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Imperiia: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

Kharkov and Political Parties

By the 1840s, intellectuals in Kiev began a political society called the Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood. The society aimed to revive the notions of traditional Ukrainian society and envisioned a Ukrainian state independent from the Russian Empire. The Russian Empire noticed this threat and acted swiftly. In 1847, members of the brotherhood were arrested, put on trial, and found guilty. Some were imprisoned while some were exiled, all forbidden to live in Ukraine after their sentencing. Although this movement occured in Kiev, it is important in understanding Kharkov; it sparked a larger nationalist movement that inspired intellectuals in Kharkov. This time in Ukrainian history showed how the Russian Empire was quick to shut down any threats of separatism. The Empire would from this point be suspect to Ukrainian nationalism, when it was previously allowed if not supported.

In 1900, students at the University of Kharkov founded Ukraines very first political party, The Revolutionary Ukrainian Party. The government at the time had prohibited Ukrainian groups, sensing the threat of the growing Ukrainian nationalism throughout the late 1800s. This political party was formed by Marxists and nationalists who did not support the all-Russian revolutionary parties and desired a distinct Ukrainian party. As the party disagreed on platform and program, a split occurred and a second Ukrainian nationalist party was formed, the Ukrainian People’s Party. These two groups disagreed on what should come first, social change or national liberation. Soon, Ukrainian parties formed, each drawing inspiration from the first one founded in Kharkov. In 1905, the first ever Russian parliament was formed and held elections. The Ukrainian activists tried to get a hold on seats within the parliament and demanded for the use of Ukrainian language in schools, among other administrative reforms that would allow for the rise of a Ukrainian identity. Over the next decade, the parliament was unstable, dissolving and reconvening sporadically. The absolvement of the parliament ended the chances for the Ukrainians to grasp power on a larger level.

The nationalist movement throughout the 1800s in Kharkov showed the dissatisfaction of the Ukrainians towards the Russian Empire. The Ukrainians in the region had no social, economic, or political advantages in the Empire due to their ethnicity. In order to become more integrated in Russian society, they had to become more “Russian” through assimilation and adoption of culture and identity that was different from their own. This forced integration stemming from St. Petersburg resulted in growing discontent among the Ukrainians who began to search for an identity that best fit their own culture and societies.

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