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Ukrainian territory was fought over by various factions after the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the First World War, which added the collapse of Austria-Hungary to that of the Imperial Russia. The crumbling of the empires had a great effect on the Ukrainian nationalist movement and in the short period of four years a number of Ukrainian governments sprung up. This period was characterized by optimism and nation-building, as well as chaos and civil war. It ended in 1921, with the territory of modern-day Ukraine divided between Soviet Ukraine (which would become a constituent republic of the Soviet Union) and Poland, with small regions belonging to Czechoslovakia and Romania.


National awakening

Following the Russian October Revolution of 1917, during the First World War, territories which had belonged to the Russian Empire, including Ukraine, suddenly found themselves in a political vacuum. Factions in Ukraine and several foreign powers vied for control during the increasingly chaotic period of the Russian Civil War.[citation needed] After the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the ethnic Ukrainian territories of Galicia (Halychyna), Transcarpathia (Zakarpattia), and Bukovina (Bukovyna) found themselves likewise in strife.[citation needed]

Ukrainians of Dnieper Ukraine and of the Western territories independently declared statehood as the Ukrainian People's Republic (Ukrayins'ka Narodna Respublika, UNR) and the Western Ukrainian People's Republic (Zakhidno-Ukrayins’ka Narodna Respublyka, ZUNR), respectively. Forces of these Ukrainian republics, the White movement, the Ukrainian and Russian Bolsheviks, Poland, Germany, and Romania fought over Ukrainian lands. The Makhnovist Partisan Army claimed significant areas as an anarchist "Free Territory." Many stateless paramilitary bands lacking any coherent ideology fought these forces and each other in what frequently seemed a political free-for-all. Various alliances were formed and broken.

Despite the turbulence, this period saw a resurgence of Ukrainian-language publication, which had been controversial in Austro-Hungary, and persecuted in the Russian Empire.[citation needed] The Hetmanate, installed by Germany while overthrowing the government of the UNR, conducted state policies directed at bolstering the Ukrainian culture and education.[citation needed] Among the Bolsheviks, national identity was controversial, but the so-called Kiev faction pushed for Ukrainization as well.[citation needed]

Alliance and strife

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, before the annexation of the Austro-Hungarian lands of the West Ukrainian People's Republic.

After the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, Ukrainian community leaders were able finally to organized the Central Rada in Kiev (Tsentral’na rada), headed by Mykhailo Hrushevsky. They sought an approval of the Russian Provisional Government in Petrograd (St Petersburg) to establish a regional government. The Central Rada consisted of various political parties such as Ukrainian Party of Socialist Revolutionary, Ukrainian Social Democratic Labour Party, Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, Jewish Bund, Polish national party, representatives of Army, peasantry, workers, and others. It quickly gained the support of elements of the Imperial Army in Ukraine. On June 23, 1917, the Central Rada issued its First Universal, declaring Ukrainian autonomy within a Russian federation, which was enthusiastically supported by the First All-Ukrainian Peasant Congress on June 28.

Shortly after the early-November Bolshevik coup in Petrograd and a similar event in Kiev, the Central Rada issued the Third Universal on November 20, 1917, declaring a Ukrainian People's Republic in Kiev and condemning the Bolsheviks initiated disorder in Petrograd as politically illegal. Due to the fact that the legal government in Petrograd was dissolved the Central Rada had no other choice, but to declare its autonomy with its own regional government that was previously approved by the Russian Provisional Government. The UNR refused to recognize the newly installed Soviet government, which in turn caused a tension within the Central Rada. The Bolshevik government demanded an all-Russian union. The Bolsheviks faction convened an All-Ukrainian Congress of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Soviets in Kiev in December demanding from the Central Rada recognition of Sovnarkom. Finding themselves to be a small minority at the congress of 2,500 delegates, the 100 Bolsheviks and a few others left to join a congress of local deputies in Kharkiv which they renamed the All-Ukrainian Congress of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Soviets. They declared the Bolshevik government of Ukraine (Respublyka Rad Ukrayiny) on December 25, 1917 and claimed that the outlaw is the government of the Ukrainian People's Republic.

The UNR for couple of months lost Kiev to the Bolsheviks, but pushed them back and maintained control of much of Ukraine, while the Bolsheviks were forced to convene their government in Taganrog, Russia, on the coast of the Sea of Azov. Eventually the Soviet government of Ukraine was dissolved by Stalin, but later supposedly was recreated once again in Moscow by the end of 1918. After the overthrow of the Hetman's government the Bolsheviks forces renewed their aggression claiming to be led by the government of Ukraine. Ukraine sent a note of protest requesting to cease the hostilities while Sovnarkom first ignored the request and later stated that it has nothing to do with the war in Ukraine. The Ukrainian government was forced to declare a war on January 16, 1919. The Bolsheviks amid fluid alliances with various anarchists would eventually defeat the Ukrainian army that was fighting on several fronts simultaneously.

Also the Western Ukrainian People's Republic (ZUNR) was declared in Lviv on October 19, 1918. The ZUNR formally (and largely symbolically) joined the UNR in hope to gain some support in the war against Poland. A UNR delegation sent to Paris could not gain recognition at the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the World War. UNR forces fared poorly during Polish-Soviet War and a late alliance with Poland wasn't enough to secure the republic. After the Polish-Soviet Peace of Riga, Ukrainian territory found itself split mostly between the Ukrainian SSR in the east, and Poland in the west. Ukrainian-inhabited Carpathian Ruthenia found itself in Czechoslovakia, and Bukovina in Romania. In 1922, having secured its territory, Soviet Ukraine joined the Russian, Byelorussian, and Transcaucasian republics to form the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Ethnic relations

Aware that Ukrainians of other ethnic background would largely be opposed to an ethnic national republic, the UNR early on set up seats in government and ministries to represent Russians, Poles and Jews. Russians were generally in favour of union with Russia and didn't have much interest in participating. They found more in common with Skoropadsky's Hetmanate, but also supported the efforts of General Denikin's Volunteer Army to restore Russian control in Ukraine. Poles in Ukraine were mixed in their reaction; in 1919-1921 many of them fled west during the period of chaos and then Soviet rule. Under the Hetmanate, Jews were excluded from participation, and although they were theoretically welcomed back by the Directory of the Ukrainian People's Republic, by this time they were suffering greatly as the countryside descended into the chaos of civil war. The white Volunteer Army was the main perpetrator of pogroms, some were instigated by Matviy Hryhoriyiv's Green Army and other neo-Haydamak bands and the Directory's forces, esp. the irregular otaman-led groups, also carried out numerous pogroms. The worst pogroms occurred in Proskuriv (arguably the most savage, organised by otaman Semesenko in February 1919), Zhytomoyr, Cherkasy, Rivne, Fastiv, Korosten and Bakhmach. Even Bolsheviks sometimes participated in pogroms.[1]. It is estimated that between 35,000 and 50,000 Jews lost their lives in pogroms in 1919-1920.[1] Consequently, the Ukrainian-Jewish relations suffered immensely from this period.

The German minority in Ukraine remained mostly aloof from the various governments. Many had already been deported to the far east during World War I, and under the Bolsheviks they were held under suspicion as potential sympathizers with the German enemy. Many German villages, and especially prosperous Mennonite estates, were burned by the Makhnovists, and their occupants killed or fled.

Crimean Tatars, outside of territory of the Ukrainian governments, declared independence in Bakhchisaray in 1917. They had good relations with the UNR, but were opposed by Russians and Ukrainians in Crimea, as well as by the Bolsheviks, who drove the Tatar government out. From 1918 to 1920, Crimea was occupied successively by Germany, a Crimean pro-Russian government, a Crimean Soviet Republic with Tatar co-operation, the White armies of Denikin and Wrangel, and finally by the Soviets again. This time, the Soviets declared the Tatars counterrevolutionary, and joined the Russian SFSR in 1921.

Ukrainian governments (1917–1920)

Russian puppet states

States that fought to depose the Ukrainian government and surrender the Ukrainian sovereignty in favor of Moscow. All of them were not recognized except for the so-called Third Ukrainian Soviet government in 1945.

  • First Ukrainian Soviet government: December 25, 1917–March 1918.
  • Second Ukrainian Soviet government: November 20, 1918–August 1919.
  • All-Ukrainian Revolutionary Committee: April 1919–July 1919.
  • Third Ukrainian Soviet government: December 21, 1919–1991.
  • Galician Revkom: July 8, 1920–September 21, 1920

See also


  1. ^ a b Orest Subtelny Ukraine. A History. Second edition, 1994. p. 363


  • Magocsi, Paul Robert (1996). A History of Ukraine. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-0830-5.
  • Subtelny, Orest (1988). Ukraine: A History, 1st edition, Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-8390-0.


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