It’s July 1919, and the chaos of the post-armistice
power vacuum is being filled by emerging new states competing with each other for territory. In the former Austro-Hungarian province of
East Galicia, the forces of the young Polish and West Ukrainian republics face off in a
decisive showdown. Who will rule the ethnically mixed region? It’s the Polish-Ukrainian War. Hi, I’m Jesse Alexander and welcome to the
Great War. By the summer of 1919 Central and Eastern
Europe continued to be torn apart by multiple wars between the new states that had arisen
in place of the fallen empires. In the region of East Galicia, which had been
a province of the Austro-Hungarian empire until 1918, the armies of the Polish Republic
and the Western Ukrainian People’s republic had been fighting for months in a back-and-forth
campaign. So what were they fighting for and why? The heart of the conflict was control of East
Galicia. This was the homeland of Western Ukrainians,
but also had deep historic ties to Poland, and had been part of previous Polish states
for centuries. The region was mixed, with Poles in a slim
majority in the capital city, known as Lwow Polish, Lviv in Ukrainian, Lemberg in German
and Lamberik in Yiddish. For consistency and clarity, we will refer
to it as Lemberg in this episode. In the city, Polish had replaced German as
the language of public life, schools and universities, and most landowners in the region were Polish. Ukrainians formed the majority in the rest
of the province and considered Lemberg to be their cultural and religious capital. In most towns, there was also a large Jewish
minority. Between 1914 and 1916 the region had seen
titanic battles and as the end of the Austro-Hungarian empire drew in sight, both Poles and Ukrainians
laid claim to East Galicia. Some anticipated a coming conflict, like the
Ukrainian National Congress in Kyiv in 1917: “The Ukrainian people will not tolerate
any attempts to seize the rights to the territory of Ukraine covered with her sweat and blood.” Once the Central Powers had been defeated,
the puppet Ukrainian state they had set up in the aftermath of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
collapsed, plunging Ukraine into chaos. When Austria-Hungary itself began to fall
apart in the fall of 1918, tensions in Lemberg reached boiling point. On October 31st, Ukrainian paramilitaries
made up of former Austro-Hungarian units and led by Dmytro Vitovsky seized control of the
city and interned the Austrian governor – even as the Poles had been planning to take over
the city as well. The next day, Polish paramilitaries and volunteers,
many of them teenagers known as “Lwow Eaglets”, struck back, and bitter small-scale clashes
began. Over the next three weeks both sides executed
civilians, took hostages and killed prisoners. These atrocities were not government organized,
since there was barely a Polish or a West Ukrainian functioning state at this stage,
but were the result of paramilitary violence and a power vacuum. Jewish residents formed a self-defence militia
that stayed neutral as the fight raged between their neighbours. Polish reinforcements soon arrived and took
control of the city on November 22. After the terrible fighting in what Poles
call the “Defence of Lwow”, many Poles were angry that the Jewish militia had stayed
neutral, which they equated with support for the Ukrainians. A pogrom soon raged through the Jewish quarter
of the city, leaving some 70 dead and more than 440 wounded. In this early stage, not everyone had wanted
to fight. The Polish Catholic bishop and Ukrainian metropolitan
issued a joint statement urging an end to the violence, but this only interrupted fighting
for a few days. Some on both sides referred to the outbreak
of violence as a tragic bout of fratricidal violence, more akin to a regional civil war
than a straight ethnic conflict. Polish Captain Karol Baczynski recalled “In
my unit I had to start putting together patrols to start looking for volunteers for the military
among anybody between 20 and 40 years of age…We searched every single house [in the whole
quarter] and handed those taken to the medical commission. Despite any opposition (of which there was
a lot) these men were put into uniforms and immediately informed where to fight.” Once the violence began though, national feelings
were strengthened. The competing new states that had suddenly
sprung into gap left by imperial collapse had mutually exclusive political goals that
meant there was no turning back. As historian Jochen Boehler notes: “The
nationalist agenda prevailed on all sides of the ethnic divide and rendered all scenarios
of peaceful cooperation void. People who surely had not always been on best
terms, but after all had got along quite well during the preceding one hundred years, were
now drawn into a witch’s cauldron where violence often even dwarfed the disasters
of the Great War, not in dimension, to be sure, but by its ubiquity and atavistic nature.” So now that we have an idea of the leadup
to the conflict, let’s take a look at the each of the belligerents, starting with the
Ukrainians. Ukrainian situation
The territories where Ukrainian-speaking people lived were at the heart of the chaos in 1919. The entire region was claimed, in whole or
in part, by Poland, the White Russians, the Bolsheviks, Belorussia, several regional warlords
and two independent Ukrainian Republics – the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic and
the Ukrainian People’s Republic. The West Ukrainian state was based in East
Galicia and was led by Yevhen Petrushevich, while the Ukrainian People’s Republic was
led by Symon Petliura and had its capital in Kyiv, when it wasn’t occupied by the
Bolsheviks or Whites. The two Ukrainian republics had formally united
in January but did not cooperate at a political or military level and continued to act independently. To round things off, there was a Ukrainian
Soviet government under Moscow control based in the eastern city of Kharkiv. As if that mishmash of would-be states weren’t
enough, neither of the Ukrainian republics had any allies. They even didn’t agree on who the main enemy
was either. For the Western Ukrainians it was Poland,
which claimed most of their homeland and Lemberg the city they saw as their capital. For the Kyiv-based state, the main threat
came further east, from both the White Russians and the Bolsheviks, who both opposed any kind
of independent Ukraine. In fact, by early 1919 Petliura’s army was
severely weakened and had lost most of its territory. The only areas still under the Ukrainian People’s
Republic control were parts of the regions of Volhynia and Podolia. National identity was another tricky issue
for the Ukrainians. There was no traditional Ukrainian ruling
class, and 90% of Ukrainian speakers were peasants for whom religion and local identity
was often stronger than ethnicity. There were efforts to build this identity,
especially in Austria-Hungary after wartime oppression of Ukrainians, but it was still
not fully developed in 1919. Finally, though there was a Ukrainian and
Cossack history to draw on, unlike Poland there had been no historic independent Ukrainian
state. Trying to create a Western Ukrainian army
in these circumstances was also herculean task. The nascent military was under the command
of General Mykhailo Omelianovych-Pavlenko, who had fought in the Russian army until 1918
and would later command Ukrainian troops allied to Nazi Germany in World War Two. Most of the Ukrainians in Galicia, however,
had fought in the Austro-Hungarian army, and the Sich Riflemen provided the core of the
new units. But they were desperately short of officers,
supplies, and reserves, since the population was only a few million people. So the Ukrainians were divided in their struggle
to create a new state and were surrounded by powerful enemies. Now let’s take a look at the situation in
Poland. Polish situation
The Polish Republic was declared in November 1918, and represented the first independent
Polish state since the late 18th century. The territory where Poles lived had been completely
ravaged by the fighting between 1914 and 1918, and most of its people were as destitute and
hungry as their Ukrainian neighbours. Given its central location and the ethnically
mixed border regions on all sides, Poland was immediately in conflict with its neighbours:
with Czechoslovakia to the south, with Germany to the west, with Lithuania to the northeast,
with Bolshevik Russia to the east, and with the Western Ukrainians to the southeast. The head of state, Josef Pilsudski hoped to
revive some of the character of a previous historic Polish state and establish a Polish-led
confederation including Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus – a plan made very difficult
by rising tensions and violent clashes on all sides. His principal rival in Polish politics was
Roman Dmowski. His National Democrat party favoured a nation-state
with a strong polish majority, in which minority Christian groups were to be Polonized. Many Poles resented the minority rights treaties
forced upon them by the Peace Conference, which had been signed in June. Dmowski and many other Poles felt that Poland’s
rich history and culture put it in a leadership position, and he told the peace conference
that Western Ukraine needed Polish leadership and civilization to develop. Since the territory of the new republic had
been divided between Russia, Austria-Hungary and Germany before 1918, organizing a new
Polish army was not easy. Units and officers had different equipment,
uniforms, training and languages of command. Officers from the former Central Powers also
sometimes disliked taking orders from their counterparts from the former Russian army,
since the Central Powers had beaten the Russians in the Great War. Nonetheless the Poles could draw on relatively
large reserves of trained men, and had the support of the French and British Military
Missions to Poland to help train their new army. While the Poles faced many challenges in forming
their new state, one advantage they had was some support from the Allies in Paris. Allies position
At the peace conference, the Big Four struggled to balance their different interests with
simply getting a handle on what was happening in East Galicia. Generally speaking, the Poles were in position
to make a stronger case to the Allies than the Ukrainians, since the Polish delegation
was well-represented in Paris and a small, disorganized West Ukrainian delegation only
arrived in May. The French were particularly staunch supporters
of the Polish Republic since they hoped a strong Poland would become a French ally and
help contain a future German threat. The Poles were also seen as a potential bulwark
against the spread of Bolshevism from Russia. President Wilson expressed these concerns
when he said in May: “If Paderewski falls and we cut off food supplies to Poland, won’t
Poland herself become Bolshevik? Paderewski’s government is like a dike against
disorder, and perhaps the only one possible.” The British and Americans were nonetheless
not particularly happy about Poland’s ambitious border claims, or the fighting in East Galicia. David Loyd George shared his disappointment
in what he saw as Polish aggression: “It fills me with despair the way in which I have
seen small nations, before they have hardly leaped into the light of freedom, beginning
to oppress other races than their own.” The British even tossed out the idea of giving
East Galicia to the Czechoslovaks. They also simply didn’t know much about
the Ukrainians and what exactly was going on on the ground. As Wilson frankly put it: “It is very difficult
for us to intervene without having a better understanding vis-a-vis the Ukrainians or
the Bolsheviks.” David Lloyd George was put it more bluntly:
“I only saw a Ukrainian once. It is the only Ukrainian I have seen, and
I am not sure that I want to see any more.” But the decisive factor was that the Allies
simply did not take Ukrainian hopes terribly seriously, since their interests lay elsewhere. Poland was crucial to the Allies’ new order,
and Ukraine was not. The Big Four were still hoping for the re-establishment
of a non-Bolshevik Russia and were supporting the White Russian armies fighting the Russian
Civil War. Since the Whites’ Russian nationalism and
ambitions to restore the empire meant they were opposed to Ukrainian independence, the
Allies could hardly support it either. So the situation in East Galicia was complicated,
and the region was just one in an ocean of chaos in Eastern Europe in 1919 to have become
a hot potato of international diplomacy. Now let’s have a look how the fighting played
out in the summer of 1919. Fighting in spring and June/July
Following the improvised and paramilitary fighting in Lemberg in late 1918, both sides
attempted to build up their forces for larger-scale operations. After the bitter experience of the violence
in Lemberg, gone was any sense of fratricide. One Polish veteran recalled the intensity
of the struggle: “Hatred so impulsive we’d tear each other to pieces…There has never
been a war like this…With revenge we suffocated the enemy – the beast! Hardly any prisoners were taken! On both sides! …Oh Lord, these moments of terrible struggle!
…fighting chest to chest…with our teeth…with knives…” After the initial clashes in November 1918,
the Poles held Przemysl with its defensive ring of forts and Lemberg, and the vital railway
in between the two cities. But the Ukrainians were in control of most
of the countryside. Limited Polish attacks in December forced
the Ukrainians to retreat to Ternopil and then Stanyslaviv. In January, Polish forces managed to capture
the towns of Belz and Uhnow, plus an important local railway. This began a phase of offensives and counteroffensives
back and forth across the region. In February, Western Ukrainian troops launched
a major offensive. They cut the critical rail line between Przemysl
and Lemberg and surrounded the city and its Polish garrison. The Ukrainian advance left only Lemberg and
Przemysl in Polish hands, but the Entente now intervened. Keen to stop the fighting, they sent the Berthelemy
Mission to broker a truce. This only resulted in a short break in the
fighting, but ceasefires between the Poles and Germans in the west and between the Poles
and Czechs in the south allowed Polish reinforcements to move east. With fresh forces available, the Poles attacked
in March. They inflicted a serious defeat on the Ukrainians,
recaptured the Przemysl-Lemberg railway and broke the siege of the city. The Allies again attempted to arrange a ceasefire,
this time including efforts by British Colonel Adrian Carton de Wiart and French officer
Charles de Gaulle. These efforts would not bring a stop to the
fighting, and during the lull the Ukrainians’ situation got even worse. In April the Bolshevik Red Army reached the
Zbruch river to the east, and the Western Ukrainian army was forced to transfer some
troops to guard their rear. Thankfully for them, the Red Army turned its
attention to Petliura’s forces in Volhynia and did not push west. The Poles, meanwhile, had received decisive
reinforcements in the late spring. General Josef Haller’s so-called Blue Army
of 50,000 French trained and equipped Polish forces arrived from France, where they had
fought on the Western Front against the Germans. In addition, the Romanians were now ready
to join the fighting on the Polish side. Their aim was to capture territory in the
region of Pokuttia in the south. The Poles readied 60,000 men and 5000 horse
for the offensive, and the Romanians 10,000 soldiers. To oppose them the Ukrainians mustered just
30,000 troops and 600 cavalry. The Polish-Romanian offensive was a success,
and the Ukrainians were once again forced to retreat, this time stopping in a cramped
area between the rivers Dnestr and Zbruch to regroup. General Oleksandr Hrekov, who had fought with
the Imperial Russian army in the Great War and had just left Petliura’s army, now took
command of the exhausted Western Ukrainian troops. The last desperate attack of the Ukrainians,
known as the Chortkiv Offensive, began June 7. Though outnumbered, they smashed through Polish
lines and advanced over 100km towards Lemberg. But time was not on the Ukrainian side and
more Polish reinforcements arrived. General Lucjian Zeligowski’s division arrived
in Lemberg after a 3-month march from Odessa, where they had been fighting alongside the
White Russians. Pilsudski himself even took command of a Polish
formation. The Poles had more troops, more weapons and
were better supplied, and managed to stop the Ukrainians just two days’ march from
Lemberg. A polish counter-attack hit the overextended
and weakened Ukrainians hard, and by July 16th Ukrainian forces had withdrawn across
the Zbruch. The survivors joined with Petliura’s weakened
forces to push back the Bolsheviks on the eastern bank, but would never fight in Galicia
again. More than two thirds of them would die of
typhus that October. Consequences
The end of the Polish-Ukrainian War and the virtual destruction of the West Ukrainian
state had profound consequences for the people of East Galicia. About 15,000 West Ukrainian and 10,000 Polish
soldiers had been killed in the fighting, and some 100,000 Ukrainians were interned
in Polish custody, where one fifth would die of disease. 3 million Ukrainians would now become citizens
of a Polish Republic that did not trust them and which they in turn did not trust. In July the Paris Conference agreed to allow
Poland to administer the region, ultimately recognizing the facts on the ground as they
had done with the region of Greater Poland as well. East Galicia would formally become part of
Poland in 1923. At the moment, Poland’s gains meant that
it now shared a much longer border with Bolshevik Russia than it had before, and the Polish-Soviet
War smouldering further north could now spread southward. Long term the war, along with Polish-Lithuanian
fighting further north, meant that Pilsudki’s plan for a Polish-led confederation had failed. Other than a short-lived alliance the next
year, Polish-Ukrainian enmity would live on and tear the region apart again in World War
Two. The defeat of the West Ukrainian People’s
Republic by the Poles and the Ukrainian People’s Republic by the Bolsheviks also ended Ukrainians’
hopes for an independent state, which would not come for the next 70 years. Now that we have seen the end of the Western
Ukrainian People’s Republic and the consolidation of Polish control of East Galicia, it’s
time for our Roundup segment, where we take a look at what else is going on in July 1919. Let’s start in Russia, where on July 3rd
the White Russian Armed Forces of South Russia launched a major offensive. In the recently captured city of Tsaritsyn,
General Denikin issued the Moscow Directive, identifying the capital city as the main objective
of the attack. By the end of the month, White cavalry from
the south had linked up with White forces from the East under Admiral Kolchak near Lake
Elton. Further north in Karelia, on July 8th two
weeks of clashes between Bolshevik forces and the Finnish Olonets Volunteer Army brought
an end to the Red Army’s Vidlitskaya Operation, which pushed back the Finns near Lake Ladoga. On the 27th in southeastern Ukraine, anarchist
leader Nestor Makhno executed warlord and recent ally Nikifor Grigoriev, who had been
planning on changing sides again to join the Whites. In central Europe, on July 17th the army of
the Hungarian Soviet Republic attacked Romanian forces across the Tisza river, and advanced
up to 60km. The Romanians launched a successful counterattack
and by end of the month were back across the river and the Hungarian Red Army was in retreat
towards Budapest. Turning to the Middle East, on July 5th in
Constantinople a Turkish Court Martial sentenced former government members Talaat Pasha, Enver
Pasha, Jemal Pasha and Dr. Nazim to death for the massacre of Armenians during the war. The sentence was pronounced in absentia, since
all the accused were abroad, and was never carried out. Still in Turkey, on the 23rd the Erzerum Conference
began. Led by Mustafa Kemal and General Karabekir,
the conference declared itself ready to form an alternative Turkish government to oppose
the one in occupied Constantinople. It intended to resist Allied interference
in Turkish affairs. On July 19th, in the Caucasus, the Azerbaijani
Republic was founded. And finally, in international news on July
10th the former German west African colonies of Cameroon and Togo were taken on as League
of Nations mandates by Britain and France. On the same day in Germany, the Siamese Expeditionary
Force leaves the Rhineland occupation to return home after two years in Europe. Endcard
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the join button below. I’m Jesse Alexander and this is The Great
War 1919, a production of Real Time History and the only YouTube history channel that
is not trying to rule a part of Ukraine in 1919.