Ukrainian War of Independence
Part of World War I and the Russian Civil War
January uprising
Armed workers of the January Arsenal Uprising in Kiev
Date 8 November 1917 – 19 December 1918
(1 year, 1 month, 1 week and 4 days)
Location Eastern Europe
Result Ukrainian victory
Most of Ukraine forms the Hetmanate of Ukraine, while Bolsheviks seize Crimea.
Flag of Ukrainian People's Republic 1917 Ukrainian People's Republic

Flag of the German Empire German Empire (1918)

Flag of the Ukrainian SSR 1919 Ukrainian SSR
Flag of Russian SFSR (1918-1937) Russian SFSR

RPAU flag Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine
(allied with the Bolsheviks until 1919)

Flag of the Ukranian State Hetmanate of Ukraine
Flag of Russia White Movement
Flag of the German Empire German Empire (1917–1918)

Flag of Romania Romania (1918)

The Ukrainian War of Independence was a period from 1917 to 1918 of sustained warlike conflict between different political and military forces, which resulted in the establishment and development of a Ukrainian state. It comprised a series of military conflicts between Ukrainians who supported different governmental, political and military forces, among them Ukrainian nationalists, anarchists, Bolsheviks, the Central Powers forces of Germany and Austria-Hungary, the White Russian Volunteer Army for control of Ukraine after the February Revolution in the Russian Empire. Also involved were foreign interventionists, in particular Romania. The struggle lasted from February 1917 to December 1918 and resulted in the Hetmanate of Ukraine. The conflict is frequently viewed within the framework of the Russian Civil War as well as the closing stage of the First World War.


Eastern Front As of 1917

Eastern Front of World War I in 1917

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 Austria-Hungary. By the start of 1917 – after the Brusilov Offensive – the Imperial Russian Army held a front line which partially reclaimed Volhynia and eastern Galicia.

The February Revolution of 1917 encouraged many ethnic groups in the Russian Empire to demand greater autonomy and various degrees of 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, and governed by a socialist-dominated Tsentralna Rada ("Central Council"). The weak and ineffective Provisional Government in Petrograd continued its loyalty to the entente and the increasingly unpopular war, launching the Kerensky Offensive in the summer of 1917. This Offensive was a complete disaster for the Imperial Russian Army. The German counter-attack caused Russia to lose all their gains of 1916, as well as destroy the morale of its army, which caused the near-complete disintegration of the armed forces and the governing apparatus all over the vast Empire. Many deserting soldiers and officers – particularly ethnic Ukrainians – had lost faith in the future of the Empire, and found the increasingly self-determinant Central Rada a much more favourable alternative. 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, while in the east in the industrial Donets Basin there were frequent strikes by Bolshevik-infiltrated trade unions.

Ukraine after the Russian revolution Edit

Dismembered Russia — Some Fragments (NYT article, Feb. 17, 1918)

February 1918 article from The New York Times showing a map of the Russian Imperial territories claimed by Ukraine People's Republic at the time.

Propaganda UPR

Ukrainian People's Republic poster by B. Shippikh, Kiev, 1917

All this led to the October Revolution in Petrograd, which quickly spread all over the empire. The Kiev Uprising in November 1917 led to the defeat of Russian imperial forces in the capital. Soon after, the Central Rada took power in Kiev, while in late December 1917 the Bolsheviks set up a rival Ukrainian republic in the eastern city of Kharkov (Ukrainian: Kharkiv) – initially also called the "Ukrainian People's Republic". Hostilities against the Central Rada government in Kiev began immediately. Under these circumstances, the Rada declared Ukrainian independence on 22 January 1918 and broke ties with Russia.

The Rada had limited armed force (the Ukrainian People's Army) at its disposal and was hard-pressed by the Kharkov government which received 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, local Bolsheviks also formed the Odessa and Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic; and in the south Nestor Makhno formed the Free Territory – an anarchist region – then allied his forces with the Bolsheviks. Aided by the earlier Kiev Arsenal Uprising, the Red Guards entered the capital on 9 February 1918. This forced the Central Rada to evacuate to Zhytomyr. In the meantime, the Romanians took over Bessarabia and the Germans captured Kishinev (Romanian: Chişinău). Most remaining Russian Army units either allied with the Bolsheviks or joined the Ukrainian People's Army. A notable exception was Colonel Mikhail Drozdovsky, who marched his White Volunteer Army unit across the whole of Novorossiya to the River Don, defeating Makhno's forces in the process.

German intervention and Hetmanate, 1918Edit

File:Europe map 1919.jpg

Faced with imminent defeat, the Rada turned to its still hostile opponents – the Central Powers – for a truce and alliance, which was accepted by Germany in the first Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (signed on 9 February 1918) in return for desperately needed food supplies which Ukraine would provide to the Germans. The German and Austro-Hungarian armies then drove the Bolsheviks out of Ukraine, taking Kiev on 1 March. Two days later, the Bolsheviks signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which formally ended hostilities on the Eastern Front of World War I and left Ukraine in a German sphere of influence.

Yet disturbances continued throughout Eastern Ukraine, where local Bolsheviks, Greens, and the anarchist Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine refused to subordinate to Germany. Former Russian Army General Pavlo Skoropadsky led a successful German-backed coup against the Rada on 29 April. He proclaimed the conservative Hetmanate, and reversed many of the policies of the former government. The new government had close ties to Berlin, but Skoropadsky never declared war on any of the Triple Entente powers; Skoropadsky also placed Ukraine in a position that made it a safe haven for many upper- and middle-class people fleeing Bolshevik Russia, and was keen on recruiting many former Russian Army soldiers and officers. Despite sporadic harassment from Makhno, the Hetmanate enjoyed relative peace until November 1918; when the Central Powers lost confidence in Skoropadsky's ability to keep stability in the country without German support.

Post-Skoropadsky recoveryEdit

With the Central Powers busy with negotiations with the Allies, Skoropadsky could no longer rely on Germany's support. On 13 November 1918 Skoropadky's opponents set up a rival body known as the Directory, whose forces were headed by the newly reformed Sich Rifles and declared Archduke Wilhelm of Austria the new hetman. Most of Skoropadsky's troops joined with the Directory during a month long Ukrainian Civil War. Skoropadsky then turned to some of the Russian officers who were fighting alongside Denikin, forming them into a Special Corps, but these troops were not able to face the Directory troops. On 19 December 1918, the Directory troops took Kiev and overthrew Skoropadsky's regime.

The Directory quickly installed Archduke Wilhelm, reigning as Vasyl Vyshyvanyi, immediately. The new regime was torn between the pro-nationalistic, including the party of peasant-democrats, and the factions for the federal union with Austria-Hungary. In the end the idea to reestablish the Central Rada was set aside as well as to recover all its legal acts yet the most important one were preserved. On 26 December 1918 the Directory released its declaration to reform the Hetmanate regime into a constitutional monarchy.

By the end of 1918 the Hetmanate began to be dominated by the Ukrainian military leader, Symon Petliura.

Still faced by enemies on within its territory the Hetmanate's army was organised to face the threat. To the south-east were the Russian Whites. Coming quickly to some understanding with the Germans and the Austro-Hungarians, the Hetmanate's army was able to employ more men on this fronts.

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