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CHAPTER XVI

THE UKRAINE ENCROACHES

While the Bessarabians were securing their autonomy, the Ukrainians were organizing their independent government, under the expert guidance of Grushevsky, a former Austrian subject. The Russian Provisional Government was too weak to oppose them; the Ukraine became an autonomous state, with its Rada (Congress) and administration. It sought at once to lay its hands on Bessarabia and incorporate it into the Ukraine. The Bessarabians protested, and took part in a Congress of Russian Peoples called by the Ukraine authorities at Kieff Sept. 8-14, 1917. There were representatives of the White Russians, Great Russians, Ukrainians, Esthonians, Letts, Lithuanians, Poles, Jews, Georgians, Roumanians, Cossacks, Tartars and Turcomans. The Roumanian (sic) delegates were Prof. St. Holban of the Odessa Moldavian Soviet; Gr. Dascal, sailor, from the Kishineff Soviet; Prof. T. Ioncu, of the National Moldavian Party; V. Cazacliu, of the Moldavian Students' Organization; I. Codreanu, of the Peasant Soviet; Capt. V. Cijevschi of the Moldavian Soldiers and Officers. The Congress, after long discussions, decided unanimously that Russia should be a federative democratic republic; every separate nationality should have autonomy; each people should have its constitutional convention; each nationality should have the right of using its language in local administration, schools, etc., and all languages should be on a parity; Russian should be the common language for intercommunication; the local language should be used in church, school and courts; the Russian Democratic Federative Republic should be proclaimed at once, and the army nationalized by the leaders of the democratic revolutionary organizations; there should be a national council in the department of foreign affairs, representing all the nationalities in the republic, and similar representatives should compose the Russian delegation to the Peace Conference. In his speech, Prof. Ioncu reminded his audience that Bessarabia had enjoyed virtual autonomy from 1818 to 1828, under Alexander I, and was resuming that autonomy.

Meanwhile, the situation in Bessarabia, like that of Russia in general, was approaching complete chaos. The army was melting to pieces; Bessarabia was being traversed and ravaged by thousands of deserters. Efforts to send regiments to the front resulted in episodes like the following, which we summarize from the official testimony, not to a court martial, for they were abolished, but to an "extraordinary commission for information," composed of members of the Odessa Moldavian Executive Committee, two officers from the Council of Soldiers and Officers of Odessa and the Roumanian Front, the President of the Bessarabian Executive Committee of the Soviet of Peasants, Soldiers and Workers, the President of the Kishineff Ukrainian Military Rada (Council), and Comrade Adamovsky, Counsel. Their researches established that on June 6 and 7, twelve companies with about 3000 soldiers, ostensibly going to the front from Odessa, disentrained at Soldaneshti (Orhei) ; there they got drunk and began a campaign of smashing windows and robbing shops. Setting out for Orhei, they plundered and drank en route; at Sarcova, they beat up a sergeant who protested, and began assaulting women, one of whom, a girl of fourteen, in Trifeshti, died two days later, after being maltreated by ten soldiers. They straggled into Orhei, which they terrorized for several days, the President of the local Soviet not allowing the local militia to carry cartridges, for fear of civil war; on June 9, their numbers were increased by other soldiers going toward the front from Kishineff; these joined forces with them, and plundered especially the wine cellars, so that Orhei was filled with Russian soldiers lying dead drunk in the streets. As the Soviet President still refused to take any measures, the Aide to the District Commissary, on his own responsibility, sent to Kishineff, and a company of Cossacks, with a machine gun, restored order.

This is merely a sample of what was going on all over Bessarabia and the rest of Russia near the front. In "Greater Roumania," p. 221, I give instances of clashes between deserting Russian soldiers and the Roumanian troops, in Roumania itself. The peasants also, not to be outdone in exploiting the privileges of liberty, seized the property of individuals and monasteries, under the guidance of Russian deserters, who explained that under the Revolution, all private property had disappeared, and all belongings were to be apportioned among them and the peasants. At the monastery of Harjauca, for instance, a crowd of soldiers and peasants came beating on the door with guns; first they demanded the keys to the wine-cellar, and drank or carried off all they found there; then they divided up the horses, cows and sheep of the monastery. After looting private estates, they frequently burned houses and barns to the ground. The Congress of Bessarabian Soldiers, in October 1917, organized a "Bessarabian Army"; but this was promptly demoralized by the clever activities of a Bolshevist, Catarau, just released from prison, and could not be depended on. The Russian Supreme Command in Jassy authorized the formation of sixteen militia units and a sort of gendarmerie, but this was pitifully inadequate.

Friction continued with the Ukraine; and one of the leading Moldavians, V. G. Cristi, succeeded in making his way to St. Petersburg and interviewing several of the ministry, including Kerensky himself, just in time to prevent their recognizing the Ukraine inclusive of Bessarabia. They told him that his was the first voice raised against this step; and the Minister of the Ukraine, Vinitchenko, remarked that he had come up bringing ten provinces in his brief-case, but was returning with only nine. This new state of the Ukraine, recognized by the Provisional Russian Government in the summer of 1917, now cut Bessarabia off from the central Russian administration, and left it isolated. None the less, Bessarabia was full of emissaries of the Bolshevists, who were now rapidly growing in power; and they fought the Moldavians desperately, accusing them of being counter-revolutionists and "separatists" (i. e., in favor of union with Roumania). It is true that some of the most conspicuous members of the Moldavian National Party were men of means, and probably a majority believed in private property, though in favor of distribution of at least the unused land among the peasantry; and a certain proportion, especially of the students, were in favor of annexation to Roumania. Bessarabia's sudden isolation, and the increasing anarchy, increased the strength of both these factions. The Bolshevists, realizing this, started a campaign of terrorism, and the evening of Aug. 20, some 200 Russian soldiers, with Bolshevist leaders, seized and murdered two of the most conspicuous Moldavian leaders, A. Hodorogea and S. Murafa, in Kishineff itself. Other attacks took place in the smaller towns and continued through the autumn and winter; one of the most outrageous, in which the Moldavian leader P. Fala was left for dead and his home completely destroyed, occurred near Baltz in January 1918.

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