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The Pogroms in Ukraine, 1918-19

Nokhem Shtif

II. Before the Pogroms and During the Pogroms

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The Pogrom Road

1We can now say with certainty that the strategic path of the Volunteer Army was the pogrom road, from its victory march of June–October 1919 to the terrified retreat before the Bolsheviks in November 1919–January/ February 1920. “Such-and-such unit of the Volunteer Army arrived and committed a pogrom and left with a pogrom,” is the same formula that summarizes the reports of news from the vast majority of communities: Bobrovytsia (Chernihiv province); Bohuslav, Horodyshche, Korsun, Cherkasy, Smila (Kiev province); Tomashpil (Podolia province), etc. Wherever the Volunteer Army set foot, the Jewish communities suffered savage murders, massacres, and rapes. The Volunteer road mainly followed the train lines, its general strategy being to continue the civil war, with no specific frontline, but rather along the railroads and waterways.

2So as soon as the Volunteer Army took a train station, especially a junction, it meant that the other side — the Bolsheviks or Petliura’s army — immediately ceded an area to the east or to the north, which was taken without a battle. In this way large parcels of territory were conquered automatically merely by taking particular train junctions. Huge tracts of land, therefore, were won without the use of weapons. That territory was conquered quietly, without battle, by the police and the militias. Because of that, and because the commanders of the Volunteer Army were very impatient to use all their strength to seize the center, Moscow, as soon as possible, they left the rear of the army unprotected. As a result not every Jewish community in Ukraine suffered Denikin’s pogroms. There simply were no Volunteer Army units there, no pogromists.

3The Volunteer Army crisscrossed through Ukraine on the railroad lines running from east to west: down the middle from Rostov to Kiev, through Kharkiv, Poltava, Ramodan; along the north through Sumy, Konotop, and Niezhyn (Chernihiv province); along the south through Znamenka and Fastiv. And on the side lines that connect the administrative centers (especially the line between Bakhmach and Cherkasy), on the line running north from Kiev to the Chernihiv district, on the line running south to the Kiev-Volyn area, where they forced Petliura’s army to the Kiev-Kozyatyn line. A glance at these routes gives us a picture of the geography of the pogroms.

4The worst devastation occurred precisely at these rail centers: Konotop, Niezhyn, Bobrovytsia, Kremenchug, Cherkasy, Khorol, Pryluk, Bila-Tserkava, Fastiv, etc. or very near these train stations: Kaniv, Stepanets, Bohuslav, Mezhyrich, Rossovo, Tagancha, Hostomel, Makarov (Kiev province); Borzna, Novy-Malyn, Ostior (Chernihiv province). The converse is also true: historians of Denikin’s expedition will be able to easily trace the Volunteer Army’s movements, victories, and defeats by following the bloody tracks of its pogroms.

The Ebb and Flow of the Wave of Pogroms

Types of Pogroms

5The wave of pogroms increased as the Volunteer Army advanced deeper into Jewish territory, those areas where the Jewish population was in the majority in the cities and towns, especially in Kiev province. The Army felt the need to celebrate victories, to confirm their hope and certainty of winning the war. They were constantly being incited into a savage hatred of the Jews. The attitude towards pogroms was very clear that Jews were worthless, and there was no need to fear punishment. Under such circumstances, pogroms increased, and took on new targets and new tactics. Three stages can be discerned:

  • 1 Elias Heifetz, in his The Slaughter of the Jews in Ukraine (New York: Thomas Seltzer, 1921), p. 111 (...)

1. The period of “quiet pogroms,” as we might call them, mostly in Kharkiv, Poltava, and Yekaterinoslav provinces. It meant assaults against individual people. Every day people were attacked and beaten, and a few Jewish homes were plundered. But since it dragged on for months (for example in Kharkiv, Yekaterinoslav, Kiev), it victimized the whole Jewish community. The main purpose was quick robbery, especially of money, jewelry, valuables. Murders were few, and they tried to excuse those by claiming that only Communists were being targeted or their sympathizers. The worst part of these “quiet pogroms” was the rape of Jewish women. The longer the pogrom lasted, the more women were raped. This was notably true in Yekaterinoslav.
2. The period of mass pogroms, in the eastern part of Poltava province, in the southern part of Chernihiv province, and the eastern part of Kiev province. During two or three days the entire Jewish population was systematically attacked and plundered. They went from house to house, pillaging everything, taking shirts right off people and their last shoes. They plundered the houses completely, from pianos to kitchen utensils, as well as the stores. They loaded everything onto wagons and took it all home to their lodgings on “the quiet Don.” They would hold an auction for some of the things, and sold them for change to Christians from town or from nearby. In addition, they would destroy any Jewish possessions that they could not steal or sell. They would burn some of their houses and shops, and murder them a few at a time. Sometimes they would extort huge bribes to let them live, especially with “Nikolayev” money. They raped Jewish women en masse.
3. The period of bloody pogroms, or slaughters in Kiev and Chernihiv provinces at the end of August and September 1919, and in Podolia province while retreating until February 1920. Such pogroms were perpetrated first in locales that changed hands many times in succession, like Borzna which changed hands five times. They were taking revenge for recent defeats, and the fabricated excuse was that Jews had shot at the Volunteer Army from their homes and hidden places. This occurred in Niezhyn, Borzna, Konotop, and Novy-Malyn (Chernihiv province) and Fastiv (Kiev province). It occurred mainly on their retreat in Krivoye-Ozero, Tomashpil (Podolia province), and some places in Kiev province. These were mass murders of the Jewish residents who could not hide or escape, in the most barbaric ways: 600 souls in Fastiv, and about the same number in Krivoye-Ozero.1 They could not ransom their lives. Complete devastation, arson, and rape were the rule.

6There was a little variation in the course of the pogroms, both as to their duration and as to the excuses that were fabricated. For example, no excuse was made for the slaughter in Rossovo (Kiev province), on August 28, 1919, as soon as the Volunteer Army took the town. But as a rule the pogroms of the Volunteer Army followed the same pattern.

  • 2 These settlements were not ignored, and there were slaughters in Balashov on 14 July, in Kozlov and (...)
  • 3 Konstantin Mamontov.
  • 4 Andrei Grigorevich Shkuro.

7There were some changes after the mass murders of September 1919, probably due to new situations on the frontlines. The murderous energy of the Volunteer Army faltered as the Bolsheviks strengthened their position in the western part of Kiev province along the Irpen River to Berdychiv and further, and in the northern part of Chernihiv province. They began to drive out the Volunteer Army. The Poles controlled the western part of Volyn and Podolia provinces, part of Galicia (the Vinnytsia district). The south, in Kherson province and part of Podolia, where Baron Schilling’s army was operating, was disconnected from north Ukraine, because in the middle — in Yekaterinoslav province and also in Tovarish — Ataman Makhno was attacking. The powers that had ruled Ukraine were now being expelled to the north and the east. Most of the fighting was taking place in the Russian provinces, where there were small Jewish agricultural settlements on the roads to Moscow,2 with attacks by Mamontov3 and Shkuro.4 When they were finished with the more recent communities, they turned on the long-established ones that had already suffered pogroms. The wave of massacres ebbed into “quiet pogroms.”

  • 5 Nikolai Bredov: lieutenant-general in the Russian army and a commander of the Volunteer Army.
  • 6 Historically, numerous Cossacks from the Don and Kuban region fought in cavalry regiments in the Ru (...)

8A new wave erupted with the shattering of the Volunteer Army in a terrified rout before the Red Army. They committed pogroms a second time, a third, a fourth, in parts of Kiev province: December 1919: Horodyshche, Cherkasy, Smila, Stavyshche, Monastyryshche, Tetiiv, and others. Part of Bredov’s5 army tried to break through to Rumania, but they were stopped, so they turned back and perpetrated pogroms in Podolia Province. January–February 1920: Tomashpil, Yampol, Miaskova, Dzhurin, Yaruga, Verbka, and others. And at the end of April 1920, when Petliura launched a new attack in Ukraine with the Poles, we find the old pogromists, the few remnants of Denikin’s Don Cossacks and Kuban Cossacks6 again slaughtering in Kalyus (Podolia province), this time in the service of Petliura or the Poles!


9Before going into a description of the pogrom activities of the Volunteer Army, and its disastrous effects on Jewish life, one aspect of the Army’s treatment of the Jews is worth noting because it is characteristic of its whole campaign of pogroms. I am referring to the seizing of Jewish hostages. They resurrected this tactic, which the old Tsarist regime had tried and abandoned during the World War. Its purpose, like that of other outrages, had been to demonstrate that “the Jews are the enemies of Russia,” and they must be reduced to their old status of servility and submission.

10On June 18 and 19, they seized eleven people as hostages in Valk (Kharkiv province): Shlessberg, a watchmaker; Glikin a tailor; Katz, a student; Brandes, a woman; a doctor, and others. The fabricated pretext was that when the Bolsheviks had retreated from various locales, they had taken hostages from the upper class, although without regard to nationality, Jews and Christians alike. Five of the Jewish hostages worked alongside their Russian co-workers in gardens that members of the Kharkiv Vegetarian Society had planted. A spokesman for that group, Grigory Khvostaty, stood up for those hostages, and was told: “We have nothing against your gardeners, only against a certain nationality.” The second in command added: “All kikes are Bolsheviks. You can slash them and murder them.” They shot one of the hostages, Glikin, on June 20. Shlessberg went insane. The rest were let go on July 1. The Volunteer Army was then starting to launch its military operations. Everywhere they were proclaiming that it was democratic and would treat all the nationalities of Russia equally, and the commanders realized that hostage-taking wasn’t appropriate. But the simple Cossack and officer, who took no interest in politics, found a better way to keep “the enemies” terrorized: a pogrom.

The Welcome

11It has already been noted that after the rule of the Bolsheviks, some Jews of the business and industrial class were ready to welcome the Volunteer Army as “their own” regime, which would restore a climate of private ownership and commerce. But even the majority of Jews, going against their economic interests and political sympathies, were terrified and depressed by unending pogroms, and naively hoped that the Volunteer Army would be a pillar of “law and order” and would certainly establish a “strong hand” to save the Jews from pogroms. That is why it was common that the Volunteer Army was welcomed warmly, and delegations were sent to greet them with bread and salt. They offered them food and raised sums of money were for the Army.

12But even then, right at the start, their disappointment was bitter. We will mention just a few examples among many. On August 25, 1919, in Boryspil (Poltava province) a Jewish delegation came out three times to welcome their honored guests. They asked to meet with the commander, but received this reply: “Bread and salt will not help you, Jewish murderers!” On September 13, a reconnaissance unit approached Bobrovytsia. Jews and Christians went to meet them, and the Jews were thankful that the threat of a pogrom no longer hung over them from one of Romashko’s gangs who were active in the area. But now they heard, “What are the kikes so happy about? Our men are coming, and we’ll butcher them all.” And, as elsewhere, they were prepared to fulfill their promise. They began to plunder and rape and murder Jews. Nor was money of any use when the military attacked a Jewish home at dinner time on October 17 in Pavoloch (Kiev province). And it didn’t help any that they generously fed the Cossacks in Fastiv.

13The Jewish delegation in Korsun met a harrowing end. The Bolsheviks had fled on August 24. The town learned that a unit of the Terek Plastun Brigade was 8 or 10 versts away at Razodovka village. A delegation of four Christians and three Jews went to meet them and to welcome them to their town. On August 25 a small group of Cossacks arrived. Christians and Jews led by the rabbi greeted them. A meeting was held. Speeches were made, and assurances were given that the peaceful residents had nothing to fear; there would be no massacres; the inhabitants should remain calm and friendly, etc. The next day, on August 26, local Bolsheviks retook the town for a few hours. Two of the Jewish delegation (Scheinblum and Slavutsky) were murdered, because they had been sympathetic to the Volunteer Army. The third man went into hiding.

14Later that day a unit of the Plastun Brigade arrived and drove out the Bolsheviks, and they immediately began a slaughter. The rabbi, who had welcomed the Volunteer Army just the day before, was murdered in the most savage way. He was literally ripped apart. In general the pogroms started with the delegation. On August 29th, in Kaharlik (Kiev province) they greeted the Jewish delegation graciously. But the officer had barely turned away when his men attacked them and robbed them of everything. In the little town of Kobyzhcha (Chernihiv province) they attacked the Jewish delegation, which had come to the train station, and stole everything from them, stripped them naked from head to toe, and beat them. The town of Makarov, which had 4,000 Jewish souls, had already suffered through a series of pogroms from June to the end of August at the hands of local gangs. Most of the Jews had fled, leaving about 200 old men and women. They sent a delegation of 17 white-haired elderly people. Not one of them returned. They had been hacked to pieces.


15As has been noted, in many cases they began with the delegations, as a signal to start. A military unit comes to town, usually Cossacks, and they spread out in groups of 5, 6, or 10 men, often with officers. They rob and beat Jews who happen to be on the street, they strip them naked, shoot them and slash them with swords, and force the unfortunates to show them where there are richer Jews, and Jews in general. In many cases local hooligans join in, they lead the way and are thrown a bone from the bloody meal. They demand money from the Jews in their homes, especially “Nikolayev,” and jewelry, gold, and silver. Terrified Jews, who have already suffered through earlier pogroms, waste no time in spreading out on the table everything that is in their pockets and chest of drawers.

16And the Cossacks immediately pack everything into their bags and sacks. They take everything down to the last shirt. But they’re not satisfied with that, and demand what has been hidden away. They terrorize them into revealing what is hidden and where, by inflicting the most cruel savagery, like lynchings. But they won’t believe them, and rip apart ovens, walls, floors, and bedspreads. They destroy attics and cellars and dig up yards. If they’re still not satisfied with their plunder, or if they find something hidden, they torture them and threaten them with death and pretend to shoot them, and then extort huge sums to let them live. And they tell them to borrow the money from their Christian neighbors.

17In the midst of all this horror — as women and children are wailing and weeping, as the wounded are moaning, as windows are being smashed, furniture is ripped apart, ovens are being trashed, and walls are torn down — they start raping the women right in front of their parents, husbands, and children, and then leave the area. They pay no mind to the parents. Pleading and crying are of no use. Every attempt at resistance by the woman or the others ends with murder. Often they drag the women away with them. When they’re finished, they take all the Jewish possessions and pack them onto wagons, their own or those of farmers, or in trucks, take them to the station and load up the train cars. Sometimes, as in Bila-Tserkava, they turn the plunder over to their women who have come with them from the Don and the Kuban to watch. They smash whatever they do not want or cannot take with them, like furniture, or give it to local hooligans and farmers who have come prepared with wagons and sacks. And again they attack the homes, breaking down doors, windows, ovens. They turn the houses into ruins, when they don’t just burn them down.

18One group leaves and another comes, then a third, etc., each one taking what has been left behind. Each time they again demand money, jewelry, etc. They rage like wild beasts, beating and torturing, stabbing and shooting at those who have not managed to escape and hide the first time around. They hunt down the Jews, who run through the streets from house to house, almost naked and barefoot, half-crazed, desperately looking for a place to hide, a hole, a field, a woods. The best they hope for is to hide with a Christian neighbor. But not for long, because the rumor spreads that Christians may not hide Jews, and even a good Christian pleads with the Jew to leave, or just throws him out. This “wildness” can last “legally” for three days, the Cossacks report, but sometimes goes longer, sometimes shorter, depending on how long it takes to finish the job.

19During all this there are some desperate and daring Jews who struggle to find their way to “the authorities” to make their accusations. First they get a lecture: “Kikes are commissars”… all Jews are Bolsheviks… Jews have ruined Russia… Jews are the enemies of the Volunteer Army. Then they are insulted and thrown out, depending on the personal whim of the local commander, the garrison chief, etc. They are advised to offer a generous bribe to the Cossacks, and nothing more will happen, because “Measures have already been taken.” But it is obvious from the words of “the authorities,” and it is made abundantly clear, that nothing can be done because the Cossacks are “extremely angry” with Jewish Bolsheviks, and “they are right.” Sometimes the order is given that “violent acts” against peaceful residents must stop. But these “measures” and “orders” have this in common: no one pays attention to them. The pogrom criminals know “the authorities” well, and they laugh at their paper displeasure and their paper threats. The pogroms run their course until their natural end: when there is nothing more to pillage, nothing left to destroy. Usually the order to stop comes after it is all done. There was a case in Bila-Tserkava, where Colonel Sakharov proclaimed an order banning pogroms on September 1, 1919, two weeks after the pogrom had begun.

20After a few days, the remaining survivors crawl out of their hideouts and start collecting the corpses of the murdered in the houses, the attics, and the cellars, and on the streets where the dogs and pigs have ripped them apart. They bury them in mass graves and pay their last respects. Sometimes when Jews gather for this tragic ceremony, it becomes another opportunity to take revenge on “the Bolsheviks,” to steal their last pair of boots, to rape the women, etc. At such a funeral in Bobrovytsia they raped the 15-year-old daughter of the caretaker at the cemetery. Finally “things quiet down,” as the commanders write in their reports.

21The “quiet pogrom” now replaces the mass pillage and murders. Jews are robbed on the street and in their homes. As soon as the sun sets, the town becomes deathly quiet. There are no Jews on the street. Dozens of families gather in the few houses that are still intact, so as to get through the terror together, through the awful nights. They lock themselves in, they bolt the doors and gates and listen for every sound. In this deadly silence they can hear rifle shots here and there, followed by terrible screams. They come from a house that has been attacked and from the neighbors: banging, drumming, whistling — a primitive way to let “the authorities” know and to scare away the murderers.

  • 7 Richard Pipes estimates that 300 Jews were murdered in this “quiet pogrom.” See Russia Under the Bo (...)
  • 8 ‘The Terror Inquisition, ’ Kievlyanin, No. 37, dated 8/21 October 1919 [note by the author].

22We have an account of that terror and those harrowing screams in the black of night, related with the highest level of credibility.7 It was described by none other than V. V. Shulgin, editor of Kievlyanin, a highly-placed source, the true ideologue of the pogrom campaign. He certainly has no interest in exaggerating the massacres by his Volunteer Army. He writes: “At night a medieval terror reigns in the streets of Kiev. In the empty streets and the deathly quiet heart-rending screams can be heard. It is the “kikes” who are screaming. They are screaming in terror. On a dark street somewhere a mob of people with knives rushes through apartment buildings from top to bottom. Whole streets, overcome with terror, are screaming with horrendous voices fearing for their lives. It is terrifying to hear these voices… harrowing, a veritable Inquisition that the whole Jewish community is experiencing.”8 At that time V. V. Shulgin was living in a Jewish neighborhood in Kiev, incidentally not far from the commander-in-chief of the Kiev district, General [Vladimir Mikhailovich] Dragomirov. He certainly heard plenty of “those harrowing screams,” especially on the nights of October 17–22, 1919, and we can trust him. He modestly veils the atrocities of those “people with knives,” and, incidentally, he draws a moral lesson from this horrendous tragedy, both for him and for the Jews. We will discuss this more later.

23So it grows “quiet” until the next occasion. For example, a military unit leaves and another comes in its stead; or there’s a defeat on the front; or the Bolsheviks take a town for a while and then they are driven out, and are forced to retreat. Pogroms erupt each time with increasing ferocity. These repeat pogroms are often the bloodiest, the most horrendous.

24In such cases it develops in a state of permanent pogrom that can last for weeks or months as in Bobrovytsia, Borzna, Niezhyn (Chernihiv province); Bohuslav, Bila-Tserkava, Fastiv, Cherkasy (Kiev province); and others. It was most savage when they took over a town and when they left it, and in between there was a “quiet pogrom.” In the larger cities, like Kharkiv, Yekaterinoslav, and Kiev, it was mostly a “quiet pogrom” with mass slaughter only on occasion. Kiev suffered such mass pogroms on October 17–22, when the Volunteer Army was beaten by the Reds and then took back the city, under the eyes of General Dragomirov, their supreme commander, General Bredov, the military leader, and other “authorities.”

25The permanent pogrom ebbs or stops for a while only in two situations: either when the Cossacks leave, or when the last remaining Jews escape. Whole Jewish communities that could no longer bear the Inquisition and living in mortal fear, and had nothing more to lose, took the elderly and the children and the sick and set out on foot wherever the dangerous road would take them, usually to the nearest Jewish community, which had been devastated and turned to ruins, just like their own.


1 Elias Heifetz, in his The Slaughter of the Jews in Ukraine (New York: Thomas Seltzer, 1921), p. 111, puts the number murdered in Fastiv at 1,500–1,800.

2 These settlements were not ignored, and there were slaughters in Balashov on 14 July, in Kozlov and Yelets, 31 August/7 September, in Oriol and others [note by the author].

3 Konstantin Mamontov.

4 Andrei Grigorevich Shkuro.

5 Nikolai Bredov: lieutenant-general in the Russian army and a commander of the Volunteer Army.

6 Historically, numerous Cossacks from the Don and Kuban region fought in cavalry regiments in the Russian army under the Tsar, as well as in the ‘White’ armies during the Civil War against the Bolsheviks.

7 Richard Pipes estimates that 300 Jews were murdered in this “quiet pogrom.” See Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime (New York: Knopf, 1993), p. 108.

8 ‘The Terror Inquisition, ’ Kievlyanin, No. 37, dated 8/21 October 1919 [note by the author].


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