Ukrainian War of Independence

Ukrainian War of Independence

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Ukrainian War of Independence

place=Central and Eastern Europe
partof=World War I and the Russian Civil War
result=End of Ukrainian People's Republic.
Division of Ukraine between Poland and Ukraine SSR.
combatant1=flagicon|Ukraine Ukrainian People's Republic
flagicon|Ukraine West Ukrainian People's Republic
flag|German Empire (1918)
flagicon|Poland Poland (1920)
combatant2=flag|Ukrainian SSR|1927
flag|Russian SFSR|1918

(allied with the Bolsheviks until 1920)
combatant3=flagicon|Russia White Movement
flag|German Empire (1917-1918)
flagicon|Poland Poland (1918-1919)
flagicon|France France (1919)

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


During the First World War Ukraine was in the front lines of the main combatants, the Entente-allied Russian Empire and Romania, and the Central Powers of the German Empire 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 Empire to demand greater autonomy and various degrees self-determination. A month later the Ukrainian People's Republic was declared in Kiev as an autonomous entity with close ties to the Russian Provisional Government, governed by a socialist-dominated Tsentralna Rada. The weak and ineffective Provisional Government in Petrograd chose to continue its loyalty to the entente and continue the increasingly unpopular war, launching the Kerensky Offensive in summer 1917. However the Offensive turned out to be a complete disaster for the Russian Army, and the German counter-attack not only caused Russia to lose all the gains of 1916, but it broke the remaining morale of the Army, which collapsed causing disintegration of not only the armed forces, but the civilian apparatus all over the Empire. Many deserting soldiers and officers, particularly ethnic Ukrainians have lost faith in the future of the Empire, and found the increasingly self-determinant Central Rada a much more favourable alternative. It was during this time that 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 Pole, whilst in the east the industrial Donets Basin became a frequent scene of strikes by the Bolshevik-infiltrated trade-unions.

Ukraine after the Russian revolution

All this led to the October Revolution to take place first in Petrograd and then spread all over the Empire. The new government refused to recognise any existing other administration on the territory of Russia and in late December 1917, set up a rival Ukrainian republic in the eastern city of Kharkov, initially also called the Ukrainian People's Republic [Ukrainian (Soviet) People's Republic at [ WMS] ru icon] . 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. cite web|url=|title=Ukraine.|author=J. Kim Munholland|accessdate=2007-11-08|work=Encyclopædia Britannica] [cite book|last=Reid|first=Anna|title=Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine|year= |publisher=Westview Press|year=2000|isbn=0813337925|pages=p. 33]

The Rada had limited armed force at its disposal and was hard-pressed by the Kharkov government which received aid in men and resources from the Russian SFSR. As a result the Bolsheviks quickly overran Poltava, Aleksandrovsk ("now Zaporizhia"), and Yekaterinoslav ("now Dnipropetrovsk") by January 1918. Across Ukraine, the local Bolsheviks also formed the Odessa, Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Soviet Republics and in the south Nestor Makhno formed a Anarchist commune, then allied with the Bolsheviks. On February 9 the Red Guards entered Kiev, forcing the Tsentralna Rada to evacuate to Zhytomyr. In the meantime, the Romanians took over Bessarabia and Germans captured Kishinev. The remaining Russian Army units, either allied with the Bolsheviks or chose to join 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

Faced with imminent defeat the Rada turned to its still hostile opponent, the Central Powers for truce and alliance, which was accepted in a February 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 proceeded to drive 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.

Disturbances continued, however, throughout Eastern Ukraine where local Bolsheviks, Anarchists, and Greens were refusing to subordinate themselves to Germany. Under these circumstances, a former Russian Army General Pavlo Skoropadsky led a successful German-backed coup against the Rada on April 29. He then proclaimed the conservative Hetmanate and reversed many of the policies of the former government. The new government had close ties to Berlin, however Skoropadsky never declared war on any of the Entente powers. Skoropadsky also placed Ukraine in a position that allowed it to be a safe haven for many upper and middle class people fleeing the 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 following the defeat of Germany, Lenin's government annulled the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, which Leon Trotsky described as "no war no peace", and proceeded to invade 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 former proclaimed a Western Ukrainian People's Republic, which wished to reunite with Ukraine proper, whilst the latter gave their allegiance to the newly formed Second Polish Republic. Both sides became increasingly hostile with each other. On January 22, 1919, Akt Zluky was signed between the West Ukraine and the Directorate to united forces, but by October the West Ukraine was defeated and annexed by Poland. The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 granted Galicia to Poland for the period of 25 years. [cite web|author=Arkadii Zhukovsky|url=|title=Struggle for Independence (1917-1920)|accessdate=2007-11-08|work=Encyclopedia of Ukraine] The defeat of Germany had also opened the Black Sea to the Allies, and in mid-December 1918 some mixed forces under French command were landed at Odessa and Sevastopol, and in the next months at Kherson and Nikolayev ("now Mykolaiv"). The cause and purpose of French intervention, however, 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 the people of Ukraine 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 Crimea.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 was reduced to a strip of land on the Polish border with its capital moving from Vinnytsia, Proskurov, Kamenets-Podolsky and Rivne. However the UNR facing defeat was saved, when the Bolsheviks had to re-locate their armies to against the renewed White Russian offensive in South Russia and Urals which threatened the very existence of Bolshevism and required more urgent attention. During the spring and summer of the 1919, Denikin's Volunteer Army and Don Army overran all of Central and Eastern Ukraine and made significant gains on the other fronts as well, but in winter the tide of war reversed decisively and by 1920 all of Eastern and Central Ukraine except Crimea was once again in Bolshevik's hands. The Bolsheviks also abandoned and defeated their former ally, Nestor Makhno, whose Anarchist army was previously cooperating with the Bolsheviks against Denikin.

Polish involvement, 1920

Once again, facing imminent defeat the UNR, turned to their former adversary, Poland 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, aimed at capturing Ukraine proper from the Bolshevik control. Initially successful, the offensive succeeded in reaching Kiev on May 7, 1920. However, in late May the Red Army, led by Mikhail Tukhachevsky staged a large-scale counter-offensive under Zhitomir which pushed the Polish army almost completely out of Ukraine, save for Lviv in southern Galicia. Then, in yet another reversal of fortune, 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 left Bolsheviks with no other choice but 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 which 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. By November 21, after several battles, they were driven into Polish-controlled territory. On March 18, 1921, Poland signed the peace Treaty of Riga with Soviet Russia and Ukraine. By doing so Poland effectively ended its alliance obligations with Ukrainian People's Republic. As a result of this treaty, the Bolsheviks recognized Polish control over Galicia ("Halychyna"), the western part of Ukraine, while the larger central parts of Ukrainian territory, as well as eastern and southern areas were recognized by Poland as part of Soviet Ukraine.

Having secured peace on the Western front, the Bolsheviks immediately moved on to crush the remnants of the White Movement. After a final offensive in the Isthmus of Perekop the Red Army overrun Crimea although Wrangel was able to save the army which evacuated by the Entente to Constantinople 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 Oblast (province) of Ukraine. 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 Republics 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 Moscow. In the new state, Ukrainians initially enjoyed a titular nation position during the nativization and Ukrainization periods. Although during the 1930s a massive famine 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.

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 Soviet pact with Germany in August 1939 allowed the Red Army to enter Poland and incorporate Volhynia and Galicia into Ukrainian SSR. In June 1941 Germany and her 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 have strongly contributed, the region of Carpathian Ruthenia, formerly a part of Czechoslovakia, was united with Ukrainian SSR; also parts of pre-war Polands 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.


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