A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

A brief history of Ukraine before the Soviet Union

Kievan Rus’ and foreign domination

The Slavic history of Ukraine begins in the 9th century BCE with the formation of the Kievan Rus’ empire. The Rus’ inhabited modern day Ukraine, Bulgaria, and even some of western Russia. For over 200 years, during the Golden Age of Kiev, the Rus’ built the great city of Kiev, brought Byzantine Christianity to the land, and developed Kievan culture. In 1132, after over a century of war with the Turks, Kievan Rus’ disbanded into many separate principalities. In 1240, following a heavy Mongolian invasion, Kievan Rus’ was totally destroyed.

Thus began the long period of foreign domination. From 1240 until the mid-14th century, the Galicia-Volhynian empire ruled Ukraine. The country then fell into the hands of the Lithuanians. In 1569, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was formed, and most of the territory that is now Ukraine was shifted to Polish rule. Because the Polish were subjugating the Ukrainian commoners and converting them to Catholocism, these people turned to the Cossacks, orthodox Byzantine Christians, for aid. At the same time, the Tartars were raiding and pillaging the Ukrainian territories. Because of their success in fighting the Tartars, the Dnieper Cossacks were able to form a military quasi-state, the Zaporozhian Host, by the mid-17th century. Still subjugated by the Polish, however, they invariably ended up allying with Russia.

The largest Cossack uprising against the Polish took place in 1648 and led to the Russo-Polish War. Upon its completion and the signing of the Treaty of Pereyaslav in 1654, left-bank Ukraine (ie: all of the Ukrainian territory east of the Dnepr River; and yes, it’s the left bank, even though it’s to the right of the river) was annexed to Russia. With the partitions of Poland in the late-18th century, all of Ukraine was assimilated into Russia, except for western Ukrainian Galicia, which became part of Austria. While Russian rule was not as free as it was promised to be, Cossacks were able to rise to great power in Russian government and in the Orthodox Church. Beginning in the 19th century, the tsarist policy of Russification was enacted and the Ukrainian language prohibited.

World War I and the Ukrainian struggle for independence

During World War I, the border between eastern Austria (Galicia), a Central Power, and western Russia, an Entente Power ran right down the Ukrainian territories. A Ukrainian Legion was established in Galicia, and anyone suspected of supporting the Russians were thrown into internment camps. Over 5,000 were imprisoned within Austria-Hungary.

Eastern Front as of 1917

Russia’s February Revolution of 1917 sparked a Ukrainian nationalist movement, and the Ukrainian People’s Republic was declared in Kiev as an autonomous entity with close ties to the Provisional Government in Russia. When the Kerensky Offensive failed in the summer of 1917, the people of Ukraine lost faith in the war and the People’s Republic, and a new Kievan government, the Central Rada, gained power over the Republic. Nestor Makhno, a notorious anarchist, was also garnering favor. After the October Revolution of 1917, a new Ukrainian power, also called the Ukrainian People’s Republic, was established in Kharkov and allied itself with the new Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (SFSR). The Central Rada in Kiev declared Ukrainian independence on January 22, 1918, breaking all ties with Russia. Thus began a very involved civil war in Ukraine.

The SFSR aided Kharkov with men and supplies, and so the Ukrainian People’s Republic won territory in Poltava, Aleksandrovsk (now Zaporozhe), and Yekaterinoslav (now Dneptropetrovsk) before the end of Januray, 1918. Meanwhile, two new soviet regimes were formed: the Odessa and the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Soviet Republics. At the same time, Nestor Makhno formed an anarchist commune in the south, which he later allied with the Bolsheviks. The Red Guards of Bolshevik Russia entered Kiev on February 9 and forced the Central Rada to flee to Zhytomyr. Romania, meanwhile, conquered Bessarabia (then part of Russia, now Moldova) and the Germans captured the city of Kishinev (now the capital of Moldova).

The Central Rada, facing imminent defeat, signed the February Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on February 9, 1918, creating a truce with their enemies, the Central Powers, in exchange for providing food supplies to the Germans. By March 1, the German and Austro-Hungarian armies drove the Bolsheviks out of Kiev. On March 3, the Bolsheviks signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, ending the war in the Eastern Front and ceding the Ukrainian territories to Germany. Hostilities continued, however, with Bolsheviks, Anarchists, and other groups in the Ukrainian territories uprising against the Central Rada. Germany backed a coup led by former Red Guard officer Pavlo Skoropadsky against this unpopular government. On April 29, Skoropadsky established the more conservative Hetmanate. There was relative peace until the Central Powers were defeated on the Western Front in November and were forced to withdraw from the Ukrainian territories. The socialist Directorate overthrew what was left of the Hetmanate after Skoropadsky left the country and allied itself with the newly formed Second Polish Republic.

Ukraine, March 1919

*For translation of maps, see my comment below.

The province of Galicia, now free from Austrian rule, formed the Western Ukrainian’s People’s Republic with the intent to rejoin with the Directorate. By October, 1919, Western Ukraine was defeated and annexed by Poland. The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 granted Galicia to Poland for the next 25 years. Meanwhile, for some unknown reason, the French, now free to move about the Black Sea after the German defeat, landed in Odessa and Sevastopol, but they found the population so fragmented and hostile, they quickly withdrew.

I found this great map, but it's all in Spanish, unfortunately. Allow me to explain what you're seeing here. The black outline is the present Ukrainian border, while the lime green one delineates the Ukrainian territory controlled by the first Ukrainian People's Republic. Working in a circle, the pink mammoth in the east is Soviet Russia (Red Russia, the Bolsheviks). The light blue to the north is Belarus. The People's Republic of Western Ukraine is in green. You can see Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bessarabia, and Romania in that yellow, red, and two-tone brown mess to the southwest. The yellow/green entity in the center is the second Ukrainian People's Republic. The gray cloud around Odessa is the short-lived French occupation. Finally, the White Army is the light yellow mass to the southeast.

Meanwhile, Lenin annulled the Brest-Litovsk Treaty almost immediately after Germany withdrew its forces, and Russia invaded Ukraine and the newly formed Eastern European countries. By February 15, 1920 the Bolsheviks conquered Kiev and reinstalled the once-exiled soviet government there. March 15 this government, now called the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, was firmly in place.  The Russians were on the point of wiping out the Ukrainian People’s Republic (remember that Kharkov government that had been supported by the Russian SFSR? When Russia changed governments in October, 1917, they fell out of favor.). The UPR was saved, however, when the White Army (as in anti-Red, not to be confused with White Russia, or Belarussia), allied with the Directorate, attacked. Although the White Army made significant gains, by March 1920 the Bolsheviks reconquered all of Ukraine from them, except for Crimea. They also defeated the army of Nestor Makhno, their former ally.

Faced with the very real prospect of extinction, the UNR turned to Poland. In April 1920 the Warsaw Pact was signed, ceding Galicia to the Polish in exchange for military aid against the Bolsheviks. The Polish launched the Kiev Offensive and reconquered the capital on March 7, 1920. A Bolshevik counteroffensive pushed the Polish almost entirely out of Ukraine, leaving them only the Galician city of Lviv. Then in August 1920 the Red Army suffered a great defeat in Warsaw, and the White Army pressed its advantage in southern Ukraine. On October 12, 1920, the Bolsheviks signed armice with Poland but continued to fight the White Army. By November 21, they pushed the White Russians all the way east to Polish territory.

On March 21, 1921, Poland and Soviet Russia signed the Treaty of Riga. Poland was granted all Galician territory. The rest of Ukraine was recognized as Soviet Ukraine. Although the Directorate continued to fight and made significant gains throughout the course of the year, on November 17, 1921 the Ukrainian White Movement was finally destroyed. The Russian Civil War would continue to rage in the east, but by 1922 the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics was officially proclaimed as a federation of Russia, Ukriane, Belarus, and Transcaucasia.

Advertisements

6 Comments»

  chanteuse428 wrote @

UKRAINE, MARCH 1919

I found this great map, but it’s all in Spanish, unfortunately. Allow me to explain what you’re seeing here. The black outline is the present Ukrainian border, while the lime green one delineates the Ukrainian territory controlled by the first Ukrainian People’s Republic. Working in a circle, the pink mammoth in the east is Soviet Russia (Red Russia, the Bolsheviks). The light blue to the north is Belarus. The People’s Republic of Western Ukraine is in green. You can see Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bessarabia, and Romania in that yellow, red, and two-tone brown mess to the southwest. The yellow/green entity in the center is the second Ukrainian People’s Republic. The gray cloud around Odessa is the short-lived French occupation. Finally, the White Army is the light yellow mass to the southeast.

UKRAINE, NOVEMBER 1919

The black border delineates modern Ukraine. You can see here the great advances made by the White Forces (light yellow). Moving in a circle, counter-clockwise, the pink forces are Soviet Russia, Belarus is in light blue, Poland dark blue, Czechoslovakia yellow, Hungary dark pink, Bessarabia light brown, Romania dark brown. The Ukrainian People’s Republic, shown in green, is still maintaining its central position around Kiev. You can see the now dying French occupation in gray and the anarchist forces of Nestor Makhno in a swirling blue/gray vortex near Krivoy Rog.

  mumbaikar wrote @

Did you know a scientist from Odessa, Ukraine – Dr. Haffkine discovered vaccines for Cholera and Plague in late 1800s in india? There is an institute named after him in Mumbai.

  Paris wrote @

Amazing post i must say that was worth reading

  black hattitude wrote @

hello,

Thank you for the great quality of your blog, every time i come here, i’m amazed.

black hattitude.

  Steve – Electronic Cigarettes Fan wrote @

This reads well. Do you write for any other blogs? Nicely done, Steven.

  unsumeNug wrote @

Impressive Article , I considered it remarkable

I look ahead to more innovative postings like this one. Does This Site have a newsletter I can subscribe to for more information concerning this?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: