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This struggle to win for Ukraine a position first as a federated state in a new Russia and secondly as a completely independent country was not proceeding in an atmosphere of peace and quiet. The First World War was still going on with the forces of the Triple Entente and the Central Powers locked in a terrific struggle.
England and France had welcomed the Russian Revolution, because they believed that Russia after the fall of the Tsar would carry on the war against Germany and Austria-Hungary more successfully. It took them only a few weeks to realize that the collapse of Russia had imposed on them a still heavier burden. They could not understand that the Russian Revolution had been a collapse because of excessive strain and war weariness and it is quite a question how far the Russian leaders realized this themselves. At all events Lenin and Trotsky called for immediate peace and this, as much as their program of social reforms, won them a sympathetic hearing in many quarters. It brought them into conflict with the representatives of England, France and the United States, which were working to keep Russia in the war against the Central Powers.
There were two other factors which were overlooked. The first was the question of supplies. With Turkey in the war, it was impossible to send supplies to the Russians or any other armies operating in what was the old Russian Empire except by way of Murmansk and Archangel on the north or Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean. For example, it was impossible for the Ukrainian army, which was confronted with the German forces in the south, to receive p228 any supplies except across Bolshevik-held territory. They could secure only those supplies that were left on their own soil at the time of the beginning of the Revolution. The failure of the Russian offensive of Kerensky had reduced these, and the troops opposing the Bolshevik bands were relatively unarmed.
The second factor was the meaning of this war‑weariness. It was opposed to fighting against the Central Powers. It was opposed to the preservation and maintenance of discipline. Yet with each advance in demoralization, the willingness to fight in scattered bands against a new enemy increased. The fanatic Bolsheviks, who refused to continue the war for any reason against the Central Powers, were only too ready in small bands to attack Ukraine. Part of this lay in the belief that there was still food in Ukraine and that this food was necessary for Moscow and Petrograd. Part of it lay in their equally fanatical belief that they were the real spokesmen of the laborers and peasants. At the same moment when they were opening negotiations to end the war with Germany and Austria-Hungary, they were commencing a war in Ukraine and in many other sections.
Allied diplomacy was singularly ineffective. After welcoming the Revolution, England, France and the United States were unable to induce the Provisional Government to continue the war effectively. They were opposed to a peace between Russia or any part of it with the Central Powers. They were willing to cooperate with the Ukrainian Council or any other government that would continue the war. They were willing to recognize the Council as the de facto government of Ukraine and threatened it, if it made peace. They were willing to oppose the Bolsheviks, when they talked peace. On the other hand, the military missions that appeared in Kiev did not have the power to guarantee that they would continue to recognize the Council after the war and they most assuredly had no plans for p229 supplying the Ukrainian army and making it able to oppose the Bolsheviks successfully, much less the Germans and Austro-Hungarians, if they decided to resume the offensive. What might have been done in Archangel or Vladivostok was impossible in Kiev, with Ukraine barred from access to Allied supplies and assistance by the Central Powers on the west and the Bolsheviks on the north and east. Ukraine was fighting a war on two fronts, and relations between the Germans and the Bolsheviks were such that peace between Germany and the Bolsheviks might result in Germany turning over Ukraine to the Bolsheviks as the price of peace. this threat, the words of small military missions were little defence, especially when the Ukrainian leaders knew of the widespread propaganda that had been directed against them abroad by imperial Russia for nearly four years.
In the meanwhile conditions were becoming more critical in the country. The Council suffered from the same misconceptions that had ruined the Provisional Government. It was or felt itself unable to check barely concealed Bolshevik propaganda because of its interpretation of democracy. Its leaders, busied with negotiations with the Provisional Government, had not been able to use all their energies in building up a firm kernel of organization and in strengthening their own armed forces to a point where they could be sure of their unqualified support. Far too often resolutions that were adopted became dead letters almost as soon as they were passed. Regulations on the distribution of land, and others, were more honored in the breach than the observance. Despite the efforts of many of the members, it could hardly be said that many of the difficulties were being overcome.
As a result when the Germans and Austro-Hungarians met with the Bolshevik envoys at Brest Litovsk in December, 1917, it became clear that the only hope of the Council p230 was also to make peace with the Central Powers and use the next months as a breathing space during which they could strengthen their internal order and prepare themselves for the next round with the Bolsheviks. They were aware that this might be an expensive move, but between that and the annihilation of Ukraine there was no real choice.
Accordingly, the Council decided to send three delegates to represent Ukraine at the Brest Litovsk meetings. The delegates selected were three young men, Levitsky, Lubinsky and Sevryuk, former students of Prof. Hrushevsky. They had had little training in international meetings. Their youth surprised the German representatives, General Hoffmann and his associates, and amused Count Czernin, the Austro-Hungarian representative. He could not imagine young men appearing in important posts and Ukrainians anywhere at all, for he represented those elements in his country which were most hostile to the progress of the Ukrainians in Galicia. To the especial annoyance of Czernin they put forth claims not only to independence but to the whole of Eastern Galicia, and also the province of Kholm.
These claims appeared preposterous to the delegates of the Central Powers but they also touched on the weak spot of both Germany and Austria-Hungary. The representatives of the two powers were not friendly. Both Germany and Austria-Hungary had their own ideas as to the future of eastern Europe and each wished to secure the lion's share for his own country, although the Austrians were well aware of the fact that nothing was well at home, especially since the death of Francis Joseph, who had at least been able to put up a brilliant facade to cover his policy of avoiding a settlement of all questions. Besides that, the delegates had taken the trouble to pass through Lviv on their way to Brest Litovsk and were well aware of the situation in Eastern p231 Galicia, probably better than Count Czernin himself.
On the other hand, Trotsky, as the leader of the Bolshevik delegation, argued bitterly that the Germans and Austrians should not receive the Ukrainian delegation at all. They denied that Ukraine existed and that the Council represented the will of the workers and peasants. Later he brought to the meeting representatives of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic from Kharkiv in an endeavor to strengthen his own case and kept reporting victories of the Bolsheviks over the troops of the Council.
It was a strange conference, for all parties knew the issues at stake and none dared to move toward the desired goal. The Germans wanted peace with the Bolsheviks in order to be able to move the bulk of their forces to the Western Front for the campaign of 1918. They also, and still more the Austrians, wanted to secure food from Ukraine. Trotsky and the Bolsheviks also wanted peace. They hoped thereby to create disorder in the German and Austrian armies and hoped for a revolution by the masses of the population of those countries. They also wanted the opportunity to master Ukraine and secure the food which they needed for their capitals. The Ukrainian delegates, supported later by Vsevolod Holubovich, the Prime Minister, were willing to turn over a certain amount of grain, provided they could secure a guarantee of the liberty of their country and means of self defence against the Bolshevik attacks.
Under these conditions a settlement was finally reached. Ukraine under the Council was recognized as a sovereign state and promised to send to the Central Powers at least a million tons of supplies. Trotsky, after receiving the German terms, announced that there was neither peace nor war between the Central Powers and the Bolsheviks, for he took the attitude that there could be no peace a territorial state and an international government of workers p232 and peasants and really demanded civil war in Germany. The Austrians, having compelled the Ukrainians to give up their claim to Galicia and to Kholm, sided with the Germans but were far less willing to take any action to make the treaty effective. The conference ended on February 11.
In the meanwhile Bolshevik pressure on Kiev had increased and the Council was compelled to retreat from Kiev to Zhitomir to the west, and Trotsky could feel that he had more or less succeeded in his endeavors. When, however, the Germans, taking advantage of the situation that was left by the Bolsheviks, commenced to advance, a new wave of desire for war swept over the Bolsheviks and it took all of Lenin's power to make them accept the terms that Trotsky had refused, for the passage of each day left more Bolshevik territory in the hands of the Germans.
By March 1, the German troops had advanced into Ukraine and had restored the Council to Kiev. They set up Field Marshal Eichhorn as the practical head of the occupation forces and also of the new state, along with Baron Mumm as representative of the German Foreign Office. They also sent General Groener to Kiev to secure supplies.
The Council was now put in another unpleasant situation. The presence of German troops created discontent. Order had been restored but the Council continued its policy of endless debate and found it difficult to agree on the legislation that was to be enacted. The old debates between the right and the left were intensified, although the Council decided that they would maintain the social reforms instituted by the Third and Fourth Universals and also proceed to the holding of elections for a Constituent Assembly which would meet on July 12, 1918.
The collection of supplies proceeded slowly. 1917 had been a disturbed year and the harvest had not been properly gathered. The peasants were not disposed to turn p233 over their supplies to the Germans, even in return for money, and the high hopes with which the Germans and the Austrians had entered the country vanished with each day's failure to secure the needed food. At the same time, the German military machine had no sympathy with and little understanding for the attempts of the Council to fumble toward a democratic constitution and improve the conditions of the people.
In an endeavor to create a more favorable situation, the Germans turned to the society of the Khliborody (the Agriculturists). This was a group of the former estate holders, Russian and Ukrainian alike, who had in their store-houses a certain amount of supplies. These conservatives were naturally opposed to the desires of the peasants to secure land and they were willing to see the Council removed.
Through them the Germans made an arrangement with General Pavel Skoropadsky, a general in the Russian army, but a descendant of that Skoropadsky who had been appointed Hetman by Peter after the revolt of Mazepa. It was apparently believed that Skoropadsky, by assuming the title of Hetman, could rally to his support the sentiments of at least the propertied classes and perhaps part of the peasants. The details were all set. Then, on April 28, German soldiers under the orders of the Field Marshal Eichhorn invaded the meeting of the Council and summarily dispersed it. The next day they formally proclaimed Skoropadsky Hetman of the Ukraine and commenced to make the new order effective.
Skoropadsky went through the motions of ruling for about seven months and during this time Ukraine remained relatively peaceable. Kiev and the other cities were filled with Russian refugees from the Bolsheviks. These people appreciated the restoration of order and the freedom from massacre and pillage, but they had no use for the Ukrainian state and liked to believe that Skoropadsky p234 was only waiting for the downfall of the Bolsheviks to bring Ukraine back again into Russia. Attempts were made to restore the former rights of the landowners and the old order as it had existed prior to 1917. As a result, dissatisfaction grew among the masses and more and more order had to be maintained by the Germans. This became less effective after the murder of Field Marshal Eichhorn on July 30, for his successor was far less able to handle both the Ukrainians and the representatives of the German Foreign Office.
At the same time Germany continued to work with the Bolsheviks, much to the annoyance of the Russians in Ukraine, the Ukrainians and Skoropadsky himself. The Hetman secured incontrovertible proof that the Bolshevik delegates at Kiev, Rakovsky and Dmitry Manuilsky, who were ostensibly drawing up peace terms between Ukraine and Moscow, were spending huge sums of money in Bolshevik propaganda, but he could not secure permission to curb their activities. Similarly when the German ambassador in Moscow, Count Mirbach, was murdered, Germany took no steps to punish the Bolsheviks and continued to lay emphasis on the need of maintaining good relations with them.
During the same months the Germans were busy in helping the Don Cossacks and the Georgians in their struggles against the Bolsheviks and there was developed a long chain of anti-Bolshevik states and organizations along the entire shore of the Black Sea. This year also saw the emergence of General Denikin at the head of a White Russian Army, with the backing of England, France and the United States in an attempt to restore a united Russia.
The confused situation was brought to an abrupt end by the defeat of Germany on the Western Front. The Kaiser abdicated on November 9 and already Austria-Hungary had broken up into a number of independent states. Turkey left the war on October 30 and this at once opened p235 the Dardanelles, so that military supplies could be sent into the area north of the Black Sea. Under such conditions, the only course open to the German armies was to retreat. Even this was not easy in the complicated circumstances of the day, for a large part of the German troops had come under Bolshevik influences and were not particularly interested in fighting or in doing anything except getting home, if they could. Under such circumstances Skoropadsky saw that his days were numbered. On December 14, he laid down his power, slipped out of Kiev and made his way to Berlin.
In the meanwhile, with the approaching downfall of Germany, the Ukrainians again aspired to independence. Volodymyr Vynnychenko tried to rally the forces of the Rada by appointing a Direktoria composed of members of the various Ukrainian Socialist parties. He wanted to continue the general policy of the government as it had been before the time of Skoropadsky. More important for the Ukrainian cause was, however, the work of Simon Petlyura, for at the first sign of the weakening of the forces of Skoropadsky, he went to Bila Tserkva and won over one of the crack regiments of Skoropadsky's forces, the Rifles of the Zaporozhian Sich. With this as a nucleus, he started a revolt which ultimately carried him and the Direktoria into Kiev as Skoropadsky left for exile.
Petlyura was to be for the next years the dominant figure in the Ukrainian movement. A man of simple origin, he had secured an education and was making his living as a bookkeeper and writer when the Russian Revolution started. He had some military training and developed a considerable talent for leadership. Unlike most the other leaders, he was more a man of action than a thinker and in the troublous times ahead, it was these qualities rather than thought and logic that were needed most for the new state.
p236 Petlyura and Vynnychenko differed violently on many subjects, and with each week the struggle became more intense. Petlyura felt that Vynnychenko's policies, while Ukrainian in essence, were blurring the line between Ukrainian nationalism and Bolshevism. He was suspicious of too radical reforms and sought support rather from those elements of the state that laid the main stress on independence. Furthermore he believed that it was necessary to secure as much of the German military equipment as possible from the retreating German armies, and he won the good will of the peasants who had been angered by the German requisitioning of supplies by encouraging them to attack the retreating forces. Thus the actions of his troops seriously upset the plans of the more or less Bolshevized German armies and became a real menace to the hopes of the Bolsheviks for the taking over of the country on the German retreat.
The victorious Allies now had the opportunity to intervene effectively in the general situation. They were able to send troops into Ukraine and South Russia through Romania. They were also able to land them at the Black Sea ports. For the first time since 1914, the southern gate of Russia and Ukraine was opened to the democratic nations. The future rested on their ability to formulate a program, make their own conditions, and see that they were carried out.
They were as ineffective in this as they had been in 1917, for there came again a flood of diplomatic missions, promising everything and doing nothing. English and French representatives appeared at Kiev to expedite the German departure. At the same time, as if Skoropadsky had been a legitimate ruler, they ordered the Germans strictly not to surrender their arms to any of Ukrainian rebels or to turn Kiev over to them. It is still not clear whether this was done by orders from the home governments or at the p237 advice of the Russians around Skoropadsky. The result was the same. The Ukrainian forces were unwilling to remain quiet and see the Germans depart with rich booty and military supplies. The Allies sent no troops to back up their representatives and the Bolsheviks paid no attention to any one and continued their work of spreading propaganda among the Germans.
Under such conditions, the forces of Petlyura increased rapidly and it soon became evident to the Germans that they would have to come to an understanding with him. This was done at Kasatin on December 11, when the Germans consented to turn over Kiev to the Direktoria and three days later Colonel Konovalets at the head of a Ukrainian detachment entered Kiev. Petlyura and the Direktoria arrived on December 19. The Germans had insisted that the Russian officers and men in the Hetman's army should be allowed to leave with them. On the whole this was carried out, although there were some arrests and some murders, but by the end of December the bulk had been disposed of and were in Germany.
The Ukrainian Republic had been once more established. It had a last chance to solve its problems and to emerge as a strong and respected government but it was not an optimistic picture. The country was still more disorganized than the year before. There were still the same factions in the state. There was still the same lack of harmony among the Allied military missions and above all the people of the Allied countries were sure that the war was over and that there was nothing left to be done, for the new period of human history had started at the hour of the Armistice, 11 A.M., November 11, 1918.
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Page updated: 25 Apr 22