Ukrainian Sich Riflemen

Image - Officers of the Sich Riflemen and the representatives of the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen in Kyiv in 1918. Image - The Combat Board of the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen. Sitting, from left: V. Starosolsky, T. Kormosh, K. Trylovsky, S. Tomashivsky, D. Kamatai; standing: I. Bobersky, V. Temnytsky, L. Tsehelsky. Image - The Sich Riflemen and Ukrainian Sich Riflemen officers in Kyiv in 1918. Image - An armored vehicle of the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen.

Ukrainian Sich Riflemen (Ukrainski sichovi striltsi [USS], Legion USS). The only Ukrainian unit in the Austrian army. Organized in Galicia in August 1914 at the initiative of the Supreme Ukrainian Council, it was supervised by the Ukrainian Combat Board. The first volunteers were members of Ukrainian paramilitary organizations, such as the Sich societies, Sokil, and Plast Ukrainian Youth Association. In September 1914 only 2,500 of them were accepted into the army and sent to Transcarpathia for brief training. After two weeks, individual USS companies were moved to the Russian front in the Carpathian Mountains.

The USS were divided into ten companies, grouped initially into two and one-half battalions and then into three independent groups (commanded by Captain Mykhailo Voloshyn, Captain Hryhorii Kossak, and Maj Stepan Shukhevych). Placed under the operational control of the Austrian 55th Infantry Division, they were employed tactically as battalions or companies of the 129th and 130th Austrian brigades. The legion's commander was Teodor Rozhankovsky, then Mykhailo Halushchynsky. In March 1915 the post of legion commander was abolished, and the USS were divided into two independent battalions (commanded by Kossak and Semen Goruk and, later, V. Didushok), a reserve company, and a training unit. The legion distinguished itself in battle at Makivka (29 April–3 May 1915), Bolekhiv, Halych, Zavadiv, and Semykivtsi. Despite casualties, the force remained at eight infantry companies (in two battalions). In 1916 the battalions were merged into the First Regiment of the USS, under the command of Maj Kossak and then Lt Col Antin Varyvoda. In August–September 1916 the regiment lost over 1,000 men at Lysonia and was reduced to a battalion (commanded by Col F. Kikal). The USS suffered another severe loss at Koniukhy in July 1917. The survivors of the USS Hutsul Company and the USS Kish were re-formed into a new battalion (commanded by D. Krenzhalovsky). In February 1918, under Maj Myron Tarnavsky, it marched with the Austrian army to the Kherson region. In October it was transferred to Bukovyna. On 3 November, the USS arrived in Lviv, too late to hold the city against the Poles. By January 1919 the battalion was expanded into the First Brigade of the Ukrainian Galician Army (UHA). Commanded by Maj O. Bukshovany, it consisted initially of one regiment. By June 1919 it had two infantry regiments, a cavalry troop, an artillery regiment, and other support units. When the UHA was reorganized into the Red Ukrainian Galician Army, the USS became the First Infantry Regiment, under the command of Captain Z. Noskovsky and then Mykhailo Baran. In late April 1920 the regiment suffered heavy casualties in battle and was surrounded by the Polish army; on 2 May 1920 it was forced to capitulate.

The Legion USS was the first and most durable (5.5 years) Ukrainian military formation during and after the First World War. Its former officers became the organizers and leaders of the Sich Riflemen in Kyiv. Its officers also played an important role in the November Uprising in Lviv, 1918. It had the best-trained troops of the UHA, and its officers were the army's top commanders.

Ukraïns’ki sichovi stril’tsi, 1914–1920 (Lviv 1935; 3rd edn, Montreal 1955)
Ripets’kyi, S. Ukraïns’ke sichove striletstvo (New York 1956)

Petro Sodol

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]

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