Canada and the Ukrainian Question, 1939-1945: A Study in Statecraft

By Makar, Alexander | Canadian Slavonic Papers, September-December 2002 | Go to article overview

Canada and the Ukrainian Question, 1939-1945: A Study in Statecraft


Makar, Alexander, Canadian Slavonic Papers


Bohdan S. Kordan. Canada and the Ukrainian Question, 1939-1945: A Study in Statecraft. McGill-Queen's Studies in Ethnic History: Series Two. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001. xiii, 258 pp. Notes. Index. $75.00, cloth. $27.95, paper.

After a plethora of new books and articles from the 1970s to the early 1990s, the field of Ukrainian-Canadian studies witnessed a decrease in scholarly publication in the following decade. In this context, a new book by Bohdan S. Kordan is especially welcome and timely.

Kordan's book focuses on the Canadian government's position regarding the issue of Ukrainian independence, championed by the large and strategically important Ukrainian community in Canada during World War II. Its six chapters logically integrate theoretical framework and factual discussion of the topic. Chapter 1 presents the background against which the official decision-making process regarding the Ukrainian question can be understood. The author argues that the bureaucracy's priorities were constructed upon its assessment of national security needs, with external security outweighing all other considerations. In the context of World War II, this meant that the concerns of Canadian politics were focused on support of the Allied war effort and securing a significant role for Canada in the postwar international world. Kordan points to the contradiction inherent in Canada's approach to the Ukrainian question. On the one hand, the idea that Ukrainians were entitled to independence fitted perfectly into Canada's liberal-democratic ideas of national rights and national self-determination. However, on the other hand, the Allies, including Canada, were fighting against Nazi Germany so that the prewar order in Europe could be re-established. This order did not include an independent Ukraine. The author stresses that support of Ukraine's independence by the sizeable Ukrainian community in Canada-which was well-represented in the key wartime sectors, namely the economy- as well as the strength of that community's moral argument posed a complex and delicate situation for the Canadian government (p. 9).

In Chapters 2 to 5, Kordan analyzes how the government's policy towards the Ukrainian community and the Ukrainian question was transformed with the chronological sequence of the war. Initially, as the Western democracies outlined war aims reaffirming the right of nations for self-determination, Ukrainians in Canada viewed this as an opportunity to promote their cause. However, the Canadian leadership was cautious about supporting this movement, as it would pose a challenge to the European order and would create difficulties with the other western Allies who were supporting Poland's demands for its pre-1939 borders, including a large part of the western Ukrainian territories. The position of the Ukrainian independence movement in Canada grew more questionable with the Nazi attack of the Soviet Union in June 1941 and the latter's becoming an important war ally for the Western powers. While the Ukrainian community continued to press for Canada's support for Ukrainian independence, Canadian officials were looking for ways to contain this independence movement. …

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