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Polish-Ukrainian War
Part of Ukrainian War of Independence
PBW March 1919.png
The map showing breaking the siege of Lviv by Poles (November 1919) and the Polish border at the Zbruch River by the wars end, with Eastern Galicia (shown in blue) under the Polish control.
Date 1918-1919
Location Eastern Galicia, modern-day Ukraine
Result Polish victory
Poland Poland Ukraine West Ukrainian People's Republic
190,000[citation needed] 75,000[1]
Casualties and losses
10,000 15,000

The Polish–Ukrainian War of 1918 and 1919 was a conflict between the forces of the Second Polish Republic and West Ukrainian People's Republic for the control over Eastern Galicia after the dissolution of Austria-Hungary.



The origins of the conflict lie in the complex national relations in Galicia at the turn of the century. As a result of its relative leniency toward national minorities, the Habsburg monarchy (see: Austria-Hungary) was the perfect ground for the development of both Polish and Ukrainian national movements. Multiple incidents between the two nations occurred throughout the latter 19th century and early 20th century. For example, in 1897 the Polish administration opposed the Ukrainians in parliamentary elections. Another conflict developed in the years 1901–1908 around the University of Lwów, where Ukrainian students demanded a separate Ukrainian university, while Polish students and faculty attempted to suppress the movement. In 1903, when both Poles and Ukrainians held their separate conferences in Lwów (Poles in May and Ukrainians in August). Afterwards, the two national movements developed with contradictory goals, leading towards the later clash.

The ethnic composition of Galicia underlay the conflict between the Poles and Ukrainians there. The Austrian province of Galicia consisted of territory seized from Poland in 1772, during the first partition. This land, which included territory of historical importance to Poland, including the ancient capital of Kraków, had a majority Polish population, although the eastern part of Galicia included the heartland of the historic territory of Galicia-Volhynia and had a Ukrainian majority [2]. In the latter territory, Ukrainians made up approximately 65% of the Population while Poles made up only 22% of the population.[3] Of the 44 administrative divisions of Austrian eastern Galicia, Lviv was the only one in which Poles made up a majority of the population.[4] In Lviv, the population in 1910 was approximately 60% Polish and 17% Ukrainian. This city with its Polish inhabitants was considered one of Poland's cultural capitals. For many Poles, including Lviv's Polish population, it was unthinkable that their city should not be under Polish control.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries the local Ukrainians attempted to persuade the Austrians to divide Galicia into Western (Polish) and Eastern (Ukrainian) provinces. These efforts were resisted and thwarted by the local Poles who feared losing control of Lviv and East Galicia. The Austrians eventually agreed in principle to divide the province of Galicia, but the onset of World War I prevented them from implementing this major change; in October 1916 the Kaiser Karl I promised to do so once the war had ended [2].


Polish-Ukrainian and Polish-Soviet Wars early 1919

Due to the intervention of Archduke Wilhelm of Austria, who adopted a Ukrainian identity and considered himself a Ukrainian patriot, in October 1918 two regiments of mostly Ukrainian troops were garrisoned in Lemberg (modern Lviv).[5] As the Austro-Hungarian government collapsed, on October 18, 1918, the Ukrainian National Council (Rada), consisting of Ukrainian members of the Austrian parliament and regional Galician and Bukovynan diets as well as leaders of Ukrainian political parties, was formed. The Council announced the intention to unite the West Ukrainian lands into a single state. As the Poles were taking their own steps to take over Lviv and Eastern Galicia, Captain Dmytro Vitovsky of the Sich Riflemen led the group of young Ukrainian officers in a decisive action and during the night of October 31 –- November 1, the Ukrainian military units took control over Lviv. The West Ukrainian National Republic was proclaimed on November 1, 1918 with Lviv as its capital.

The proclamation of the Republic, which claimed sovereignty over Eastern Galicia, including the Carpathians up to the city of Nowy Sącz in the West, as well as Volhynia, Carpathian Ruthenia and Bukovina was a complete surprise for the Poles. Although the majority of the population of the Western-Ukrainian People's Republic were Ukrainians, large parts of the claimed territory were considered Polish by the Poles. In Lviv the Ukrainian residents enthusiastically supported the proclamation, the city's significant Jewish minority accepted or remained neutral towards the Ukrainian proclamation, while the city's Polish majority was shocked to find themselves in a proclaimed Ukrainian state.[6]

The War

"The Eaglets - the defence of the cemetery" by Wojciech Kossak (1926). Oil on canvas, Polish Army Museum, Warsaw.
A painting depicting Polish youths in the Lwów Uprising by Poles against the West Ukrainian People's Republic proclaimed in the city.
Polish-Ukrainian War - final stage

In Lviv, the Ukrainian forces were successfully opposed by local self-defence units formed mostly of WWI veterans, students and children. After two weeks of heavy fighting within the city, an armed unit under the command of Lt. Colonel Michał Karaszewicz-Tokarzewski of the renascent Polish Army broke through the Ukrainian siege on November 21 and arrived in the city. The Ukrainians were repelled. However, the Ukrainian forces continued to control most of eastern Galicia and were a threat to Lviv itself until May 1919. Immediately after capturing the city, in the end of November, Polish forces as well as common criminals looted the Jewish and Ukrainian quarters of the city.[7][8] The Poles also interned a number of Ukrainian activists in detention camps.[9]

In December 1918 fighting started in Volhynia. As Polish units tried to seize control of the region, the forces of the Ukrainian People's Republic under Symon Petlura tried to expand their territory westwards, towards the city of Chełm. After two months of heavy fighting the conflict was resolved in March 1919 by fresh and well-equipped Polish units under General Edward Rydz-Śmigły.

The Polish general offensive in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia began on May 14, 1919. It was carried out by units of the Polish Army aided by the newly-arrived Blue Army of General Józef Haller de Hallenburg. This army was well equipped by the Western allies and partially staffed with experienced French officers specifically in order to fight the Bolsheviks and not the forces of the Western Ukrainian People's Republic. Despite this, the Poles dispatched Haller's army against the Ukrainians in order to break the stalemate in eastern Galicia. The allies sent several telegrams ordering the Poles to halt their offensive as using of the French-equipped army against the Ukrainian specifically contradicted the conditions of the French help, but these were ignored[10] with Poles claiming that "all Ukrainians were Bolsheviks or something close to it".[11]

The Ukrainian lines were broken, mostly due to the withdrawal of the elite Sich Riflemen. On May 27 the Polish forces reached the Złota Lipa-Berezhany-Jezierna-Radziwiłłów line. Following the demands of the Entente, the Polish offensive was halted and the troops of General Haller adopted defensive positions. On June 8, 1919, the Ukrainian forces under the new command of Oleksander Hrekov, a former general in the Russian army, started a counter-offensive, and after three weeks advanced to Hnyla Lypa and the upper Styr river; their successful offensive halted primarily because of a lack of arms - there were only 5-10 bullets for each Ukrainian soldier [12]. The West Ukrainian government controlled the Drohobych oil fields with which it planned to purchase arms for the struggle, but for political and diplomatic reasons weapons and ammunition could only be sent to Ukraine through Czechoslovakia. Although the Ukrainian forces managed to push the Poles back approximately 120 km, they failed to secure a route to Czechoslovakia. This meant that they were unable to replenish their supply of arms and ammunition, and the resulting lack of supplies forced Hrekov to end his campaign.

Józef Piłsudski assumed the command of the Polish forces on June 27 and started yet another offensive. Short of ammunition and outnumbered, the Ukrainians were pushed back to the line of the river Zbruch.

Shell from Polish-Ukrainian war 1918–1919 in Lviv


Approximately 10,000 Poles and 15,000 Ukrainians, mostly soldiers, died during this war[11]. On July 17 a ceasefire was signed. Ukrainian POWs were kept in ex-Austrian POW camps in Dąbie, Łańcut, Pikulice, Strzałków, and Wadowice. On November 21, 1919, the Highest Council of the Paris Peace Conference granted Eastern Galicia to Poland for a period of 25 years, after which a plebiscite was to be held there. On April 21, 1920, Józef Piłsudski and Symon Petliura signed an alliance, in which Poland promised the Ukrainian People's Republic the military help in the Kiev Offensive against the Red Army in exchange for the acceptance of Polish-Ukrainian border on the river Zbrucz.

Following this agreement, the government of the West Ukrainian National Republic went into exile in Vienna, where it enjoyed the support of various Western Ukrainian political emigres as well as soldiers of the Galician army interned in Bohemia. It engaged in diplomatic activity with the French and British governments in the hopes of obtaining a fair settlement at Versailles. As a result of its efforts, the council of the League of Nations declared on February 23, 1921 that Galicia lay outside the territory of Poland and that Poland did not have the mandate to establish administrative control in that country, and that Poland was merely the occupying military power of eastern Galicia, whose fate would be determined by the Council of Ambassadors at the League of Nations. After a long series of negotiations, on March 14, 1923 it was decided that eastern Galicia would be incorporated into Poland "taking into consideration that Poland has recognized that in regard to the eastern part of Galicia ethnographic conditions fully deserve its autonomous status."[13] The government of the West Ukrainian National Republic then disbanded, while Poland reneged on its promise of autonomy for eastern Galicia. Following the Second World War, the area was ceded to Ukraine, which at that time was a republic of the Soviet Union.

Polish–Ukrainian War 1918-1919. Polish defenders of the Chyrów (Roman Catholic church in back), 1919
Polish armoured train Sanok-Gromobój from 1918. Polish soldier Wiktor Borczyk stayed by his son's side. 1918


  1. ^ Ukrainian Galician Army
  2. ^ a b Magoscy, R. (1996). A History of Ukraine. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 
  3. ^ Timothy Snyder. (2003). The Reconstruction of Nations. New Haven: Yale University Press. pg. 123
  4. ^ Timothy Snyder. (2003). The Reconstruction of Nations. New Haven: Yale University Press. pg. 134
  5. ^ Timothy Snyder (2008). Red Prince: the Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke. New York: Basic Books, pg. 117
  6. ^ Orest Subtelny, Ukraine: a history, pp. 367-368, University of Toronto Press, 2000, ISBN 0-8020-8390-0
  7. ^ Joanna B. Michlic. Poland's Threatening Other: The Image of the Jew from 1880 to the Present. University of Nebraska Press, 2006. One of the first and worst instances of anti-Jewish violence was Lwow pogrom, which occurred in the last week of November 1918. In three days 72 Jews were murdered and 443 others injured. The chief perpetrators of these murders were soldiers and officers of the so-called Blue Army, set up in France in 1917 by General Jozef Haller (1893-1960) and lawless civilians
  8. ^ Herbert Arthur Strauss. Hostages of Modernization: Studies on Modern Antisemitism, 1870-1933/39. Walter de Gruyter, 1993. "In Lwow, a city whose fate was disputed, the Jews tried to maintain their neutrality between Poles and Ukrainians, and in reaction a pogrom was held in the city under auspices of the Polish army"
  9. ^ Grünberg, Sprengel, p. 260
  10. ^ Watt, R. (1979). Bitter Glory: Poland and its fate 1918-1939. New York: Simon and Schuster. 
  11. ^ a b Subtelny, op. cit., p. 370
  12. ^ Subtelny, op. cit., p. 368
  13. ^ Kubijovic, V. (1963). Ukraine: A Concise Encyclopedia. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 


  • (Polish) Marek Figura, Konflikt polsko-ukraiński w prasie Polski Zachodniej w latach 1918-1923, Poznań 2001, ISBN 83-7177-013-8
  • (Polish) Karol Grünberg, Bolesław Sprengel, "Trudne sąsiedztwo. Stosunki polsko-ukraińskie w X-XX wieku", Książka i Wiedza, Warszawa 2005, ISBN 83-05-13371-0
  • (Polish) Witold Hupert, Zajęcie Małopolski Wschodniej i Wołynia w roku 1919, Książnica Atlas, Lwów - Warszawa 1928
  • (Polish) Władysław Pobóg-Malinowski, Najnowsza Historia Polityczna Polski, Tom 2, 1919-1939, London 1956, ISBN 83-03-03164-3
  • Paul Robert Magocsi, A History of Ukraine, University of Toronto Press: Toronto 1996, ISBN 0-8020-0830-5
  • (Polish) Władysław A. Serczyk, Historia Ukrainy, 3rd ed., Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, Wrocław 2001, ISBN 83-04-04530-3
  • Leonid Zaszkilniak, The origins of the Polish-Ukrainian conflict in 1918-1919, Lviv
  • Paul S. Valasek, Haller's Polish Army in France, Chicago: 2006 ISBN 0-9779757-0-3

See also

External links



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