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Chapter 20

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

The Story of the Ukraine
by Clarence Manning

published by
Philosophical Library
New York,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 22

 p238  Chapter Twenty‑One

The Republic of Western Ukraine

The success­ful Russian occupation of Lviv within a month after the beginning of the War threw into sharp relief the military weakness of Austria-Hungary and the following events showed that the Dual Monarchy, despite all its pretensions and claims, was hardly fitted to stand the rigors of modern warfare. The various national groups included within its borders were restive. Regiments of Czechs had gone over in mass formation to the Russians. Discontent was rife in other sections and it was easy to see that whatever the outcome of the war, bad times were in store for the country.

On January 8, 1918, Woodrow Wilson laid down the Fourteen Points for a final settlement. These included phrases that called for self-determination of the various nations. It is immaterial how far he had intended to press this policy, for in Europe his words were taken in their full meaning and each and every group, large or small, prepared to take advantage of them. From this time on there could be no doubt that Austria-Hungary was going to disintegrate. The only questions were when and how and what would be the fate of the territory.

It was almost the same day that the Ukrainian delegates to the Brest Litovsk Conference passed through Lviv, to establish contact with the Ukrainian leaders there and to tell them of the intention of Ukraine to declare its full independence of Russia. This act alone served to increase tension in the Ukrainian lands in the Dual Monarchy and to arouse more energetic work during the summer, so that  p239 the Ukrainians in Western Ukraine would be ready when the moment for action arrived.

They were not alone in this, for the Poles also were planning to revive their state. The Polish National Committee working with the Allied nations elaborated plans for recovering the territory which they had held in 1772 at the time of the First Partition of the country. The Council of the Regency and the various groups around Joseph Pilsudski, which were more bitterly anti-Russian, looked for the establishment of some form of independent Poland in case of a German victory. The events of 1917 brought both groups together and there was a general agreement among Poles of all factions and trains of thought that there must emerge from the war a great Poland. In Galicia, they made ready to take over the country as soon as the Austrian grip showed signs of weakening.

In the same way the various Ukrainian groups determined not to be outdone through inaction. They organized a Ukrainian Council with members in Eastern Galicia, in Carpatho-Ukraine and in Bukovina and then on October 18, as the hour of decision was approaching, they held a large conference in Lviv and made plans to declare their independence when the time came. So weak and disintegrated was Austria-Hungary already that it was possible to hold such a meeting without too great danger to the participants.

It was already clearly realized that the dangers confronting Western Ukraine came not from the dying Empire but from the claims of the Poles and of the other succession states, each of which put forward demands to take over the same territory. Again Allied diplomacy was destined to be ineffective and the disagreements among the victorious nations prepared the way for a series of wars and disturbances that were to leave new causes of bitterness behind them. The disintegration of Austria-Hungary was not to be brought  p240 about under the control of the victorious powers but under the conflicting demands of local populations and improvised military forces.

On November 1, during the night, the Ukrainians judged that it was time to act and the Council took over the control of the city of Lviv with the tacit permission of the Austrian Governor of Galicia. The blue and yellow flag of Ukraine was hoisted over the city hall and the Republic of Western Ukraine was formally proclaimed. At the same time, in Western Galicia, the Poles raised their standard over the city of Krakow. The old regime was ended.

Soon the Ukrainians in other cities of Western Ukraine followed suit and the new Republic commenced the difficult and painful task of setting up an administration. Its resources were indeed scanty. There was no money and no trained corps of administrators, for the old government had kept most of the more responsible posts in Galicia in the hands of the Poles.

More important than that, the forces available to maintain order were equally non‑existent or unsatisfactory. There were the remains of the Ukrainian legions in the Austrian army, the Rifle­men of the Sich, and there were some disorganized reserve units in the neighborhood of the city, which were largely composed of Ukrainians, since officers and men from other sections of the Empire had left them to return home. There was a marked lack of officers, since the unfavorable conditions of Galicia had prevented many Ukrainians from rising in the Austro-Hungarian service. It was with this scanty support that the new government under Dr. Evhen Petrushevich set to work.

Any hopes of a peaceable period for organization were soon ended. As soon as the Poles realized that Lviv had been taken over by the Ukrainians, there began a revolt of the Polish population of the city. Many of the participants were mere schoolboys, but they seized the main postoffice  p241 and the Ukrainians were unable to dislodge them. Civil war broke out, but it was a civil war in which artillery and heavy weapons were absent from both sides. For three weeks the battle went on in the city as both sides tried to bring up what reinforcements were available. The Poles finally succeeded in moving from Krakow into the city by train a force of 140 officers and 1200 men. Even such a small body of more or less trained soldiers was enough to turn the scales in the favor of the Poles and two days after they arrived, the Ukrainian government left the city and retired to Stanislaviv and later to Ternopil.

This did not mean that the Republic had given up the struggle. It still held the largest part of Eastern Galicia, with the exception of the railroad line from Peremyshl to Lviv, which the Poles succeeded in keeping open. At the same time there was a practical siege of Lviv during the entire winter. The Poles, however, were able to gather forces elsewhere in the country and steadily new and better armed detachments pushed their way into Eastern Galicia.

As regards Bukovina, the Ukrainians occupied the capital Chernivtsy on November 3, but the Romanians with the nucleus of an army refused to concede this. Their troops on Armistice Day pressed into the city and overthrew the Ukrainian Regional Committee under Omelyan Popovich. Then they formally annexed the province.

In Carpatho-Ukraine, there was the same general confusion. Various adherents of the Republic of Western Ukraine held gatherings in Preshiv, Uzhorod and Hust and they failed to come to a definite agreement as to the future of the country. The Czechs claimed it on the basis of an understanding with the American Ruska Nationalna Rada at a meeting in Scranton, Pennsylvania. There was, however, more delay in taking the land over from Hungary than there was from some of the other sections and there was not the complete change that had occurred elsewhere.  p242 Nevertheless on January 21, 1919, a Council in Hust voted to join Ukraine; but conditions kept changing and finally on May 5 the various groups in the country voted to become autonomous within the Czechoslovak state.

It can be seen from all this that the Ukrainians of Eastern Galicia were the heart and the determining factor of the Republic of Western Ukraine. The loss of Lviv, the most important city in the area, proved a tremendous handicap to the new state, which looked forward very definitely to an ultimate union with the Ukrainian Republic set up at Kiev.

The Allied military missions in Warsaw and in Lviv endeavored to make peace between the various factions and to throw the whole problem of Eastern Galicia into the hands of the Peace Conference which was to meet a few months later in Paris. They were completely helpless, for the Poles claimed control of the entire province on the ground that it had been under the Polish crown and formed part of the Polish Republic since the fourteenth century and the Polish leaders, both of the right and left, refused to listen to any pleas that would leave the territory even temporarily under Ukrainian control. At the same time, they were steadily increasing their armed forces and later they received several well-trained divisions which had fought under General Haller along with the French on the Western Front. Under such conditions the armies of Western Ukraine were steadily forced to retreat to the east in the hope of joining the forces of Eastern Ukraine, which were in little better condition.

There is little need to go into the various efforts that were made at the time to make peace between the Poles and Western Ukrainians. All of them failed. During the entire Peace Conference, there was continuous talk of the future fate of Galicia but nothing definite was decided, for the Poles, with French backing, refused to concede any  p243 thing and the changing political situation in the East made decisions useless, often before they were announced.

In one sense the casual observer may see in the brief interlude of the Republic of Western Ukraine one of those numerous and transient organizations that appeared spontaneously everywhere in Europe during the troubled months of November and December, 1918, but it was more than that, for despite the speedy passing of the Republic, the population was left. The ill feelings generated long remained to fester in Poland and added abundant fuel to the fires that were waiting for 1939. The retreat to Stanislaviv and then to Ternopil did not end the movement, although it lessened its immediate importance in a world that was still at war, despite its efforts to prove that peace had come.

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Page updated: 25 Apr 22