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The initial process of creation of the Ukrainian Army (1917)

A passage from the book ‘Ukraine in the war for the Statehood. The history of organization and military actions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in 1917-1921’ by Oleksandr Udovychenko. Winnipeg. (1954), page 179. 

Published by corporal of the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen Dmytro Mykytiuk. Translated by Viktoriya Nechyporuk. Illustrations selected by “Heroyika” Charitable Foundation.

From the beginning of the Russian revolution in 1917, the Ukrainian people with a number of Declarations have proclaimed a creation of their own independent state.

The newly-formed Ukrainian government has been faced with a challenging task of creating the Ukrainian National Army. The beginnings of formation of the Ukrainian Army were taking place under unfavorable conditions, amid revolutionary chaos which was spreading in the regions of former Russia.

The major obstacle facing the Ukrainian government in the creation of its army was the active opposition from the Russian Provisional Government and its military command. When the strength of a turbulent and powerful Ukrainian movement finally broke this resistance, it was far too late, it resulted in only a few Ukrainian army units being able to take part in last engagements at the Russian front against the army of the Central Powers, namely in the summer of 1917 when strategical circumstances at the front of the Triple Entente demanded decisive actions from the Russian army.

Undoubtedly, the resistance of the Russian Provisional Government in the issue of formation of the Ukrainian army units had negative impact on the young Ukrainian Army in its war against the Red Moscow. As the war broke out at the end of 1917, the Ukrainian Army was still at the stage of formation and was not prepared to fight.

The revolutionary waves, which raged in the underground, quickly spread to the front-line army units. The process of degradation in the Russian army was escalating. The army has been demoralizing and losing its combat capability. The motto pitched by Russian revolutionary leaders was— ‘Peace without annexations and indemnifications’ — captured attention of the soldier masses exhausted by the 4-year war. The Russian army clearly did not want the continuation of the war.

Millions of combatants of Ukrainian origin, who were serving in the Russian military units had another point of view on revolutionary process, their thoughts were directed towards Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, the center of the Ukrainian national movement. Self-serving interests of the Russian soldier masses were alien to them.

A Ukrainian soldier had always excelled in discipline, level of development, initiative, due to which almost 40 % of all lower commanding positions in the Russian army (ranks of a corporal, master-corporal or a sergeant, as an example) were occupied by Ukrainians.

The wave of demoralization in the Russian army, which had led to murder of officers, refusal to obey orders by the whole regiments or even divisions, desertion, fraternization with the enemy and so forth— all these concepts were foreign to a Ukrainian warrior. These incidents repelled the Ukrainians from the general masses of the Russian soldiers. Thus, it’s not surprising that Ukrainians in the Russian army, due to the above mentioned circumstances, while being enchanted with their national interests, began to set themselves apart spiritually and organizationally. Their demand to the Russian command was formation of separate Ukrainian army units.

These demands concerning formation of Ukrainian army units, both by the Ukrainian Government and the Ukrainian soldiers themselves, became especially categorically intense after the Ukrainian government had called the First All-Ukrainian Military Congress in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. This 1st Congress was held in May of 1917, in presence of 700 delegates who represented almost 1000000 Ukrainian troops. The Congress chose the Ukrainian General Military Committee to be the main governing military body for organization of the Ukrainian Army. Symon Petliura, who later headed the Ukrainian armed forces had been given the title of a Supreme commander of the Ukrainian National Army, and was chosen as the chairman of the Committee.

In June 1917 the Second All-Ukrainian Military Congress was held in presence of 2308 delegates who came from different parts of the far-stretched Russian and even Turkish fronts and represented up to 4000000 Ukrainian soldiers. Despite the prohibition of the military minister of the Russian Government, this Congress took place in Kyiv again.

At the First and Second Congresses it was decided to demand from the Russian government to form separate national army units out of Ukrainian soldiers at the front. It was also decided to establish Ukrainian army units in the territories of Ukraine for defense of its borders and of the internal order. These military congresses gave the Russian Government the true image of strength and dynamic development of the Ukrainian national movement.

As a result of the Congresses at fronts and in the rear, a massive number of Ukrainian army units were being formed, against the will of the Russian command. Depending on the number of Ukrainian soldiers in one or another army unit, battalions, regiments and divisions were formed.

In spring of 1917 in Kyiv, the 1st Ukrainian Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky Regiment was formed. Being united by the national discipline, the newly formed Ukrainian army units soon gained respect of the Russian command at the front, as at that time Russian soldiers often deserted from the front. Small but disciplined Ukrainian army units replaced them in trenches.

In spite of the current situation, the high Russian command along with the Russian Provisional Government, which was headed by A. Kerensky, actively continued to hinder formation of the Ukrainian army units.

By the spring of 1917, a general offensive began on the Western front of the Allied Army. In order to support the offensive the Russian army had to be operationally active. Having no confidence in fighting abilities of the Russian army units, the Russian Provisional Government gave its consent to formation of one Ukrainian Army Corps and several other separate military units. For this purpose, the 34th Army Corps was reorganized into the 1st Ukrainian Corps under command of General Pavlo Skoropadskyi. During the offensive in the summer of 1917 this Army Corps was included into the strike group, the task of which was to break the front lines of the Austro-German forces in the area south of Ternopil.

The 1st Ukrainian Corps handled the combat mission brilliantly occupying the 1st and the 2nd entrenchments of the enemy, but as almost all Russian Corps refused to attack the enemy repelled the 1st Ukrainian Corps, which had suffered much loss previously, with a counterattack. That was the last attempt of the Russian army to mount an active offensive. It seemed like its last convulsive movement.

Although officially the Russian government agreed to formation of the Ukrainian army units, the following events confirms its true attitude toward these military units.
Due to the aforementioned offensive, the 1st Ukrainian Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky Regiment was sent to the front on request of the Russian command. However, 5 km from Kyiv at the Post-Volynskyy station the train carrying this regiment was suddenly fired upon with machine guns at night; the regiment was disarmed.

After the unsuccessful offensive in the summer of 1917 absolute demoralization took place in the Russian military units. Soldiers deserted from the front. Only some separate Russian army units stayed in trenches along with the Ukrainian ones. The front line was exposed. The war has ended. A part of the Russian troops came to the side of communists. The Ukrainian army units started to fight their way through to Ukraine.

In October of 1917 the communists came to power in Moscow. On their way home, most of the Ukrainian military units were disarmed by Russian communists; some of them were forced to demobilize. A part of them perished or scattered in battles, and only few came back to Ukraine. Therefore, only some of them could take part in the struggle against Moscow in their native land.

In October of 1917 the Ukrainian Army consisted of following units:
1. The 1st Ukrainian Corps within two divisions, under command of Pavlo Skoropadskyi.
2. Two infantry divisions within 8 regiments that were formed in Kyiv;
3. One regiment of cavalry in Kyiv.
4. The Infantry Cadet School in Kyiv.
5. Several artillery batteries at the stage of formation.
6. The Armored car Division in Kyiv.
7. In different parts of the country Ukrainian military units of different kind were formed, but they were only comprised of garrison troops that were serving at places of their location. Together there were up to 60000 fighters.

There was a lot of hope put on the Ukrainian army units that had been formed at the front. They numbered up to 500000 fighters (together with auxiliary troops) that were supplied with the respectable amount of artillery. However, given the situation that occurred in the territory of Ukraine in connection with the outbreak of the war with Moscow, where demoralizing revolutionary circumstances took control, most of these army units were forced to demobilize on the way to Ukraine.

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