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The Ukrainian War of Independence was a series of military conflicts between Ukrainianmarker, Anarchistmarker, Bolshevik, Central Powers forces of Germany and Austro-Hungary, the White Russian Volunteer Army, and the Second Polish Republicmarker forces for control of the modern Ukrainemarker, after the February Revolution in the Russian Empiremarker. Also involved were foreign interventionists, in particular Francemarker and Romaniamarker. The struggle lasted from February 1917 to March 1921 and resulted in the division of Ukraine proper between the Bolshevik Ukrainian SSR, Polandmarker and Romaniamarker. The conflict is frequently viewed within the framework of Russian Civil War as well as the closing stage of the First World War.


Eastern Front of World War I in 1917
During the First World War, Ukraine was in the front lines of the main combatants, the Entente-allied Russian Empiremarker and Romaniamarker, and the Central Powers of the German Empiremarker and Austro-Hungary. By the start of 1917, the Imperial Russian Army held a front line after the Brusilov Offensive which partially reclaimed Volhynia and eastern Galicia.

The February Revolution of 1917 allowed many ethnic groups in the Russian Empiremarker to demand greater autonomy and various degrees of self-determination. A month later, the Ukrainian People's Republicmarker was declared in Kievmarker as an autonomous entity with close ties to the Russian Provisional Government, and governed by a socialist-dominated Tsentralna Rada ("Central Council"). The weak and ineffective Provisional Government in Petrogradmarker continued its loyalty to the entente and the increasingly unpopular war, launching the Kerensky Offensive in summer 1917. The Offensive was a complete disaster for the Russian Army. The German counter-attack caused Russia to lose all the gains of 1916, as well as the morale of its army, which caused disintegration of the armed forces and the civilian apparatus all over the Empire. Many deserting soldiers and officers, particularly ethnic Ukrainians, had lost faith in the future of the Empire, and found the increasingly self-determinant Central Rada a much more favourable alternative. Nestor Makhno began his Anarchist activity in the South of Ukraine by disarming deserting Russian soldiers and officers who crossed the Gaychur River next to Gulyai Polemarker, while in the east in the industrial Donets Basin there were often strikes by the Bolshevik-infiltrated trade-unions.

Ukraine after the Russian revolution

All this led to the October Revolution to take place in Petrograd and spread all over the Empire. The new government refused to recognise any existing administration on the territory of Russia, and in late December 1917 set up a rival Ukrainian republic in the eastern city of Kharkovmarker, initially also called the Ukrainian People's Republic. Hostilities against the government in Kiev began immediately. Under these circumstances, the Rada declared Ukrainian independence on January 22, 1918 and broke ties with Russia.

The Rada had limited armed force (the Ukrainian People's Army) at its disposal and was hard-pressed by the Kharkov government which received men and resources from the Russian SFSR. As a result, the Bolsheviks quickly overran Poltavamarker, Aleksandrovsk (now Zaporizhiamarker), and Yekaterinoslav (now Dnipropetrovskmarker) by January 1918. Across Ukraine, the local Bolsheviks also formed the Odessamarker, Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Soviet Republicsmarker and in the south Nestor Makhno formed the Free Territorymarker an anarchist commune, then allied with the Bolsheviks. On February 9 the Red Guards entered Kiev, forcing the Tsentralna Rada to evacuate to Zhytomyrmarker. In the meantime, the Romaniansmarker took over Bessarabiamarker and Germans captured Kishinevmarker. Most remaining Russian Army units either allied with the Bolsheviks or joined the Central Rada. A notable exception was Mikhail Drozdovsky, who marched his unit across the whole of Novorossiya to the Don, defeating Makhno in the process.

German intervention and Hetmanate, 1918

Europe in 1919 after the treaties of Brest Litovsk
Faced with imminent defeat, the Rada turned to its still hostile opponent, the Central Powers for truce and alliance, which was accepted in a Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in return for the desperately needed food supplies which Ukraine would provide to the Germans. The German and Austro-Hungarian armies then drove the Bolsheviks out of Ukraine, taking Kiev on March 1. Two days later, the Bolsheviks signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which formally ended the hostilities on the Eastern Front of World War I and left Ukraine in the German sphere of influence.

But disturbances continued throughout Eastern Ukraine, where local Bolsheviks, the anarchist Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, and Greens refused to subordinate to Germany. Former Russian Army General Pavlo Skoropadsky led a successful German-backed coup against the Rada on April 29. He proclaimed the conservative Hetmanate, and reversed many of the policies of the former government. The new government had close ties to Berlinmarker, but Skoropadsky never declared war on any of the Entente powers. Skoropadsky also placed Ukraine in a position that made it a safe haven for many upper- and middle-class people fleeing Bolshevik Russia, and was keen on recruiting many former Russian Army soldiers and officers. Despite the harassment from Makhno, the Hetmanate enjoyed relative peace until November 1918 when the Central Powers were defeated on the Western Front, and part of the agreement from entente was a complete withdrawal from Ukraine. Skoropadsky left Kiev with the Germans, the Hetmanate was in turn overthrown by the socialist Directorate.

Resumed hostilities, 1919

Almost immediately after the defeat of Germany, Lenin's government annulled the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, which Leon Trotsky described as "no war no peace", and invaded Ukraine and other countries of Eastern Europe which were formed during German occupation. Simultaneously, the collapse of the Central Powers affected the former Austrian province of Galicia which was populated by Ukrainians and Poles. The Ukranians proclaimed a Western Ukrainian People's Republicmarker, which wished to reunite with Ukraine proper, while the Poles gave their allegiance to the newly formed Second Polish Republicmarker. Both sides became increasingly hostile with each other. On January 22, 1919, West Ukraine and the Directorate to the united forces signed Akt Zluky, but by October West Ukraine was defeated and annexed by Poland in the Polish-Ukrainian War. The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 granted Galicia to Poland for 25 years.
The relative positions of key combatants in Ukraine in March 1919
The defeat of Germany had also opened the Black Seamarker to the Allies, and in mid-December 1918 some mixed forces under French command were landed at Odessamarker and Sevastopolmarker, and months later at Khersonmarker and Nikolayev (now Mykolaivmarker). The cause and purpose of French intervention was not entirely clear. French military leaders quickly became disillusioned by internal quarrels within the anti-Bolshevik forces that prevented effective collaboration against Bolshevik pressures, and they particularly criticized the Volunteer Army for its arrogance toward local population. Strong, anti-foreign feeling among Ukrainians convinced French officers that intervention in a climate of hostility was doomed without massive support. When the French government failed to supply enough equipment and manpower for extensive military operations, the French army faced defeat at the hands of pro-Bolshevik forces and counseled withdrawal of the expedition from Odessa and Crimeamarker.
The relative positions of key combatants in Ukraine in November 1919
The swift Bolshevik offensive overran most of Eastern and Central Ukraine in early 1919. Kiev fell to Bolsheviks on February 5, and the exiled Soviet Ukrainian government was re-instated as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic moved to Kiev on 15 March. The Ukrainian People's Republic (UNR) faced defeat against the Bolsheviks; it was reduced to a strip of land on the Polish border with its capital moving from Vinnytsiamarker, Proskurovmarker, Kamenets-Podolskymarker and Rivnemarker. But the UNR was saved when the Bolshevik armies had to re-locate against the renewed White Russian offensive in South Russia and Uralsmarker which threatened the very existence of Bolshevism and so required more urgent attention. During the spring and summer of 1919, Denikin's Volunteer Army and Don Army overran all of Central and Eastern Ukraine and made significant gains on the other fronts. But in winter the tide of war reversed decisively, and by 1920 all of Eastern and Central Ukraine except Crimea was again in Bolshevik control. The Bolsheviks also defeated Nestor Makhno, their former ally against Denikin.

Polish involvement, 1920

Again facing imminent defeat, the UNR turned to its former adversary, Polandmarker and in April 1920, Symon Petliura signed the Warsaw pact to fight the Bolsheviks. Just like the former alliance with Germany this move partially sacrificed Ukrainian sovereignty, and Petliura recognised the Polish annexation of Galicia and agreed to Ukraine's role in Piłsudski's dream of a Polish-centered hegemony in Eastern Europe.

Immediately after the alliance was signed, the Polish forces joined the Ukrainian army in the Kiev Offensive to capture Ukraine proper from Bolshevik control. Initially successful, the offensive reached Kiev on May 7, 1920. But in late May, the Red Army led by Mikhail Tukhachevsky staged a large counter-offensive under Zhitomir, which pushed the Polish army almost completely out of Ukraine, except for Lvivmarker in southern Galicia. In yet another reversal, in August 1920 the Red Army was defeated near Warsaw and forced to retreat. The White forces, now under General Wrangel, took advantage of the situation and started a new offensive in southern Ukraine. The military defeat in Poland, the renewed White offensive, and the disastrous economic conditions throughout the country forced the Bolsheviks to seek truce with Poland.

End of hostilities, 1921

On October 12, the Soviet delegation signed armistice and began peace talks with Poland. Meanwhile, Petliura's Ukrainian forces, which now numbered 23,000 soldiers and controlled territories immediately to the east of Poland, planned an offensive in Ukraine for November 11 but were attacked by the Bolsheviks on November 10. After several battles, they were driven into Polish-controlled territory by November 21. On March 18, 1921, Poland signed the peace Treaty of Riga with Soviet Russia and Ukraine. This effectively ended Poland's alliance obligations with Ukrainian People's Republic. According to this treaty, the Bolsheviks recognized Polish control over Galicia (Halychyna), the western part of Ukraine, while Poland recognized the larger central parts of Ukrainian territory, as well as eastern and southern areas, as part of Soviet Ukraine.

Having secured peace on the Western front, the Bolsheviks immediately moved to crush the remnants of the White Movement. After a final offensive in the Isthmus of Perekop, the Red Army overran Crimea. Wrangel evacuated the army to Constantinoplemarker in November 1920. After its military and political defeat, the Directorate continued to maintain control over some of its military forces. In October 1921, it launched a series of guerrilla raids into central Ukraine that reached as far east as the modern Kiev Oblastmarker ("Kiev province"). On November 4, the Directorate's guerrillas captured Korosten and seized much military supplies. But on November 17, 1921, this force was surrounded by Bolshevik cavalry and destroyed.


In 1922, the Russian Civil War was coming to an end in Far East, and the Communists proclaimed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republicsmarker (USSR) as a federation of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Transcaucasia. The Ukrainian Soviet government was nearly powerless in the face of the centralized monolith Communist Party apparatus based in Moscowmarker. In the new state, Ukrainians initially enjoyed a titular nation position during the nativization and Ukrainization periods. During the 1930s, a massive famine, Holodomor, struck the republic claiming several millions of lives. The Polish part of Ukraine shared a different fate – there was very little autonomy, both political and cultural, but it was not affected by Famine. In late 1930s, the borders of Ukrainian SSR were redrawn, but no significant changes were made.

The political status of Ukraine remained unchanged until the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between USSR and Germany in August 1939 that allowed the Red Army to enter Poland and incorporate Volhynia and Galicia into Ukrainian SSR. In June 1941, Germany and its allies invaded the Soviet Union and conquered Ukraine completely within the first year of the conflict. Following the Soviet victory in World War II, to which the Ukrainians greatly contributed, the region of Carpathian Rutheniamarker, formerly a part of Czechoslovakiamarker, was united with Ukrainian SSR; also parts of pre-war Poland were incorporated into Ukrainian SSR. The final expansion of Ukraine took place in 1954, when Crimea was transferred to Ukraine from Russia with the approval of Premier Nikita Khrushchev.


The war is portrayed in Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The White Guard.


  1. Ukrainian (Soviet) People's Republic at WMS

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