Sich student society of Vienna

Image - Sich society in Vienna establishing a memorial plaque for P. Kulish and I. Puliui (1927).

Sich student society of Vienna (Українське академічне товариство «Січ» у Відні; Ukrainske akademichne tovarystvo ‘Sich’ u Vidni). One of the oldest and most active of Ukrainian student associations. The society was formed in 1868 by Anatol Vakhnianyn and Yuliian Tselevych. It was the first Ukrainian student organization to adopt an openly populist approach to Ukrainian affairs. Over the years the society lent its support to leading Ukrainian causes, and many community leaders emerged from its ranks. Thus it played a significant role in the national revival in Ukrainian lands under Austro-Hungarian rule.

In the 1870s the Sich society was active in popularizing the political ideas of Mykhailo Drahomanov and, under the leadership of Ostap Terletsky, in promoting the development of a socialist movement among Ukrainians. Such activity caused it to be temporarily disbanded (1877). After its reconstitution the group tended to maintain more mainstream Ukrainian positions. In 1901–2 it supported the movement for the secession of Ukrainian students from Lviv University; in the early 1900s it engaged in the struggle for a Ukrainian university in Lviv; in 1913 it organized riflemen detachments in anticipation of the war, and in 1914–18 assisted the Union for the Liberation of Ukraine; in 1917 it called for the union of all Ukrainian lands into one state (for which it was again temporarily disbanded); and in 1930 it sharply protested the Pacification of Ukrainians in Galicia.

The society also engaged in a certain amount of publishing activity. In the 1870s it prepared booklets for general distribution among the population. In 1920–4 it published the journal Molode zhyttia. Other publications included Nash svit (prepared by the Drahomanov Hromada, affiliated with the society), the humor journal Ieretyk, and several anniversary almanacs (1898, 1908, and 1932). The society was also active in cultural, educational, and intellectual work among Ukrainians in Vienna. Sich members also maintained active ties with non-Ukrainian individuals and groups and had a significant impact in establishing a profile for Ukrainians in such circles. During the world wars society members provided assistance to injured Ukrainian soldiers and deported workers.

Sich actively promoted co-operation among various student groups. It initiated the first meeting between Galician and Bukovynian students, which took place in Kolomyia in 1881. It provided the earliest call for a central body for Ukrainian student groups outside the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (leading eventually to the formation of the Central Union of Ukrainian Students in 1922).

The vitality of the Sich society in Vienna reflected the fact that for many years Vienna was the major European center of study for Ukrainians outside of Ukraine. In the early 1920s Prague overtook Vienna in this respect, and Sich, although remaining active, was somewhat diminished in status. In 1941 the association became a branch of the Nationalist Organization of Ukrainian Students in Germany (while retaining its own name). In 1947, after the Soviet occupation of Vienna, almost all of the members of Sich left Vienna, and the last president of Sich, S. Naklovych, was arrested and sent to Siberia by the Soviet authorities.

Zenovii Kokhanovsky

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]

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