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


258 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-2230-1
DDC 971.063'2




Reviewed by Myroslav Shkandrij

Myroslav Shkandrij is head of the Department of German and Slavic
Studies at the University of Manitoba and the editor of The Cultural
Renaissance in Ukraine: Polemical Pamphlets, 1925–1926.


Canada entered World War II, as was stated in the Atlantic Charter, in
the cause of “social and international justice at home and abroad.”
Much was made of the fact that Nazi Germany had stripped nations of
their sovereign rights, which the Allies sought to restore. The issue of
Ukraine’s demands for self-determination, however, threatened to
expose a glaring contradiction in Canadian and Allied policy. On the one
hand, the principle of self-determination and justice for nations
dictated that the demand be taken seriously; on the other, the need for
security seemed to indicate that it should be ignored. Raising the
Ukrainian question during 1939–41 disturbed the Poles and the British,
who demanded the restoration of a Polish state within the prewar
borders, which, of course, included Western Ukraine. Raising the
question after 1941, when the Soviet Union had joined the war against
Hitler, would have distracted from the war effort and enraged the ally
on the eastern front. Toward the end of the war, when it became clear
that the Stalin had no intention of returning territory he had acquired
at the outset of the war after he and Hitler partitioned Poland, any
mention of the Ukrainian question would have alienated the superpower
that had emerged out of the new world order.

This book tells the story of how Canadian diplomacy managed this issue.
It guides the reader through the evolution of official Canadian policy,
maps the government’s discussions with Britain and other allies, and
explains its attitude to the large and vocal Ukrainian community in
Canada. The story that emerges is one of strong prejudices at the
highest levels against “foreign born” Canadians, and of naive views
concerning Soviet reality (which were rudely dispelled at the end of the
war by Gouzenko’s revelations of espionage). In the light of what we
know today, the readiness of some Canadian authorities to brand
nationalist Ukrainians as “fascists,” or to dismiss claims for
self-determination and to reject the idea that Canada should adhere to
the liberal promise of international justice, reveal not a firm grasp of
realpolitik but shortsightedness and a lack of principle. The author
offers a nuanced account of different opinions in the Canadian
intelligence establishment (with a particular focus on the activity and
opinions of Tracy Philipps, who emerges as something of a hero) and in
the Ukrainian community (where the views of the main players, both
nationalist and pro-Soviet, are provided).

Kordan’s carefully researched text draws on Canadian, British, and
Soviet archival materials, weaving an intricate texture without losing
sight of the main outline. The book is of interest not only for the way
it illuminates international relations, but also because of the
connection it draws between domestic imperatives, such as the perceived
need to integrate or assimilate “ethnic” groups, and how these
imperatives influenced foreign policy decisions.


Kordan, Bohdan S., “Canada and the Ukrainian Question, 1939-1945: A Study in Statecraft,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 13, 2024,