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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

UNR intelligence service against Holodomor

11 November, 2008 - 00:00

After searching for and studying documents of this country’s historical and cultural heritage, the departmental archive of Ukraine’s Foreign Intelligence Service (FIS) has just declassified materials that make it possible to open another, hitherto unknown, page about the 1932-1933 manmade famine in Ukraine. These documents are part of a multivolume archival folder titled UNR Materials for 1932-1933, which gives a detailed account of the structure, objectives, forms and methods of operation, and top executives of the Ukrainian National Republic’s State Center in exile, including the intelligence service. Of special importance are notes on the attempts of UNR intelligence agents to gather information on the famine in Ukraine in order to put this across to the European public and resist in some way the negative tendencies in their fatherland. Although the found and declassified documents do not make a complete picture, they are new ample proof of this large-scale tragedy that struck the Ukrainian people. And the destiny of some patriotically-minded representatives of the diaspora, who tried hard to find the truth and were persecuted for this by the Soviet totalitarian system, is worthy of thorough research, reconsideration and honoring today.


The yellowish archival pages are full of secret information and reports on the arrests by Soviet counterintelligence of the emissaries who headed for Ukraine from Poland, Rumania and other countries on an intelligence mission as well as on the planting of Soviet agents and operatives in foreign йmigrй centers. Naturally, in the Soviet era some were considered spies, i.e., negative characters, and others were positive.

A today’s unbiased look at these matters makes us admit that the history of any intelligence service of those times should not be painted in black and white colors alone. What can prove this is an almost 20-year-long history of the UNR intelligence which comprises romantic and utopian plans, as well as intentions to bring down the Soviet government and establish an independent Ukraine, the tragic and pessimistic realities caused by the necessity to be on the payroll of foreign secret services, obey their rules of the game and have to overcome internal disputes and contradictions.

The archival materials emphasize that, after the assassination of the chief otaman Symon Petliura in 1926, the UNR secret services were essentially reorganized. The key role was now played by Section 2, in charge of tactical, intelligence and counterintelligence activities of the UNR State Center(SC) in exile. The analytical document of Soviet Ukraine’s secret police “On the Structure, Activities and Top Executives of the ‘UNR Chief Staff’” gives a detailed account of this section’s organizational structure and operational areas.

It consisted of three components. The intelligence sector Nastup (Offensive) was in charge of gathering information on the overall situation in Ukraine; selection, training and planting agents, station chiefs and messengers. The counterintelligence sector, known as Oborona (Defense), dealt with preventing “communist agents” from penetrating into UNR organizations as well as with doing certain work inside the other йmigrй organizations, especially those whose political stand was diametrically opposed to that of the UNR. The third sector, Studii (Studies), analyzed, studied and summed up information on the situation in the industry, agriculture, the financial and military fields, the Communist Party and executive bodies of Soviet Ukraine. This kind of analysis was made on the basis of open printed sources and the information gained by first sector operatives. This was in turn the basis for reports to the General Staff of the UNR SC Ministry of War, leaflets and other propaganda literature which was illegally shipped to the Ukrainian SSR and spread among Ukrainian йmigrs and at international forums.

The intelligence and counterintelligence service was especially effective when it was run by Ensign-General Vsevolod Zmienko (on photo). His name is mentioned in many documents — and deservedly so. In 1924, still in the period of the national liberation struggle, Zmienko, as an active resistant to Soviet power, was put on a list of political criminals wanted by the GPU (State Political Directorate, i.e., Soviet secret police).

The figure of Zmienko deserves a special scrutiny if we are to understand why he took so much to heart all the woes that befell his fatherland, especially a large-scale famine.

Vsevolod Zmienko was born in Odesa on Oct. 16, 1886. He graduated from the Kyiv Sergeant School and Nicholas General Staff Academy. He saw service in the Russian tsarist army during the First World War. Was awarded orders of St. Anna, St. Stanislav and St. Prince Vladimir, and St. George’s Weapon of Honor. In the Central Rada and UNR Directory period, he held such offices in the Ukrainian Army as chief of staff of the 83rd Infantry Division, the Odesa Haidamaky Division and the 1st Division of Sich Riflemen, military commissar of Odesa, commanding officer of a number of large units of the South-Eastern Front, and many others. Zmienko was also on the UNR Army’s General Staff, where he was closely involved in intelligence.

As the UNR Army units were retreating to Poland, he found himself in an internment camp. He soon received a letter from a close fellow serviceman in his native Odesa. All his kinsfolk still stayed there: he had failed even to say goodbye to and had no news from them because they were also unaware of where to look for him. He read that letter over and over again with a feeling of sorrow and desperation. His comrade wrote that his mother, wife and almost all the relatives had died of typhus in January 1922. Only three children survived: the four-year-old Halyna, the seven-year-old Oleh, and the 10-year-old Vsevolod. Zmienko knew only too well what typhus was, for he himself had contracted it in 1919.

The children were being brought up by Maria Riabinina-Sklarevska, his wife’s sister, whose husband, a general, had held various posts in the Ukrainian army in 1918-1920. They soon found an opportunity to send his daughter to him, but failed to do so in the last minute. Zmienko was then in dire straits: he was looking for a job, offering himself as a journalist or a teacher. They thought that it would be very hard for a little girl to live in such conditions. The internment camp in Oleksandriv-Kuyavsky, in which there had been 1,500 soldiers of the White Army Gen. Nikolai Bredov, then hosted 2,500 Cossacks and almost 1,000 sergeants of the 6th Sich Division. A little later the camp received the Cossacks and sergeants of Yurko Tiutiunnyk’s 4th Kyiv Division and Oleksandr Udovychenko’s 3rd Iron Division. They quickly saw what it is to live in a crammed camp unsuited for winter.

After some time Polish repatriates helped smuggle his sons from the Soviet Union. The former managed to persuade Soviet bureaucrats that they were the boys’ relatives. After a long-awaited and emotional reunion, the father and the sons plunged into everyday hardships and frantic search for daily bread. It was not until some time later that Zmienko could live a more or less trouble-free life. All through his remaining lifetime, until his death in 1938, he was doing his utmost to help his impoverished compatriots.


It follows from the Soviet intelligence documents that in 1932-1933 the UNR government was aware of the famine in Ukraine, but there was no sufficient information about its extent and causes. It was therefore decided to gather as much information as possible on the situation in Ukraine. The task was to activate spy networks, organize the dispatch of messengers across the border, and, what is more, find documentary evidence of the real state of affairs. This was necessary to draw the attention of the world public to the events in Ukraine and thus affect the USSR top party leadership.

One of the ways to do this was participation of the UNR intelligence in preparing the All-Ukrainian Congress. A special report of the USSR OGPU Foreign Department, dated Sept. 25, 1933, and titled “On the Projected Convocation of an All-Ukrainian Congress,” pointed out, “The idea of convening an All-Ukrainian Congress, put forward by the League of Ukrainian Journalists and Writers in Exile, continues to be heavily debated upon in Ukrainian йmigrй circles. Supposedly, the congress will be widely discussing the question of ‘famine’ in Ukraine and of aiding the famine-stricken.” Another document cites plans to set up the so-called Lesser Bureau of Fast Information on Ukraine: “It is intended for this purpose to organize a group of field correspondents out of ethnic Ukrainians and Poles, who could make trips, both legal and illegal, to Ukraine.”

That the UNR intelligence used journalists as a disguise is proved by an excerpt from another document: “Zmienko was instructed to train two UNR intelligence agents who are supposed to make a journey to the USSR as part of a delegation of Polish journalists.” There were very few journeys of this kind in 1932-1933. But when the British newspaper Manchester Guardian published a number of articles by its correspondent Malcolm Muggeridge on the famine in Ukraine, the VKP (b) Central Committee passed a resolution, “On the Trips of Foreign Correspondents across the USSR,” on February 23, 1933, which forbade journalists to visit certain territories.

Given this kind of restrictions and a strict cross-border and counterintelligence regime, the UNR intelligence service was forced to seek new ways of gathering information on the real state of affairs in Ukraine. A declassified reference note, “Operations of Foreign Ukrainian Intelligence and Insurgency Centers,” from a 1933 folder notes, “Zmienko has divided Ukraine into areas that roughly correspond to the old povits. There is a code for each area, as well as an encoded description of public, cooperative and other institutions and organizations.” Judging by the below-quoted document which the Soviet security service must have seized from a courier who had arrived from abroad, the UNR intelligence drew up a set of certain questions that were sent to its agents. The answers to them were recorded in what may be called area passports. The document is titled “What the UNR Intelligence Is Interested In.” Here are some of its items.

“1. Find out the way grain is being consigned, how much is being taken from a collective farm and from an private farmer, who takes over the grain, where it is stored, what measures are being taken with respect to the farmers who fail to consign grain, who issues receipts for the consigned grain, at what price it is being taken over, what is the percentage of grain consignment non-fulfillment in 1932.

2. On taxes. How much does a collective and a private farmer pay?

3. How is the autumnal sowing campaign going on? What and how much have the collective farms and private farmers sown, to what extent is the soil prepared for sowing?

4. How did the harvesting campaign come off? How much has been and is still to be threshed?

...9. On cooperative trade. Prices of consumer goods and bread.

...13. What kind of bread are collective and private farmers eating now? Get some samples of this bread.

14. Find out how many people have died of or otherwise suffered from starvation as of today.

15. The current mood of the populace. What is the attitude of Ukrainians to the Soviet power?”

If the results of that “sociological survey” were still available today, this would make it possible to give a much more detailed account of the situation in the Ukraine of that day. But this information must have been lost somewhere abroad. On the other hand, as far as Soviet archives are concerned, it was not the practice of those days to preserve any documents that confirmed the Holodomor. On the contrary, every effort was made to conceal the truth. Therefore, the archival documents that have survived and are kept in the Departmental Archive of Ukraine’s Foreign Intelligence Service can spotlight just a few trends in the Communist Party’s rural policy at the time.

It follows from the documents that it was not easy even to gather open information in Ukraine. It even occurred that UNR intelligence agents could not get to some populated areas because these were blocked by police and security units. One could only guess about what was going on there. Also on the rise were instances when agents were apprehended because they had not been thoroughly trained to accomplish missions. So it was necessary to look for new people and new, unconventional, ways to penetrated into the territory of Ukraine.

It was especially difficult to work after the trial of Ukraine Liberation League members. Before that, agents had mostly used written communication, codes and cryptograms. Every station chief had his own recipe for making invisible ink. But then they had to abandon this form of communication because this was no longer a secret for Cheka operatives. Emphasis was now put on messengers and on recruiting Ukrainian re-emigrants who were returning, for some reason, to Ukraine.


Among the declassified documents are copies of the minutes of interrogations of Hryhorii Mam­chiy, which were held in 1932-1933 as part of the criminal proceedings instituted against him by the Soviet secret police. He was one of those whom the UNR intelligence tried to use as a collector of information about the situation in Ukraine. Mamchiy arrived in Warsaw from Finland together with two Ukrainian comrades. They had all escaped from the Solovky prison camp. They met leaders of the UNR government and intelligence service, who asked them in detail about the circumstances of their trial, serving the sentence in the camp and escape, and helped them financially.

Mamchiy said that he had been sentenced in 1929 to four years’ imprisonment for some abuse of office, but he thinks it was a frame-up. He comes from the village of Khrystynivka, Cherkasy oblast, where his family still resides. He does not know what has happened to them. He heard that region is now famine-stricken. Yet it is hard for him to imagine that a famine can strike the countryside, where the soil is so fertile and people are so industrious. During one of these conversations he said his friends and he were ready to offer their services for clandestine operations.

Some time later they were sent to the internment camp in Kalish. UNR intelligence officers provided them with normal living conditions there and began to train them for a special intelligence mission on the Soviet territory. After the training, Hryhorii was sent to the place where the Kamianets-Podilsky border security unit was stationed. In July 1932 he crossed the border without any problems and headed for Uman, where he was to gather information on the situation in the Uman-Cherkasy-Mliiv area and, at the same time, to secretly see his family. He carried 1,000 rubles, 2,000 leaflets, a revolver with cartridges, forged documents, and the address to send the information to. As it follows from the interrogation minutes, he had been instructed to write that the crop was good, while in fact it was bad, that the public mood was good, while in reality it was bad, that mushrooms are growing after the rain, which means that the soil is good and some insurgency cells have been organized, etc.

In Khrystynivka, Mamchiy met his old friends and acquaintances whom he could take into his confidence. We can read about one of such meetings with his fellow countryman in the interrogation minutes of Dec. 9, 1932. He “painted the situation in the countryside in black colors, said that peasants were starving and there were even instances of famine-induced death. Taxes and grain consignment targets were too high, and all this has brought about a situation when peasants are almost openly showing hostility to the Soviet power.”

Finally, we can learn from other materials of this case that Mamchiy was arrested in the village of Yanove, when he was heading for Korosten, and then he and two more individuals involved in the Pryshelets (alien) “insurgency plot” were eliminated by Soviet secret police. That was the way the Soviet totalitarian systems suppressed those who tried to gather and put through the “iron curtain” the true information on the Ukraine famine.

Warsaw came to know about his destiny much later. Zmienko agonized over every loss of his men. He was very well aware that Soviet intelligence and counterintelligence units looked far stronger, more organized and all-embracing in this face-off. He also knew that there were a lot of problems and drawbacks in the UNR intelligence service: for example, he took a dim view of some points related to the status and funding of the secret service. But he was doing his utmost so that, under any circumstances, the UNR intelligence could only deal with top-priority matters in line with the problems and interests of the Ukrainian nation.

By Oleksandr SKRYPNYK, is spokesman of the Ukrainian Foreign Intelligence Service