Myth 6 – Stalin was the First to Unite the Ukrainian Nation and the Denunciation of the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact Would Lead to the Disintegration of Ukraine


Stalin was the First to Unite the Ukrainian Nation and the Denunciation of the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact Would Lead to the Disintegration of Ukraine

Oleksandr Zinchenko, Maksym Maiorov, Rostyslav Pyliavets, Sergii Riabenko

Alexander Dovzhenko film, Liberation of Ukrainian and Belarusian Lands..., July 1940.

“The age-old struggle of the Ukrainian people for their own unity has ended! The artificial wall that divided half of our people has fallen!”

Israel Shamir, Ukraine: Do Not Give up the Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty?
in Komsomolskaya Pravda, 24 November 2013

“Perhaps it is time for Russia to fulfill the long-held desire of the enlightened West and Russian liberals from Gorbachev to the present day – to denounce the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. After its denunciation by the Russian Duma, Russian troops may return to the Prypiat River and solemnly give Poland her former ‘eastern borderlands’, which have been called ‘Western Ukraine’ for 74 years. Let the Poles have Lviv and Stanyslaviv, they can quickly sort out the memory of Bandera and the other characteristics of ‘Western’ psychology.”

The Essence of the Myth

The first reunion of Ukrainian lands occurred in 1939–1940 with the arrival of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (Ukrainian SSR) into western Ukrainian territories. The western border of Ukraine was defined by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The denunciation of the Pact automatically allows the return of Polish rule in the western Ukrainian regions.

Fast Facts

The first legal act that proclaimed the unification of western and eastern Ukraine was the Unification Act between the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UPR) and the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic (WUPR) on 22 January 1919. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact has no relevance to contemporary Ukraine and has long since expired.

Detailed Facts

The myth was formed immediately after the annexation of western Ukrainian territories by the USSR. It stressed that only the Communists were able to ensure the implementation of the dream of all Ukrainians – the unification of a fraternal people into one unified country.

In the postwar period in the USSR, this myth existed without any strict bindings to the signing of the Soviet-German Pact in reunifying Ukrainian lands and was not stressed. Its connection was actually realized by the Russian Federation after the collapse of the USSR – which responded to the conviction of an independent Ukraine within the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

Russian propaganda claims that to legally denounce the Pact means the return of western Ukraine and northern Bukovyna, which was united to the USSR in 1939–1940, to Poland and Romania, respectively.

The creators and current myth holders avoid another fact – the unification of Ukrainian lands actually occurred in 1919 by the Unification Act of the UPR and WUPR. Unlike 1939, it was on behalf of two Ukrainian nations who advocated independence and were equally sovereign governments.

The aggression of Bolshevik Russia, on the one hand, and the global rearrangement after the First World War on the other, led to the loss of Ukrainian independence and the separation of Ukrainian territory in 1921. The “Ukrainian question” was decided by the Bolshevik creation of a puppet Soviet Ukrainian state instead of the independent Ukrainian People’s Republic. Legally, the division of Ukraine was affirmed in the Treaty of Riga in 1921.

The separation of Ukraine between two neighbouring states in 1921 was due to Bolshevik aggression and the direct participation of Moscow.

It is difficult to link the accession of western Ukraine, northern Bukovyna and Bessarabia to the Ukrainian SSR in 1939–1940 and the results of the struggle for the unity of Ukraine. It was the result of the secret agreements between two dictators. Stalin tried to spread communist ideas westward by territorial and ideological expansion.

The rhetoric about the need to liberate the fraternal Ukrainian and Belarusian peoples was only a screen to mask expansionist plans for the top management of the USSR. When in September 1939 negotiations turned to the Drohobych-Boryslav oil basin, Stalin refused to give this to Germany explaining that the “land was already promised to the Ukrainians.” But at the same time, the Soviet leader ordered the Red Army to retreat from the Ukrainian Chelm region, since the border with Germany was placed along the Western Bug River.

The borders of Ukraine had no direct relation to the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact and the secret additional protocol, signed on 23 August 1939. The line of demarcation, which was agreed upon by Hitler and Stalin, passed through Warsaw – approximately on the Vistula, San and Narva Rivers. It was a more or less ethnic rather than a purely geographical division introduced in another document called the German-Soviet Frontier Treaty, signed on 28 September 1939.

Grand proclamation of the Act of Unification of the UPR and the WUPR on Sophia Square in Kyiv.
(22 January 1919)

Stalin’s “reunification of Ukraine” in 1939 only lasted until the German occupation of the western regions of the USSR. The German attack on the USSR on 22 June 1941 de-facto denounced both agreements. The furthest western border of the Ukrainian SSR was fixed by international agreements with Poland and not with Nazi Germany.

On 30 July 1941 in London, the Soviet Union and the Polish government under Władysław Sikorski agreed to restore diplomatic relations and denounce the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact and the Treaty of Friendship and Non- Aggression between the USSR and the Third Reich.

The first sentence of the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement from 30 July 1941 was: “The government of the USSR consider the Soviet-German treaties of 1939 regarding the territorial changes in Poland null and void.”

Soviet propaganda poster about the annexation of western Ukraine as a liberation of western Ukrainian territories: “Long Live Soviet Power in Western Ukraine!”

The postwar borders were formed as a result of negotiations in Tehran, Yalta, Potsdam and San Francisco.

After the end of the war in Europe in August 1945, the USSR and Poland signed an agreement on state borders. According to it, Ukraine’s western border ran through the so-called “Curzon Line”. The city of Przemyśl and several other areas were transferred to Poland.

In 1948, a further eight Ukrainian localities in Ukrainian Galicia, which were also part of the Lviv and Drohobych regions, were submitted to Poland.

In 1951, a last exchange of territory occurred when Poland received the Ustrzyki Dolne territory. In exchange for this, Ukraine received the city of Krystynopol (now Chervonohrad) and Belz from the surrounding areas.

In 1975, the post-war borders of Europe were enshrined in the Helsinki Accords.

The western border of the Ukrainian SSR was set during a series of Allied conferences. This photo is from the Yalta Conference (4–11 February 1945)

After the collapse of the USSR, this western border of Ukraine was secured by bilateral agreements. The Treaty of Friendship and Neighbourliness between Ukraine and Poland dates back to 1992. Both sides recognized the inviolable validity of the borders and to mutually abandon any territorial claims in the future.

In 1993, the two countries signed another agreement on the legal recognition of the state border and cooperation. This document confirmed that Ukraine’s western borders ran along the line established in 1945 between Poland and the Soviet Union and finalized the territorial exchanges of 1951.

These agreements did not contain any references to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, an agreement about the state border between the USSR and the Third Reich or the secret protocols between them. The current line of the Ukrainian- Polish border was protected by bilateral agreements between Ukraine and Poland and the Helsinki Accords.