Unwilling Instrument of the State

14 October 2011, 14:14

The Ukrainian Week continues its series of articles about landmark figures in Ukrainian history and literature who were forced, under the pressure of the repressive communist government, to choose between protest and death. This instalment is about General Yuriy Tiutiunnyk who became a symbol of invincibility in the stormy years of revolutionary struggle. But once he was captured by the GPU, he caved in to pressure and agreed to cooperate with the Bolshevik punitive agents.

We have a fairly complete account of Tiutiunnyk's life and activities in the revolutionary period due primarily to his own memoirs which were published in Western Ukraine. Still, the 1920s and the 1930s are a big gray spot in his biography. The Soviet special services moved his archive from Poland in 1923 and when the general was arrested a second time in 1929, the GPU officers seized a pile of letters and documents from the 1920s in his apartment in Kharkiv. Materials recently discovered in the archives of Ukraine’s Foreign Intelligence Service and Security Service shed light on the events in his life that remained unknown until now.


The Second Winter Campaign, which ended with the shooting of 360 Ukrainian fighters near Bazar in Zhytomyr Region, was the last page in the history of the Ukrainian national liberation struggle in 1917-21. The defeat did much to demoralize the UNR State Center and the attitudes of Ukrainian émigrés who for the most part lost faith in continuing the struggle to restore a Ukrainian state.

Upon his return from the campaign, Tiutiunnyk illegally settled in Lviv. He tried to restore the underground network which the Cheka laid waste to in 1921 and to make contact with underground activists. He dispatched certain agents and entire units of insurgents to Ukraine, collected information from the Ukrainian SSR about popular attitudes, resistance against the Soviets, repression against insurgents, and so on. He was convinced that Europe was on the brink of a war and called on his followers to prepare for struggle so that a chance to restore a Ukrainian state would not be wasted. In a letter to a UNR government minister on July 17, 1922, he wrote: “Despite our seeming silence, the Red Russians are afraid of us: we are to them, it seems, what Hannibal was to Rome or even worse. They have now put cavalry divisions all along the Romanian border and are intensely waiting for incursions by ‘Tiutiunnyk bands.’ It is sometimes strange that they are so afraid of us. Maybe our forces are not that small after all.” We find similar thoughts in his letter to Lieutenant Colonel Yuriy Pyrohiv: “Our work is spreading, which is suggested by the fact, if by nothing else, that the Russians (Bolsheviks) are cursing us (Tiutiunnyk supporters) and writing about ‘Irish methods of struggle’ the ‘bandits’ have introduced, while the ‘West’ is looking for an ‘active center’ bypassing Tarnów and Warsaw.”

Political writing was a component of Tiutiunnyk’s political activities. The Literaturno-naukovyi visnyk (Literary Scientific Herald) and Zahrava (Crimson Sky) published his recollections of revolutionary struggle, and the Stanislav-based Bystrytsia Publishing House brought out his book, Zymovyi pokhid 1919-1920 rokiv (The Winter Campaign, 1919-20), in early 1923. In the opinion of the general, the campaign was one of its kind in modern history. He also collected photos, autographs and portraits of liberation movement participants for Povstanskyi albom (The Insurgents’ Album).

The tragedy near Bazar cooled the attitude of Symon Petliura’s inner circle to Tiutiunnyk. The general was left without the financial support of the government. Perhaps this was the cause behind his caustic descriptions: “All of Petliura’s ministers work in one room. And how they work! They write official papers to one another signed by the heads of the respective departments, for example, about cutting the position of a clerk in the Lubny or Kaniv district commissariat. … In short, they are working there!”

The confrontation became ever more heated with time. Tiutiunnyk’s letter to general Oleksandr Udovychenko of August 10, 1922, reads: “I do not have either time or money, or even the desire to go to Warsaw, while I cannot go to camps, because it will cause an uproar not so much among the enemies as among our own ‘good people.’” The attempts of the chief otaman and his supporters to establish a relationship with Tiutiunnyk failed to find an understanding on his part.


Tiutiunnyk’s energetic activity did not go unnoticed by the Soviet special services which kept him under surveillance. Capturing him was a “matter of honor” for the Cheka. In the summer of 1922, Cheka officers, led by Yukhym Yevdokimov, started working on Case No. 39. Under the guise of members of the Higher Military Council (VVR), a fictitious insurgent organization, GPU officers recruited people close to Tiutiunnyk and won his trust. He received reports from pseudo-insurgents about efforts to develop an underground network and prepare a large-scale, general insurgency. He was also given money and “intelligence” materials.

The general hoped that a Ukrainian state could be formed with the VVR’s help and he would be a “Ukrainian Napoleon.” On April 23, 1923, he wrote to Colonel Yosyp Dobrotvosky: “They have a darn good grasp there – tons of materials! In a couple of days I will have a briefcase with documents from an S.S.S.R. diplomatic courier which will include, among other things, secret instructions about ways to work our émigrés and interned Cossacks. Interesting, wouldn’t you say?” The Higher Military Council convinced Tiutiunnyk that he was popular among Ukrainians and that he, of all people, needed to lead the insurgent forces. A VVR meeting elected him leader of Ukrainian insurgents in absentia. On March 26, 1923, former VVR head Mykhailo Doroshenko called on Tiutiunnyk to come to Ukraine: “We need you as a leader. We need you to resolutely push our cause to its final goal, and not only here but also in Europe. We will give you everything as we have over these years of nonstop bloody work, and you will have to force the weak and the unworthy to step out of our way and the strong to recognize us and provide us with the necessary aid.”

Tiutiunnyk was in no hurry to go to the Ukrainian SSR, and so Doroshenko threatened to sever relations with him in his letter of May 12, 1923: “If our meeting does not take place this time, we will consider that what we had longed for despite so many obstacles — close contact with you — has failed to be achieved. Further separation is not useful especially now.”

On the night of June 17, 1923, Tiutiunnyk was seized by the GPU on the Soviet side of the Dniester, which served as the Romanian-Soviet border. The arrest was kept in strict secret. Only people in the general's inner circle, many of whom had been recruited by the GPU, knew about his whereabouts.


From the border, Tiutiunnyk was transported to Kyiv and then on to Kharkiv. For several months he lived in a house for government officials under constant surveillance. An argument erupted between Kharkiv and Moscow about what to do with him. Felix Dzerzhynsky pressed for execution by shooting, while the Cheka officers in Kharkiv wanted to make Tiutiunnyk “one of their own” and “use” him.

In the summer and fall of 1923, letters reached the West with Tiutiunnyk’s signature in which he informed his émigré compatriots about his activities in the underground Higher Military Council. One of his letters to Dobrotvorsky read: “The activities of the All-Ukrainian Military Council (it continues to exist) should develop in two directions: a) using émigrés for the purposes of a national revival, rather than against it, as is, unfortunately, the case now, and b) preparing for fierce struggle to liberate and unite Western Ukrainian lands. … A specific task to be tackled next is to eliminate Petliura’s influence on the interned troops and the Poles. Naturally, this work would best be done through people whom the Poles consider their friends. I think Udovychenko is fit for this role, but I don't know if he will have enough political endurance and tact.”

Tiutiunnyk wrote in a letter to General Oleksandr Udovychenko: “I take a most active part in the VVR. This can give you at least a vague idea of the direction this organization is pursuing and the real sentiments prevalent in Ukraine. The song of Symon [Petliura] is over, and all the ‘protection of P.O.W.’ [Polish military organization. – Ed.] will help him like beating a dead horse. Forgive me for saying this, but, following my deep conviction, I suggest that you accept the proposal extended by the VVR and save all the decent and honest people left in the camps and in emigration. The main thing is to put an end, once and for all, to the Petliura and Chobotariv movement.”

The general became an instrument in Cheka provocations. Cheka records say as much: “Our goal with Udovychenko is to cause an argument between him and Petliura, knock Petliura off his pedestal and then win him over to our side.” They tried to convince the Polish government that the VVR and the Ukrainian underground favored Tiutiunnyk and Udovychenko over Petliura. To accomplish this, the Cheka even launched covert intelligence work (operation Novyie) to misinform Polish embassy employees in Kharkiv.

Under pressure from the GPU, Tiutiunnyk agreed to have his family – wife and two daughters – moved from Poland to the Ukrainian SSR. He also surrendered his personal archive. On August 20, 1923, he wrote letters to Volodymyr Zatonsky and Oleksandr Shumsky in which he said that political émigrés in Western European countries were unable to fight for the liberation of the Ukrainian people and that he and his supporters had ruled out further struggle against the Soviets and considered it their duty to return to Ukraine, become legalized and obtain Ukrainian citizenship.

Tiutiunnyk’s appeal to the soldiers of the Ukrainian army, published by Lviv’s newspaper Dilo on November 9, 1923, came to Ukrainian émigrés as a bolt from the blue. The general announced that he had “voluntarily” switched over to the Bolsheviks and called on his former comrades in arms to follow his lead. On December 28, 1923, the Presidium of the All-Ukrainian Central Executive Committee amnestied the general who had proved his “loyalty” to the regime by his involvement in Bolshevik provocations.


In 1924, an official government-owned publishing house in Kharkiv printed a lampoon entitled Z poliakamy proty Vkrainy (With the Poles against Ukraine) and signed by Tiutiunnyk. The main goal was to discredit Ukrainian political émigrés. Next year, Tiutiunnyk played himself in Pilsudski kupyv Petliuru (Piłsudski Bought Peliura), a film that slandered the Ukrainian movement. Tiutiunnyk thus rejected his past and became a caricature of himself.

In his memoirs, the former otaman claimed that he had done everything possible to help people understand that the movie was a lie. “You have to be too naïve not to be aware of the goal pursued by the Soviets when they started making films about the history of our struggle against Russia. Their purpose was purely political – defaming the very idea of struggle for the liberation of Ukraine. The Soviets set the goal of slandering everything in the memory of Ukrainian people that had to be a stimulus to further struggle. They needed to drown in dirt the very idea of liberation struggle,” he wrote.

Tiutiunnyk also taught the tactics of guerrilla warfare in the Kharkiv Red Officer School. A fierce enemy of the communist government, he told about his exploits to those against whom they had been directed. Those whom he tried to destroy several years earlier now learned from him how to carry out warfare and win battles. Diplomat Besedovsky remembered that, when asked about his job, Tiutiunnyk would reply sarcastically: “I lecture on being a bandit.”

We know virtually nothing about his thinking and feelings. What was he guided by? How did he assess events? Previously unknown memoirs that lay untouched in secret sections of books for over 80 years shed some light on his life in these years. For example, when he took a trip from Kharkiv to Berdychiv, his fellow travelers were teachers from the Poltava region. They recognize him as a one-time insurgent and tried to determine whether or not he was a GPU secret informer. This episode stunned him and he described it thus: “I felt that they did not want to believe it was a shameful provocation. Personally, I was unable to dispel it (for the time being), because how can you fight against provocations like that with words? To do this, you have to act as I did in the years of our nation’s intense, active struggle against Russia and Poland. Now I was shackled.”


Tiutiunnyk’s writings bear testimony that he did not resign himself to life under the Soviets and did not change his views on the nature of the Soviet government which remained an occupation force in his eyes. He was aware of the part that the occupants had for him: “Conquerors always rely on a minority against the majority of the indigenous population. They Russians live in palaces and travel in first-class carriages. They set Jews and Poles and others by their side to rule over us together. They let some Ukrainians join them – those who have fallen for their lures or are going to be targeted. And when I have the chance to travel first-class, it is more proof that I am an object of their policy which is aimed at demoralizing the nation: they want to turn me into a modern-time Janus.”

Tiutiunnyk’s anti-Bolshevik views may have become known to the punitive bodies. In 1925, GPU agents tried to compromise him by offering to speak in public in support of the Theater Restoration Committee. The general refused and said: “I don't want to speak before a silent crowd of average citizens who will not dare say anything without prior approval from the GPU. To me, this is tantamount to lecturing to marshes or sands.”

On February 12, 1929, Tiutiunnyk was arrested on charges of “counterrevolutionary activity.” He was not going to conceal his views any longer. “The practical policy of the Soviet government is conducive to the development of Ukrainian national culture, but the interests of a nation are not limited to cultural growth. Considering the present situation, it should be said that any other form of government will have more ability to support national development than the Soviet government. … An independent Ukrainian state can only be a bourgeois state, because the Soviet concept eliminates the principle of independent statehood,” the protocol of his interrogation reads.

He was charged with having connection to former anti-Soviet insurgents and those who were in concentration camps. Tiutiunnyk did not deny these contacts but insisted that he told them about the impossibility of armed resistance against the Soviets in this period. Regarding charges of failing to report his contacts, he replied: “Informing the GPU on anyone is against my morals.”

On December 3, 1929, an OGPU collegium passed a verdict to have Tiutiunnyk executed by a shooting squad. It was the third verdict in his lifetime. The protocol of the decision included an interesting additional note: “The sentence shall not be enforced until special instruction is received.” The GPU likely hoped that it could be used to fabricate a political case, but Tiutiunnyk did not betray himself a second time and, on October 20, 1930, he received the bullet that ended his life.


Yuriy Tiutiunnyk was born in 1891 in the Cherkasy region. He graduated from an agricultural college in Uman. In 1913, he started his military service in the 6th Siberian Regiment and was wounded during the First World War. In 1917, he became a member of the Central Rada and organized a 20,000-strong force in Zvenyhorod. In 1918, this unit had control over large territories in Central and Southern Ukraine. In 1919, Tiutiunnyk joined the Army of the UNR. As a brigadier general, he participated in the First Winter Campaign and organized the Second Winter Campaign. He was in the USSR since 1923, arrested in 1929 and shot on October 20, 1930.

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