IMPORTANCE OF UKRAINE
Out of the fifteen former member republics of the Soviet Union, one can argue that the Ukraine was the most important to the organization and was thought of as an asset to the Union. It was an important asset to the Soviet Union as a whole strategically, politically and economically. Further more, Ukraine was one of the largest republics of the federation. Having all this importance placed on Ukraine made many pressures visible by Soviet leaders to keep it stable and under secure communist control. With all of these controls placed upon Ukraine, it would have long term effects on its development in almost all aspects of Ukrainian society including its people and national identity.
The Ukraine has an area of about 603,700 square kilometers, with a population of over fifty million. In size, population and economic output the former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic ranks with the larger countries of Europe. Two thirds of its territory consists of rich earth soils, and more then 1,700 minerals are mined there. The former republic has advanced metallurgy with up to date power engineering facilities, various machine building industries, and highly mechanized agriculture. The working people of the Ukraine also have a wide range of achievements to their credit consisting in science and technology to name but a few of its major assets.
Geographically, Ukraine occupies an intermediary position between Russia and the satellite countries of Eastern Europe. It can be said that the status of Ukraine had a direct bearing on the structure of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the whole former socialist bloc, including the Soviet Union as a world power. After the Ukraine had become a constituent member of the federation according to its official doctrine, it was a sovereign state having equality with Russia and the other Soviet Republics. However the USSR was looked upon as one body sharing common features which has effected Ukrainian development a great deal in slowing down its growth potential. The list of a few deficiencies the former Soviet Ukraine suffered is that it did not control the railroads on its territory, it had no separate currency or postage stamps, no independent revenue, no legally distinct citizenship from the rest of the USSR, criminal offenders tried in Ukraine served there terms in prisons out side of the republic and Ukraine can only participate in diplomatic relations with foreign countries through joint delegations of the USSR. These aspects of Ukrainian dependance on the USSR does not support the idea of a self governing state which is what the Ukrainians really wanted, in other words to have there own identity.
The power of the central government in Moscow was very persuasive, and did not leave the Ukrainian Republic any measure of independent jurisdiction. All these inabilities created for Ukraine during its communist era before the breakup of the Soviet Union left it in an uncertain position after the collapse. Ukraine had to restart its affairs and create international links with other nations, and mostly depend on its own infrastructure for the purpose of economic growth. With the Ukraine=s natural advantage in resources and abilities as mentioned above it has great potential to become a state of economic importance in Europe. The Soviet Union realized all these aspects of Ukraine which is why it held it with great importance. The Ukrainian people under Soviet control had long since wanted a state identity of there own, because they were proud to be Ukrainians. The Ukrainians also realized that there potential for becoming a strong independent state was much greater then what it was in the Soviet Union.
So as one can see, the former Ukrainian republic was considered to be a very important territory in Europe as a whole, linking East with West and can be considered to be even more full with potential because of its open links and independent status as a state after the fall of the USSR.
Ukraine lost more people in World War II than any other European country, loosing over ten million lives. As tragic as this may be the real tragedy lies in the fact that this senseless killing derived from the Germans as well as the Soviet Union. "At the end of the war, Ukraine lay in ruins: the population had declined by 25%" (Snow, 73). Both the spirit and the people of Ukraine were killed throughout World War II as Ukraine lay victim to Hitler and Stalin.
Both Hitler and Stalin believed that Ukraine was an obstacle to their goals. Hitler wanted Ukraine as Germany's Lebensraum (living space). In Hitler's memoirs he made it clear that he believed that the Ukrainian people were sub human and that the 'superior race' of Germany was being help back from greatness because of their ever growing population was restrained by a lack of room and resources. Ukraine offered Germany both. There black soil offered Germany the 'breadbasket of Europe". Furthermore, Hitler wanted to colonize Ukraine with German population.
In order to utilize Ukrainian territory Hitler planned that "the bulk of the population of Ukraine would 'disappear' or serve as slaves to the new German colonists. On December 16, 1942 Hitler ordered that the 'most brutal means be used by the German Army against guerillas in Ukraine." (Gregorovich, 2). As a result, the Ukrainians suffered for three years under German occupation. Through a few example one can only see a glimpse of the terror that the Ukrainian people must have felt. For instance, the German army swept east across Ukraine going through cities like Lutsk, Zhitomir and Berdichev in the summer of 1941 killing 600,000 Ukrainian Jews. In less than two days Germans killed 33,771 Jews of Kiev in Babi Yar. During this terror Ukraine had the least number of collaborators of all 14 East European countries demonstarating the strength and moral character of the people (Procuik, 53). During this time women and children were not spared. Most of the executions were carried out by shooting the victims but some people were killed by hanging and others in trucks by gas. Hundreds of women would be found tightly squeezed in a truck burned alive thinking they were on their way to a shower while drunken Germans stood by with laughter (Kuznetsov, 377-378). Ukraine was ridden with fear and tragedy due to the brutality of Nazi Germany during WWII.
The terror did not end with Hitler's army but was furthered by the brutality of the Soviet Union. Stalin feared that Ukrainian nationalism and an independent Ukraine would wreck the Soviet Russian Empire. As a victor, Stalin's USSR was able to hide its genocide of Ukrainians. Only recently have many of the atrocities on the part of Soviet Russia become known. Stalin was responsible for the starvation of millions of Ukrainians. This lead to one of lives greatest tragedies and ironies: The breadbasket of Europe was left to starve by the hands of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the Soviet government ordered the execution of all 19,000 Ukrainian political prisoners in western Ukraine. Many others were sent to Siberia to be put in exile or killed. The exact number is still unclear due to how effectively Stalin was able to hide his actions. There was also an evacuation of millions of personnel to the east, to Russia. Many were highly educated and skilled workers. This brain drain effected Ukraine for the many years to come. The Soviet Union particularly destroyed the Jewish population in Ukraine. The total evacuated was estimated to about one-half to two-thirds of the total Jewish population of Ukraine (Gregorovich). For all of the Ukrainians the Soviets were a life threatening presence throughout WWII.
The 'Great Patriotic War' left Ukraine in ruins. "No single European country suffered deeper wounds to its cities, its industry, its farmland and its humanity" as did Ukraine (Snow, 73). The Ukrainian people were victims of both Hitler and Stalin. There was neither a village nor a family that could have avoided the losses that came about during World War II.