Symon Petliura

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Symon Petlyura (Симон Петлюра; also spelled Simon, Semen, Semyen Petliura or Petlura, May 10, 1879 – May 25, 1926) was a Ukrainian politician. Petlyura was a socialist leader of Ukraine's unsuccessful fight for independence following the Russian revolutions of 1917. He was briefly president during the Russian Civil War. He was assassinated in Paris in 1926.



Petlyura was born in Poltava. He was the cofounder in 1905 of the Ukrainian Labour Party and the editor of Slovo ("Word") and Ukrainskaya Zhyzn ("Ukrainian Life") from 1905 to 1909. During World War I Petlyura served in the Tzarist army. After 1917 and the February Revolution he was a member of the Central Rada (a de facto parliament) which in June proclaimed Ukraine to be an autonomous republic. In July he became the minister of military affairs. Soon afterwards Germany occupied Ukraine and installed a puppet government, therefore ending the short rule of the Autonomous Council.

After German withdrawal from Ukraine, until 1918 Petlyura again became one of the five members of the new government, the Directorate of Rada, where he again became the ataman (war leader) and after 1919 leader of the entire body. In the Russian Civil War, he fought with Bolsheviks, Denikin, Germans, Ukrainians under Pavlo Skoropadsky and Poles. At the end of 1918 Ukraine was occupied by White Russian forces, but in autumn of 1919 most of Whites were defeated by the Soviets, who became the dominant force on Ukraine.

At the end 1919, he withdrew to Poland, who recognized him as the legal government of Ukraine. In March 1920, as the head of the Ukrainian People's Republic he signed an alliance in Lublin with the Polish government, agreeing to a border on the river Zbruch, recognizing Poland's right to Lviv and Galicia in exchange for Polish help in overthrowing the communist regime. In 1920 Polish forces, supplemented by Petlyura's remaining troops (approximately 2 divisions), attacked Kyiv, which was a turning point in the Polish-Bolshevik war (1919-1920). After temporary successes, Polish and Petlyura's forces were pushed back all the way to the Vistula river. Polish forces managed to defeat the Russian push but were unable to secure independence for Ukraine, which after the Peace of Riga became divided between Poland and Russia. Petlyura directed the Ukrainian government-in-exile from Tarnow and, later, Warsaw.

In 1923, with the Soviet Union increasingly pressuring the Polish government to hand over Petlyura, he fled first to Budapest, then Vienna and Geneva, and eventually settled in Paris towards the end of 1924.

Petlyura's role in pogroms

During the rule of Petlyura, a series of mass pogroms were perpetrated against the Jews of Ukraine. Estimated 100,000 of civilian Jews were murdered.

Some historians have claimed that Petlyura did nothing to stop the pogroms, but some have claimed that he himself was not an anti-Semite and he tried to stop them by introducing capital punishment for the crime of pogromming, and that Petlyura's only crime was being the head of state of country where the pogroms happened. The controversy over Petlyura's role has continued to this day. The Journal of Jewish Studies, in 1969's issue 31:3, published two opposing views by scholars Taras Hunczak and Zosa Szjakowski which are still frequently cited.

At the time, Ukraine was a major Jewish population centre, and during the Russian Civil War, an estimated 70,000 to 250,000 civilian Jews were killed in the atrocities throughout the former Russian Empire; the number of Jewish orphans exceeded 300,000. In his book 200 Years Together, Russian historian Alexander Solzhenitsyn provides the following numbers: out of estimated 900 mass pogroms, about 40% were perpetrated by the forces led by Petlyura, 25% by the Green Army and various nationalist and anarchist gangs, 17% by the White Army, especially forces of Anton Denikin, and 8.5% by the Red Army.

Petlyura's assassination

On May 25, 1926, while window shopping along a Paris boulevard, he was approached by a man who asked in Ukrainian, "Are you Mr. Petlyura?" When he responded in the affirmative, the man, a Ukrainian-born Jewish anarchist named Sholom Schwartzbard, shouted (according to his later deposition) "Defend yourself, you bandit!" Petlyura raised his cane and Schwartzbard pulled out a gun, shooting him three times, while exclaiming "This, for the pogroms; this for the massacres, this for the victims." When police rushed to him to make their arrest, he reportedly calmly handed over his weapon, saying, "You can arrest me, I've killed a murderer."

Schwartzbald's parents were among fifteen members of his family murdered in the pogroms. The core of his defence was—as presented by noted barrister Henri Torrès—that he was avenging the deaths of victims of the pogroms. This premise found favour with the French jury, who acquitted him.

Petlyura is buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris, France.

External links

fr:Simon Petlioura he:סמיון פטליורה pl:Symon Petlura


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