Ukrainian-Americans have always been split in US politics

By Myron Kuropas

The two-page advertisement by Ukrainian Americans for Joe Biden is a first. I have been reading The Ukrainian Weekly since 1946 and, if memory serves, this is the first time an ad for an American presidential candidate has appeared three months prior to the election. Hardly the norm, as I recall.

Also impressive are the number of Ukrainian Americans listed on the two-page ad. I know many of them. I respect their willingness to take a stand. Getting that many Ukrainians to commit is not easy; sometimes it’s like herding cats.

Our woke generation may be surprised to learn that the first political orientation of Ukrainian Americans was socialist, reflecting the ideology of the Social Democrats in Ukraine. Ukrainian American involvement in the American political process began in 1907 with the creation of the Haidamaky. A publication of the same name soon appeared and efforts were made early on to promulgate the goals of American socialists. Other radical publications soon made their appearance: Khlopsky Paragraf (1908), Proletar (1911) and Robitnyk (1912).

Responding to the leadership of the progressive Catholic priests then steering the fraternal organization once known as the Ruthenian National Association (RNS), Svoboda, the RNS periodical, urged Ukrainians to ignore Republicans and Democrats and to support socialist candidates as the only people who cared about the working class. At its 1914 convention, the RNS changed its name to the Ukrainian National Association (UNA)

In 1901, Eugene V. Debs, one-time locomotive fireman and labor organizer, established the Socialist Party of America (SPA). A number of socialist clubs came into being in the Rusyn/Ukrainian community, and, encouraged by the SPA leadership, Ukrain­ians created the Ukrainian Federation of Socialist Parties of America (UFSPA), joining the SPA as an ethnic affiliate.

From the beginning, Ukrainian socialists were divided between those who focused on national rebirth in Ukraine, the Social Patriots, and those who favored world revolution, the Marxist/Internatio­nalists.

The SPA, now also split between moderates and Marxists, suffered further division in 1919 when the committed Marxist wing of the party held a formal convention in Chicago establishing the Communist Party of America (CPA). At the UFSPA convention that same year, Ukrainian Marxists pushed through a resolution recognizing the Third Communist International. Expelling Social Patriots from its ranks, the UFSPA formally changed its name to the Ukrainian Federation of Communist Parties of America (UFCPA).

The Communist cause suffered a setback after a number of explosions rocked major American cities. In 1919 and 1920, President Woodrow Wilson’s attorney general, A. Mitchell Palmer, began deporting Communists, anarchists and other radicals. President Wilson never recognized the Soviet Union nor did his successors, Presidents Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.

When the war ended, Ukraine was divided among the USSR, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Three political rationales were offered in the U.S. for the failure of Ukraine to maintain its independence. Ukraine was not prepared for sovereignty, argued members of the newly formed Ukrainian Hetman Organization (UHO); only a Hetman can restore order. Ukrainians need another revolution, explained members of the recently created Organization for the Rebirth of Ukraine (ODWU), an affiliate of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). Ukraine exists, claimed Ukrainian Communists pointing to Soviet Ukraine.

Urged by The New York Times Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty and others in his Cabinet, newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt quickly recognized the USSR as the legitimate successor of the Russian empire. Within months, the Soviet Embassy in Washington was swarming with NKVD and GRU agents. Ukrainian American Communists prospered during the 1930s, welcoming financial support from Soviet Ukraine.

During World War II, UHO, ODWU and UNA leaders were accused of Nazi sympathies and were called to testify before Congress. The UHO disbanded. ODWU and the UNA lost members.

When the war ended and the Communist threat was acknowledged once again, Ukrainian Americans associated with the anti-Communist front came roaring back. Leading Ukrainian American political figures at this time were Republican Dmytro Halychyn, UNA president, and his successor Joe Lesawyer, Democrat. Dr. Lev Dobriansky was the GOP outreach chair during the 1968 presidential campaign.

Ukrainian Republicans prospered after the election of Richard M. Nixon in 1968. The Republican National Committee (RNC) created the Heritage Groups Council. An ethnic affairs office, headed by Laszlo Pasztor, was established within the RNC. Laszlo traveled around the country forming local and national ethnic affiliates that became part of the Heritage Groups Council. By 1972 there were 34 nationality federations and 25 state councils. The Ukrainian National Republican Federation (UNRF), which encompassed councils in 20 states, received the coveted Dwight D. Eisenhower Service Award in 1972. That same year, Taras Szmagala Sr., then the director of Sen. Bob Taft’s Cleveland office, became the ethnic outreach director for the Nixon re-election campaign.

Thanks to their visibility and activity in the Republican Party, President Gerald R. Ford appointed a Ukrainian as White House special assistant for ethnic affairs. Ukrainians also served on the staffs of Sens. Taft (Ohio), James Buckley (New York) and Bob Dole (Kansas) – all Republicans. A Ukrainian was appointed ambassador to the Bahamas by President Ronald Reagan.

Ethnic influence by the Captive Nations lobby led to a vicious vilification campaign by the Sovietophile left. Most egregious was a leftwing publication, “Old Nazis, the New Right and the Reagan Administration” by Russ Bellant. “Fascist” anti-Soviet ethnics in the RNC were influencing American foreign policy prolonging the Cold War, claimed Mr. Bellant. A similar hit piece by Joe Conason appeared in The Village Voice. The New York Times and the Washington Post reviewed the stories. The RNC allowed the RHGC to fade.

Ukrainian Democrats were strong in 2016 and are even more so in 2020. They appear to be zealous and organized. It’s time for Ukrainian Republicans to be heard. Good luck to both parties.

Ukrainian Americans love Ukraine, but they love the United States, the nation that provided a safe haven for their parents and grandparents, far more. Our people are bright, well-read and politically savvy. I’m confident they will do the right thing in 2020.