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Chapter 21

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 23

 p244  Chapter Twenty‑Two

The Fall of Ukraine

Petlyura returned to Kiev with the Direktoria on December 19, 1918 and he at once set about to rebuild the shattered structure of the state. Conditions were more unfavorable than they had been the year before, for the interlude with Skoropadsky had hindered the stabilization of Ukraine, even while it had allowed a development of the Bolshevik regime and the formation of a strong White Russian movement under Denikin. When we add to this the outbreak of the war between the newly formed Republic of Western Ukraine and Poland, we can appreciate the task that faced the new leader.

The first constructive step was the formal union of the Republic of Western Ukraine with the rest of the country. On January 3, 1919, the Direktoria voted to accept the Western Ukraine into the state and on January 22, just one year after the formal independence of Ukraine had been declared by the Council, the representatives of Western Ukraine arrived to take their places in the government of the joint state. Dr. Longin E. Cehelsky of Western Ukraine read the formal decree of the Western Ukrainian Council and the decree of the Ukrainian Council was read by Prof. Shvets. It was then declared that, "From to‑day until the end of time there will be One, Undivided, Independent Ukrainian People's Republic."

In one sense the measure was inopportune, for the Western Ukrainian Republic was already being driven from much of its territory by the Poles. As a result it added to the enemies of the state, for Ukraine with its almost shadowy armies was now confronting in arms Poland, the Soviets  p245 and the White forces of Denikin. It was an over­powering combination, even though each of the three enemies was fighting the other two.

Within two weeks after the declaration of national unity, the Bolsheviks compelled Petlyura to evacuate Kiev. They cut the connections between his army and a large part of the troops of Western Ukraine and forced the latter to retreat into Romania where they were disarmed and interned. Then Petlyura retired to Kaminets Podolsky and there, with a small nucleus of troops drawn from all sections of the country, he waited for some months while he was preparing a new offensive.

Again the Peace Conference and the military missions showed themselves at their worst. They were entirely unable to discover whom to fight or whom to support. At the moment there were really no organized armies in the field. There were merely bands larger or smaller, owing vague allegiance to some cause and led by commissars, generals or atamans, largely self-appointed and often in absolute disagreement with other bands fighting on the same side. Frequently military missions of the same countries were present at the front or behind the lines of groups that were fighting one another. They were giving contrary directives and interfering, doling out supplies and unable to control their use.

Under such conditions Ukraine reverted in large part to a condition similar to that in the days of the Ruin of the seventeenth century. The country was filled with independent atamans like Makhno, who refused to acknowledge any superior command but supported and attacked almost every one in turn. These leaders set up their control over small areas and proved unable to work out a plan of cooperation in conjunction with or in defiance of the Direktoria, but in large part their chaos in the beginning was no worse than the condition of their rivals.

 p246  In the meanwhile, in the south of Ukraine the international confusion was reaching a new high. On December 18, 1918, a French army of some 12,000 men had landed in Odesa to maintain order and assist the "healthy" portions of the population to obtain control. Their first action was to expel the Ukrainian forces from the city and appoint a White Russian as the governor. Then, with a miscellaneous force of all nationalities, the French endeavored to clear the neighborhood and finally invoked the aid of a German division which had been unable to leave because the followers of Petlyura were in control of the surrounding country. The farce and the tragedy continued until Ataman Gregoryev, who had formerly served with Petlyura, went over to the Bolsheviks and maintained himself in the neighborhood as a nuisance. Incidentally, he later broke again with them and fought as a Ukrainian. Disorders broke out in the French forces and they withdrew April 6, 1919. Odesa was entered by a Bolshevik Army of less than 2,000 men and the large quantity of military stores there fell into their hands. Soon after, the other Black Sea ports were taken by the Bolsheviks with as small or smaller forces.

During the course of 1919, the situation continued confused. The army of Admiral Kolchak, advancing into European Russia from Siberia, had been broken but General Denikin was attempting to cut his way north and west from the Donets basin. The Allies by this time had convinced themselves that the one way of defeating Bolshevism was to arm and equip the White Russian armies, which stood for the absolute unity of Russia and the denial of all the accomplishments of the Revolution. Everywhere that Denikin and his men went, they restored the old system, banned the Ukrainian language, closed Ukrainian newspapers and bookstores and reverted to the Russian policy of the years before the War. The foreign missions had now given up  p247 any idea of utilizing the peasant opposition to Bolshevism and the national movements against Russia. They had fully accepted the thesis of a monolithic Russia in Ukraine. Instead of trying to coordinate the popular movements for independence and strengthen them, they turned a deaf ear to all the petitions that were presented to them and made it fully evident that they were not interested in the attempts of Ukraine and various other sections of the old Empire to secure independence.

During this period the Peace Conference was in session in Paris and to the annoyance of the delegates, there appeared there representatives of the Direktoria to plead for recognition as the government of Ukraine along with representatives of many other states. The Allied position was singularly unrealistic and even unclear not only to the petitioners but to the official delegates themselves.

No one could decide what was to be the position taken toward Russia. The high hopes which had been placed upon the Russian Revolution and the Provisional Government had been dissipated. The delegates at Paris were well aware that this had failed and had fallen definitely before the Bolsheviks. They were well aware also that every section of the old Empire which was not inhabited by Great Russians was in a state of more or less open revolt. All around the borders of the country there had been set up governments running from Finland in the north to the Turkic tribes of Central Asia, which had been subjugated by Russian arms scarcely half a century before. All this rendered it a practical policy to accept the disintegration of Russia as they had that of Austria-Hungary and create a new federation or a series of independent and allied states.

On the other hand, the victorious Allies could not forget the sacrifices that had been made by the Russian Empire during the early years of the War and they persisted in believing that once Bolshevism was overthrown, all of these  p248 new nations would be only too willing to join in a new, free, and democratic Russia. They hated to do anything that would create a permanent situation. They were equally opposed to the efforts of the White Russian armies to form a definite conservative government which might be denounced as reactionary and aiming to restore the old Russian monarchy. Thus the policy of the Allies toward Russia remained in a dangerous position which could only in the long run strengthen the power of the Bolsheviks, the only group which was not affected by the desires of the Allies and which understood the general weakness of the entire Allied policy.

As a result there was made almost no mention of Russia in any of the treaties that came out of the Paris Peace Conference, for it was intended that the matter should be reconsidered, when, as, and if Russia expelled the Bolsheviks and proceeded to hold democratic and free elections. This brought about the impossible situation that the Congress could seriously consider regulations as to the position of Eastern Galicia (Western Ukraine) toward Poland, since the area had been under Austria-Hungary, but could not and would not take action in regard to that part of Ukraine which had been under Russian rule prior to 1914.

The Poles utilized the situation to extend their claims over Western Ukraine and they obstinately refused to consider any settlement which would establish a political boundary between Poland and Western Ukraine, no matter how the case was put forward. Step by step the Allies moderated their demands, especially since France insisted stubbornly on backing almost all of the Polish claims. Thus on June 25, the Allied Supreme Council allowed Poland to occupy the territory up to the Zbruch River with a proviso that the Poles should guarantee local autonomy and freedom of religion to the non‑Polish population. A little later they again offered to give Poland a twenty‑five-year mandate  p249 over Eastern Galicia and to grant a plebiscite at the end of that time. Then, later in the year, they developed the idea of the Curzon line to mark the eastern boundary of the country, but there was also the supplementary idea that if Poland occupied land beyond this, she might receive it when the future of Russia was settled. In view of the weak Polish organization, which was only struggling to its feet and was short of all supplies, this idea that the Poles should organize a section of Russia by their own efforts could only increase the Polish claims. It is therefore not surprising in view of the entire tangle that the Peace Treaties provided no definite eastern boundary for Poland and in fact do not mention one in the official texts of the documents.

Everyone seemed unaware of the fact that Eastern Europe was in a turmoil with many forces competing for the mastery. The statesmen and still more the masses of the population of the Allied countries knew little or nothing about these forces. They saw only problems where they desired to find peace, and public sentiment turned against attempts to find a difficult but relatively permanent solution to the entire problem. The world was sick of this continuing struggle but it could find no way of ending it.

It was against this background that Petlyura and the forces of Ukraine carried on the struggle during the entire summer of 1919. Yet despite all of the hardships of the population and the lack of supplies, Petlyura was able to recover the control of Kiev on August 31. Again he was unable to hold it, because the Russian army of Denikin moving up from the south compelled him to evacuate a few days later. On the other hand, hostile as the Poles were to the Ukrainian national committee, they were little better pleased at the advance of White Russian armies, even though definite hostilities did not break out between the Poles and the Russian armies.

 p250  During these months there were four forces competing in the same general area. There were the steadily improving Polish forces supported by the Allies, especially the French, and constantly gaining in numbers and equipment. There were the White Russian armies with the backing of all the Allies striving to restore a unified non‑Communist Russia. There were the Red armies pressing down from the north, fighting to spread Communism and to conquer territory. There were finally the Ukrainians organized under Petlyura and isolated leaders struggling to maintain their political independence. All four were hostile to one another but it was easy to see that the position of the Ukrainians fighting on their own territory, with no organized base of supplies outside of the disputed area, was really the most desperate, for they had no way of recruiting and unifying their forces or of securing adequate supplies.

Then there broke out an epidemic of typhus. Under this and the growing pressure of the hostile armies, the Ukrainian forces began to disintegrate. The government of the Western Ukraine was the first that was forced into exile, for the Polish hold on Lviv was growing stronger with every week and the arrival of new and trained Polish troops allowed them to take over the entire province. The leaders retired into Romania and then moved to Vienna, where they continued to function as a government in exile.

At this moment the growing hostility in the rear of Denikin's White Russian Army came to a head and this as much as the power of the Soviets forced him to retreat and retire from the scene. Soon there was only the Crimea left in the hands of the White Russians. Yet the damage had already been done. Petlyura and the Ukrainians were not in a position to take over and organize the territory which Denikin had evacuated and it passed back into the hands of the Red forces, so that by the spring of 1920 nearly all of the Great Ukraine was in the hands of the Bolsheviks. Petlyura  p251 and the remains of his organized forces were pushed on to Polish soil and the general cause seemed lost.

Just then Petlyura made an important decision. He signed a treaty of peace with the Polish government which recognized the Direktoria as the government of an independent Ukrainian National Republic. This was the first recognition of Ukraine that had been officially granted since the Conference of Brest-Litovsk and there were high hopes that something might be saved from the wreckage of the last years.

The treaty was signed on April 21, 1920 and four days later the Polish army, with what was left of Petlyura's forces, marched on Kiev. There was little effective opposition and on May 6 a division of the Ukrainian Army and its Polish allies entered the city, almost without a battle. They even occupied a bridgehead on the east bank of the Dnyeper, and it seemed as if it would be possible to begin the work of rebuilding the shattered country.

Again there came disappointment. The Polish forces far outnumbered those actually under Ukrainian command. The sight of the Poles in Kiev annoyed and angered many of the more ardent Ukrainians and they blamed Petlyura for his alliance and for his abandonment of Western Ukraine. Memories of the century-long hostility with the Poles were stirred up and the actions of some of the Poles increased the tension. The result was that Petlyura was not able to secure rapidly the support that he had hoped for among the Ukrainian population, especially as Kiev was still filled with Russian refugees and sympathizers, many of whom preferred the Bolsheviks as a government in Moscow to the Ukrainians.

At the same time the Polish military situation was none too brilliant. Under the influence of the military tactics of the World War and its elaborate trench systems, little attention was paid to the service of supply behind the lines  p252 and the armies at the front were poorly supplied. Liaison between the various armies and divisions was bad and there was a possibility that an energetic attack by the Bolsheviks might jeopardize the situation.

This did happen early in June, just one month after Petlyura resumed the attempt to organize the government and the Ukrainian army. The cavalry force of General Budenny succeeded in crossing the Dnyeper and placing itself in the Polish rear. The Poles were immediately forced to retreat and they abandoned Ukraine. Petlyura and his men had to retire with them and Kiev passed back into Bolshevik hands.

The results were worse than at any time before, for while the Poles held well within the province of Eastern Galicia or Western Ukraine and Lviv was not seriously menaced, another Soviet attack from the north swept to the very outskirts of Warsaw. Here the Bolsheviks were definitely stopped in a great battle on the Vistula, between August 13 and 20, and they were thrown back in a disastrous rout. The Poles followed them almost as rapidly as they retreated and by October 12 had recovered nearly all the territory that they had held before the advance on Kiev. Then an armistice was signed, and this was followed by the Treaty of Riga which determined the frontiers between Poland and the Soviets until 1939.

In this agreement Ukraine was entirely forgotten. Poland held on to Western Ukraine substantially in the form in which it had existed under Austro-Hungarian rule and it acquired a considerable stretch of Ukrainian land to the east. In return the government dissociated itself from the efforts of the Ukrainians to secure independence and Great Ukraine was again deprived of any possibility of foreign assistance. Petlyura was forced into exile with the whole of the Directoria, and only unorganized and scattered bands  p253 continued to carry on a futile and hopeless struggle against the Red armies.

Thus, after more than three years of diplomacy and of fighting, the hopes of the Ukrainians to be masters in their own house were dashed to the ground. Their endeavors to create a democratic republic had ended only in disaster. Their leaders were dead or in exile and the population were helpless in the hands of their new masters. It was a sad and discouraging ending to a gallant attempt to profit by the collapse of the two great Empires that had long held them in subjection and had attempted to eliminate them from political life.

It is easy to criticize the actions of the Ukrainian people and their government during this troublous time and to point out that all too often they paralleled some of the more unsatisfactory aspects of the behavior of the Kozak Host in the seventeenth century. Yet this is hardly fair, for the dilemma of Ukraine standing alone was exactly that of all the other states in the area. A large part of the peasant population were far more interested in the solution of agrarian problems, of land reform, etc. than they were in the purely national revolution. They did not realize that the two had to be carried on simultaneously and they could not visualize all the changes that were being introduced into the country.

Their dilemma was only increased by the long period of hesitation on the part of the Great Powers at Paris and elsewhere. These wavered so continuously between support of Russian unification and aid to the various separatist groups that they were unable to exert their full power to bring about any satisfactory settlement. Step by step they had allowed the Russian Bolsheviks to infiltrate into the various national republics that had been set up, and finally only Finland and the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which had direct access to the sea, survived.  p254 At the same time their policy had failed to gain support for the White Russians even in purely Russian territory and had only succeeded in producing exactly the opposite results of what they wished.

It may give seem that the Ukrainian problem had thus been settled in a way that was to be permanent. Yet it had become more serious than before and it had been definitely pushed on to the international arena, whether they wished it or not. Exactly as Kozak wars had removed Ukraine from a purely Polish problem, so now the Ukrainian ghost was to be present at all international gatherings, whether it was mentioned or not. It is not too much to say that the final collapse of the Ukrainian national government awoke far larger masses of the population to the reality of the question than had even the Ukrainian declaration of independence, and for that reason the name of Ukraine began to play an even more important role on the map of Europe than it had done before.

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Page updated: 25 Apr 22