“Samopomich” ideology derives from such an extraordinary historical phenomenon as the movement of Ukrainian cooperation, which swept the lands of Western Ukraine in the early 20th century.
Since the end of the 19th century various European peoples have been fighting for their national rights freeing themselves from the shackles of colonial rule. Ukrainians weren’t an exception – in the lands of the Greater Ukraine (which was under the rule of the Russian Empire), and on the territories of Halychyna, Bukovyna and Carpathian Ruthenia (Austria-Hungary) they joined together to spread the idea of national liberation and unity of the Ukrainian lands, looked for the most effective forms of survival and development.
At the beginning of the century a number of political leaders of the Ukrainian movement in Halychyna, in particular Dr. Yevhen Olesnytskyi (lawyer, chairman of Stryiska “Posvita” and a member of the Austro-Hungarian Parliament since 1907), conceived to promote the cooperative movement among Ukrainian peasants.
Dr. Olesnytskyi was convinced that prior to imposing political ideas on ordinary people, it is necessary to secure their basic needs – the ability to support a family, to educate children, to make a decent living out of their hard work. “You won’t do policy with the poor,” said Yevhen Olesnytskyi and organized seminars, where he gathered those like-minded.
His call was supported by local “Prosvita” activists, and already in 1904 in the village of Zavadiv in Stryi region local priest and composer Ostap Nyzhankivskyi set up the first dairy cooperative.
After certain mistrust and resistance of conservative peasants were overcome, came the first success: people saw that it is economically profitable to join forces. The idea quickly spread over the region – cooperatives started to appear like mushrooms in the darkness, and demanded new forms of cooperation. The Union of Ruthenian Dairy Unions was created, and under the leadership of Ostap Nyzhankivskyi it brought together more than one hundred unions by 1914.
At the same time, they began to issue their own press organ – the newspaper, which was called “Samopomich”.
World War I and then the Ukrainian-Polish war of 1918-1920 over the lands of Halychyna prevented the development of the business. Most of the cooperation’s activists became leaders of the West Ukrainian People’s Republic. Ostap Nyzhankivskyi himself headed Stryi District Commissariat and was killed in the battle for the city on May 13, 1919.
After the war, the idea of co-operative movement started evolving with renewed vigour. Former officers of the Ukrainian Halychyna Army, who for some time were in exile, studied the experience of cooperation in Czechoslovakia and Denmark, returned home and brought back the best European practice of cooperative business management.
By the end of the 1930s the members of a new corporation – Ukrainian “Maslosoyuz” Union – were already 500,000 farms of Halychyna, and the very Union became an important player in the market of agricultural products not only in Halychyna, but also in Europe.
In addition to agriculture, on the principles of cooperation and using the slogan “A friend to a friend to give each other a hand” Ukrainians of Halychyna organized banking business (Bank “Dniester”), a huge trading network (“Maslosoyuz” and “People’s Trade” shops), supervisory structures (Audit Union of Ukrainian Cooperatives), insurance companies and the like.
At the same time Ukrainian cooperation was not only an economic phenomenon, but also included cultural, scientific, military, educational and sports spheres. It was the need to organize their own, independent from the state national life that pushed Ukrainians to the principle of self-organization.
Representatives of “Prosvita” and “Native school” built almost an alternative system of education, in which Ukrainians received the knowledge ignored in public schools.
“Plast”, “Sokil”, “Vidrodzhennia”, “Ukraine” Sports Society popularized healthy lifestyle and sports.
Shevchenko Scientific Society was a kind of non-state Academy of Sciences.
A person who played a significant role in the history of Ukrainian revival and cooperative movement, in particular, was the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky. For Ukrainians he became not only a great moral and spiritual authority, but also an example of service to social needs of people. On his initiative church actively constructed and took care of schools, hospitals, orphanages. Metropolitan Sheptytsky himself, being a descendant of a wealthy aristocratic family, actively financed most of the important social projects of the time. Religious leaders were among the most active participants in the Ukrainian cooperation movement.
The Second World War and especially the post-war Soviet repressions destroyed this phenomenon. All organizations were eliminated. Activists of the movement either ended up in exile, or went underground and took part in guerrilla warfare, or were victims of arrests and executions by the NKVD.