The Assassination of Symon Petlyura. From the Foreign Intelligence’s Archival Documents


The Foreign Intelligence’s archival documents, relating to the assassination of Ukrainian statesman and politician Symon Petlyura in Paris on May 25, 1926, show how the event was covered in the foreign press, how Ukrainian émigré circles reacted to it, and how it was interpreted and reflected in operative materials of Soviet special services. The declassified top-secret documents of the Foreign Department of the Joint State Political Directorate (OGPU) of the USSR are a strong argument in support of the conclusions made by domestic historians that the assassination was organized by Soviet authorities and the trial of the murderer was used to discredit both Petlyura himself and the entire Ukrainian liberation movement.

The documents in the Branch State Archives of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine are mostly separate documents, background information, reports of the Soviet Intelligence, which were sent by stations abroad to Moscow, and from there partially forwarded to the GPU of the Ukrainian SSR. They do not give the general and integral picture of preparation and commission of the murder by the anarchist and watchmaker Samuel Schwarzbard. It is impossible to learn the names of those behind him and who helmed the crime. Usually in those days the names of real perpetrators and organizers of assassinations of the enemies of the Soviet government were carefully concealed, and often all documentary evidence, as well as living witnesses would be destroyed.

Nevertheless, any evidence of this event is important today, including that which reflects the general atmosphere of the perception of this assassination by a number of European governments and the civilized public.

Here, for example, is a quote from the Foreign Office of the GPU of the Ukrainian SSR’s paper: “In the newspapers published in Romania and the Parisian Renaissance, there are witness accounts of the assassination of Petlyura. The newspapers portray it as follows: Petlyura lived in Paris with his wife and daughter. He always dined in a modest restaurant with his family, and always on the way home and to the restaurant he went past the park. On the fateful day for him, he was without his wife, because she was ill. When Petlyura was walking past the park in the afternoon, a stranger approached him and asked: “Are you Petlyura?» “Yes, I am Petlyura”. “Well, then defend yourself”. Having said this, the stranger shot at the Otaman, who fell, after which the stranger shot about 4-5 more bullets into Petlyura, who was lying. Petlyura only managed to say: “For God's sake, enough”... The murderer was caught by the crowd, people began to beat him and he would probably have been killed if the police had not been in time” (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F. 1. – Case 12617. Vol. 16. - P. 224).

It is now well known that Schwarzbard shot Petlyura at the corner of Rue Racine and Boulevard Saint-Michel. At 2:15 p.m., he approached the Otaman, who was standing near the bookstore, looking at the books, addressed him to see his face, and fired seven shots. From the first bullet that hit his right shoulder, Petlyura lost his balance and fell on the pavement. The attacker continued to shoot at him. The fifth bullet was fatal. It hit the victim's chest, passed through his lungs and heart, and caused significant hemorrhage. Two more bullets hit the pavement. At 2:40 p.m., Petlyura died without regaining consciousness.

Here is some information from another GPU report quoting an unnamed newspaper: “The killer tried to give the impression that in this way he was taking revenge for the Jewish pogroms in Ukraine. Such an explanation is a complete lie. Petlyura was never an anti-Semite, and even vice versa during his rule in Ukraine, an agreement was concluded between his government and the Jewish people of Ukraine. As a result, a post of Minister of Jewish Affairs was created, which was part of the government until the last moment. But Petlyura was the most ardent enemy of the Bolsheviks in Ukraine, and this is the circumstance that eloquently testifies to what was the reason for Petlyura’s tragic death” (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F. 1. - Case 12617. Vol. 16. - P. 264).

Archival documents mention how Petlyura's associates abroad collected information and documentary evidence for the trial that the Jewish pogroms in that difficult period of history were a natural phenomenon due to various reasons, but at the state level neither the UPR government nor the Armed Forces Command of the Republic had anything to do with them. Moreover, Petlyura himself strongly condemned Jewish pogroms.

This information was to be a strong argument against the line of defense of Samuel Schwarzbard, whose lawyer was Henri Torres, a strong supporter of the USSR and an unofficial legal adviser to the Soviet embassy in France. Other arguments by Petlyura's supporters were based on the fact that the murder was not an act of revenge for Jewish pogroms, but a secret operation by Soviet secret services. At this, a Mikhail Volodin appeared in testimonies of witnesses, who is called a Bolshevik agent in the media and who allegedly met with Schwarzbard several times on the eve of Petlyura's assassination, and then suddenly disappeared from Paris.

In the SZRU’s archive documents, the surname Volodin does not occur. Instead, there are a number of mentions that the assassination was planned by Soviet secret services. In particular, the message of the OGPU station from Paris dated August 19, 1926 entitled “Preparation for the Trial of Petlyura's Murderer” states: “On July 17, a meeting of Ukrainian organizations took place, at which Shulgin made a report on his trip to Paris. From his report we note the most interesting places: in Paris they are absolutely sure that Petlyura was killed by the Bolsheviks’ agent”… (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F. 1. – Case 10324. Vol. 2. – P. 23).

In another document, this version is specified and supported by new details. It is a message of the OGPU of the USSR dated June 17, 1926 entitled “The Assassination of Petlyura”. It reads as follows: “In the Socialist-Revolutionary circles of Paris, information was received from Berlin that Petlyura's assassination had been organized by the Soviets. The latter are allegedly very concerned about coming to power of Pilsudki- a great personal friend of Petlyura. In this regard, Moscow expected a revival of Petlyura's activities, supported by Pilsudski, to organize a new uprising against the Bolsheviks in Ukraine. Therefore, it was decided to kill Petlyura and at the same time intensify terror in Ukraine, which explains the intensified arrests that allegedly began there. The SRs intend to publish the above-mentioned documents for the general public” (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F. 1. – Case 10324. V. 1. – P. 342).

This and other information is also given in the Head of the GPU of the Ukrainian SSR, Vsevolod Balytskyi’s report to the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CP (B) U, Lazar Kaganovich. It states: “Petlyura's death caused great unrest among Ukrainian emigrants. Everyone thought it was the work of Moscow. The same was thought in government circles, especially in Poland…

In circles of political emigrees, they wanted to make an “argument” against the Bolsheviks over Petlyura's assassination. In the newspaper “Dni”, Colonel Poradelov expressed the opinion that Petlyura was killed in connection with the coup of his defender Pilsudski to end the communication that was being established. The “Latest News” was outraged by the “political assassination”. Assuring that this was done to stop Petlyura's activities, they included a message from the Ukrainian delegation “accusing Moscow”. The newspaper “Dni” also reprinted information from Polish and Polish-Ukrainian newspapers that the assassination was the work of the Comintern, and it happened because they were afraid that Polish-Ukrainian close relations would start again, which would lead to a union” (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F. 1. - Case 12624. V. 1. - P. 112–113).

The information about the Soviet leadership’s great fear that after coming to power in Poland, Józef Pilsudski would do his best to help Symon Petlyura in his aspirations to revive the independent Ukrainian state is also confirmed in other documents. The researchers also interpreted this information as indirect evidence of Moscow's being interested in destroying the leader of the Ukrainian emigration, both physically and morally, by discrediting him in the eyes of the world community. That is, the time for the terrorist attack and the perpetrator were chosen not accidentally.

For example, on February 10, 1926, the head of the UPR government in exile, Andriy Livytskyi, in a letter from Warsaw, where he lived, informed Petlyura that a coup d'etat was being prepared in Poland. He pointed out that it would result in coming to power of Marshal Józef Pilsudski, with whom he established close contact and received assurances of assistance to Ukrainians in the struggle against the Bolsheviks and restoration of independence of the UPR. The letter was intercepted by Chekists, assessed, reported to the leadership, and then they closely monitored how the events unfolded.

May 12, 1926, Józef Pilsudski staged a coup d'etat in Poland with the help of the military. Polish and Ukrainian political circles immediately began to talk about the restoration of Pilsudski's alliance with Petlyura and about a new campaign against the Bolsheviks. The GPU intensified its activities in this regard and regularly reported on such moods to the country's top leadership. This prompted the physical liquidation of a political opponent who was the leader of the Ukrainian emigrees and was among the first on the list of enemies of the Soviet government.

Resolutions on OGPU documents also testify that the Soviet leadership showed great interest in the case of Petlyura's assassination. For example, in a report from the Soviet intelligence station in Berlin dated June 14, 1926, entitled “Reasons for Pilsudski's Refusal. German-Polish Rapprochement. Petlyura's Death in the Polish-Ukrainian Coverage” mentions the names of the persons to whom this document was addressed for reference - Menzhynsky, Yagoda, Chicherin. And then it was added in red pencil: to Dzerzhinsky, Balitsky, Voroshilov.

Soviet secret services closely monitored all events related to this case, as well as the funeral. According to the documents, the leaders of the UPR emigrees Andriy Livytskyi, Valentyn Sadovskyi, General Volodymyr Salskyi and delegates of Ukrainian communities in Europe and America came to pay tribute to the Head of the Directory and the Chief Otaman of the UPR troops Symon Petlyura. The funeral was attended by Polish Military Attaché Colonel Kleberg, representing Polish Prime Minister Józef Pilsudski, as well as envoys from the French and Czech governments. “The fact of Petlyura's death greatly impressed the ranks of Pilsudski’s adherents” reads one of the reports of the GPU of the Ukrainian SSR. - Pilsudski expressed his condolences through his adjutant Andriy Livytskyi, in which he pointed out that “Poland will not forget the help of the Ukrainian people at a crucial moment for Poland” (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F. 1. - Case 12617. V.16. - P. 248).

A number of archival documents show how Petlyura's supporters gathered information for the trial, how they honored his memory, formed a society named after him, issued leaflets, newspapers, and gathered at his grave in the Montparnasse cemetery. In particular, one of the original photos shows delegates to the Congress of the Society of Former Soldiers of the UPR Army, who came to pay tribute to the former Chief Otaman in 1933. (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F. 1. – Case 6687. V. 1. - P. 206-06; 206-07).