Considering the events of the 1930s in Ukraine, it is perhaps unsurprising that a number of Ukrainians initially wanted to help the Nazis. In doing so, many of them sought not only to create an independent Ukraine within the Nazi Empire, but to punish the Jews, whom they unfairly blamed for their suffering under Stalin. In a series of pogroms in Lviv, for example, Ukrainian residents and German forces murdered at least 4,000 Jews. These are terrible crimes that must never be forgotten.
However, Ukrainian nationalists soon realized that the Germans were not going to offer them an independent Ukraine. Quite the contrary. The Nazis wanted to turn their country into a slave state and take the people’s food for themselves – hence the fierce partisan warfare that later developed in the country.
In a horrifying irony, by stealing food from Ukrainian peasants in the early 1930s, the Soviets foreshadowed the actions of the Germans later in 1941 when they also stole huge amounts of food from the country. The Ukrainians – living in one of the most fertile regions of the earth – were thus to suffer two appalling periods of famine, precisely because outside powers coveted their agricultural wealth. In the early 1930s they were starving because of decisions made by Stalin and his followers, and in the early 1940s they were starving because of decisions made by Hitler and his followers.
Putin clung to selected bits of this story because there were undoubtedly examples of collaboration between Ukrainian nationalists and Germans. But Putin fails to mention other elements of the war’s history that do not suit him and show that the Soviets are closing in on the Nazis. He has a particular problem, for example, with the Nazi/Soviet pact, concluded in August 1939 between Stalin and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop.
In December 2019, at his annual press conference, Putin claimed that “Stalin did not smear himself with direct contact with Hitler as French and British leaders met with him and signed documents.” This, given the facts, is a distorted way of reading history. When the British and French signed the Munich Agreement in 1938 with Hitler – and it is probably to this meeting that Putin is referring – they did not reach a secret agreement with him to divide up Eastern Europe between them. ‘Is, as Stalin did with Ribbentrop with the Nazi/Soviet Pact. The fact that Stalin never met Hitler personally to settle the matter does not mean that he did not “stain” himself in the process.