Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

100 years of the proclamation of hetmanship in Ukraine

On the populist hypnosis and constructive conservatism
14 February, 2018 - 17:00

In spite of the spread of socialist ideology and practice in the world, contemporary history is characterized by activization of conservatism which shows itself as a constructive state-formation force, an essential factor of stability, order, and supremacy of common human and national spiritual values in society. It is difficult to imagine today’s France, Britain, Germany, Russia, Poland, etc., without a national conservative aristocratic tradition, without being aware of the role of monarchic institutions, aristocratic families, and the noble stratum in general in the history of these countries.

In a number of European countries which took the path of fighting for national independence at the turn of the 20th century, conservative political trends contributed to reviving statehood and preserving national identity. Quite a few peoples that gained independence chose a monarchic system in order to establish strong political forces in their social life. Ukraine was not an exception in this process, although Ukrainian conservatism was not clearly outlined politically and organizationally for a long time and could not essentially influence the Ukrainian social life in which liberal-populist and socio-radical trends prevailed.

What dominated in the awareness of the vast majority of the leaders of and rank-and-file participants in the Ukrainian national movement, social scientists, and cultural figures was the wholehearted “love of the people” accompanied by glorification of spontaneous grassroots movements, peasant uprisings, etc. At the same time, it was not taken into account that the latter often dealt severe blows not only to foreign enslavers but also to constructive state-formation processes in Ukraine itself.

It can be stated that Ukrainian society fell in thrall to sort of a populist hypnosis, which resulted in a serious destruction of societal awareness. The impression is that the Ukrainian intelligentsia itself promoted de-elitization of Ukraine, much to the pleasure of Poland and Russia, denying the existence of Ukrainian aristocracy (elite) and the relevant social institutions at all stages of Ukraine’s historical being.

But it should not be forgotten that in the entire 19th and the early 20th century active participants in the Ukrainian movement, the creators of modern Ukrainian literature and science, were representatives of the Ukrainian nobility and descendants of senior Cossack officers (Bilozersky and Kulish, Hrebinka and Zabila, Kvitka-Osnovianenko and Kostomarov, Antonovych and Lazarevsky, Olena Pchilka and Lesia Ukrainka, Drahomanov, Starytsky, Panas Myrny, and many others).

It is Viacheslav Lypynsky who brought about essential shifts in the Ukrainian conservative milieu. He was one of the first to understand an exclusive social role of the traditional national elite. He considered it extremely important that aristocratic elements of society take part in the Ukrainian movement in such a way that they could preserve their social and class identity and remain a full-fledged community. In Lypynsky’s view, by participating in the Ukrainian national life, the descendants of Ukrainian aristocratic families could essentially strengthen its material and economic groundwork and, what is more, contribute, owing to their experience, to the growth of the political culture level of Ukrainian citizens and of their prestige in the eyes of political adversaries.

At the same time, Lypysky was one of the first Ukrainian political figures to understand the decisive role of an independent state in ensuring full-fledged historical existence, optimal national, cultural, and political development of the Ukrainian people.

Thanks to the multifaceted activities of Lypynsky as a historian, philosopher, political scientist and journalist, Ukrainian conservatism received the ideology of a “classocratic” big land owners’ monarchy, as a result of which it assumed a new face and a clearly-defined place among the other Ukrainian political currents. Lypynsky founded a statist school in Ukrainian historiography and political thought, which showed that the populist orientation to national spontaneity had no prospects and allowed Ukrainians to properly assess their own state-formation tradition and rely on it in the struggle for Ukraine’s independence. Ukrainian society proved to be able to revive a Hetmanite statist concept, close to the monarchic one, and accept it in the period of radical changes, when there seemed to be no place for implementing conservative ideas.

The organizational and political formation of Ukrainian conservatism, which began with the liquidation of autocracy in Russia, was accompanied with the birth of hetmanite movement in Ukraine and restoration of the Hetmanate (Ukrainian State) with Pavlo Skoropadsky at the head.

The Congress of Landowners, which represented the vast majority of the Ukrainian population, proclaimed the establishment of the Ukrainian Hetman’s State in Kyiv. This act confirmed the state’s complete and final sovereignty, which the Central Rada had failed to say clearly in its 2nd, 3rd, and 4th “universals.” For the first time since the era of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the principle of the unity of Ukrainian lands was put forward and embodied in the title of the brand new state’s head – Hetman of All Ukraine.

The Congress of Landowners was attended by 6,432 delegates from eight governorates of Greater Ukraine, i.e. in fact from all of its regions. On the whole, about 8,000 took part in the assembly. Compared to other forums of the national liberation era, the Congress of Landowners was undoubtedly the largest. For example, in April 1917 there were 1,000 delegates, who represented far from all the regions of Ukraine, at the National Congress which vested the Ukrainian Central Rada with the functions of a topmost national representative institution. The 1st All-Ukrainian Military Congress in May 1917 gathered 700 delegates. Moreover, the norms of representation at both assemblies were simplified and not always fully observed. The Labor Congress of Ukraine gathered fewer than 1,000 delegates, while the so-called “non-labor elements,” who constituted a numerous stratum extremely valuable for Ukrainian state-formation, were debarred from the election process. It should be noted that the Central Rada, the Directory, and Skoropadsky’s Hetmanate were established in the conditions of fierce social upheavals, to which no traditional norms of representation and electivity can be applied. In this context, the Ukrainian State is a no less legitimate and law-abiding national political formation than the UNR of the Central Rada and Directory eras.

The proclamation of the Hetmanate was quite a natural reaction of Ukrainian society to the policy of kindling class enmity and confrontation pursued by the Central Rada’s socialist leaders. Their intentions to put into practice their class doctrine at any cost, even contrary to national interests, stirred up a deep crisis of Ukraine’s whole body politic, and there could be only one way out – to put Ukrainian society on a new footing by establishing class cooperation, social partnership and national consolidation, and strengthening independence of the Ukrainian state.


The latter was to be done immediately. For it is easy to see that the formation of the Ukrainian National Republic in legal terms did not yet mean that Ukraine had gained full political independence. The 3rd Universal of the Central Rada said in no uncertain terms that the new political formation remained part of federal Russia. The dominant idea of this act was not formation of national statehood but care about preservation of the Russian state. “Let us pave the way to a federation!” the Ukrainian Social Democratic Labor Party’s mouthpiece Robitnycha Gazeta urged. “By doing so we strengthen the cohesion and power of the entire proletariat in Russia.” One more call: “Through independence to federation.” These and other calls clearly showed that UNR leaders were trying as hard as they could to ward off Ukraine’s political independence and saw no prospects for it.

Finally, in spite of declaring Ukraine’s independence, the 4th Universal of the Central Rada repeated again that it was advisable for Ukraine to maintain a federative link “with the national republics of the former Russian state.” This formula did not rule out restoration of a political union between the former parent country and the newly-formed Ukrainian state. Tellingly, the very emergence of this document was caused not by the vital necessity of the nation to have an independent sovereign state of its own but by a necessity of the moment – to conclude a peace treaty as soon as possible. Besides, the 4th Universal proclaimed not the national but class-related Ukrainian statehood – a government “represented by the working people, peasants, and soldiers.” The social narrowness of such statehood was also obvious when the Directory deprived the so-called bourgeois classes of election rights during the Labor Congress elections in 1919.

Generally, in Central Rada decrees the idea of a nation state, aimed at uniting the entire Ukrainian society, was intertwined, without any necessity, with social demands. The maximalist intentions of Ukrainian socialists to resolve the latter extremely aggravated class antagonisms and made it impossible for classed and estates to cooperate in one camp.

This created a situation when the attempts of Ukrainian socialists to implement the social provisions of their program also became an unrealizable utopia.

It is no accident that, in the whole period of the liberation struggle, particularly in 1917, the Ukrainian so-called revolutionary democracy was in a permanent conflict with moderately-minded national movement figures made them the object of “class hatred” and pushed them away from participating in state-formation. Suffice it to quote the assessment of the situation by a prominent Ukrainian patriot, Yevhen Chykalenko, in his reminiscences: “And when the 1917 revolution came, I, as a bourgeois or even a feudal lord, could not take part in building the Ukrainian state.”

In fact, the most valuable state-formation strata which focused on the idea of national liberation – well-to-do peasants, zemstvo officials, officers, wealthy city residents, the clergy, representatives of the academic and cultural intelligentsia – received the label of “counterrevolutionaries” and became the object of baiting on the part of Ukrainian socialists.

The political doctrinarism of Central Rada leaders brought the UNR to a political and economic abyss. The German military command reckoned less and less with the Central Rada’s weak institutions, establishing an occupational regime. The government’s failure to establish an efficient state administration, control the situation inside the country, and stop the chaos brought about by the revolution finally called into question the very existence of Ukrainian statehood and did not rule out the proclamation of German-occupied Ukraine as part of Russia. Skoropadsky was very well aware of this circumstance. He wrote in his Reminiscences, appealing to “those who call themselves Ukrainians:” “Remember that if I had not intervened, the Germans would have set up a usual governorate-general in Ukraine. It would have been based on the general principles of occupation and had nothing in common with Ukrainianness.” The disarmament of the “Bluecoat Division” by the Germans was a warming to Ukrainian statehood.


Therefore, the restoration of Hetmanship in this situation meant salvaging Ukrainian statehood and marked the end of the autonomist-federalist concept of the political formation of Ukraine, a decisive and irreversible separation from Russia. The Act of April 29, 1918, was in fact the first governmental act that left no doubts about Ukraine’s political independence. The announced convocation of a legislative Seim was only supposed to streamline the country’s domestic setup.

Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky was brought to power by three main political forces: the Ukrainian People’s Hromada, the All-Ukrainian Union of Landowners, and the Ukrainian Democratic Agrarian Party. The first mainly consisted of the representatives of old senior Cossack and noble families of Left-Bank Ukraine, who were bearers of the historical traditions of the first Hetmanate (V. Kochubei, M. Ustymovych, M. Voronovych, M. Hyzhytsky, et al.).

The second group comprised a socially heterogeneous stratum of landowners, in which peasants and Cossack descendents prevailed. Tellingly, the union was organized by Mykola Kovalenko, a peasant from Kremenchuk region, and landlord Mykhailo Kovalenko, the descendant of an old senior Cossack family. Both consistently defended the political independence of Ukraine.

Finally, the third group was composed of members of the Ukrainian Democratic Agrarian Party with the well-known Ukrainian figures Viacheslav Lypynsky and brothers Serhii and Volodymyr Shemet at the head. Mykola Mikhnovsky, one of the founders of the independence-oriented movement in Ukrainian politics, also closely cooperated with this party. Incidentally, like the latter, Lypynsky was a true advocate of Ukraine’s political independence contrary to the autonomist-federalist position of most of the pre-Revolutionary national liberation leaders. Back in the early 20th century, Mikhnovsky openly announced his independence-oriented position by publishing a policy work, Independent Ukraine, and founding the Ukrainian People’s Party. Lypynsky raised the question of fighting for Ukraine’s political independence in 1911 at a secret meeting of a number of Ukrainian politicians in Lviv. Moreover, he favored the monarchic setup of the future independent Ukraine.

In spite of certain differences between the three political forces, they shared the idea of a social and national compromise, full restoration of private property, establishment of the legal foundations of sociopolitical and economic life in Ukraine, Ukrainization of the Russified and Polonized strata of Ukrainian society and their involvement in the political, national, and cultural building of the state.

Skoropadsky belonged to the Ukrainian People’s Hromada’s group which was in fact formed on his initiative. The future hetman represented the part of the old Ukrainian aristocracy which remained a bearer of national historical traditions in spite of all the capricious turns of fate.

The formation of the Ukrainian State meant a decisive turn of Ukraine’s sociopolitical and cultural development in the direction of Western European civilization and reliance on its legal and spiritual foundations. The Manifesto to the Entire Ukrainian Nation of April 29, 1918, said that “the right to private ownership, as a foundation of culture and civilization, is being fully restored.” Founders of the 1918 Ukrainian State considered the institution of hetmanship not as a means to suppress all the other Ukrainian political currents but as an instrument of national integration and cooperation between all the classes.

By contrast with the political intolerance of the leaders of the Central Rada and later the Directory (Vynnychenko: “Either a socialist Ukraine or no Ukraine at all”), the Hetman’s sociopolitical stand consisted in ensuring that the struggle between conservatism and social radicalism assumed a law-abiding and nation-creative form. At the same time, the door to cooperation remained open to all Ukrainian political parties from the first to the last day of the Ukrainian State. Moreover, the Hetman was trying all the time to attract representatives of an as broad political spectrum as possible to participating in the government.

A very short (seven and a half months) existence of the Hetmanate was filled with an extremely intensive and fruitful process of Ukrainian state-formation rather than with political slogans. This process embraced all the fields of social life – from foreign policy, military buildup, establishment of the administration, and land reform, to opening Ukrainian universities, the national Academy of Sciences, and new Ukrainian schools.

Well informed about the practice of public administration in tsarist Russia, Skoropadsky was aware that, to consolidate Ukraine’s independence, it was necessary to form a battleworthy regular army and the state apparatus, establish diplomatic relations with as many states as possible, revitalize the economy, strengthen finances, and introduce the governmental funding of educational, scientific and cultural institutions.

Forming the Armed Forces of the Ukrainian State proved to be a very difficult job. From June 22 on, the staff of the military administration was essentially revamped. It was planned to establish a system of military schools to train officers of all branches of service as well as to organize the State Military Academy.

On July 24, the law on compulsory military service was promulgated. Under the law, 85,000 men were to be mobilized in October 1918 and 79,000 by March 1, 1919. In July, a 5,000-strong Serdiuk Guard Division, a model for the future Ukrainian army, was formed.

The military buildup was essentially complicated by the position of the Austro-German troops’ command which was afraid of a strong and battleworthy Ukrainian army. Likewise, the topmost political and military leadership of Germany did not show a clear attitude to this problem. Hetman Skoropadsky personally managed, a certain extent, to resolve the problem of Ukrainian army formation during a meeting with Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Hetman successfully negotiated transferring to Ukraine the Black Sea fleet seized by the Germans. The conclusion is that the formation of the Ukrainian armed forces was put on a regular footing and was based on the latest military achievements of that-day civilized world.

At the same time, the state apparatus was also being steadily formed. Ministries were organized and staffed very quickly, Ukraine was correctly divided into governorates and counties and their administrative heads – starostas – were appointed. As a result, all the laws and instructions of central administrative bodies did not remain purely declarative acts, as was usually the case when the Central Rada was in power, but were effectively fulfilled in the provinces. Simultaneously, all the branches of power, from top to bottom, were being Ukrainized.

Unlike the previous Central Rada government, which addressed the problems of international representation by way of notes or oral statements rather than by the requirements of international law, the Hetman brought this issue into line with the latter. The “Laws on Temporary Setup of Ukraine” clearly set out that the Hetman was concurrently the supervisor of the Ukrainian State’s foreign relations. According to the norms of international law, it was extremely important to Ukraine as an already recognized state.

Tellingly, the emergence of the Ukrainian State on the international arena created the problem of recognition of the institution of hetmanship with all of its legal insignia, titles, forms of address, etc., which relied on the Ukrainian hetmanite tradition and were not yet used in diplomatic practice. Moreover, the use of the title “Hetman of All Ukraine,” which seemed to emphasize the pan-Ukrainian nature of power and its extension to all ethnic Ukrainian lands, could help but affect the interests of some states that included ethnic Ukrainian territories. It is for this reason that Austria-Hungary instructed its ambassador Forgach to refrain from using the title “Hetman of all Ukraine.”

Germany and Austria-Hungary were the first to formally recognize the Hetman’s power on May 2, 1918. A few days later, Bulgaria and Turkey also did so. Denmark, Persia, Greece, Norway. Sweden, Italy, and Switzerland also sent their envoys to Kyiv, which meant in fact recognition of Ukraine.

Incidentally, the Bulgarian ambassador addressed the Hetman as “Your Highness,” as did King Ferdinand of Bulgaria. From then on, all foreign representatives and heads of state began to use this form of address, including German Kaiser Wilhelm II who did so during the Hetman’s official visit to Berlin.

Besides, the Regency Kingdom of Poland, which sent its ambassador to Kyiv in the rank of minister, fully recognized the Hetman’s national territorial title and the traditional historical form of address. It was used in the note of accreditation dated May 26, 1918: “Jasnie Wielmoznemu Panu Hetmanowi Wszech Ukrainy.”

Yurii Tereshchenko is Doctor of Sciences (History), member of the Ukrainian Academy of Historical Sciences