move was a provocation to Leninís government, as the Bolsheviks knew as well as anyone else that a communist Russia couldnít make a go of it without the strategically and economically crucial Ukraine. So in early February the Red Army captured Kyiv. The communistsí success didnít last long, as German troops forced them out, but by then the Republic had had it. In April of 1918, former tsarist officer Petro Skoropadsky took control of Ukraine in a coup díetat and gave himself the old Cossack title of hetman of Ukraine. Skoropadsky was a far more right-wing figure than were the socialists of the Republic, and he quickly put an end to left-wing experiments in the country and established order.
His order, however, was not to last, which will eventually take us to the second of the eventful Januaries on our list. In December, 1918 the hetman was overthrown by a government called the Directory, which is most closely associated with the enigmatic leader Semyon Petliura. Petliura and company ruled a shockingly chaotic Ukraine until May, when, feeling Soviet Russia breathing down his neck, Petliura decided to make things easy on himself and emigrate to Paris, which was probably a good idea at the time, but ended badly. (He was eventually assassinated by a Jewish man avenging Petliuraís alleged violence against Ukraineís Jewish population, and who may have been a Kremlin agent Ė but thatís another story.) Whatís important for the moment, however, is that on 22 January, 1919, the Directory officially united with the so-called Western Ukrainian Republic. The latter was the short-lived government that set up shop in Lviv, attempting to express the national aspirations of Galicians and other Ukrainians who had never been a part of the Russian Empire. The Ukrainian nation was, at long last, politically unified, a glorious enough development even if Ukraine at the moment was a war-scorched land engulfed in hideous mass violence. The date on which that happened is known as Ukraine Unity Day, and the thought of it can bring a tear to the eyes of tough old Ukrainian Partisan Army veterans. Like so many nationalist gestures in Ukraineís difficult history, however, what happened on 22 January, 1919 didnít have a chance to have much practical effect. By the end of the year the Bolsheviks had more or less taken over Ukraine and the independence gig was up. This was great news to the communists, who werenít too honest not to continue the logic of the Russian imperialism that they claimed they hated, when doing so served the interests of their regime. Any Kyiv resident who wants to understand a little better how much the Bolsheviks were concerned to hang onto Ukraine might drop by the cityís last remaining Lenin statue at the base of Shevchenko Blvd. and read the Ukrainian-language quotation from Lenin thatís inscribed on the monumentís base.
Raising the Flag
We all know what happened in the coming years. Ukraine was formally incorporated into the Soviet UNI0N, in which it suffered massive atrocities at the same time that it possessed ďsecond among equalsĒ status among Soviet republics (after Mother Russia, of course). Weíll now skip over roughly three quarters of a centuryís worth of communist-era Ukrainian history and set ourselves down in January, 1992, in a Ukraine thatís taken the logic of Gorbachevís perestroika and glasnost to its logical conclusion, and broken with the Kremlin. Much of this history is well-known, but whatís not so well-known is that it was on 22 January, 1992 that the familiar old blue and yellow Ukrainian flag was officially Ė legally Ė restored to its place as the countryís national standard. Actually, the flying of the blue-and-yellow flag (which is said to symbolize a blue sky over Ukrainian wheatfields, but that probably has its roots in ancient heraldic devices instead) has an interesting backstory that speaks to the strength of the Ukrainian national idea in Soviet Ukraine, and to the rebellious tenacity of those, especially in the countryís west, who supported it. Gorbachev-era political protests in Ukraine bristled with the forbidden Ukrainian flag, but those who carried them in such circumstances, brave as they were, could find safety in numbers. Not so the town council of Ternopil, which on March 20, 1990
Like so many nationalist gestures in Ukraineís difficult history, what happened on 22 January, 1919 didnít have a chance to have much practical effect
reestablished the blue-and-yellow flag as well as Ukraineís stoical national anthem ĎUkraine Has Not Yet Died.í Ternopil was followed by the oblast council of Lviv, which similarly mandated the use of proscribed national symbols like the flag and the tryzub. Perhaps playing at one-upsmanship, on 29 April, 1990, Ternopil flew the independence flag alone Ė that is, without the accompaniment of a Soviet flag. Kyiv was relatively late to the game, as parliament here didnít fly the national flag until 4 September, 1991. At any rate, January in Ukraine Ė when there seems to be less people and cars on the street, and when people in the media business start complaining that thereís nothing much interesting to cover Ė hasnít always been as quiet as it is now. January has traditionally been a month of great moment here. Maybe the relative quiet these days is a sign of how far the country has come. As the old cliché goes, thereís nothing worse than living in interesting times.