Stalin’s Failed Ukrainization of Stalino (Donetsk) in the 1920’s. Part 2



September 10, 2015

Valery Stepkin

Originally published on May 12, 2014

Translated by Kristina Rus

Click here for Part 1

“Signs? They are all in the Ukrainian language, but there is not one without a mistake”

The trade unions have published interesting figures based on ethnic background records. In the Stalino district 29% of the trade union members were Ukrainians. Of them 13% were able to speak Ukrainian, read – 10,9%, write – 8,3%. It was decided that special attention needs to be paid to teaching Ukrainian trade union members to read and write in the Ukrainian language.[10] The statistics turned out very interesting…

In print heads of different levels of trade unions talked about their ukrainization efforts: “All top level and technical workers of ‘rudkom’ of miners, mine bureau, nearby mines and clubs began to seriously ukrainize. From October 8 daily from 8 am to 9 am in Artem club there are up to 40 “guys”. Interesting to see how Tambov, Orel, Vladimir and from other Great Russian regions the “guys” learn the Ukrainian ‘mova’ [language]. Learn seriously. Attending classes regularly. Some say it is difficult, but many already understand the meaning. In order to learn the Ukrainian language, they must switch to conversation in Ukrainian. We study Ukrainian language – and speak Russian. This weakens memorization”. [11] Small comment: most likely this was all for show.

Employees of a bank who were accused of evading organising courses of the Ukrainian language got into trouble. Employees of the Stalino branch of the State Bank referred to minutes of meetings trying to prove their innocence. The administration of the branch did not have the funds for the courses allocated in the budget . Twice an appeal for the allocation of resources for the courses was rejected by the Ukrainian HQ of the State Bank. When the employees decided to pay for courses out of pocket – this was opposed by the Union of Soviet Trade Workers. Turned out to be a vicious circle.[12]

Letters from the field talked about local problems. At the mine No. 30 of Rutchenkovsky mine field  the number of attendees of courses of ukrainization, which operated from November 1926, by April 1927 declined markedly. The worker correspondent Skurupy using fashionable criticism from below, wrote in the newspaper that “the heads of the enterprises are at best indifferent towards ukrainization. The party branches also pay little attention to the issue of ukrainization. The leadership doesn’t attend courses – meaning less significant deputies and aides believe that they also can skip it”. But not everything was quite so bad. Employees of the lowest level showed excellent results at the test on March 7.[13]

Not all party comrades understood the value of Ukrainization correctly. There were those who said, “If the majority are Russians, then why the hell do we need ukrainization?”. And local ideologists had to remind about Jews, Tatars and Greeks. As the unsurpassed authority they quoted comrade Bukharin:

“The slightest mistake in our national policy is fraught with harmful consequences for the whole country.” 


“In Ukraine workers are mainly Russians. They are the salt of the earth. There are clear pro-Russian moods. Imagine our Great-Russian worker, who came to Ukraine. He is given party literature in the Ukrainian language, he is asked to report in the Ukrainian language, he is forced to speak among the peasantry in Ukrainian. He, of course, is shouting, howling, “I have been muzzled”, I better run away… But is this reaction right, is it right to follow this line? We must say most emphatically, that this is not right. This attitude itself is an expression of the well-known Russian nationalist ideology”.[19]

The central authorities did not sit by idly. They were trying to analyse the situation in Ukraine. On April 19, 1927, the Central Committee of the CP(b)U adopted a special decree, which ordered “to recognize the special importance of the Russian language”.

From January 1, 1927, all the agencies and enterprises of the city began a test of knowledge of the Ukrainian language of the staff involved in courses on ukrainization. 1,358 People  who graduated from three-month courses from 33 agencies and enterprises were tested. From the Soviet city agencies 666 people studied Ukrainian, from state retail – 294, from cooperative organizations – 173. First place in the knowledge of Ukrainian language took:

  • Stalino District Committee (75% of the employees tested in the 1st category, 25% in the 2nd category), 
  • Stalino Executive Committee (50% passed in the 1st category, 50% – 2nd category), 
  • the branch of Industrial Bank (50% passed in the 1st category, 50% – 2nd category), 
  • regional statistics bureau (83% passed the 1st category, 17% – the 2nd category), 
  • Karl Marx mill (70% – the 1st category, 30% – 2nd category), 
  • Red Cross branch (65% – 1st category, 35% – 2nd category).[14]

In the summer ukrainization data was published again. ukrainization was conducted on a mandatory basis. The exception was made only for employees over 50 years old – for them attending courses was optional. In industrial areas ukrainization was completed by May 1st. Since that time, the District Commission for ukrainization conducted mass exams. The total figures for Stalino constituency were: 5403 people were supposed to attend courses, but only 3569 people did.  Passed the exam in the 1st category – 1096 people – 22%, in the second category – 1567 person, 35%, in the third category – 2740 people, or 43%.[15]

Were there any visible results of hastily held ukrainization? With a group of Ukrainian writers in 1928 Donbass was visited by Borys Antonenko-Davydovych.[16] A few decades later he published his travel impressions: “But Stalino was really ukrainizing. On the main street the loudspeaker shouts and sings. It screams and sings only in Ukrainian. Signs? They are all in the Ukrainian language, but there is not one without a mistake. Ukrainian sign without error would be atypical for Stalino. Let’s write it off on “growing pains”. But even “Jan,” a favorite name of Yuzovka hairdressers is adorned with  beautiful signs:



Hairdresser Jan

Shave and haircuts for men and women

According to Kaganovich, and therefore Stalin, the ukrainization process did not go as fast as anticipated. In 1927 Shumsky was removed from the leadership of the People’s Commissariat of Ukraine, replaced by a former KGB officer, a native of Donbass, N. Skrypnyk. As the researchers note, the new Commissar pursued the policy of ukrainization with a chekist zeal and enthusiasm. A total ukrainization began. In Ukraine, by 1930 there were only three Russian-language newspapers left (one each in Stalino, Mariupol and Odessa). Secretary of the CP(b)U gave instructions to party members: “At gatherings, meetings with comrades speak only in Ukrainian”.  Popular joke in those years:

“Excuse me, are you serious or is it Ukrainian?”.[17]

In July 1930 the Presidium of the Stalino district executive committee decided “to prosecute the heads of organizations, formally subject to ukrainization, who did not find ways to ukrainize subordinates who violate the law in the case of ukrainization.”[18]

In August 1932 Stalin announced about a discord in the Ukrainian political elite, the prevalence of hidden nationalists and foreign agents. This was one of the reasons for halting the policy of ukrainization.

On April 10, 1938 Politburo of the CC CP(b) considered the issue of reorganization of national schools and from September 1, Russian language was introduced in all the schools of Ukraine.


1. V. Chernyshov “Ukrainization as it was”

2. The newspaper “Dictatorship of labor” September 11, 1925.

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3. The newspaper “Dictatorship of labor,” September 12, 1925.

4. The newspaper “Dictatorship of labor”, January 29, 1926.

5. The newspaper “Dictatorship of labor”, January 1926.

6. “Dictatorship of labor”, 8 April 1926.

7. J. Stalin, “Marxism and the national-colonial question”, ogiz, 1939.

8. “Dictatorship of labor” 16 June 1926.

9. “Dictatorship of labor,” July 6, 1926.

10. The newspaper “Dictatorship of labor,” July 23, 1926.

11. The newspaper “Dictatorship of labor,” November 2, 1926.

12. The newspaper “Dictatorship of labor”, 2 December 1926.

13. The newspaper “Dictatorship of labor”, 14 April 1927.

14. The newspaper “Dictatorship of labor”, February 17, 1927.

15. The newspaper “Dictatorship of labor”, June 1927.

16. B. Antonenko-Davidovich “Land Ukrainskoi”, 1929

17. V. Chernyshov “Ukrainization as it was”

18. Ukrainization – Wikipedia.

19. The newspaper “Dictatorship of labor”, on February 24, 1927.

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