World Academy of Carpatho-Rusyn Culture


Carpatho-Ukraine/Karpats’ka Ukraina

Carpatho-Ukraine/Karpats’ka Ukraina — a self-governing part of the federal, second Czechoslovak Republic. Also known as *Subcarpathian Rus’, Carpatho-Ukraine functioned as an autonomous province from October 12, 1938, to March 14, 1939, with its capital first in Uzhhorod (until November 2, 1938) and then in Khust. The name Carpatho-Ukraine was introduced by a decree of the autonomous government headed by Avhustyn *Voloshyn (December 30, 1938), although without legal sanction, since a change of name from Subcarpathian Rus’ was only within the jurisdiction of a provincial diet that had not yet been elected (see Subcarpathian Rus’). The name Carpatho-Ukraine had been used since the mid-1920s by the local branch of the *Communist party (on instructions from the Comintern in 1925) and by Ukrainian nationalists. The term itself had no historic precedent but was politically inspired. It reflected, on the one hand, the hopes of Ukrainian nationalists to create a “Ukrainian Piedmont in the Carpathians” (1938-1939) and, on the other, the “Ukrainian orientation” allegedly adopted as part of Nazi Germany’s policy of territorial expansion. In fact, it was little more than a part of Hitler’s disinformation campaign directed in 1938 against Berlin’s enemies in both western (Britain and France) and eastern (Poland and the Soviet Union) Europe.

The pro-Ukrainian government that was formed in autonomous Subcarpathian Rus’ on October 26, 1938, under the leadership of Avhustyn Voloshyn came into being on instructions from Nazi German authorities in Berlin. The governing system of Carpatho-Ukraine was greatly influenced by members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), who in turn were closely linked to Nazi Germany. The OUN intended to transform Carpatho-Ukraine into the Piedmont, or what it described as “the pure kernel” (krystalizatsiine iadro), of an independent Greater Ukraine (Soborna Ukraina). In keeping with such plans, a group of OUN military specialists led by Colonel Mykhailo Kolodzins’kyi (Huzar), Lieutenant Roman Shukhevych, Captain Zenon Kossak, and O. Haisyn illegally crossed into Subcarpathian Rus’ in the middle of August 1938. By September and October, hundreds more OUN members from Galicia were crossing into Subcarpathian Rus’, where they created the Ukrainian National Defense/Ukrains’ka narodna oborona. The following month the OUN’s supreme leader, Andrii Mel’nyk, visited the province on several occasions, calling on his organization’s supporters to do everything possible “to create a Ukrainian Carpathian state.” Ukrainian nationalists naively counted exclusively on help from Hitler to achieve their goals. In effect, Carpatho-Ukraine under Voloshyn’s government became a tool in the hands of OUN activists, and even more so it was used by Nazi Germany for its own purposes. In Carpatho-Ukraine itself an authoritarian regime was set up and characterized by: (1) a single-party system; (2) the adoption of a Ukrainian nationalist ideology as an official yet unconstitutional means of struggle against anyone with different political views, which permitted internment without trial at a camp in *Dumen; (3) the establishment of a paramilitary organization, the *Carpathian Sich, which implemented by force the generally unpopular decrees of the Voloshyn government; and (4) the abolition of an independent judiciary. The Ukrainian nationalist character of Carpatho-Ukraine resulted in its virtual complete isolation abroad, whether from its enemy neighbors Poland and Hungary, or from the anti-nationalist Soviet Union, whose diplomats were urging Hungary to occupy the province. The “greater Ukrainian” dreams of the nationalists even alienated their own protectors, the Nazi leadership in Germany, which without any compunction allowed Hungary’s occupation of Carpatho-Ukraine in March 1939. The pro-Rusyn faction among Subcarpathia’s political activists tried to oppose the ukrainianization policies of the Voloshyn government by forming in Khust (November 14, 1938) the *Central Russian National Council, which called on the Czechoslovak federal authorities in Prague to form a new government for Subcarpathian Rus’ that would be headed by local *Rusynophiles and *Russophiles. Voloshyn responded by disbanding the Central Council, which then joined with the Russian Orthodox Council and *Renaissance Carpatho-Russian Student Society to demand again from Prague that it restructure the Subcarpathian government. This request received no response, since it was Berlin not Prague that determined the political direction of Voloshyn’s government. Having outlawed all Rusynophile and Russophile civic and political organizations, the Ukrainian National Council/Ukrains’ka narodna rada, headed by Voloshyn himself, had by the outset of 1939 become the dominant political force in the region. On January 18, 1939, the government of Carpatho-Ukraine decided to create a single pro-governmental party, the Ukrainian National Union/Ukrains’ke natsional’ne ob”iednannia (UNO), modeled after the Nazi party in Germany. This development was not unique, however, to Subcarpathian Rus’, since at the same time fascist-oriented political institutions had also come into being in the Czech lands (the Party of National Unity and the Party of Work) and in Slovakia (the Slovak Front). The appeal of such groups was based on the fact that the principles of democracy, which had guided interwar Czechoslovakia, were unable to protect the country’s sovereignty in the face of the forces of fascism that had triumphed at the Munich Pact (September 30, 1938). Hence, fascist-like order, not democracy, had become attractive to an ever increasing number of citizens in post-Munich Czechoslovakia. In the end, elections to the diet (soim) of Carpatho-Ukraine, carried out on February 12, 1939, with a one-party slate of candidates from the Ukrainian National Union, were overseen by the autonomous government’s “commissars.” The result was nothing less than a political farce, so typical of authoritarian regimes wherever they may be. The central government in Prague did attempt to influence the political situation by appointing a new three-member cabinet on January 12, 1938, headed by Prime Minister Voloshyn and including Iuliian *Revai. The third ministerial post was eventually filled (January 16) by the head of the Czechoslovak Army in the province, General Lev Prchala, but his appointment caused sharp conflict between the Voloshyn government and Prague until he was recalled. Finally, on March 6, the Czechoslovak government appointed yet another (fourth) cabinet for Carpatho-Ukraine, again headed by Prime Minister Voloshyn. Also included as ministerial appointees were Stepan *Klochurak (who replaced Revai because of the latter’s provocative contacts with Berlin, which often lacked approval from Prague) and General Prchala (responsible for internal affairs, finance, and transportation). Three days later Iulii *Brashchaiko was appointed minister-without-portfolio, along with two officials holding the rank of state secretaries.

The autonomous government of Carpatho-Ukraine was unable to make any significant improvements in the province’s economy. Voloshyn himself was incapable of controlling the government’s expenses, which was one of the reasons General Prchala was given the ministerial portfolio for finances. The situation was made worse by the loss of the southern part of Subcarpathian Rus’ as a result of the *Vienna Award (November 2, 1938). The southern Subcarpathian lowlands were a traditional area of seasonal work and also the location for railroad lines and roads that connected the province with the rest of Czechoslovakia. The loss of this lowland region caused a rapid rise in unemployment, in transportational costs, and overall inflation. In an attempt to correct these shortcomings, the government of Carpatho-Ukraine hoped to attract foreign investments, particularly from Nazi Germany. To further economic and political ties, Voloshyn planned to visit Berlin in person, but his request to do so in February 1939 was turned down: by then Hitler had already decided to liquidate what remained of Czechoslovakia and to allow Hungary’s annexation of Carpatho-Ukraine.

When, on March 14, 1939, Slovakia declared itself independent, Czechoslovakia in effect ceased to exist and Carpatho-Ukraine found itself in a political vacuum. Voloshyn responded by declaring late in the evening of March 14 Carpatho-Ukraine’s independence and calling on the German government to accept it as a protectorate. This declaration of independence was juridically confirmed the following day at the first session of the province’s diet (March 15). Proclaimed at the same time that the Hungarian Army was advancing into Carpatho-Ukraine, the declaration of independence was in effect only a juridical act that de facto was never realized. After his election by the diet as president of Carpatho-Ukraine, Voloshyn was faced with the following realities: Nazi Germany rejected his request that Carpatho-Ukraine become a protectorate; the Hungarian government delivered an ultimatum calling upon the Carpathian Sich to cease its military resistance; and the Czechoslovak Army evacuated the region. Voloshyn decided to dismiss the cabinet just chosen by the diet and, together with the leading activists of Carpatho-Ukraine, he left immediately for Romania and eventually Prague which by then was part of Germany’s Third Reich.

A group of Ukrainian emigres who remained behind (Chief of Staff Mykhailo Kolodzins’kyi, and Colonel Serhii Iefremov, among others) declared Voloshyn a traitor and set up their own military headquarters in an attempt to organize resistance against the advancing Hungarian troops. Several hundred members of the Carpathian Sich, together with students on their spring break in Khust, joined this effort, which ended in a bloody tragedy at Krasne Pole near the village of Rokosovo just west of Khust.

Ukrainian nationalist historiography and populist writings have described Carpatho-Ukraine as a “Ukrainian state” that existed in late 1938 and early 1939. Such conclusions cannot be justified on either juridical or practical grounds. First of all, autonomous Subcarpathian Rus’/Carpatho-Ukraine was, during its existence from October 12, 1938, to March 14, 1939, an integral part of a federal Czechoslovak state, even though that federation may have been unbalanced. In contrast to both Subcarpathian Rus’/Carpatho-Ukraine and Slovakia, the Czech lands (Bohemia and Moravia) did not have their own ministerial government but were administered by the federal republic’s central government. The very federal nature of the state, of which Subcarpathian Rus’/Carpatho-Ukraine was a part, was most evident in the fact that the autonomous region’s ministers were, until the very end (March 14, 1939), all appointed by the Czechoslovak president (Emil Hacha) and in certain cases without even any consultation from Subcarpathia’s representatives. As for the independence of Carpatho-Ukraine as a juridical fact, it lasted a mere 30 hours, from late in the evening of March 14 to the early morning of March 16, 1939.

Bibliography: Robert Nowak, “Von der Karpatenukraine zum Karpatenland,” Zeitschrift fur Geopolitik, XVI, 5 (Heidelberg, Berlin, and Magdeburg, 1939), pp. 313-332; Michael Winch, Republic for a Day: An Eye-Witness Account of the Carpatho-Ukraine Incident (London, 1939); Volodymyr Birchak, Karpats’ka Ukraina: spomyny i perezhyvannia (Prague, 1940); Stepan Rosokha, Soim Karpats’koi Ukrainy (Winnipeg, 1949); Petro Stercho, Karpato-ukrains’ka derzhava (Toronto, 1965, repr. 1994); Iurii Iu. Slyvka, Pidstupy mizhnarodnoi reaktsii na Zakarpatti (L’viv, 1966); Vikentii Shandor, “Karpats’ka Ukraina: zfederovana derzhava,” Zapysky Naukovoho tovarystva im. Shevchenka, CLXXXVII (New York, 1968), pp. 319-339; George F. Kennan, From Prague after Munich: Diplomatic Papers, 1938-1940 (Princeton, N.J., 1968), esp. pp. 58-75; Peter G. Stercho, Diplomacy of Double Morality: Europe’s Crossroads in Carpatho-Ukraine, 1919-1939 (New York, 1971); Ladislav Susko, “Nemecka politika voci Slovensku a Zakarpatskej Ukrajine v obdobi od septembrovej krizy 1938 do rozbitia Ceskoslovenska v marci 1939,” Ceskoslovensky casopis historicky, XXI, 2 (Prague, 1973), pp. 161-197; Mykola Vegesh and Volodymyr Zadorozhnyi, Velych i trahediia Karpats’koi Ukrainy (Uzhhorod, 1993); Mykola Vegesh, Karpats’ka Ukraina, 1938-1939: sotsial’no-ekonomichnyi i politychnyi rozvytok (Uzhhorod, 1993); Ivan Hranchak, ed., Narysy istorii Zakarpattia, Vol. II (Uzhhorod, 1995), esp. pp. 283-348; Vincent Shandor, Carpatho-Ukraine in the Twentieth Century: A Political and Legal History (Cambridge, Mass., 1997); Mykhailo M. Boldyzhar, Kraiu mii ridnyi (Uzhhorod, 1998), esp. pp. 64-115; Albert S. Kotowski, “Ukrainisches Piedmont’?: Die Karpatenukraine am Vorabend des Zweiten Weltkrieges,” Jahrbucher fur Geschichte Osteuropas, XLIX, 1 (Stuttgart, 2001), pp. 67-95.

Ivan Pop

Entry courtesy of Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture.

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