The spontaneous movement in defence of Ukrainian national rights in the Russian Empire, which later grew into the full-fledged struggle for independence (1917-20), emerged in Kyiv and central Ukraine in 1917. Following the February Revolution in the Russian Empire, on 17 March the Central Rada, headed by Mykhailo Hrushevsky, was created in Kyiv. At the outset, the struggle for Ukrainian national interests led by the Central Rada was conducted exclusively by political means. However, very soon the critical need to militarily defend Ukraine against the attacks by the Bolshevik forces, the Russian 'White' Army, and other enemy troops, became absolutely evident. The Central Rada itself had no clear plans concerning military organization and did not even recognize the need for a standing army based on compulsory military service. Instead, the concept of Free Cossacks, a volunteer, territorial, national militia, won out and was ratified by the Rada in November 1917. As a result of these policies, prior to the downfall of the Central Rada, the UNR Army consisted only of the Zaporozhian Corps (four infantry regiments, one cavalry regiment, and two light-artillery detachments), the Sich Riflemen Regiment, the Bluecoats, the Graycoats (in the process of formation), plus an indeterminate number of Free Cossacks, for a total of approximately 15,000 soldiers. This small military force found itself faced with a daunting task of not only defending Kyiv against enemy attacks, but also establishing Ukrainian rule in the regions of eastern and southern Ukraine and maintaining general law and order... Learn more about the Ukrainian armed forces during Ukraine's struggle for independence (1917-20) by visiting the following entries:

FREE COSSACKS. Ukrainian volunteer militia and military formations in 1917-18, which arose spontaneously at the outset of the Ukrainian struggle for independence and organized themselves at a congress in Zvenyhorodka near Kyiv in April 1917. Their purpose was 'to defend the liberties of the Ukrainian people' and to maintain civil order, which was threatened by bands of Bolshevik-inspired deserters. The units were organized by territory. The officers were elected. Arms were purchased from funds that were provided by taxes. In 1917 the Free Cossack movement spread through Kyiv, Volhynia, Kherson, Poltava, and Chernihiv gubernias. The troops consisted mostly of peasants, but also included workers, particularly in Kyiv. The All-Ukrainian Congress of Free Cossacks in Chyhyryn on 16–20 October 1917 represented 60,000 organized Cossacks. General Pavlo Skoropadsky was elected otaman of the Free Cossacks. The acting otaman was Ivan Poltavets-Ostrianytsia. The Free Cossacks played an important role in battles with the Bolsheviks, particularly in the southern Kyiv region. In April 1918 the Free Cossacks were disarmed on the orders of the German command...

Free Cossacks

ARMY OF THE UKRAINIAN NATIONAL REPUBLIC. Unlike the Ukrainian Galician Army, the regular armed forces of the Western Ukrainian National Republic, the UNR Army was never a regular, well-structured organization, but was made up of various armed volunteer units. The history of the UNR Army can be divided into three main phases: the periods of the Central Rada, the Hetman government, and the Directory of the UNR, although the formation of its units in all phases was to a large degree spontaneous and chaotic. Apart from the formations that were established by the Central Rada, some units were formed by Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky in 1918. These included the Serdiuk Guard Division (5,000 men), the Graycoats, and the Sich Riflemen unit (revived as a separate detachment). Some of these units took part in the anti-Hetman revolt in the fall of 1918 and supported the Directory of the UNR. Under the Directory and the command of Symon Petliura, the UNR Army was reorganized into four groups: Left Bank (in charge of the Bolshevik front), North Right Bank (in charge of the Bolshevik-Polish front), Southern (in charge of the front against the Entente), and Dnister (on the Romanian front)...

Army of the Ukrainian National Republic

ZAPOROZHIAN CORPS. One of the regular formations of the UNR Army in 1918-20. It varied in strength, from 3,000 to 15,000, and structure, from a detachment to a brigade, division, corps, and group. At first the unit was formed on 9 February 1918 out of several small military entities. It consisted of two infantry and one cavalry battalion, an artillery company, and support units. The detachment took part in the first phase of the Ukrainian-Soviet War, 1917-21. In the spring of 1918 it was expanded into a brigade and a separate division, both under Brig Gen Oleksander Natiiv. With the support of German troops it cleared Left-Bank Ukraine, the Donets Basin, and the Crimea of the Red Army, and then in 1919 guarded the Ukrainian-Russian border. In the anti-Hetman revolt the division threw its support behind the Directory of the UNR. In the fall of 1918 it was reorganized into a two-division corps under the command of Petro Bolbochan, who was also the commander of the anti-Bolshevik front in Left-Bank Ukraine. After intense fighting against Soviet forces the corps was cut off from the UNR Army and had to cross Romanian territory to reach Galicia and Volhynia...

Zaporozhian Corps

SICH RIFLEMEN. A leading regular unit of the UNR Army which operated from 1917 to 1919 under different organizational forms: as the Galician-Bukovynian Batallion of Sich Riflemen, the First Kurin of Sich Riflemen, the Regiment of Sich Riflemen, the Separate Detachment of Sich Riflemen, and under other names. The core of its name was derived from the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen in Galicia. The Galician-Bukovynian Batallion of the KSS was established in Kyiv on 13 November 1917 by the Galician-Bukovynian Committee. Its first recruits were former soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian army who had escaped from Russian prisoner of war camps and come to Kyiv to participate in the building of a Ukrainian state. By the end of January 1918 the kurin had about 500 men organized in three companies. Under Col Yevhen Konovalets's command it defended Kyiv against a Bolshevik insurrection and, later, against the invading Bolshevik forces, and then secured the UNR government's retreat to Zhytomyr. After recapturing Kyiv on 1 March 1918, the First Kurin of the KSS was assigned the task of guarding government institutions and preserving public order in the city...

Sich Riflemen

GRAYCOATS. The popular name of an infantry division formed by the Austrian army in Volodymyr (in Volhynia) during March-August 1918. Recruited from among Ukrainian prisoners of war in Austria, it was officially designated the First Rifle-Cossack Division, under the command of Col Ivan Perlyk. It was composed of four infantry regiments and various other combat and support units, with a total strength of 6,140. On 28 August 1918, the Graycoats were transferred to the Ukrainian Hetman government army and stationed in the vicinity of Konotop. In October 1918, the division was reduced in strength, but during the November insurrection it declared its allegiance to the Directory of the Ukrainian National Republic and was reinforced with insurgents. Reorganized in December 1918 as the Gray Division of the UNR Army and placed under the command of Gen Antin Puzytsky, it fought against Bolshevik forces on the Ovruch-Korosten-Berdychiv line. In April 1919 it was expanded into a corps unit of two infantry divisions and transferred to the Polish front, where in May it was decimated in combat against the Polish army...


BLUECOATS. The popular name, named after the color of the coats of the soldiers, of the First Cossack Volunteer Division of the UNR Army. The Bluecoats were actually two Ukrainian divisions formed under the auspices of the Union for the Liberation of Ukraine from Ukrainian prisoners of war in German POW camps after the Peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on the basis of the agreement between the Ukrainian peace delegation and Germany. Each division consisted of four infantry regiments (1,200 men including officers) and one artillery regiment. The first division, under Gen Viktor Zelinsky, was formed in Kovel, Volhynia. In the middle of March 1918 it was transferred to Kyiv, where it was disarmed and demobilized by the Germans on the eve of Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky's coup (29 April 1918). The second division, formed in Holoby, Volhynia, was demobilized even before its transfer to central Ukraine. Many Bluecoats joined other military formations. An attempt to re-form the divisions by the Directory of the Ukrainian National Republic led to the formation of the Seventh Blue Regiment in the Third Iron Rifle Division of the UNR Army...


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