Struggle for Independence (1917–20). The term used to describe the political, military, and diplomatic activities to achieve Ukrainian statehood in all Ukrainian territories. At first this struggle concerned the central Ukrainian territories, which, until 1917, were part of the Russian Empire. Following the February Revolution of 1917, three Ukrainian state formations were established in central Ukraine. On 17 March the Central Rada, headed by Mykhailo Hrushevsky, was created in Kyiv. The state-founding proclamations of the Rada were the four Universals of the Central Rada: the First (23 June 1917) proclaimed Ukrainian autonomy; the Second (16 July) stated the agreement and the reciprocal recognition between the Central Rada and the Provisional Government; the Third (20 November) created the Ukrainian National Republic (UNR); and the Fourth, dated 22 January 1918, declared the independence and sovereignty of the UNR on 25 January 1918. The session of the Central Rada on 29 April 1918 ratified the Constitution of the Ukrainian National Republic and elected Hrushevsky president. That same day, however, a coup d'état was staged with the support of the Germans by conservative circles at the congress of the All-Ukrainian Union of Landowners of Ukraine. Gen Pavlo Skoropadsky was proclaimed hetman of the Ukrainian State, which replaced the UNR. The hetman decreed the ‘Laws for the Provisional Regime in Ukraine,’ which annulled the previous legal status and all laws of the UNR, and formed the Hetman government.
The Ukrainian political formations that opposed the hetman formed the Ukrainian National Union at the beginning of August 1918 and on 13 November they appointed the Directory of the Ukrainian National Republic, headed by Volodymyr Vynnychenko. Following Pavlo Skoropadsky's 14 November 1918 proclamation of the federation of Ukraine with Russia, the Directory began an anti-hetman uprising that culminated on 14 December in the restoration of the republican rule of the UNR.
The Directory of the Ukrainian National Republic introduced the labor principle of rule with the Labor Congress as the highest legislative body and with the Council of National Ministers of the Ukrainian National Republic as the executive organ. On 11 February 1919 Volodymyr Vynnychenko stepped down as head of the Directory and his post was taken over by Symon Petliura, who also became supreme otaman of the Army of the Ukrainian National Republic. He occupied these positions until his death on 25 May 1926.
In the western Ukrainian lands that formed part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ukrainian National Rada (UNRada) was formed in Lviv on 18–19 October 1918 and proclaimed a Ukrainian state on the territory of Galicia, northern Bukovyna, and Transcarpathia. It assumed power in Galicia on 1 November 1918 and in the Ukrainian part of Bukovyna on 6 November. On 9 November the UNRada announced the establishment of the Western Ukrainian National Republic (ZUNR) and formed a government, the State Secretariat of the Western Ukrainian National Republic, headed by Kost Levytsky. On 22 January 1919 the union of the ZUNR with the UNR was solemnly proclaimed in Kyiv (photo: rally on the Saint Sophia Square); following this event, the ZUNR officially became the Western Province of the Ukrainian National Republic. On 9 June 1919 the UNRada appointed Yevhen Petrushevych plenipotentiary dictator of the ZUNR.
The essential military forces in Central Ukraine were volunteer army formations, among which the best were the regular units of the Sich Riflemen. These units formed the Army of the Ukrainian National Republic, which defended the Ukrainian state against the Bolshevik Red Army units, which came from Russia or were formed in Ukraine, as well as against the White armies of Anton Denikin and Petr Wrangel. Alongside the regular Ukrainian army formations, the partisan movement in Ukraine, 1918–22, consisting of spontaneously formed, uncoordinated, often anarchic (see Nestor Makhno) units led by local otamans, fought for the national and social goals of the revolution, although they did not share the ambitions of Ukrainian statehood.
In Western Ukraine the struggle for Ukraine's liberation was led by the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen, who were first part of the Austro-Hungarian army and later incorporated into the Ukrainian Galician Army (UHA), which was the regular army of the ZUNR. It defended the Western Ukrainian state from invasion by Poland (see Ukrainian-Polish War in Galicia, 1918–19). Later, together with the Army of the Ukrainian National Republic, UHA fought against the Bolsheviks and the Whites.
The UNR and the Ukrainian State were intensely active in diplomacy and were recognized by several states. A delegation from the UNR signed the Peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Central Powers.
Under the pressure of unfavorable conditions at the front, the Directory of the Ukrainian National Republic signed the Treaty of Warsaw with Poland in April 1920, and the two began a joint advance against the Soviet Army in Ukraine (see Ukrainian-Soviet War, 1917–21). Under Bolshevik pressure the Army of the Ukrainian National Republic retreated from Ukraine on 21 November to Poland. The last organized military encounter of the struggle for Ukrainian independence was the Second Winter Campaign led by Yurii Tiutiunnyk, although the partisan struggle continued for some time. The Government-in-exile of the Ukrainian National Republic continued the political battle for independence throughout the interwar period.
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[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 2 (1989).]
Encyclopedia of Ukraine