Paul Robert Magocsi

Chapter 39 from the book ”History of Ukraine”,  Toronto / 1996   

Map: Andrew Andersen / 2005




From the very beginning of World War I in August 1914, the western Ukrainian lands, in particular Galicia and Bukovina, were in the center of military activity along the eastern front. As a result, Galician and Bukovinian political life was restricted largely to the activity of its leaders, who spent most of the war years in the imperial Habsburg capital of Vienna. When the Austrian parliament was reconvened in May 1917, the Ukrainian Parliamentary Representation led by Ievhen Petrushevych refused flatly any future political status that would place the Ukrainians of Galicia in the same province with the Poles. Hence, the old call for the division of Galicia was reiterated once again, although now it was the minimal demand of the Ukrainian leaders. The Austrian response was the same as before —procrastination. The Habsburg government continued to argue that no internal structural changes to the empire could be made until the end of the war. In February 1918, at the negotiations which led to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Austrian government did promise that a law outlining the division of Galicia would be drawn up by July of that year. Nothing came of the promise, however. Still, many Galician Ukrainians continued to hope that their political needs could be met within the context of the Habsburg Empire.


Austria's Ukrainians prepare for their postwar future

By the fall of 1918, however, when it became obvious that the Central Powers had lost the war, certain Galician and Bukovinian Ukrainians began to prepare for the inevitable change in the status of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By late 1918, the international situation had altered radically. The Entente powers had already adopted as their war aim the so-called Fourteen-Point Peace Program issued in January 1918 by the United States president Woodrow Wilson, with its proclamation that a future peace should be governed by the principle of national self-determination. One of Wilson's Fourteen Points proposed independence for a restored Poland. Another called for autonomy for all the peoples of Austria-Hungary, although many in the empire understood 'autonomy' to mean national self-determination or independence. The Ukrainians, like other Habsburg peoples, took the Entente's proclamations seriously. The first to respond to the new political environment were Ukrainian officers in the Austro-Hungarian Army, who in September 1918 organized in L’viv (Lwow) (Lwow) the Central Military Committee to coordinate plans with the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen (then stationed in Bukovina) for the eventual seizure of power.




Sich Rifleman / 1918

Reconstruction by O. Rudenko


Realizing that the old order was doomed, on 16 October 1918 Emperor Charles (reigned 1916-1918) issued a manifesto proposing that the Austro-Hungarian Empire be transformed into a federal state and calling upon the nationalities to organize themselves for that transformation. Once again, Vienna was responding to a pressing political crisis with a solution that was too little too late. Federalism was hardly an acceptable proposal for national movements that already had embarked on separate paths toward independence and were acting as if the empire already had ceased to exist. The Ukrainians, however, ever hopeful of a Habsburg solution, responded.


Four days before the October 16 manifesto, Galicia's best-known Ukrainian leaders — Ievhen Petrushevych, Iuliian Romanchuk, and Metropolitan Andrei Sheptyts'kyi (back home after his release from detention in a Russian monastery) — had met to make plans to convoke a Ukrainian constituent assembly. The emperor's manifesto now seemed to confirm the legality of such an assembly. With the cooperation of other political and religious leaders from Galicia and Bukovina, the Ukrainian National Council (Ukrains'ka Narodna Rada) was constituted in L’viv (Lwow) (Lwow) on 18 October. The new council chose Ievhen Petrushevych as its president and, invoking the principle of national self-determination, proclaimed the existence of a state on all Ukrainian lands within Austria-Hungary. Transcarpathia was also included in the proposed Ukrainian state, even though no representatives from that region were present at the L’viv (Lwow) (Lwow) national council. Despite the proclamation of Ukrainian statehood, there was no mention of secession from Austria-Hungary. This meant that the Ukrainians left open the possibility of belonging to a federation within the Habsburg Empire and, therefore, acted within the 'legal' guidelines of the 16 October imperial manifesto.


West Ukrainian independence and war

The Ukrainian National Council did, however, claim the right to rule over the territories it considered its own, and on 1 November it demanded that the viceroy in Galicia (Karl Huyn) surrender his authority. Faced with pressure by Ukrainian units of the imperial army, the last Habsburg viceroy turned over his governmental offices to the Ukrainians. That same day, the National Council proclaimed that the state, which had first been called into being on 18 October, was henceforth an independent country. Thus, in November 1918 became the 'second' Ukrainian independence day. Two weeks later, the new state was given the name West Ukrainian National Republic (Zakhidn'o-Ukrains'ka Narodna Respublika).





Ievhen Petrushevych (centre) with the members of his cabinet (December, 1918)


Blossoming out of a dying empire, western Ukrainian independence seems to have been achieved with ease. But appearances are frequently deceiving. The Poles were not about to let the Ukrainians take over what they considered their own national patrimony, Galicia – both the heavily Ukrainian-populated eastern half and the Polish western half. Several Polish organizations in L’viv (Lwow) (Lwow) armed themselves, and on in November, the same day the Austrians surrendered the reins of government, the Ukrainians found themselves engaged in a war with the local Poles. Initially, the Ukrainians held L’viv (Lwow) and other cities in eastern Galicia, but by 21 November they had been driven from their new capital, and they were forced to move their government, first to Ternopil' and in early January to Stanyslaviv.

In the midst of war with the Poles, the Ukrainian National Council passed a law on 13 November 1918 that formally created an independent West Ukrainian National Republic. Its territory was to include the Ukrainian-inhabited lands of Galicia (primarily east of the San River), of Bukovina, and of Transcarpathia (parts of seven counties in northeastern Hungary). It was only in eastern Galicia, however, that the Ukrainians were able, at least for a while, to set up an administration, because Bukovina had already been occupied by Romanian troops, on 11 November, and with the exception of the short-term presence of a few troops Transcarpathia never came under West Ukrainian control.





Until the convocation of parliament (Soim), to which elections were planned for June 1919, the supreme authority of the West Ukrainian National Republic rested in the National Council headed by Petrushevych. To administer the lands under its control, the National Council set up the Provisional State Secretariat on 9 November 1918, which was headed first by Kost' Levyts'kyi and then, beginning with the new year, by Sydir Holubovych. The proposed parliament, which never came into existence, was to have 226 members, 66 of whom were to be from national minorities (33 Poles, 27 Jews, and 6 Germans). Also, as early as io November 1918 the Galicians made plans to unite with their fellow Ukrainians in Dnieper Ukraine. These plans were formalized on 3 January 1919, when the National Council, meeting by then in Stanyslaviv, passed a law approving the unification of the West Ukrainian National Republic with the Ukrainian National Republic in Dnieper Ukraine. The Galicians sent a delegation to Kiev, where, on 22 January 1919 (the 'third' Ukrainian independence day), a great national manifestation before the Cathedral of St Sophia proclaimed, 'From this day the two parts of a single Ukraine – the West Ukrainian National Republic (Galicia, Bukovina, and Hungarian Rus' [Transcarpathia]) – that have been separated from each other are merging together.' In theory, the West Ukrainian National Republic became the Western Province (Zakhidnia Oblast') of the Ukrainian National Republic. In fact, the western Ukrainians led a rather separate political, military, and diplomatic existence.

By the spring of 1919, that existence was becoming more and more threatened. In January, the western Ukrainian armed forces had been reorganized into the Galician Ukrainian Army (under General Mykhailo Omelianovych-Pavlenko), and within a month this effective fighting force was able to push back the Poles and surround L’viv (Lwow) (Lwow). Their efforts, however, were soon to be undermined by the military and diplomatic superiority of their enemy.


Mikhailo Grekiv     Mikhailo Omelianowicz     gen-czetar Miron Tarnawski     Gen-Pk Mikola Junakiv

Galician Ukrainian Army commanders:

From left to right: Mikhaylo Grekiv, Mykhailo Omelianovych-Pavlenko, Myron Tarnawski, Mykola Yunakiv




Street fighting in L’viv (Lwow) in February, 1919, as seen by Polish artist Wojcziech Kossak:

Armed Polish high school students exchange fire with GUA at the old cemetery.


In the world of international politics, Ukraine had a serious problem. Both Dnieper Ukraine and eastern Galicia were relatively unknown in the West. Poland, in contrast, had strong support among the Entente, which by early 1918 had made Poland's independence one of its war aims. As in the old Austrian Galician days, in crucial moments, the Habsburg government had favored Polish over Ukrainian interests, so in 1919 the victorious Entente powers allowed Polish interests to prevail over those of the relatively unknown and therefore unimportant Galician Ukrainians.

Not that the Galician Ukrainians were completely unknown. The leading Entente powers, already meeting at the Paris Peace Conference in early 1919, all had 'eastern experts.' Some were not only aware of but even sympathetic to Ukrainian demands. The Ukrainians, for their part, had diplomatic representatives preparing memoranda in Paris, and immigrants in the United States and Canada were lobbying their respective governments to recognize the cause of Ukrainian independence, whether in Galicia or in Dnieper Ukraine. After all, President Wilson's inspiring principle of self-determination for nations could certainly be applied to the Ukrainians in eastern Galicia.




Drawing the map of postwar Europe
From left to right:
Lloyd George, Orlando, Clemenceau, and Wilson (Paris, 1919)

But whereas the Ukrainians were limited to memoranda and proclamations, the Poles had official representation at the Paris Peace Conference and could make their case known directly, especially through their popular (in western circles) spokesperson, the concert pianist and first Polish minister of foreign affairs, Ignacy Jan Paderewski. Since the beginning of 1919, Paderewski had been suggesting in a rather demagogic fashion that any ideas of Ukrainian statehood only reflected the bankrupt political aims of the German and Austrian enemy, who had hoped to divide and rule the western regions of the former Russian Empire. Those areas, he argued, should rightfully become the eastern regions of a restored Polish state. As for the Ukrainians, according to Paderewski, they were all Bolsheviks, an epithet implying they were a great danger to the Entente and to European stability in general. Not all the peacemakers in Paris were taken in by Paderewski's flowery rhetoric, however, and on several occasions during the spring of 1919 there were attempts to establish an armistice between Ukrainian and Polish armed forces, which would have left at least some of eastern Galicia in Ukrainian hands. But such intervention was of no avail.

Finally, in April 1919 the well-trained and well-equipped Polish Army, consisting of 100,000 men under General Jozef Haller, arrived in Poland. Haller's army had experience fighting alongside the Entente in France, and it was expected to stave off the threat of a westward advance by Soviet Russia. Stopping the Bolsheviks was certainly something the Entente would welcome, but instead the Polish government sent Haller and his forces to Galicia. Despite stiff resistance on the part of the Ukrainian Galician Army (especially during the Chortkiv offensive in June), by 16-18 July 1919 the Poles had succeeded in driving the Ukrainians and their government out of Galicia.




Polish president Paderewski (left) and the Polish cavalry charge (right)

as seen by Polish artist Wojcziech Kossak


And as for Wilson's principle of the right of nations to self-determination? It was sacrificed in the face of what at the time was considered an even greater danger – Bolshevism. That danger was outlined in a cable, dated 25 June, from the Entente powers in Paris to the government of Poland in Warsaw:

With a view to protecting the persons and property of the peaceful population of eastern Galicia against the dangers to which they are exposed by the Bolshevik bands [sic], the Supreme Council of the Allied and Associated Powers have decided to authorize the forces of the Polish Republic to pursue their operations as far as the river Zbruch. ... This authorization does not in any way affect the decisions to be taken later by the Supreme Council for the settlement and political status of Galicia.'

Despite the cable's qualifications, Poland was in effect given an imprimatur from the victorious Entente to occupy all of Galicia.


The West Ukrainian government-in-exile

In the midst of the deteriorating military situation, the National Council of the West Ukrainian National Republic invested its president, Ievhen Petrushevych, with the title of dictator. This gave him full authority to determine the political and military policies of the West Ukrainian National Republic. After the defeat at the hands of the Poles, Petrushevych left Galicia, going eastward across the Zbruch River to nearby Kam"ianets'-Podil's'kyi, where the Ukrainian National Republic under Petliura's leadership was itself trying desperately to survive a Bolshevik offensive that was rapidly bringing under its control most of Dnieper Ukraine.In theory, according to the January 1919 declaration of Ukrainian unity, Petrushevych and his government were a part of Petliura's Ukrainian National Republic. In Kam"ianets'-Podil's'kyi, the Galician and Dnieper Ukrainians had a chance to test their proclaimed unity. Their failure to cooperate could not have been greater. Chapter 38 outlined how, given the situation, Petliura favored an alliance with Poland as a means of repelling the Bolshevik and White Russian advances from the east. Fresh from a brutal military defeat, Petrushevych would have nothing to do with the Poles, and some of his supporters (especially the military) favored an alliance with one of Petliura's archenemies — the White Russian general, Denikin.

Besides these tactical differences, there were other reasons why the Galician Ukrainians were reluctant to cooperate with the Dnieper Ukrainians. Petrushevych and his entourage felt that Galicia was the most developed region of Ukraine in terms of national culture and, most important at the moment, in terms of effective military strength. The old Piedmont theory was still uppermost in their minds. In other words, Galicia should first be made into a strong, independent Ukrainian state, and then other Ukrainian lands would follow its lead. Finally, the Galicians continued to have great faith in the Entente and in the Paris Peace Conference, from which they expected a confirmation of their national rights. Little did they realize that the political maneuvering which had brought some successes in pre-1914 Austria meant nothing in 1918-1919, when only military strength and diplomatic leverage with the Entente carried any weight. On both counts, the Galicians, and, for that matter, all Ukrainians, were sorely wanting.

These are some of the reasons for the complete failure of cooperation between Galicia's West Ukrainian National Republic and the Ukrainian National Republic. By the end of 1919, both republics were in disarray. Petliura fled to Poland to prepare, with Polish help, for one last confrontation with the Bolsheviks; Petrushevych fled to Vienna to carry on what proved to be a vain diplomatic struggle in western and eastern European capitals on behalf of his Polish-occupied homeland.


The Ukrainian revolution: success or failure?

By the summer of 1919, each of the three Ukrainian territories in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire had found itself in a new country. Eastern Galicia was held by Poland, northern Bukovina by Romania, and Transcarpathia by Czechoslovakia. Only in the case of Transcarpathia was the new political situation supported by the local population. None of these territorial arrangements, however, was internationally recognized as yet. That recognition had to await the decisions of the Peace Conference in Paris, where leaders of the victorious Entente had been sitting since early 1919 in an effort to redraw the map of Europe.

With the de facto incorporation of western Ukrainian lands into Poland, Romania, and Czechoslovakia by mid-1919, and with the establishment of Bolshevik rule in Dnieper Ukraine in early 192o, the efforts to create a sovereign Ukrainian state uniting all Ukrainian-inhabited territory that would be independent of the surrounding powers effectively came to an end. Faced with this result, most non-Marxist writers have subsequently considered the Ukrainian revolutionary era a failure. Their reasoning? Ukrainians were unable to achieve the supposedly ultimate goal of national movements — independent statehood. Accordingly, the record of those revolutionary years, 1917-1920, has been searched in detail for what went wrong.

Many reasons are given for the failure of the revolution: (1) political inexperience that resulted in destructive in-fighting and a lack of firm leadership; (2) the total breakdown of cooperation between Galician and Dnieper Ukrainians; (3) submission to foreign powers, especially Germany; (4) invasions by the White Russians and the Bolsheviks; (5) the refusal of the Entente to aid the Ukrainian cause; (6) the failure to resolve the land question and the reluctance of the peasant masses to support their 'own Ukrainian' governments, and their tendency to join destructive marauding bands instead; and (7) the opposition of the many minorities on Ukrainian territory to the idea of Ukrainian independence. Finally, the most important reason given for the perceived failure is that Ukrainians as a peopie were not sufficiently conscious of their national identity in 1917-1920 to want to struggle and sacrifice themselves for Ukrainian statehood.

Looked at in another way, however, the Ukrainian revolutionary era was a success. One might well wonder why so many Ukrainians did in fact struggle and sacrifice their lives for the idea of independence. This was particularly remarkable in east-central, or Dnieper, Ukraine, where the Ukrainian movement was virtually non-existent or, at best, limited to a handful of individuals. Then suddenly, after 1917, energy and sacrifice on behalf of the national cause burst forth, in the political, social, cultural, and military spheres. And even if these efforts did not bring about the hoped-for independence, the revolutionary experience itself instilled in Ukrainians a firm sense of national purpose — achieved, moreover, not after several generations of peacetime cultural work, but in less than half a decade. From such a perspective, the Ukrainian revolution was a remarkable success.

On the other hand, this period was never viewed as a failure by apologists for the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. After all, it was the revolutionary era that gave birth to the Soviet Ukrainian government, which, after three attempts, finally established its authority over most lands within Ukrainian ethnolinguistic boundaries. In Soviet Ukrainian terms, therefore, independence was indeed achieved for most of Dnieper Ukraine between 1917 and 1920. All that remained was for subsequent generations to bring that achievement to all Ukrainian lands. The next five chapters will explore the impact of Soviet and non-Soviet rule on Ukrainian territories, where the differing heritages and goals of the revolutionary era would be kept alive.






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