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Munk Centre

Volodymyr Kravchenko
(Shklar Fellow, Harvard University)

"The Ukrainian National Movement in Kharkiv in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries"

Late February witnessed a flurry of activity in the Petro Jacyk Program for the Study of Ukraine. On February 22, Volodymyr Kravchenko (Kolasky Fellow, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta; head of the Department of Ukrainian Studies and director of the Eastern Institute of Ukrainian Studies, Kharkiv University) delivered a paper in the Program's Seminar Series in co-sponsorship with the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, Toronto Office. Prof. Kravchenko, who spoke in Ukrainian, introduced his talk on Kharkiv in the Ukrainian National Revival of the Late 18th to mid-19th Century by explaining the relationship between Ukrainian national identity and regional identity. He argued that Ukraine lacks consensus regarding its historical events and processes today because historically the different regions of Ukraine did not enjoy self-rule. At any given time, Ukraine was divided among and ruled by different political entities that exerted disintegrative and integrative forces on the development of a Ukrainian national consciousness and caused each region to develop its own regional identity vis-?-vis the ruling political power.

Prof. Kravchenko emphasized that currently Ukraine, as in earlier days, is faced with the issue of consolidating the regional versions of its history into a single whole. Some historians, he asserted, try to create a sense of cohesion by tracing the successive shifts of the centres of Ukrainian cultural and political life from Kyiv to Lviv, then east to Poltava, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and back to Kyiv. Accordingly, Prof. Kravchenko argued that Kharkiv played a key role in Ukrainian history at two different times--first, as the seat of Ukraine's first modern university, established in 1807, and second, as the capital of Soviet Ukraine and the centre of Ukrainian cultural and political life in the 1920s.

Prof. Kravchenko argued that Kharkiv is a city bearing two different faces. On the one side, it represents a modern Ukrainian city that has attracted leading Ukrainian intellectuals such as Hryhoriy Skovoroda; and it is a provincial city, which, through the Soviet experiment of the 1920s, was transformed into Ukraine's political capital. On the flip side, Kharkiv is Russia's gateway to Ukraine--and historically an instrument of Russification and erosion of Ukrainian identity.

Prof. Kravchenko traced the history and development of the Ukrainian national movement in Kharkiv. He argued that historically Kharkiv held a special status. In the 18th century as frontier colonists, the inhabitants of Kharkiv were concerned with protecting their legal rights and privileges granted by the Tsar, and vowed their loyalty to him. With the establishment of the first university in Eastern Ukraine in Kharkiv in 1807, Ukrainian intellectual life began to flourish, modern ideas and culture flooded the region, and the seeds of the national Ukrainian movement were sown. The major shift in Kharkiv's identity occurred in the second half of the 19th century when the city was transformed from a frontier region to an industrial centre, resulting in a heavy influx of Russians who changed the demographic and social composition of the region. According to early 20th-century statistics, Kharkiv was 80-90% ethnic Russian. Further detriment to Ukrainian identity was caused by the Russian government adopting a policy of Russification. Ukrainians who had never had to choose between their Little Russian and Ukrainian identities were forced to do so. In order to maintain their social standing and mobility, but nonetheless advance the Ukrainian national cause, the Ukrainian intellectuals in Kharkiv decided to adopt a middle-of-the-road policy. As a result of this strategy, the political movement in Kharkiv was exposed for its weak national element when Ukraine made a bid for independence in 1917.

Before opening up the floor to a lively discussion, Prof. Kravchenko concluded that Kharkiv's historical mission was not to become a Ukrainian Piedmont. Kharkiv's historic role was to transmit modern culture through the Russian medium at a time when the two cultures were not yet mutually exclusive. This free flow of cultural life regenerated Kharkiv at its early stages of modernization. The Kharkiv experience reveals that by supporting new and modern social structures even a provincial capital could turn into a national one. Kharkiv also reconfirms the importance of the Russian question in the Ukrainian national movement. Prof. Kravchenko's lecture demonstrated that progress can be made by addressing the Russian issue from a fresh and modern perspective. Otherwise, Kharkiv will forever remain a "Russian conduit that goes through Ukraine and not around it."

Natalia Nemyliwska, CREES

Content: © 2002 Petro Jacyk • Design: © 2002 dragandesign.