Some trivia about Ukraine on the 29th anniversary of country’s Independence by George V.Pinchuk. Ukraine struggles for survival: The victories and the losses. Part 8.
In winter 1918-1919, Petlyura did not have the advantage that his predecessor, Hetman Skoropadsky, enjoyed at the beginning of his rule: peace. Unlike in spring 1918, in January 1919 parts of the Ukrainian People’s Republic were either occupied or turned into a battlefield. Russian Bolshevik troops under the command of V. Antonov-Ovsienko and M. Shchors (ironically, both ethnic Ukrainians) were advancing from the northeast, and the so-called White armies, led by General Anton Denikin, were making huge strides from the south and southeast. The Ukrainian heartland was in turmoil as well. In January 1919, a division of the UPR Armed Forces under the command of Danylo Terpylo rebelled against Petlyura and declared its intention to help the Bolsheviks. In fact, this division turned into a huge band of anarchist looters. Terpylo proclaimed himself Otaman Zelenyy (“The Green General”). To some extent, his “greens” (“Zeleni”) were useful because they fought both the Whites (whom they hated as “oppressors of the people”) and the Reds whom they despised for their military discipline and food requisitions. Zelenyy showed an extraordinary talent of a military tactician: his soldiers successfully recruited thousands of Ukrainian peasants and acquired not only heavy machine guns but also artillery, armored trains, and even war ships (making them a “Dnipro Fleet”). In April 1919, Zelenyy was stopped in just a few kilometers southeast of downtown Kyiv. Another anarchist leader, M. Grigoriev (real name Nykyfor Servetnyk), who at first fought as a commander of a brigade within the Red Army, proclaimed himself Hetman of all Ukraine in May 1919 and started his crusade simultaneously against the Reds and against Petlyura (whom he called “a civilian, a lightweight, nothing more than an incompetent village schoolteacher”). At the hight of Grigoriev’s uprising in early fall 1919, his 20,000-strong army controlled a territory in southeastern Ukraine and was about to take Kharkiv but lost to the Bolshevik army of K. Voroshilov.
It has to be mentioned that Zelenyy, Grigoriev, and a number of other rebellious anarchist leaders were radically anti-Petlyura, at times viciously attacking the troops loyal to the Ukrainian People’s Republic; in any case, even if they did not directly fight the Ukrainian government, they did not help it. And yet, they all considered themselves the defenders of the Ukrainian people. Moreover, in their speeches and manifestos, they called themselves the Otamans of the Ukrainian People’s Republic. That was very unfortunate because millions of people in Ukraine, especially rural dwellers with a limited knowledge of the world, often had hard time telling the difference between the “greens,” the “Grigorievs,” and the regular troops of Petlyura’s Armed Forces. Both Servetnyk and Terpylo fought under the Ukrainian yellow-and-blue flag with the sign of a trident, wore something resembling the Petlurite uniform, and wrote documents in Ukrainian (albeit often with bad grammar and lots of Russisms). This confusion had some fairly tragic consequences. Particularly, because the anarchist “Otamans” allowed their soldiers to loot and kill Jews, Petlyura, who was erroneously thought to be their chief, gained an undeserved reputation of an anti-Semite and a pogrom perpetrator.
The Entente (Britain and France) gave all their support to Denikin and other White generals, not believing that Ukraine was now an independent country struggling for survival. Germany and Austria were defeated and now were out of the geopolitical big game. New countries appeared on the map of Europe: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania. In these difficult conditions, the Dyrektoria had to look for allies. The attention of Ukrainian diplomats turned to yet another new entity on the European map, a state that called itself the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic. This state was formed by the decision of the congress held by the people of Ukrainian ethnicity living on the lands of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire where Ukrainians have traditionally settled (eastern Galitzia or Halychyna; the Carpathian Mountains; Transcarpathia; northern Bukovyna; Kholmshchyna, and Pidlyashshya) on October 19, 1918. The city of Lviv was proclaimed its capital. The new country chose a democratic form of government, electing Dr. Eugene Petrushevych its president. However, another new state, Poland, aggressively demanded its own part of the former Austria-controlled lands, especially Halychyna, including Lviv. Late at night of October 31, 1918, the Ukrainian Sichovi Striltsi under the command of Colonel D. Vitovsky clashed with the armed units loyal to Poland in and around Lviv. The fight was long and bloody. Eventually, the Poles took Lviv, making the WUPR government move to the city of Stanislaviv. Simultaneously, the troops of yet another new country, Romania, occupied the northern (ethnically Ukrainian) part of Bukovyna. The Entente, especially France, backed Poland and Romania; so, by January 1919, WUPR came to the brink of disappearance.
Under these conditions, the Dyrektoria representatives met with the WUPR diplomats and made a preliminary treaty. On January 22, 1919, the treaty became law in both countries, unifying them into one Ukrainian People’s Republic, where the WUPR became an autonomous Western Ukraine Oblast (Region). This act of union, or Akt Zluky, was solemnly read from a huge podium on the St. Sofia Square in Kyiv.
The unification of Ukraine brought some immediate benefits. Petlyura received some vitally important reinforcements as the Ukrainian military was supplemented by brave and strong fighters of the so-called Ukrainian Galitzian Army (Українька Галицька Армія, UGA or GA). In February 1919, the UGA units stopped the advancement of the Polish army and began their counter-offensive, returning a large territory under the Ukrainian jurisdiction. In July 1919, the UGA took Ternopil, a major city in Halychyna, and continued to march east. However, on August 30, 1919, the White armies of Gen. Denikin took Kyiv and drove the Ukrainian forces back west. For the rest of the year 1919, the situation in a large part of Ukraine became extremely volatile. A city or a town could be taken, sequentially, by the Petlyurites, then by the Denikinites, then by some Anarchist Otaman, then by the Reds, then again by the Petlyurites and so on. Needless to say, all that brought incredible hardships on the civilian population.
At that time, the constellation of prominent Ukrainians became illumined by yet another bright and original star – that of Nestor Ivanovych Makhno (1888-1934).
Makhno’s image is almost “larger than life,” combining features of a revolutionary, a martyr, and a cutthroat adventure-seeker. He was born in a village (later town) of Hulyay-Pole in southeastern Ukraine, not far from Aleksandrovsk (now Zaporizhzhya), the youngest of six sons of a poor peasant. His father died when Nestor was only 1 year old, so the boy had to earn his orphan’s bread by hard menial work since he was little. He worked as a shepherd’s help, as a house painter, and then as a “boy” at a local convenience store. However, he also studied diligently at a parochial school, made top grades and became literate. Beginning from age 17, Nestor became fascinated with the revolutionary ideas, and met a number of people who described themselves as Anarchists. In 1906, he and two “Anarchists,” wearing masks, broke into a store and demanded the owner to give money “to the case of poor people.” Soon, they were arrested but acquitted by the jury because no one could make a positive identification. Since that time, Nestor Makhno was arrested many times on charges of robbery and murder, although he always claimed that he was a political dissident and fighter for the poor oppressed people. In 1910, he was sentenced to hanging, but the sentencing was commuted to life in prison. Makhno was released from prison in February 1917, immediately after the fall of the Romanov dynasty.
While in prison, Makhno read extensively and deeply, becoming familiar with the works of Russian and Western European writers and philosophers. He also met with a few real Anarchists who explained to him the views of Kropotkin, Bakunin and other leaders of their movement. When he was released, Makhno went home and immediately began to work as a local community organizer. He founded a group called Selyanska Spilka (“A Rural Dwellers’ Union”), and simultaneously became the chairman of the local Soviet of Workers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, even though he did not belong to any political party. All his speeches had the same message: only those who work the land and the factories are true masters of the world. Human beings by their nature are good, and they do not need a state, which is something invented by a few lazy parasites in order to control the masses and to rob them of the products of their labor. Makhno held meetings under a black flag with a sign, “Anarchy is the Mother of All Order.” His popularity grew by the day. By the end of 1917, he was the leader of a large and well-armed commune of peasants, former factory workers, and soldiers-deserters who organized themselves into battalions fighting both the Central Rada and the Red Guards.
In 1918, Makhno lived like a vagrant, often leaving Ukraine and hiding somewhere near the Don river or in the Kuban, but his army continued its total war against all sides in Ukraine representing any kind of state. By the end of 1918, he suddenly made a deal with the Bolsheviks and became a Brigade Commander of the Red Army. At that time, the number of his followers reached almost 80 thousand men and women, all of them armed and many of them mounted. The Reds offered him, in exchange for their services, to help organize, in the future, an independent Zaporizhian Land where there will be no political parties and no authoritarian power but only self-rule of peasant communes. However, in June 1919 Makhno’s “Revolutionary Insurgent Army” rebelled against the Bolsheviks, protesting against their politics of “War Communism,” and Makhno was declared an outlaw. He continued to fight both the Reds and the Whites, raiding behind their lines and doing them damage, slowing down their advancement against each other. Makhno’s main weapon was the “tachanka,” a carriage driven by two or three horses and having a machine gun attached to its rear. Tachankas were capable of fast maneuvering, so that in an open field a hundred or so of them could decimate a regiment of infantry within minutes. Be it not for Makhno’s tachankas, the army of Gen. Denikin would probably take Moscow by the end of 1919. The insurgents-anarchists did a lot of damage to the troops loyal to the Ukrainian People’s Republic, too. Yet, in fall 1919 the Dyrektoria made a truce with Makhno, and the insurgents briefly fought on their side, killing and capturing several thousand of the Denikin troops.
In November 1919, Petlyura and his government were shocked by the news that Dr. Eugene Petrushevych, the leader of the former Western Ukrainian People’s Republic, was proclaimed a dictator and signed a deal with the Whites, according to which the UGA came under the direct command of Denikin. The WUPR representatives explained their decision by the fact that Petlyura substantially reduced their autonomy within the Ukrainian People’s Republic and by their fear that the UPR would become an ally with Poland. Actually, Petlyura had no such plans, but the decision of Petrushevych gave him the idea to begin talks with the Poles about creating a joint front against the Bolsheviks. In April 1920, Ukraine signed a treaty with Poland about creating such a joint front. Meanwhile, between January and May 1920, the UPR’s Armed Forces under the command of a brilliant military strategist General Mykhailo Omelyanovych-Pavlenko mounted a powerful offensive through the lands west of the Dnipro river, which came to be known as the First Winter Campaign of the Army of the UPR. It culminated on May 6, 1920, when the joint forces of the UPR and Poland took Kyiv.
However, things began to develop unfavorably for Ukraine again in fall 1920. On October 12, the Polish government signed a treaty with Bolshevik Russia in Riga, Latvia. The condition demanded by the Poles was that Russia would not object against the restoration of the Polish state within the borders of 1772. It meant that Ukraine would lose Volyn, Kholmshchyna, Pidlyashshya, and Halychyna to the Polish state. The Bolsheviks did not mind, so the treaty was signed, and the Polish army stopped fighting, leaving Ukraine to fight Russia alone. Worse, on October 21, 1920, the entire Ukrainian army, which now found itself on the terrain of a foreign state, was interned and disarmed by the Poles, and Petlyura and other Ukrainian leaders had to emigrate. At that time, Makhno made his insurgents part of the Red Army again. (Little did he know that immediately after using his forces in their military operation against the Whites in Crimea, the Reds would announce him an outlaw and drive the remnant of his army all the way to Romania, forcing him to emigrate. He died in 1934 in Paris, working as a stage mechanic at a small theater, ill with tuberculosis, penniless, and forsaken by everyone.)