Encyclopedia Articles

(Formerly Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic)
Population: 49,568,000
Main religions: Ukrainian Orthodox; Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox; Ukrainian Catholic; Protestant; Muslim; Jewish
Official language: Ukrainian
Other languages spoken: Russian; Romanian; Polish; Hungarian
Illiteracy rate (%): 0.3 (m); 0,5 (f)
Number of Daily Newspapers: 44
Number of radio receivers per 1000 inhabitants: 882
Number of TV receivers per 1000 inhabitants: 353
Number of PCs per 1000 inhabitants: 13,8
The history of censorship in Ukraine is dominated by the issue of its language and culture. Its territory, once Kievan Rus', was absorbed by Lithuania after 1237, and the huge combined land area was linked to Poland through a royal marriage in the 14th century, and then fully incorporated in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569. "Ukraine' means literally "margin" or "edge". Since 1569, the colonizing policies of first Poland, then the Russian empire, and, finally, the Soviet Union contrived to keep Ukraine on the margin politically and culturally, often using censorship as a weapon. Not until the late 20th century did Ukraine achieve seemingly lasting statehood.
 The first recorded acts of censorship in Ukraine, however, were sponsored by its two main churches, Orthodox and Uniate, which dominated the territory's eastern and western parts respectively. In 1591 the council of Orthodox bishops assumed unconditional authority to determine which manuscripts were fit for printing. Four years later, the Ukrainian Uniate Church, formed after approaches from the Jesuits had induced them to acknowledge papal authority, endowed its bishops with similar powers of censorship. At that time, Ukraine's several printing presses, the most important of which was located in Lviv, published mostly ecclesiastical books, both in Ukrainian and in other languages such as Polish and Armenian.
 The first publishing house in Ukraine was founded at the Kievan Caves monastery early in the 17th century, and throughout the 17th and 18th centuries it remained the most important center of book-printing in Ukraine, becoming instrumental in the development of the country's culture and education. Another key institution was the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, an Orthodox institution, founded in 1632, which rapidly became the largest center of scholarship and education in Eastern Europe. It was subject to censorship by the Catholic authorities in Poland, one of whose kings, Wladyslaw IV (1632-1648) denied the academy the right to teach philosophy or theology.
 Polonization was accompanied by naked aggression during much of the 17th century. Polish landowners seized eastern Ukrainian territory, enserfing the local peasants and causing much bitterness. However, the commonwealth made some serious miscalculations. The Cossacks entered history first as freebooters and then as a disciplined army; they are now regarded by many Ukrainian nationalists not only as defenders of the Orthodox faith, but also as a model for a truly democratic Ukrainian state. The commonwealth's army was defeated by the Cossacks, but the tsar of Muscovy Alexei who styled himself "Tsar of Great and Little Russia" ("Little Russia" being the Russian name for Ukraine for several centuries), exploited the commonwealth's weakness. Poland and Muscovy divided Ukraine between them along the River Dnieper in 1667.
 It soon became obvious that Muscovy's intentions were anything but benevolent. Polish officials were replaced by Russians. Ukrainians were removed from the government of the land, and Moscow refused to recognize the autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which was formally subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate in 1686. Attempts were made to close the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and in 1686 the government prohibited the publication of certain Ukrainian books on the grounds that they contained non-Orthodox ideas. The Council of Moscow (1690) anathematized books by the activists and writers Petro Mohyla, Ioanykii Galiatovskyi, Epifanii Slavynetskyi, and others.
 Peter the Great included Ukraine in his general provisions for censorship in 1720-1721, when the newly created Holy Synod was empowered to read and approve every new book before it was published. In 1753 it was decreed that Ukrainian was no longer to be used as the language of instruction at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. In 1786 this was extended to all schools in Ukraine as well as to the Orthodox liturgy. In addition, there was a "brain drain" of educated Ukrainians who were recruited into service in Russia, with devastating consequences for Ukrainian culture. Much the same happened in Poland. Even after the third partition of Poland (1795), when a large part of the country was incorporated into the Russian empire, Ukrainian-language schools were closed on the orders of the Polish Sejm (the legislature).
 The Ukrainian vernacular had not, however, altogether disappeared from use in eastern Ukraine, even though it was excluded from printed books and from the schools. On the contrary, after Russian authorities had prohibited the use of the Ukrainian "book language", the language of the common people gained a stronger position. Ivan Kotliarevskyi's Aeneid, was published in 1798 (complete edition 1842), heralding the beginning of the new Ukrainian literature. Written in pure vernacular, it was, according to George Luckyj, "the first book to elevate the Ukrainian language". As the Russian empire gradually became more secular in character, the printing of Ukrainian books became possible, first in Russia proper and then, from the beginning of the 19th century, in eastern Ukraine itself. On the other hand, Ukrainian writers faced a dilemma. To write in their native language meant that they would be read only by their countrymen, when the Russian language offered much greater opportunities for literary success. Daring young talents traveled to St. Petersburg, where they underwent conversion to Russian culture. In one of his letters, the Ukrainian poet Ievhen Hrebinka called St. Petersburg "a colony of educated Little Russians". Ukrainians achieved eminence as Russian writers and cultural figures: chief among them was Nikolai Gogol', widely considered one of the fathers of Russian prose.
 The development of a new sense of national identity marked Ukrainian intellectual life in the first half of the 19th century. New schools and universities (for example in Kharkiv) were opened and financed by Ukrainians. Both in Ukraine and in the Russian capital cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg new societies of Ukrainophiles were organized, of which the Brotherhood of Sts. Cyril and Methodius was the most important. Among its members were the historian Mykola Kostomarov, the writer Panteleimon Kulish, and the Ukrainian national poet, Taras Shevchenko. In 1840, Shevchenko published his first collection of poems, Kobzar (The Minstrel), leading to the revival of the old Russian habit of censoring separatist aspirations. Editions of Kobzar were published in 1840 and 1844, but in 1847 Shevchenko's works were entirely prohibited, a signal for a much wider attack on nationalist aspirations.
 A new and vigorous campaign against Ukrainian publications was launched after the appointment of Peter Valuev as minister of interior. In 1863 he issued a circular that prohibited the printing of Ukrainian school texts, books with a religious content, and books for popular use, with the exception of literary works. He proclaimed that "there never has been a distinct Little Russian language, and there never will be one. The dialect that the common people use is Russian contaminated by Polish influence". An embargo was placed on the importation and distribution in the Russian empire of the Lviv periodical Meta (Goal), and in 1876 the use of Ukrainian in the theatre was prohibited, together with the importation of Ukrainian-language books from abroad. Books and even musical texts in Ukrainian were banned. Clearly, if the 22.4 million Ukrainians had been allowed to use their "dialect", the position of the Russian language would have been distinctly threatened. The emperor was warned in 1876 that "permitting the creation of a special literature for the common people in the Ukrainian dialect would signify collaborating in the alienation of the Ukraine from the rest of Russia".
 Bans followed one after another. In 1881 it was forbidden to use Ukrainian as the language of church sermons. In 1884 the ban on the use of Ukrainian in the theatre was extended to all provinces. In 1892 translating Russian works into Ukrainian was prohibited. Finally, in 1895 children's books in Ukrainian were banned. In 1901 the censors outlawed the very name "Ukraine" and its derivatives, replacing them with the designation Malorossiia (Little Russia). The word "Cossack" was also proscribed. Between 1895 and 1904 70 per cent of Ukrainian manuscripts submitted to the censors were rejected, although it was apparently easier to publish books in the Ukrainian language in Moscow than in Kyiv. In 1894, 14 Ukrainian-language books were published in Moscow, but only eight in Kyiv. It is hardly surprising that, from a high point in the late 16th century, literacy declined to the catastrophic level of 13 per cent by the end of the 19th century.
 Many literary activities were transferred from eastern Ukraine to Austrian-ruled Galicia in the west, and for the first time in many years the center of Ukrainian activity, which centuries before had moved east under the pressure of Polish oppression, was once more in western Ukraine. There, Ukrainians could make limited use of the press, and openly participate in political and civic activities. The public prosecutor had the power of censorship, but was comparatively benevolent. In 1873 the Shevchenko Society was founded in Lviv to promote the unfettered education of Ukrainians, and to raise money for a printing house for the publication of Ukrainian books.
 The revolution of 1905-1906 brought Ukrainians in the Russian empire new liberties, including legal permission to publish newspapers and magazines in their own language. A law of 1906 established freedom of publication of books for non-Russian nationalities, including the Ukrainians. Nevertheless, Ukrainian publications were censored more strictly than those in other minority languages. Thus in 1906 a complete Ukrainian translation of the Christian scriptures was prohibited, and in 1911 the publication of Shevchenko's complete works was stopped.
 In 1919 Poland occupied western Ukraine; it continued to rule there until 1939. In general, the censorship of Ukrainian books in Polish-occupied Ukraine appears to have been more liberal than that of Ukrainian periodicals. In 1924, for example, a Ukrainian representative declared in the Polish Sejm that "almost all issues of Ukrainian periodicals appear with the eloquent heading 'second printing after confiscation'." Between 1932 and 1938 Polish censors prohibited 11 editions of Shevchenko's works.
 After the Russian revolution of February 1917, a Rada (Council) was convened in Kyiv, and in June it proclaimed an autonomous Ukrainian republic. The Ukrainian language was freely spoken everywhere, but full independence was not insisted upon. The Bolsheviks exploited both the openmindedness of the Rada and the chaos of the time, finally incorporating Ukraine into the Soviet Union in 1922. The stirring of national consciousness was not, however, immediately in vain. Lenin instructed that the Communist Party should "act by all means available against any obstacles to the free development of the Ukrainian language and culture". Formally, the Soviet constitution allowed republics to secede, as acknowledged, for example, by Lenin in a memorandum that did not come to light until 1926. It seems unlikely, however, that Ukraine, the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, would have been allowed its independence.
 Culturally, however, a decade of intensified creativity and lively literary debates followed; Ukrainian literature flourished unhindered. This was the time of a new upsurge of national self-awareness and vigorous cultural revival, reinforced by hopes of a better future for Ukraine. Some artists saw this future as communist, but the problem of national sovereignty became increasingly acute. Since the Soviet regime promoted a policy of "internationalism", which in practice was directed against the national self-assertion of Ukraine (as of every other republic), the turmoil took the form of a struggle between two cultures. In 1923 the policy of Ukrainianization was announced, under a party-sponsored programme that was supposed to implement the complete transition of public servants to using Ukrainian, increase the number of Ukrainian party members, and ensure participation by Ukrainians in local administration. In 1926 the authorities reported that 87,8 per cent of schools in Ukraine had been Ukrainianized. Yet the Russian language continued to dominate the press, and more Russian than Ukrainian books were published.
 If Lenin was in some sense creating a multinational state, Stalin faced the problems of consolidation and preservation of this state's integrity, which could be achieved only in an environment devoid of national tensions. "Internationalism" again became the catchword of the communists; it amounted in fact to what might best be described as Soviet patriotism. From 1928 writers were assigned one single purpose in support of the first Five-Year Plan, that of "serving the needs of the socialist reconstruction of the USSR". There followed in the 1930s the merciless destruction of Ukrainian literature and culture, which ran parallel to the all-Soviet repression of artists and intellectuals. Ukrainian intellectuals were arrested, put through show trails, exiled, and executed. Many committed suicide, among them the modernist writer Mykola Khvyliovyi. According to Eduard Beltov, the total number of Ukrainian writers purged during the late 1920s and 1930s was 500, that is, about half of all "liquidated" Soviet writers. The 1930s saw the ruthless suppression and extermination of the Ukrainian population. The number of those purged during the years of Terror is estimated to be as high as six million lives. Another act of terrorism against Ukraine was the Great Famine of 1932-33, which claimed up to eight million lives. Among its organizers were Joseph Stalin, Pavlo Postyshev, Viacheslav Molotov, and Lazar Kaganovych. While the main objective of this artificial famine was to force Ukrainian farmers into collective farms, it also brought to an end the renaissance of Ukrainian culture, which Moscow considered a threat to its Russocentric rule. The fact of the famine, as well as its horrifying death toll, were thoroughly concealed from the West. During this time no foreign correspondents were allowed into the besieged territory. Until the glasnost of the 1980s this crime against the Ukrainian people was a taboo subject in the Soviet sphere of influence. In this same period also the Soviet authorities outlawed religious life: churches were destroyed and priests executed or exiled.
 "Socialist realism" reigned supreme. The role of art and literature was reduced to the promotion of communist ideology, and writers were given precise specifications delineating the borderlines of the permitted and desirable. It was the epoch of the suppression of independent thinking and the ruthless extermination of Intellectuals. Writers who survived either toed the line or wrote for the drawer. Most published work, such as Andrii Holovko's novel Bur'ian (1927, Weeds) appeared only after considerable reworking by Ukrholovlit, the Ukrainian branch of Glavlit, the Main Administration for Literature and Publications. Ukrainian classics were distorted by excisions. Not only were books by banned authors removed from public libraries, but books that mentioned their names were also proscribed; nor was it safe to keep their books in one's home.
 Following Khrushchev's condemnations of Stalin at the 20th and 22nd party congresses, the brief "thaw" made possible the emergence in Ukraine of a group of young poets, the shestidesiatniki (the generation of the 1960s), who produced nonconformist, apolitical, and, at times, anti-Soviet works. Some of them belonged to dissident groups, which supported democracy and promoted the Ukrainian language and culture. In 1961 several of these groups were exposed and their members were arrested. In the secret "jurists trial" of 1961, seven people, including Levko Luk'ianenko, were charged with anti-Soviet agitation for taking part in the production of a pamphlet advocating secession (as provided for in the Soviet Constitution). Luk'ianenko was sentenced to 15 years in a labor camp. The banned poets Ivan Svitlychnyi, Vasyl Stus, and Ihor Kalynets were persecuted. Others appear to have been subjected to criminal violence, including, for example, the composer Volodymyr Ivasiuk, who was found mutilated and dead in 1979, the victim of his attempt to blend Ukrainian folksongs with western rock music. "Worthless", "nationalistically minded" people were later attacked by the Communist Party for exploiting his "tragic" death.
 Samvydav (as samizdat-self-publication-is called in Ukrainian) led the resistance. Ukrainsky Visnyk (Ukrainian Herald), edited by Vyacheslav Chornovil, started to appear in 1970 and was modeled on the Moscow-based Khronika tekushchykh sobytii (Chronicle of Current Events). This periodical confronted censorship by flaunting its illegality:
The Herald will include information on violations of freedom of speech and other democratic freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, on judicial and extrajudicial repressions in Ukraine, on violations of national sovereignty (instances of chauvinism and Ukrainophobia) [and] on the conditions of Ukrainian political prisoners The criticism of individuals, agencies, and institutions, including the highest one, for errors committed in the solution of internal political problems, is not considered by the Herald to be anti-Soviet activity.
 In August 1971 the KGB began criminal proceedings regarding the publication and distribution of Ukrainsky Visnyk. At this time the Soviet Government was actively implementing a program of Russification, which led to the decline of the Ukrainian language in public and private spheres, a reduction in the number of Ukrainian publications, and an unflagging campaign against Ukrainian cultural activists. In the 1970s hundreds of dissidents as well as cultural and human rights activists were arrested, tried, exiled, or incarcerated in psychiatric institutions. Yet dissident activities continued. Samvydav literature was published in the Gulag. Valentyn Moroz's publication "Report from Beria Reserve" was the best known. In 1976 the Ukrainian Helsinki Group was formed; its aim was to ensure the Soviet observance of human rights. In the 1980s the Ukrainian dissident movement redirected its efforts into political opposition to the pro-communist Ukrainian government regime. These efforts were, on the whole, unsuccessful.
 Independent since 1991, Ukraine now faces the challenge of building a new national identity that will meet the requirements of the present situation and encompass Ukrainians, Russians, and other elements in its population. The task of constructing the first fully independent state in Ukrainian history runs parallel to the task of reviving Ukrainian language and culture. The reopening in 1992 of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, as an independent international university, has been viewed both in Ukraine and abroad as a symbol of the revival of Ukrainian nationhood. As a state language, Ukrainian is gradually replacing Russian in the administrative, political, economic, and educational spheres.
 After Ukraine achieved independence, the country experienced an acute crisis in publishing. State-owned publishing houses went bankrupt and the number of books published in Ukrainian dwindled dramatically. While contemporary Ukrainian literature is hardly being published at all, western writing, chiefly in Russian translations, has dominated the Ukrainian book market. The same is true of films.
 The unresolved dilemma over the position of Russophone residents of Ukraine compounds the tensions in the new state. In 1996 the legislature passed the law "On Licensing Certain Types of Entrepreneurial Activity", increasing both postal rates and taxes on Russian-language periodicals. As a result, the overall quality of newspapers and journals available to the public has decreased, and a great blow has been dealt to the non-Ukrainian press. Yet the fact remains that up to 70 per cent of Ukraine's population speak or read the Russian language, and want access to either Russian or Russian-language Ukrainian materials.
 The current constitution, adopted in 1996, formally endorses such civil liberties as access to uncensored media, the right to criticize the government, protection of minority rights, and freedom of religion. Article 15 specifically proclaims the principle of pluralism and "ideological diversity" as crucial to the sociopolitical life of the country, and prohibits censorship. Yet the issue of censorship has not lost its urgency. Like in all post-Soviet countries, Ukraine's independence is not unequivocal. The ambiguity is determined by the fact that the communist ruling elite remains in power, hindering the possibility of any real reforms and ultimately the change to liberal democracy. According to the Ukrainian scholar and literary critic Mykola Ryabchuk, "authoritarian tendencies apparently prevail everywhere. In a sense, we still have a situation of the 'cold war', and mass-media still have to beware of this battleground."
 Despite numerous and frequent reorganizations, the government continues to control public information. Until late 1996, information was regulated by the Ministry of the Press and Information, the State Broadcasting Committee, and the National Council for Broadcasting. All these bodies were then brought together under the control of the Ministry of Information. Many observers have concluded that this system amounts to a form of censorship.
 In April 1997, the Verkhovna Rada (the legislature) held hearings on freedom of speech and censorship. It was concluded that "overt and covert censorship is practiced in this country in various forms. It is aimed, as a rule, at protecting the interests and image of individual high ranking officials".
 While the mass media is seemingly free, its economic vulnerability remains. In addition, the absence of a strong legal system leaves it unprotected. The government headed by Ukraine's second president, Leonid Kuchma (elected in 1995) brought the country into a political and economic crisis. Attempts on the part of the mass media to comment on this crisis were suppressed. Every year Ukrainian journalists are killed, beaten, harassed, and said to have committed suicide or disappeared: none of these acts has been investigated properly. In 1999 the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called Kuchma the world's sixth greatest enemy of the press. A grim granite memorial to eight Ukrainian journalists who were killed in the "cold war" with the Ukrainian government was erected in 2001 to commemorate Ukraine's defenders of truth. The last victim of Kuchma's brutal censorship, a polemical journalist and editor of the internet newspaper Ukrains'ka Pravda (Ukrainian Truth) Georgyi Gongadze (1969-2000), was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered in October 2000. His mutilated and decapitated body was found a month later. Several regional newspapers were prevented from publishing information on the case. Incriminating evidence was presented to Kuchma, who was accused of standing behind this crime. "Kuchmagate"-the campaign to replace Kuchma and to investigate human rights in Ukraine-ensued.
 In 2001 Ukraine still has a long way to go to be rid of the detrimental baggage of more than half a century of Soviet rule and to build a real democracy, one that will replace the show-window one of today.
Svitlana Kobets
Further Reading:
Balmuth, Daniel, Censorship in Russia, 1865-1905, Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1979.
Browne, Michael (ed.), Ferment in the Ukraine, London: Macmillan, and New York: Praeger, 1971.
Dmytryshyn, Basil, Moscow and the Ukraine, 1918-1953: A Study of Russian Bolshevik Nationality Policy, New York: Bookman Associates, 1956.
Grabowicz, George G., Toward a History of Ukrainian Literature, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1981.
Hrushevsky, Michael, A History of Ukraine, Frederiksen O. J. (ed.), New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1941.
Lindheim, Ralph and Luckyj, George S. N. (eds.), Towards an Intellectual History of Ukraine: An Anthology of Ukrainian Thought from 1710 to 1995, Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1996.
Luckyj, George S. N. Literary Politics in the Soviet Ukraine, 1917-1934, revised edition, Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1990.
Luckyj, George S. N., Ukrainian Literature in the Twentieth Century: A Reader's Guide, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992.
Motyl, Alexander J., Dilemmas of Independence: Ukraine after Totalitarianism, New York: Council of Foreign Relations Press, 1993.
Seton-Watson, Hugh, The Decline of Imperial Russia, 1855-1914, London: Methuen, and New York: Praeger, 1952.
Svoboda, Victor, "Cat and Mouse in the Ukraine", Index on Censorship, 12/1 (Spring 1973).
© 2023 by Svitlana Kobets. All right reserved.