Symon Petliura

Symon Petliura

Infobox Officeholder
honorific-prefix =
name = Symon Petliura
Симон Петлюра
honorific-suffix =

imagesize =

caption = Head Otaman Symon Petliura
birth_date = May 10, 1879
birth_place = Poltava, Russian Empire
death_date = death date and age|1926|5|25|1879|5|10
death_place = Paris, France
order =
office = 3rd President of the Ukrainian People's Republic
term_start = February, 1919
term_end = May, 1926
predecessor = Volodymyr Vynnychenko
successor = Andriy Livytskyi
nationality = Ukrainian
spouse = Olha Marchenko
party =
children = Daughter
residence =
occupation = Politician and statesman
religion = Eastern Orthodox
footnotes =

Symon Vasylyovych Petliura ( _uk. Симон Васильович Петлюра, also known as "Simon Petlyura"; May 10, 1879May 25, 1926) was a publicist, writer, journalist, Ukrainian politician and statesman, a leader of Ukraine's fight for independence following the Russian Revolution of 1917.

During the Russian Civil War, he was briefly Head of the Ukrainian State. In 1926 Petlura was assassinated in Paris.


Petlura was born on May 10th, 1879, in Poltava, Ukraine, the son of Vasyl Petlura and Olha Marchenko, urban dwellers of Cossack extraction. Cossack, as opposed to peasant, heritage allowed certain privileges regarding land ownership, taxes and access to education in the Russian Empire, of which Ukraine was then part. Petlura's initial education was obtained in parochial schools, and he planned to become an Orthodox priest. [The Petlura family was very pious. His two sisters became nuns and his nephew became the Patriarch Mstyslav of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church]

In 1898 while in the Poltava Orthodox Seminary, Petlura joined the Ukrainian Revolutionary Party (RUP). When his membership was discovered in 1901, he was expelled from the seminary. In 1902, under threat of arrest, he moved to Yekaterinodar in the Kuban where he worked for 2 years initially as a schoolteacher and later in the archives of the Kuban Cossack Host where he helped organize over 200 thousand documents. In December 1903, he was arrested for organizing an RUP branch in Yekaterinodar and for publishing inflammatory anti-tsarist articles in the Ukrainian press outside of Imperial Russia. He was released in March 1904, moving briefly to Kiev and then emigrating to the Western Ukrainian city of Lviv in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In Lviv, Petlura lived under the name of Sviatoslav Tagon working alongside Ivan Franko, Volodymyr Hnatiuk publishing and working as an editor for the "Literaturno-Naukovy Zbirnyk" Journal (Literary-Scientific Collection), the Shevchenko Scientific Society and as a co-editor of "Volya" magazine. He contributed numerous articles to the Ukrainian press in Galicia.

At the end of 1905, after amnesty was declared, Petlura returned briefly to Kiev but soon moved to the Russian capital of Petersburg in order to publish the socialist-democratic monthly magazine "Vil’na Ukrayina" (Free Ukraine). After Russian censors closed this magazine in July 1905, he moved back to Kiev where he worked for the magazine "Rada" (Council). In 1907–09 he became the editor of the literary magazine "Slovo" (Word) and co-editor of "Ukrayina" (Ukraine).

Because of the closure of these publications by the Russian Imperial authorities, Petlura was forced to once again move from Kiev to Moscow in 1909, where he worked briefly as an accountant. There, he married Olha Bilska (1885–1959), with whom he had a daughter, Lesia (1911–42). From 1912 he was a co-editor of the influential Russian-language journal "Ukrainskaya zhizn’" (Ukrainian life) until May 1917.

Journalism and publications

As the editor of numerous journals and newspapers, Petlura published over 15 000 critical articles, reviews, stories and poems under an estimated 120 non-de-plumes. His prolific work in both the Russian and Ukrainian languages helped shaped the mind set of the Ukrainian population in the years leading up to the Revolution in both Eastern and Western Ukraine. His prolific correspondence was of great benefit when the Revolution broke out in 1917, as he had contacts throughout Ukraine.

Publications Before 1914

As the Ukrainian language had been outlawed in the Russian Empire by the Ems Ukaz of 1876, Petlura found more freedom to publish Ukraine oriented articles in Petersburg than in Ukraine. There, he published the magazine "Vil'na Ukrayina" ("Independent Ukraine: Ukrainian - Вільна Україна") until July 1905. Tsarist censors however, closed this magazine, and Petlura moved back to Kyiv.

In Kyiv, Petlura first worked for "Rada" ("Council: Ukrainian - Радa"). In 1907 he became editor of the literary magazine "Slovo" ("The Word: Ukrainian - Слово"). Also, he co-edited the magazine "Ukrayina" ("Ukraine: Ukrainian - Україна").

In 1909, these publications were closed by Russian imperial police, and Petlura once again moved back to Petersburg to publish. There, he was co-editor of the Russian magazine "Ukrayins'ka Zhyzn" ("Ukrainian Life"). He was active with this publication from 1912 to 1914.

Publications after Emigration

In Paris, Petlura continued to fight for Ukraine independence by publishing magazines and newspapers. In 1924, Petlura began publishing the weekly "Tryzub" (Trident: Ukrainian - Тризуб). He contributed to this journal using many pen names, including V. Marchenko, and V. Salevsky.

New Views on Petlura's Publications

Petlura's correspondence with all the noted Ukrainian literary figures of the time and his many articles addressing the problems of Ukrainian self-awareness and cultural development were unavailable during the Soviet period and have only recently been made available for study. Previously all the journals which he edited were only available in main Academic library in Moscow, in the vaults for restricted use and study. Currently scholarship in Petlura's monumental legacy is being collected, published and carefully studied. Many new documents are being discovered.

Revolution in Ukraine

Petlura attended the first All-Ukrainian Army Congress held in Kiev in May 1917 as a delegate, where despite having no military training, was elected head of the Ukrainian General Army Committee on May 18. With the proclamation of the Ukrainian Central Council on June 28, 1917, he became the first secretary for military matters. Disagreeing with the politics of the then Head of the General Secretariat Volodymyr Vynnychenko, Petlura left the government and organized the Haydamaka Regiment of Sloboda Ukraine (in Kharkiv), which in January–February 1918, forced back the Bolshevik Red Guard that had briefly captured Kiev.

After the Hetmanate Putsch (April 28, 1918), Petlura was arrested by the Skoropadsky administration and spent four months incarcerated in Bila Tserkva.

After his release, he participated in the anti-Hetmanate putsch and became a member of the Directorate of Ukraine as the Chief of Military Forces. With the fall of Kiev and the emigration of Vynnychenko from Ukraine, Petlura became the leader of the Directorate in February 1919. In his capacity as head of the Army and State, he continued to fight both Bolshevik and White forces in Ukraine for the next ten months.

With the outbreak of war between Ukraine and Soviet Russia in January 1919, Petlura ultimately became the leading figure in the Directorate. During the course of the year he continued to fight against the Bolsheviks, Anton Denikin's White Russians, and the Romanians. By autumn 1919, most of Denikin's White Russian forces were defeated — in the meantime, however, the Bolsheviks had grown to become the dominant force in Ukraine.

Petlura withdrew to Poland December 5th 1919, which had previously recognized him as the head of the legal government of Ukraine. In April 1920, as head of the Ukrainian People's Republic, he signed an alliance in Warsaw with the Polish government, agreeing to a border on the River Zbruch and recognizing Poland's right to Galicia in exchange for military aid in overthrowing the Bolshevik regime. Polish forces, reinforced by Petlura's remaining troops (some two divisions), attacked Kiev on July 5, 1920 in what became a turning point of the 1919–21 Polish-Bolshevik war. Following initial successes, Piłsudski's and Petlura's forces were pushed back to the Vistula River and the Polish capital, Warsaw. The Polish Army managed to defeat the Bolshevik Russians, but were unable to secure independence for Ukraine, which after the Peace of Riga was divided between Poland and Soviet Russia. Petlura directed the affairs of the Ukrainian government-in-exile from Tarnów and, later, Warsaw.In October, 1920 Petlura and his forces were interned by the Poles in Kalisz.

Bolshevik Russia persistently demanded that Petlura be handed over. Protected by several Polish friends and colleagues, such as Henryk Józewski, with the establishment of the Soviet Union in December 30, 1922 and a significant change in Polish policies to Ukraine, Petlura, in late 1923 under an assumed name, escaped Polish internment and crossed the border into Budapest, then Vienna, Geneva, finally settled in Paris in early 1924. Here he established and edited the Ukrainian language newspaper "Tryzub" (Trident).

Promoting a Ukrainian Cultural Identity Abroad

During his time in the Directorate, Petlura was active in supporting Ukrainian culture. He also saw value in trying to gain international support and recognition of Ukrainian arts through cultural exchanges. Most notably, Petlura actively supported the work of cultural leaders such as the choreographer Vasyl Avramenko, conductor Oleksander Koshetz and bandurist Vasyl Yemetz to allow them to travel internationally and promote an awareness of Ukrainian culture. Koshetz created the Ukrainian Republic Capella and took it on tour internationally, giving concerts in Europe, and the Americas. [Klymkiw, Walter. "Olexander Koshetz Ukraine's Great Choral Conductor." "Forum" 67, 1986: 15.] All three ultimately emigrated to the United States. He introduced the awarding of the title "People's Artist of Ukraine" to artists who had made significant contributions to Ukrainian culture. A similar title award was continued after a significant break under the Soviet regime. Among those who had received this award was blind kobzar Ivan Kuchuhura Kucherenko.

Paris and Emigration

In Paris, Petlura directed the activities of the government of the Ukrainian National Republic in exile. He launched the weekly Tryzub, and continued to edit and write numerous articles under various pen names with an emphasis on questions dealing with national oppression in Ukraine. These articles were written with a literary flair. The question of national awareness was one of significant importance in his literary articles and criticism.

Petlura's articles had a significant impact on the shaping of Ukrainian national awareness in the early 20th century. He published articles and brochures under a variety of noms de plume, including V. Marchenko, V. Salevsky, I. Rokytsky, and O. Riastr. [Encyclopedia of Ukraine - Paris–New York 1970, vol 6, (p 2029–30)]

Role in pogroms

Anti-Jewish pogroms accompanied the Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing Russian Civil War where an estimated 70,000 to 250,000 civilian Jews were killed in the atrocities throughout the former Russian Empire.During Petlura's term as Head of State (1919-20), pogroms continued to be perpetrated on Ukrainian ethnic territory. In Ukraine itself, the number of civilian Jews killed during the period is estimated to be between 35 and 50 thousand.

The debate about Petlura' role in the pogroms has been a topic of dispute since Petlura's assassination and Schwartzbard's trial. In 1969, the Journal of Jewish Studies published two opposing views by scholars Taras Hunczak and Zosa Szjakowski which are still frequently cited.

Some historians claim that Petlura, as the head of the government, did not do enough to stop the pogroms, and suggest that by this lack of activity knowingly encouraged them as a means to strengthen his base of support among his soldiers, commanders and the peasant population at large, appealing to antisemitic sentiments. [ See Friedman, Saul S.. "Pogromchik: The Assassination of Simon Petlura". New York : Hart Pub, 1976.] They also suggest that many of the atrocities were committed by the forces directly under the command of the Directorate (see the table in [ Henry Abramson, Jewish Representation in the Independent Ukrainian Governments of 1917-1920, Slavic Review, Vol. 50(3), 1991, pp. 542-550. ] ) and loyal to Petlura.

Other historians have claimed that Petlura himself did not have any history of antisemitism, and that he actively sought to stop anti-Jewish violence on numerous occasions, finally introducing capital punishment for the crime of pogroming. [ [ Symon Petlura. Against pogrom. The Appeal to Ukrainian Army.] ] ["Symon Petlura. Articles, letters and documents". (in Ukrainian) 2006. - vol IV, p 704. ISBN 966-2911-00-6]

Historian Taras Hunczak of Rutgers University concludes in his study "Symon Petliura and the Jews: A Reappraisal" (1985): " convict Petliura for the tragedy that befell Ukrainian Jewry is to condemn an innocent man and to distort the record of Ukrainian-Jewish relations" (p 33).

Because the USSR saw Petlura and Ukrainian nationalism as a threat, it was in its interest to blacken his reputation and mounted a propaganda campaign, which included accusations of anti-Jewish crimes. [ [ Petlura and Bandera] ] Hunczak insists that "Petliura's own personal convictions render such responsibility highly unlikely, and all the documentary evidence indicates that he consistently made efforts to stem pogrom activity by UNR troops." [Taras Hunczak. "Symon Petliura" Encyclopedia of Ukraine, (1993). [] ]

In 1921 Ze'ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky, the father of Revisionist Zionism, signed an agreement with Maxim Slavinsky, Petlura's representative in Prague, regarding the formation of a Jewish gendarmerie which was to accompany Petlura’s putative invasion of Ukraine, and would protect the Jewish population from pogroms. This agreement did not materialize, and Jabotinsky was heavily criticized by most Zionist groups. Nevertheless he stood by the agreement and was proud of it [ Shmuel Katz, "Lone Wolf", Barricade Books, New York, 1996, Vol. 1. ] [ Israel Kleiner, "From Nationalism to Universalism: Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky and the Ukrainian Question", Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Study Press, 2000. ] . [ Joseph B. Schechtman, "The Jabotinsky-Slavinsky Agreement," Jewish Social Studies, XVII (1955), 289-306. ]


On May 25, 1926, while walking on rue Racine not far from boulevard Saint-Michel, Petlura was approached by Sholom Schwartzbard. Schwartzbard asked him in Ukrainian, "Are you Mr. Petlura?" Petlura raised his walking cane and Schwartzbard pulled out a gun, shooting him five times, and twice more after he was lying on the ground. When police arrived to make their arrest, he reportedly calmly said: "I have killed a great assassin."

Schwartzbard was a Ukrainian-born Jewish watchmaker. He participated in the Jewish self defense of Balta, for which the Russian Tsarist government sentenced him to 3 months in prison for "provoking" the Balta pogrom; [Saul Friedman: Pogromchik - NY, 1976, p.58] and was twice convicted for taking part in anarchist "expropriation"/burglary and bank robbery in Austro-Hungary; and later joined the French Foreign Legion(1914 - 1917) and was wounded in the Battle of the Somme. It is reported that Schwartzbard told his famous fellow anarchist leader Nestor Makhno in Paris that he was terminally ill and expected to die, and that he would take Petlura with him; but Makhno forbade Schwartzbard to do so. . [ (in Ukrainian)]

The French Secret service had been keeping an eye out on Schwartzbard from the time he had surfaced in the French Capital and had noted his meetings with known Bolsheviks. During the trial the German special services also informed their French counterparts that Schwartzbard had assassinated Petlura on the orders of Galip an emissary of the Union of Ukrainian Citizens. He had received orders from the head of the Soviet Ukrainian government Christian Rakovsky an ethnic Bulgarian, and a revolutionary leader from Romania. The act was consolidated by Mikhail Volodin who arrived in France August 8, 1925 and who had been in close contact with Schwartzbard.. [ [ Makhno did not allow Schwartzbard to Shoot Petlura (in Ukrainian)] ]

Schwartzbard's parents were among fifteen members of his family murdered in the pogroms in Odessa. The core of his defense of the Schwartzbard trial was — as presented by the noted jurist Henri Torrès — that he was avenging the deaths of Jewish victims of the pogroms, whereas the prosecution (both criminal and civil) tried to show that:
* (i) Petlura was not responsible for the pogroms and
* (ii) Schwartzbard was a Soviet agent.

Both sides brought on many witnesses, including several historians. A notable witness for the defense was Haia Greenberg who survived the Proskurov pogroms and testified about the carnage. Several former Ukrainian officers testified for the prosecution.

After a trial lasting eight days the jury acquitted Schwarztbard. [Saul S. Friedman, Pogromchik: The Assassination of Simon Petlura. New York : Hart Pub, 1976.] [ [,8816,731176,00.html Petlura Trial - Printout - TIME ] ]

Petlura is buried alongside his wife and daughter in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris, France.

Petlura's two sisters, Orthodox nuns who had remained in Poltava, were arrested and shot in 1928 by the NKVD (the Soviet secret police). Ukrainian outlets (emigrants at the time and the Ukrainian government after the establishment of Ukrainian independence) portray Schwartzbard a Soviet agent, for instance . [ [ Petlura - president of the UNR] ] It is claimed that in March 1926 Vlas Chubar (the Russian Commissar to Ukraine) in a speech given in Kharkiv and repeated in Moscow warned of the danger Petlura represented to Soviet power. It is after this speech that the command was given to assassinate Petlura.. [Ukrainian:Shelest, V. Symon Petliura - Liudyna i derzhavnyk Toronto, 1997, p.47]

Petlura's latter legacy


With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, previously restricted Soviet archives have allowed numerous politicians and historians to review Petlura's role in Ukrainian history. Some consider him a national hero who strove for the independence of Ukraine. Several cities, including Kiev, the Ukrainian capital and Poltava, the city of his birth, have erected monuments to Petlura, with a museum complex also being planned in Poltava. To mark the 80th anniversary of his assassination, a twelve-volume edition of his writings, including articles, letters and historic documents, has been published in Kiev by the Taras Shevchenko University and the State Archive of Ukraine. In 1992 in Poltava a series of readings known as "Petlurivski chytannia" have become an annual event, and since 1993 these take place annually at Kiev University. [ [ Petlura site in Poltava] ]


In Israel and the Jewish world Petlura is mostly remembered by some as the leader in charge of Ukraine when pogroms took place (see for instance the Holocaust Encyclopedia,cite web | author = | year = | url = | title = Lwów | format = | work = ).

Some Ukrainian-Jewish leaders have reconsidered Petlura's role and the situation in Ukraine during the Civil War. They are placing the blame for these Pogroms on either a minority, or Denikin's "White Guards" who upset at losing to the Bolsheviks, took out their rage on the local Jewish population. [ [ «Righteous Man And Pogrom» - Mikhail Frenkel ] ]

Recently uncovered documents and letters to prominent Jewish community leaders demonstrate Petlura's support for the re-establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. In a letter representing the Jewish population of Ukraine, minister Pinchos Krasny thanked Petlura for his support for the vote in the League of Nations of July 24, 1922 regarding the formation of a Jewish state in Palestine. [Volodymyr Serhiychuk - Symon Petliura i Yevreistvo. (Ukrainian - Symon Petlura and the Jews) Kyiv, Kyiv State University, 2006. p.90] A further reflection regarding Petlura's position regarding Jews is demonstrated by another interesting fact. In exile, as the Head Otoman of the Ukrainian forces he was functioning in great material difficulties. In February 1921 he assigned Jewish refugees from Ukraine in Poland 15 thousand Polish Marks in aid . [Volodymyr Serhiychuk - Symon Petliura i Yevreistvo. (Ukrainian - Symon Petlura and the Jews) Kyiv, Kyiv State University, 2006. p.97]

Ukrainian Diaspora

In the Western Ukrainian diaspora, Petlura is remembered as a national hero, a fighter for Ukrainian independence, a martyr, who inspired hundreds of thousands to fight for an independent Ukrainian state. He has been inspiration for original music, [ [ Melnyk, Lubomyr ] ] and youth organizations . [ [ Ukrainian Youth Association (CYM) - US ] ]

Petlura in Ukrainian folk song

During the revolution Petlura became the subject of numerous folk songs, primarily as a hero calling for his people to unite against foreign oppression. His name became synonymous with the call for freedom. [Danylevsky, Rev. Prof. K. Petliura v sertsiakh i pisniakh svoho narodu – Regensberg 1947 p. 3] 15 songs were recorded by the ethnographer rev. prof. K. Danylevsky. In the songs Petlura is depicted as a soldier, in a manner similar to Robin Hood, mocking Skoropadsky and the Bolshevik Red Guard.

News of Petlura’s assassination in the summer of 1926 was marked by numerous revolts in eastern Ukraine particularly in Boromlia, Zhehailivtsi, (Sumy province), Velyka Rublivka, Myloradov (Poltava province), Hnylsk, Bilsk, Kuzemyn and all along the Vorskla River from Okhtyrka to Poltava, Burynia, Nizhyn (Chernihiv province) and other cities. [Danylevsky, Rev. Prof. K. Petliura v sertsiakh i pisniakh svoho narodu – Regensberg 1947 p. 6] These revolts were brutally pacified by the Soviet administration. The blind kobzars Pavlo Hashchenko and Ivan Kuchuhura Kucherenko composed a duma in memory of Symon Petlura. To date Petlura is the only modern Ukrainian politician to have a duma created and sung in his memory. This duma became popular among the kobzars of left-bank Ukraine and was sung also by Stepan Pasiuha, Petro Drevchenko, Bohushchenko, and Chumak. [Danylevsky, Rev. Prof. K. Petliura v sertsiakh i pisniakh svoho narodu – Regensberg 1947 p. 8]

The Soviets also tried their hand at portraying Petlura through the arts in order to discredit the Ukrainian national leader. A number of humorous songs appeared in which Petlura is portrayed as a traveling beggar who’s only territory is that which is under his train carriage. A number of plays such as the “Republic on wheels” by Mamontov and the opera “Shchors” by Boris Liatoshinsky and “Arsenal” by Georgy Maiboroda portray Petlura in a negative light, as a lackey who sold out Western Ukraine to Poland, often using the very same melodies which had become popular during the fight for Ukrainian Independence in 1918.

Petlura however, is portrayed by the Ukrainian people in its folk songs in a manner similar to Taras Shevchenko and Bohdan Khmelnytsky. He is likened to the sun which suddenly stopped shining.



# Encyclopedia of Ukraine - Paris-New York 1970, Volume 6, (p 2029–30)
# Danylevskyi, K. Petliura v sertsiakh i pisniakh svoho narodu // Nakladom filii Tovarystva ukrayinskykh politychnykh v’iazniv v Regensburzi, 1947 - P. 11.
# Danylevskyi, K. О. Professor Petliura v sertsiakh i pisniakh svoho narodu // Vidbytka z Narodnoho Slova, Pittsburgh, USA, 1951 - P. 24.
# Sholom Schwartzbard: " [ Over The Years] " (Inem Loif Fun Yoren). Excerpt from a book by Petlura's assassin explaining his actions.

External links

* [ "Petlura site in Poltava"] (Documents, articles and photographs)
*cite news
title=Petlura Trial
work=Time Magazine
(Time Magazine on the Petlura trial)
* [ "Turning the pages back...May 25, 1926"] (Ukrainian Weekly account of shooting of Petliura)
* [ Review of books on Petliura]
* [ Review of Henry Abramson's "A Prayer for the Government: Ukrainians and Jews in" "Revolutionary Times"]
* [ The Odyssey of the Petliura Library and the Records of the Ukrainian National Republic during World War II] :Non-English
*"Unknown Symon Petliura: history of an interview," "Zerkalo Nedeli" (Mirror Weekly), July 7-13, 2001. Available online [ in Russian] and [ in Ukrainian] .
*"A Belated Idealist," "Zerkalo Nedeli" (Mirror Weekly), May 22-28, 2004. Available online [ in Russian] and [ in Ukrainian] .
*"Symon Petliura as opponent of Jewish pogroms," "Zerkalo Nedeli" (Mirror Weekly), July 25-31, 1996. Available online [ in Russian] .
* [ Article published in the "Archives of the Ukrainian Security Serice" on Petlura and the GPU re his assassination based on recently discovered materials from the vaults of the Ukrainian Security Service] in Ukrainian.
* [ Symon Petlura in opposition to Jewish Pogroms (in Russian)]
* [ Petlura web site in Poltava] Web site of documents pertaining to Symon Petlura in Ukrainian, Russian and English.

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