top of page

Solzhenytsin on Ukraine 1968


Frederick Lauritzen

20 May 2022


Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) opened long ago the pandora’s box of Ukraine. Fifty-five years ago, he explained the hostile attitude of Ukrainians towards Russia he encountered in soviet prison camps. Instead of analysis this text needs to be quoted:


Written in 1968, published in 1974

(The Gulag Archipelago, Part 5, Chapter 2):


… It pains me to write this as Ukraine and Russia are merged in my blood, in my heart, and in my thoughts. But extensive experience of friendly contacts with Ukrainians in the camps has shown me how much of a painful grudge they hold. Our generation will not escape from paying for the mistakes of our fathers. 


To stamp one's foot and shout: "This is mine!" is the easiest option. It is far more difficult to say: "Those who want to live, live!" Surprising as it may be, the Marxist doctrine that nationalism is fading has not come true.


On the contrary, in an age of nuclear research and cybernetics, it has for some reason flourished. And the time is coming for us, whether we like it or not, to repay all the promissory notes of self-determination and independence, to do it ourselves rather than wait to be burnt at the stake, drowned in a river or beheaded.


Revealing the dark side of the soul after 17 years in the Gulag

We must prove whether we are a great nation not with the vastness of our territory or the number of peoples in our care but with the greatness of our deeds. And with the degree to which we plough what we shall have left after those lands that will not want to stay with us secede.


With Ukraine, things will get extremely painful. But one has to understand the degree of tension they feel. As it has been impossible for centuries to resolve it, it is now down to us to show good sense.


We must hand over the decision-making to them: federalists or separatists, whichever of them wins. Not to give in would be mad and cruel. The more lenient, patient, coherent we now are, the more hope there will be to restore unity in the future.


Let them live it, let them test it. They will soon understand that not all problems are resolved through separation. Since in different regions of Ukraine there is a different proportion of those who consider themselves Ukrainians, those who consider themselves Russians and those who consider themselves neither, there will be many difficulties there.


Maybe it will be necessary to have a referendum in each region and then ensure preferential and delicate treatment of those who would want to leave. Not the whole of Ukraine in its current formal Soviet borders is indeed Ukraine.


Some regions on the left bank [of the river Dnepr] clearly lean more towards Russia. As for Crimea, Khrushchev's decision to hand it over to Ukraine was totally arbitrary. And what about Carpathian (Red) Ruthenia? That will serve as a test too: While demanding justice for themselves, how just will the Ukrainians be to Carpathian Russians?


April 1981. From a letter to the Toronto conference on Russo-Ukrainian relations, Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute


Published in Russkaya Mysl, June 18, 1981. In Russia, published for the first time in the magazine Zvezda, No 12, 1993.

bottom of page