The Man Who Invented Ukraine and Its History…

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The great Ukrainian comic writer Ostap Vishnya has simply remarkable lines: “Once there was, as you know, the not kind and bearded memory of professor Grushevsky. His scientific investigations finally and convincingly proved that the monkey whom, according to Darwin, the human emerged from — such a monkey was Ukrainian.

And what do you think, it could be like that, because at an excavation near the Vorskla River, as professor Grushevsky says, two little hairs were found — one yellow, and another blue. So the yellow hair is from the right ear of that monkey, and the blue one is from the left one. You can’t argue with facts”.

Mikhail Grushevsky in Ukrainian national mythology is a remarkable personality. Firstly, because it is precisely he who created this mythology, and, secondly, because he is considered as the “first president of Ukraine” (which, by the way, isn’t true at all).

But, today, in Kiev, they don’t at all like to speak about the details of the biography of the “great Ukrainian”. But they should. After all, there is just a sea of very interesting things. In particular, it allows to understand from where the “ancient Ukrainians” and the state “Ukraine-Rus” appeared in modern school textbooks…

Mikhail Grushevsky was born in 1866 in Chełm (today it is the territory of Poland) in a respectable family. His father was a teacher of the Russian language and the author of a textbook of Church Slavonic language, which was officially adopted by the Ministry of Education of the Russian Empire. Mikhail inherited from his father the copyright of the book that allowed him to lead a comfortable life, being engaged in political and scientific activity at the expense of the state treasury.

In his youth Grushevsky lived for some years in Tiflis, and then arrived at the historical and philological faculty of the Kiev university, which he graduated from in 1890. Thanks to diligent study and the protection of some teachers, Mikhail upon graduation remained at the university where in 1894 he wrote his master’s dissertation, after which in his life tremendous metamorphoses began.

Mikhail Grushevsky (the first one sitting on the right) with parents, brothers Zakhary and Fedor, and sister Anna. Stavropol, 1876. (Photo:

Here it is necessary to make an imperative reservation. The term “ukraine”, known according to chronicles since the 12th century, for centuries was used exclusively as a common noun. It designated “borderlands”. Such “Ukraines” [borderlands – ed] were both Kiev and Chernigov, Ryazan and Amur, and so on. As a more or less settled name in relation to the territory of modern Ukraine, it started being used only since the end of 18th — beginning of the 19th century.

Moreover, without any ethnic overtones. Even in “Kobza” of Taras Shevchenko the term “Ukrainian” is absent in principle. The idea of the “otherness” of the population on the territory of modern Ukraine arose in the first half of the 19th century at the suggestion of the Polish and Russian revolutionaries trying to weaken in such a plain way the Russian autocracy. While the “broad national populace” clearly identified themselves with the Russian people.

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The turning point in events, which later will be called “Ukrainization”, occurred in the middle of the 19th century in Austria. The leaders of the empire figured out that the Russian population of Galicia and other lands under the control of Vienna gravitate to Russia. That’s why they started to forge a new ethnic community from local Russians by the method of a carrot and stick (threats and generous promises) – for the beginning of Rusyns and Ruthenes.

The government in Vienna directly informed the Slavic population subject to it that it can count on any support only if they refuse joint ethnic identification with Russians. Gradually the Austrian authorities came to the conclusion that it is possible to try to use the “national question” for the expansion of their own borders at the expense of the eastern neighbor. The harmless simplified alphabet “kulishovka” – created for teaching peasant children, was transformed into the Ukrainian national alphabet.

On the territory of Malorossiya the creation of “cultural and educational organizations” started to be financed, propagandizing the “otherness” of the population of the southwest regions of the Russian Empire. It started to be explained to inhabitants of the Carpathians that they are “one people” with the inhabitants of Podneprovye [belarus – ed], but not at all with Russians, and some are absolutely separate.

The representatives of the “newly-created ethnos” were called thus differently: Ukrainians, Malorussians, Rusins, South Rus. The idea of the Austrian government pleased also the authorities of the promptly-getting-stronger Germany, which started showing brisk interest in the events occurring in Kiev.

It is at this stage that Mikhail Grushevsky was also connected to the big propaganda game. In 1894 the Austrian authorities call him to Lvov, give him a chair at the local university, and allocate generous financing. Grushevsky, by request of sponsors, issues practically immediately the concept of continuous ethnogenesis of Ukrainians since the time of the existence of antes tribes and the ancient Russian state, which, according to the scientist, was a “Ukrainian state”.

He published some small researches on the “history of Ukraine” and sat down to write the multivolume “history of Ukraine-Rus”. The term “Ukraine” won the “contest” for best “toponym and ethnonym”. Grushevsky claims that the term “Ukraine” became a proper name already in the 16th century, however, he doesn’t bother to prove his words, at least the slightest convincing argument.

From the works of Grushevsky this unproven affirmation will spread across the mass of manuals and books… According to Russian counterintelligence, Grushevsky all this time earns generous rewards from the Austrian special services. On these means he releases printed materials, registers public organizations, and takes part in the work of the Ukrainian national democratic party.

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At the same time, the professor, who kept a Russian passport, started more and more actively visiting the empire, where he finds himself under the surveillance of counterintelligence officers. In 1910, gendarmes record continuous contact between Grushevsky and the Austrian consul in Kiev, to which the scientist transfers certain materials. During a search of his house it is established that Grushevsky stored at this place anti-Russian literature and accounting records testifying to his subversive activities against Russia using Austrian money.

Mikhail Sergeyevich Grushevsky (Photo:

In 1914, against the background of the approaching and beginning World War I Grushevsky sharply intensifies his anti-Russian and pro-Austrian propaganda. During the next visit to Kiev he is detained by gendarmes.

During the search at his residence printed materials with anti-Russian content were found again, and he is sent into exile to Simbirsk. However, Grushevsky didn’t stay there for long. Liberal and democratic intelligentsia massively support him, and filled up St. Petersburg with their messages in support of the pro-Austrian professor.

At first he is transferred to Kazan, and then in 1916 — to Moscow. After the February revolution he immediately comes back to Kiev where at this time he is already elected in absentia to the position of the chairman of the Ukrainian Central Rada. Having being earlier an inveterate liberal, Grushevsky visually “shifts to the Left” and becomes one of founders of the Ukrainian Socialist-Revolutionary Party. On April 19th-21st, at the All-Ukrainian national congress he is re-elected as the President of the Ukrainian Central Rada.

At this time he wasn’t any “President of Ukraine”: his position itself was called differently, and Ukraine at that time didn’t possess even autonomy in the contents of Russia.

In November, 1917, Grushevsky was elected to the Kiev district in the All-Russian constituent assembly. In January, 1918, he literally for a few days was a virtual “head of state” (the Ukrainian People’s Republic, which is already existing only on paper, declared its independence). At the beginning of February, 1918, the representatives of the Central Rada signed a peace treaty with Berlin and Vienna, according to which Ukraine was occupied by Germany and Austro-Hungary.

In April Pavel Skoropadsky, at the suggestion of the Germans, dispersed the Central Rada, but the career of Grushevsky didn’t end at this.

In 1919, the “former President of the Central Rada” moved to Austria and even founded the sociological institute, but his affairs here were “not very” prosperous (for obvious reasons, the former sponsors were pre-occupied with something else other than him).

Therefore, once heading the anti-Bolshevist resistance, Grushevsky began to ask to allow him to return to Russia. In the USSR exactly at this time the campaign for “indigenization” was being developed, and the proposals of the fugitive professor proved to be very helpful. In 1924 he was allowed to return, he was given a professor’s room at the Kiev university, he was made a full member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and appointed to a number of scientific positions. At his suggestion, the concept about the existence of a separate Ukrainian ethnos moved to Soviet textbooks (although not from the time of Antes as he would like it).

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In 1931 Grushevsky was detained on the charge of “counterrevolutionary activity”, but was soon released. But after this his students and employees in large quantities underwent repressions. Some historians claim that it is precisely the “former president” who could hand them over.

In 1934 Grushevsky died. His works in connection with the turning of policy of indigenization were forbidden. The family of Grushevsky underwent repressions and then there was the denunciation of his student — Konstantin Shteppa, who at first was a White Guard, and then — an informer of the NKVD, and in the years of the war — an agent of Hitler’s Sicherheitsdienst, and after its end — an employee of the CIA…

The works of Grushevsky were always exposed to fierce criticism from the scientific community. Mikhail Grushevsky usually refused to participate in discussions when he was demanded to lean on the facts (as was the case with Ivan Linnichenko, from a polemic with which the founder of the concept of Ukraine simply evaded).

Both the separate facts given by Grushevsky and his concept as a whole during the days of the Great Patriotic War were actively used for propaganda purposes by Nazis, and after 1991 – without additional verification – were transferred to the Ukrainian school and high school textbooks. And now on the basis of the ideas of Grushevsky about “ancient Ukrainians” and “Ukraine-Rus” the new antiscientific nazi ideology is being forged.

The portrait of Grushevsky is flaunted on the Ukrainian 50-hryvnia note, a street in the center of Kiev was named in his honor , in the Ukrainian capital a monument is erected to him. But in Ukraine they don’t like to remember some details in his biography, as was already mentioned above.

Because how to explain to school students why the “great Ukrainian” abjectly asked to accept him back from “enlightened Europe”? How to comment on the facts of his work with Austrian intelligence? And then — strange loyalty to him from Soviet law enforcement bodies?

His contemporaries didn’t like Grushevsky that much. The comic writer Ostap Vishnya devoted sarcastic material to the antiscientific ideas of Mikhail Grushevsky under the eloquent name “Thirty pieces of silver” [reference to Judas – ed], a few phrases from which we quoted at the beginning of the article.

Before Grushevsky the “Ukrainian concept” that was pushed forward by Austro-Hungarian and German intelligence services wasn’t harmonious and monolithic. In his pseudoscientific fiction Mikhail Grushevsky banally deceived people, forcing them to believe in facts invented by him.

Then his concept was taken advantage of by Banderists, who massacred people against the background of stories about the former greatness of “ukraine-rus”, women, children, and old men by the order of the Nazis. Today, thanks to the fairy tales paid for by the Austrian intelligence services a hundred plus years ago, Ukrainian school students throw up their hands in a nazi salute, and blood is shed in Donbass.

If Austrians chose someone else in the place of Grushevsky, could they act also as effectively? It isn’t known… The role of personality in history after all shouldn’t be underestimated…

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