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How Can a Government of Ukraine be Perpetrating Genocide against Ukrainians? From CheKa to SBU

An article by M. Petriw first published on Yaroslaw’s Revenge blogsite

The author thanks Mykola Riabchuk for his excellent Ukrainian language article Від ВЧК до СБУ on which much of the following is based.

Most non-Ukrainian readers of Back to the USSR are wondering how is it that the government of Ukraine could be continuing a genocidal policy against Ukrainians. It makes no sense, yet to most Ukrainian readers this is totally self-explanatory. It does not surprise them that the bulwark of national independence, the state security agencies still place their roots and their loyalties with a foreign state.

Political commentator Mykola Riabchuk describes a presentation of a documentary film about Mykola Khvylovyy, a talented Ukrainian writer, who committed suicide in 1933, during the Holodomor, at the peak of the USSR’s battle with “bourgeois nationalism”. During the discussion that followed he asked an SBU (Ukraine’s Security Service) officer that was present how come the names of the [Soviet] agents involved had been obliterated? The officer smiled and replied, “What kind of secret service would this be if we gave up the names of our agents?”  The fact that agents of the Soviet NKVD could in no way be considered ours was so obvious to Riabchuk that he did not continue the discussion. Yet this officer honestly did not understand this. To him, despite all their crimes, these special services were institutionally the predecessors of his SBU, and so “good or evil, yet they were ours”. What is more embarrassing, this did not occur under presidents Kuchma or Yanukovych, but at the time of Yushchenko’s term, who had placed Valentyn Nalyvaichenko at the head of the SBU and who expended much effort at uncovering Soviet crimes, including recognition of the Holodomor as genocide.

The strange process of transition from subjugated colony to “independence” that occurred in 1991 is little understood to those not steeped in the knowledge of the language and all things Ukrainian. But to make this understandable I must begin with what came before – I take the reader to the beginnings of Muscovite bolshevik rule in Ukraine.

Official statistics show that in July of 1918 there were 4354 Bolsheviks in Ukraine, and only a handful of them were Ukrainian. Even 5 years later, in the Ukrainian SSR, the Ukrainians in the Communist Party of Ukraine made up but 23%. This low representation in what was being presented as a “Ukrainian” state was even lower when it came to the Spearhead of the party – the CheKa-GPU-NKVD security services. No Ukrainian ever headed the political secrecy department of Soviet security: in Ukraine out of 9 leaders of the time, 7 were Jewish, one was Russian and one was Armenian. NKVD documents revealed by researchers Yuriy Shapoval and Volodymyr Prystaiko illustrate the most cynical separation of the occupying government from the populace they were ruling. Even when imitating “Ukrainization”, “Internationalism”, and “support for national cultures”, in secret documents amongst themselves the regime spoke in a language (Russian of course) where the word “Ukrainian” was synonymous with “nationalist” and thus “enemy”. It was obvious that “Ukrainians” in this sense were the hated “others” who had to be destroyed or subjugated.

Soviet special security services in all their reincarnations from the CheKa to the KGB served not only the interests of the totalitarian state which fought all deviation of thought, but also of the Imperial State that had to maintain the obedience of subjugated nations and territories, attempting as much as possible to homogenize them not only politically but also culturally and linguistically. Over time the terminology of the NKVD was modified so that instead of the ethnic category “Ukrainian” there appeared the euphemism “bourgeois nationalist” borrowed from the party’s “internationalist” propaganda. Formally this euphemism introduced a strictly ideological (in place of ethnic) description of the enemy, although the object of this description remained unchanged: the self-aware segment of the Ukrainian ethnos with a defined national identity and a linguo-cultural separateness. This same model was employed in the repression of other nations by representing the regime’s antinational policy as antinationalist. For that matter Stalin’s struggle against “cosmopolitanism” and eventually his “ant Zionist” propaganda became similar euphemistic covers for official anti-Semitism.

And so the destruction of national self-consciousness, independence and separateness of non-Russian nations was accomplished under the banner of the “struggle with bourgeois nationalism”. The official correct alternative was “proletarian internationalism” which meant, in Soviet parlance, the denial of the colonized ethnoses of any national identity and a recognition by them of unwavering loyalty to the colonizers – to the point of identifying oneself with one’s oppressor and accepting his sense of superiority over you. The battle with “bourgeois nationalism” was thus in fact a battle with the Ukrainian nation, not only by propaganda but also by means of security police as “bourgeois nationalism” was classed as a criminal offence. To the last days of the USSR, the Soviet security structure battled this “bourgeois nationalism” – collected denunciations, collected informers, and invented provocations. It considered the Ukrainian movement its greatest opponent.

Cosmetic Changes

The independent Ukrainian state that appeared as a result of the collapse of the USSR was a hybrid creation, which at the institutional level was a continuation of the Ukrainian SSR, but on the symbolic level bore all the accoutrements of the (briefly) independent Ukrainian National Republic of 1918-1920. At the core of this hybrid contraption was an understood compromise between the opposition national democrats and the opportunistic faction of the ruling nomenclature, in other words between a national (Ukrainian) elite and the territorial (Imperial) elite. The national elite acquired the symbolic context of a new state and its legitimization; while the territorial elite got to control its institutional continuity and thus the strictly cosmetic character of any post-communist and post-colonial changes. The Soviet KGB was renamed the SBU without any lustration nor any changes in personnel! On the practical level the repressive functions of the organization were greatly limited, but in its place the business-corruptional component expanded as a result of the growth of oligarch-capitalism and the use of the SBU to settle accounts. In reality this organization remained Soviet in terms of personnel as well as in their activities.

The murder of the Ukrainian singer Ihor Bilozir by a young ukrainophobe son of an SBU officer for singing in Ukrainian in a Lviv bar serves as but one example of the mentality of this “nationalized” but not “national” police force. “Why are you singing in Ukrainian?” asked the son, himself an SBU operative. Bilozir continued singing. The ruffian smashed his head in.

And educating a fresh generation of oppressors is a book by V. Zuev and I. Kulaga, meant for both the SBU and the general public titled (in Russian of course) “Organs of State Security in the Donetsk Oblast’”. It proudly recites the achievements of the knights of Dzerzhinsky (creator of the CheKa): “In the years of the first five year plans and the collectivisation of agriculture, the enemy could no longer fight openly with arms as it could in the early 1920’s. Now he was masked as a civil servant, an activist, a professional union worker, and a specialist in management. It was difficult to identify him. But the CheKists were able to discover the class enemy wherever he hid.”  All the key events of the “fatherland’s” history are told in a similar vein. “In the first quarter of 1937 they uncovered 112 criminal organizations and liquidated 587 people”. The fact that these people who became corpses with shattered bones and bullet-holed skulls were once living persons, and that their “crimes” were as fictitious as the courage of the NKVD never crossed the mind of these authors. They proudly write of the struggle against dissidents in the 1960’s, against the samvydav literature, and against the smuggled foreign books.

One such homegrown dissident, the poet and prisoner of conscience Vasyl’ Stus who was tortured to death in 1985 in a Soviet concentration camp wrote about the KGB: “I accuse the KGB as an organization that is openly chauvinist and anti-Ukrainian because it has silenced my nation. The court proceedings of 1972-73 in Ukraine – were prosecutions against man’s thoughts, against the very process of thinking, against humanism, even against all signs of a son’s love of his nation… I am convinced that sooner or later the KGB will be prosecuted as a criminal police organization that is openly hostile to the people. I am not sure that I will live to see the day…”

Most notably, the Preface to the Zuev-Kulaga work was written by Victor Yanukovych, the current president of Ukraine! “The history of state security,” he writes, “reaches back to 1918 when in the cities of Mariupol and Bakhmut the first CheKist organizations began their activity… Since then the workers in the organs of State security have always firmly stood on guard for the interests of our (sic) nation and state. This publication will be interesting for both the young cadres of the SBU and readers in general, as it has collected wonderful examples of true patriotism in action, loyal service to the state and to the people of Ukraine (sic)”.


In the three years since Victor Yanukovych’s inauguration and the parliamentary putsch he inspired, the SBU has to a great extent renewed its KGB functions as a political okhrana (schutzstaffel). Civil rights groups report constant interference of the SBU in their activities, in that of independent mass media, educational institutions etc. Such pressures take both a “soft” form such as “prophylactic conversations” as well as brutal attacks with arrests, searches and fabricated criminal charges. Particular examples are the scandalous arrest at the Borispil Airport of Nico Lange of the Konrad Adenauer Fund, Political blackmail of the Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Boris Gudziak, and the arrest of Ruslan Zabilyy on the ridiculous charge of “attempting to disseminate state secrets” namely the archived documents declassified under President Yushchenko about covert operations of the Soviet secret services against the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army).  Various “conversations” with journalists, scholars, and civil activists and all who are in contact with foreigners serve to create an atmosphere of fear. A counterespionage operative has been quoted by Dzerkalo Tyzhnia that “Logic in the actions of the SBU is not apparent, but only at first glance, […] However if you look at the foreign policy priorities of the leadership of the country, at the ties of the chief of the SBU and his own political status […] these actions follow an iron logic. Valeriy Khoroshkovskyy reports to the President daily, bringing him daily reminders of his personal loyalty. The number of the regime’s enemies is increasing, and thus so is the value of Khoroshkovskyy as head of the SBU. The direction that SBU actions have taken is shocking in terms of methods but only if viewed from a pro-western course that the country took in the past [under Yushchenko]. The situation looks altogether different from the viewpoint of Russia.” The West has again become the enemy of the SBU. All operative activities against Russia begun under Yushchenko have been decidedly stopped. A colonel of the (Russian) FSB, Noskov, arrested in 2009 with a group of other agents while attempting to kidnap a Ukrainian officer, has been quietly released on the request of FSB-Head Aleksandr Bortnikov.

Furthermore, Khoroshkovskyy was later replaced by a Russian KGB career officer Ihor Kalinin, showing again the lack of any difference between both organizations. After the 2012 Parliamentary elections the SBU Chief was again replaced, this time by Oleksandr Yakymenko a director of a private security firm belonging to (billionaire) Rinat Akhmetov and Yanukovych Jr., who was prior to that, an officer in Russia’s Armed Forces in 1998.

SBU activity has been focused on Ukrainian civil liberties groups in the east and south of the country. A well-known example of this is the case of Stalin’s Latest Victims . A group of young men sawed off the head of a Stalin statue (such statues are formally illegal in Ukraine). A day later this monument was blown up by persons unknown, but the hewers of Stalin’s head were charged. What is notable is that while in prison, detectives beat them, insisted that they speak Russian, and explained how Russia had given Ukraine both its borders and its culture.

There are many many similar cases. In the case of the Vasylkiv “terrorists” detectives openly regretted that it was no longer 1933 (the year of the Holodomor) and regretted that Ukraine was not part of the Russian Federation.

Such views are not the exception but actually reflect the thinking of the state apparatus from the Minister of Education Dmytro Tabachnyk, to the local DAI traffic cop who insists that his victims speak Russian. As pointed out at the very beginning of this article, the entire state apparatus (what is euphemistically referred to as the civil service in the west) has been left unchanged from Soviet times. The entire structure continues to serve the great One and Indivisible Empire in purging Ukraine-Rus’ of Ukrainians. In these matters the SBU plays the same role as did the CheKa-NKVD-KGB of old, although with (only) slightly different methods.


President Victor Yanukovych has cast his lot with the Russian-speaking, Sovietophile, and most often Ukrainophobe electorate, clearly identifying himself, ideologically, and institutionally with the appropriate imperial-creole elites. Since March of 2010 his government has been enacting a policy of creeping but consistent resovietization and russification of the symbolic space, the national narrative and the linguistic and cultural self-identification of the population.

The ruling creole-oligarchy is acting appropriately in maintaining their grip on power, correctly identifying the Ukrainian national identity and language as an obstacle to maintaining that grip.  Their interests are served better by a sovietised Russian speaking anti-liberal, anti-west, eastern-slavic populace that is used to being ruled. And so the attack on the Ukrainian identity will continue.

The Ukrainian identity, culture and language have been correctly identified as being associated with Western values and so Yanukovych will attack democracy and all things Ukrainian with equal zeal. A state apparatus unchanged since Stalin’s time, and populated by cadres with a mentality unchanged since Shcherbytskyy will serve Yanukovych very well, for the same reason that it refused to serve Yushchenko, the Ukrainian-speaking “other” that they sensed was totally foreign them.

The example of Belorus under President Lukashenka beckons.

Given this reality, it is no surprise that the Ukrainian opposition is now actually calling for open rebellion.

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