Cartoons of the Ukrainian Peopleʼs Republic of the beginning of the 20th century: indecisive Hrushevsky, dreams of independence, bloody Bolsheviks, neighbors tearing Ukraine apart. A story in 10 illustrations-memes

Serhii Pyvovarov
Yevhen Spirin

After the actual collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917, Ukrainians finally had a chance to create their own state. The political elites created a parliament in Kyiv, Centralna Rada, which led the national movement. One of the first democratic manifestations was the abolition of press censorship. And it reacted to the events, among other things, with political caricatures, which can be considered memes of the time. Moreover, they criticized not only their opponents, but also their political leaders — the head of Centralna Rada Mykhailo Hrushevskyi, his deputy Volodymyr Vynnychenko, etc. Unfortunately, the young Ukrainian state soon had to fight on several fronts, and in the end it did not survive. But the main enemy then, as now, was Russia, only Bolshevik Russia. "Babel" already mentioned the caricatures of the First and Second World Wars. And now we recall attempts to establish Ukrainian statehood in 1917-1921 in ten of the brightest illustrations-memes by Ukrainian caricaturists of that time.

Mykhailo Hrushevsky was now not only a well-known historian, but also a politician who headed the Ukrainian parliament. At first he was criticized for indecisiveness and limitations in relations with Russia. This is a caricature of Mykhailo Hrushevsky speaking before the Congress of Enslaved Peoples of Russia, held in September 1917. The participants of this forum were mostly in favor of creating a Russian republic based on the federal-democratic principle.

Cartoonists also criticized the flirting of the Ukrainian elite with the Russian Provisional Government in Petrograd city, especially Volodymyr Vynnychenko, deputy chairman of Centralna Rada and a supporter of autonomy within the "new Russia". This is a caricature of the Ukrainian Peopleʼs Republic headed by Vynnychenko (center), which arrived for another round of negotiations in Petrograd in the fall of 1917, at the time when the Bolsheviks staged a coup and seized power.

If the First Universal of Centralna Rada proclaimed autonomy, albeit within Russia, then the Second Universal took a step back, canceling autonomy. Therefore, more decisive actions were demanded from the Ukrainian political elite, first of all, to finally break ties with Russia. This caricature "Before the Third Universal", which finally announced the establishment of the Ukrainian Peopleʼs Republic in November 1917. Caricature from the cycle "Illustrated history of Ukraine not by Hrushevskyi or Arkas". The dispute between Hrushevskyi and his opponent from Mykolaiv, public figure, historian and writer Mykola Arkas regarding views on Ukrainian history was played out here.

This caricature of 1917 about the proclamation of the Third Universal actually coincides in many respects with the memories of eyewitnesses. Kyiv students climbed trees near Saint Sofia Square in order not to miss this historic moment. And the leaders of Centralna Rada held a solemn inspection of the troops.

Although the Third Universal once again proclaimed autonomy within Russia, it soon became clear that it would not be possible to come to an agreement with the new Bolshevik government. Especially after the Bolsheviks tried to organize an armed coup in Kyiv. Therefore, this Universal was perceived as a decisive step towards independence and the final break with imperial Russia. The postcard "Our enemies will die like dew under the sun" after the announcement of the Third Universal.

Wikimedia / «Бабель»

On the left: Postcard "Brotherhood, equality, choo-choo! Moscow's filth!" 1917.
On the right: Postcard "I donʼt want someone elseʼs, but I wonʼt give away my own!" 1917.

On the left: Postcard "Brotherhood, equality, choo-choo! Moscow's filth!" 1917. On the right: Postcard "I donʼt want someone elseʼs, but I wonʼt give away my own!" 1917.

Wikimedia / «Бабель»

Finally, at the beginning of January 1918, the Central Rada adopted the Fourth Universal, which proclaimed the independence of the Ukrainian Peopleʼs Republic from Russia and called on Ukrainians to fight against the Bolsheviks, who had launched an attack on Kyiv. It was not possible to hold them, despite heroic defense attempts, in particular the battle near Kruty. In the photo: Caricature of the Bolshevik commander Mykhailo Muravyov, who, having captured Kyiv at the end of January 1918, unleashed real terror in the city.

In addition to the war with the Bolsheviks, the Ukrainian Peopleʼs Republic had territorial disputes with other states. In the photo: A caricature from the beginning of 1918, where the neighbors are trying to tear Ukraine into pieces.

In the end, the young Ukrainian state had to fight on several fronts. The main threat was the Bolsheviks, who tried to create a Soviet empire, and the White Guards, who planned to restore imperial Russia. However, relations with Western neighbors were far from the same as today. In the photo: A satirical map about the events in Ukraine in 1919-1920.

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