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Ukrainian People's Republic

The Ukrainian People’s Republic which existed from 1917 till 1921 was the first attempt in the 20th century to establish a sovereign nation state on the part of Ukrainian lands at the time incorporated into the Russian Empire. It appeared from the revolutionary chaos that broke up in Russian empire in 1917.

The Ukrainian Tsentralna Rada (Central Council) was established in Kyiv on March 4, 1917. Mykhailo Hrushevsky, the recognized leader of the Ukrainian liberation movement, was still in exile when elected as the Head of the Tsentralna Rada. The First Universal of Tsentralna Rada announced on June 10, 1917 in Kyiv proclaimed the autonomy of Ukraine. The Provisional Government in Russia had to recognize the Tsentralna Rada as a state organ. After this success, the Rada approved the Second Universal, where it informed about the creation of the General Secretariat headed by Volodymyr Vynnychenko and the drafting of the law on Ukrainian autonomy. On October 25, 1917, Bolsheviks in Russia overthrew the Provisional Government and at the Second all-Russian Congress of Soviets in Petrograd created their own Government. Following the events in Russia the Tsentralna Rada issued its Third Universal where it proclaimed the creation of the Ukrainian People’s Republic. On January 12, 1918, Hrushevsky issued the Fourth Universal of the Tsentralna Rada, which proclaimed the independence of the Ukrainian People’s Republic.

Meanwhile on the territory of Eastern Galicia, another Ukrainian nation state sought to claim its rights for existence. The West Ukrainian People’s Republic was proclaimed on November 1, 1918 following the collapse of Austria-Hungary in October 18, 1918. While the Ukrainian People’s Republic had to struggle with the raising Soviet powers, the biggest challenge for West Ukrainian independence seekers were Poles who comprised the majority of population in Lviv, the capital of Eastern Galicia – the region, which belonged to already defunct Austrian monarchy at that time and where the majority of the population were Ukrainians. The Lviv’s Polish population received an armed support from Poland, which had declared its Second Polish republic in 1918 and sought to claim back its historic territories, which were under the Austria-Hungary rule, including Lviv considered by Poles as the nation’s important cultural capital. However, the Polish forces outnumbered by Ukrainians outside Lviv were not able to claim all Eastern Galicia as a territory of Second Polish Republic at that time. Until overpowered by Polish army, the Ukrainian forces managed to control the Eastern Galicia till July 1919 while continuing fierce fights with Poles over Lviv and other ethnic Ukrainian territories.

The Second Polish Republic leader Joseph Pilsudsky while carrying out an aggressive politics toward the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic signed an alliance with Symon Petliura, the leader of the Ukrainian People’s Republic promising Polish help in fighting the Soviet Red Army in Kyiv in exchange for accepting Ukraine’s state border over the Zbruch River. Following this alliance named a Warsaw Treaty and signed in 1920, the government of the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic went into exile in Vienna, where they continued diplomatic struggle in order to claim autonomy for eastern Galicia. However, in 1923, the territory which became the bulwark of the Ukrainian nationalism yet again was incorporated into Poland.

During its short existence the Western Ukraine’s People Republic officially united with the Ukrainian People’s Republic with the center in Kyiv. The unity act was solemnly signed on January 22, 1919 in Kyiv. The union was quite formal since both entities continued to struggle in two different wars with different enemies to their autonomy and independence: the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic was involved in conflict with Poles; the eastern counterpart was fighting the growing Soviet-Russian forces.

In 1918 soon after the Fourth Universal proclamation, the Bolshevik Red Army occupied Kyiv and the Tsentralna Rada leaders had to seek help from Germany by signing the Brest-Lytovsk peace Treaty. With the foreign military help, Ukrainian leaders managed to force Bolsheviks out of the republic. However German presence did not favor long existence of the Tsentralna Rada: the authority was disbanded and replaced by the Hetmanate, led by Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky. Promoting a Ukrainian language and establishing the diplomatic ties with neighboring countries, Skoropadsky at the same time was favoring a possible union with a non-Bolshevik Russia. In 1918 the new power raised in Ukrainian People’s Republic called the Directorate and headed by Symon Petliura. When Bolsheviks took over Kyiv in 1919, the country sank into chaos when different forces tried to claim the power. Petliura’s attempt to fight Bolsheviks with the help of Polish allies failed and in 1921follwoing the Riga peace agreement, the control over territory of the Ukrainian People’s Republic was shared between the Soviet Russia and Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The two “Ukraines” united within the same borders only in 1939, when following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact then Polish Eastern Galicia was added to the territory of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.