Politicians and Partisans

Politicians and Partisans

March 17, 2010

Making the Chapter:

Don’t let anyone tell you that political history is boring, at least not if they’re referring to Ukraine. The leading figures of Ukraine in the twentieth century were Tsarists or Communists, but among them were also Democrats, Republicans, Revolutionaries, Anarchists, Partisans, and Conservatives. They include the Jew, Leon Trotsky, who whimsically assumed the surname of his jailer; Lazar “Iron Man” Kaganovich, the most ruthless executioner of Stalin’s policy who admired the literary works of Ukrainian nationalists; The “Butcher of Ukraine” Nikita Khrushchev, who often visited Taras Shevchenko’s grave; and Leonid Brezhnev, who used tax receipts from the sale of vodka to fund his invasion of Afghanistan and inadvertently created a condition between socialism and communism called alcoholism.

Even those who recorded history provide colour. Mykhailo Hrushevsky died in suspicious circumstances in 1934. His daughter and his nephew died in the gulags and his brother died whilst in exile in Kazakhstan. All of them were historians.


Kaganovich, who earned the nickname “Iron Lazar” for his personal loyalty to Stalin, died at the age of ninety-six years, and he was one of the few people present at both the creation and the fall of the Soviet Union.

His survival is remarkable given that, by 1953, he had become Deputy Premier (and the last remaining Jew in the hierarchy), and had executed Stalin’s wishes unreservedly, including orchestrating the artificial famine in the 1930s. Despite his lack of a formal education — he worked at a shoe factory in his youth — at the age of just thirty-two years he was leader of the Ukrainian Republic and rigorously implemented a strict policy of Russification (though he spoke fluent Ukrainian) and purged many officials as “Ukrainian Nationalists.”

It was Kaganovich who was responsible for employing jug-eared Nikita Khrushchev. Like his mentor, Khrushchev had very little formal education, but his loquaciousness, bluntness, and folksy humour endeared him to Kaganovich and others, including Stalin. Khrushchev drank prodigious quantities of yorsh (a potent mixture of beer and vodka), and played the Ukrainian flute. Stalin would occasionally demean Khrushchev by ordering him to perform the hopak, the traditional solitary dance of the Ukrainian peasant.

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