In 1921, the Soviet government in Ukrainefaced the threat of a nationwide insurgency – hundreds of insurgent units were active in the territory. In many areas the Soviets had only nominal power. The UNR military command hoped to restore control over Ukraine via a raid by the Ukrainian Army from Poland in November 1921, but the campaign failed for a number of objective reasons.
BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE
Preparations for the second winter campaign started in February-March 1921 when the Guerilla Partisan Staff was established in Poland. The Staff was to unite all resistance units in Ukraine under its command and prepare an overall insurgency. Symon Petliura, who directed the activities of the UNR government in exile in Poland, appointed Yurii Tiutiunnyk chief of staff. This center received certain support from the Polish General Staff and its chief Tadeusz Rozwadowski.
The center was in Tarnów throughout the spring of 1921 and was moved to Lviv in June. Tiutiunnyk and his family, as well as several of his lieutenants, stayed in the Yevropeisky Hotel, which was also used by Polish intelligence officers. Representatives of Ukrainian insurgent organizations and liaison officers from partisan units came to the headquarters to receive propaganda literature, special instructions and funds. To organize resistance, Tiutiunnyk dispatched officers and privates to Ukraine from Polish camps in Łańcut, Kalisz and Alexandrów-Kujawski.
“In May, Brigadier General Yurko Tiutiunnyk came and said at a secret meeting that we would soon find ourselves in our native land,” UNR Army Captain Petro Vashchenko wrote in his memoirs which were published in the collection Za derzhavnist (For Statehood) in 1932. “This last campaign was to be one of glory and victory for our valiant army. It was clear to every officer and Cossack that we were talking about a massive uprising, because Gen. Tiutiunnyk, who had won great glory for himself in raids behind the enemy’s lines, spoke about it himself.”
The campaign was to start in May or June 1921, but the Polish allies failed to make good on their promises: they did not release 5,000 Ukrainian soldiers interned in Polish camps and did not provide them with arms. “In mid-May Petliura said that we had to wait. They said something somewhere was not ready,” Tiutiunnyk noted in the pamphlet Z poliakamy proty Vkrainy (With the Poles against Ukraine) published in the Ukrainian SSR in 1924. “Petliura cited unfavorable international politics and the fact that a new Cabinet of Ministers was likely to be formed in Poland, and this one would be more helpful to the uprising than the current one.” It should be noted that as it supported the insurgent movement in Ukraine, Warsaw did not care much about its goals. However, it was very much interested in stepping up intelligence and subversive activities in the Ukrainian SSR and perhaps hoped to obtain territorial concessions from the Soviets in exchange for its neutrality.
In the summer of 1921, the overall situation in the Ukrainian republic changed but not in the favor of an anti-Bolshevik campaign. The Kyiv Cheka was on the heels of the Central Ukrainian Insurgency Committee (CUIS). Set up by the nationalist intelligentsia, it had connections with the insurgency staff in Lviv and an extensive network of underground organizations in Ukraine. In June and July, an operation to seize its leaders was carried out simultaneously in Kyiv and Irpin. Once captured, the leaders began to testify and this led to the identification of foreign-based staff. The Ukrainian Military Organization attached to the Kyiv Red Officers School was destroyed, as were a clandestine group in the 402nd Rifle Regiment in Uman and the majority of local underground organizations. On August 28, 1921, the collegium of the Kyiv Cheka delivered a verdict against 130 people in the CUIS case, sentencing 45 of them to execution by firing squad.
In September 1921, Cheka officer Serhiy “Karin” Danylenko infiltrated the Partisan Insurgent Staff disguised as a messenger from the Yelysavetgrad Insurgency Committee. He met with the most influential staff members and learned detailed information from them about the staff’s activities, the underground network in Ukraine, the plan for a nationwide insurgency and more. He described all of this in a detailed report to the Kyiv Cheka headquarters.
The insurgency movement in Ukraine was in disarray. Having lost faith in the prospects of their struggle against the Soviets, some otamans and rank-and-file insurgents gave up armed resistance. A famine beginning to rage in southern Ukraine caused peasants to withdraw their support for insurgent units. Despite this, the general staff continued to prepare for a nationwide anti-Bolshevik campaign. In August and September of 1921, several meetings took place with the highest-level Ukrainian and Polish commanders in attendance. Polish officers pointed out that the situation in Ukraine had changed for the worse. However, Tiutiunnyk insisted on the opposite. Misinformed by optimistic news from intelligence officers and defectors from Ukraine, he believed that moving even a small military unit to Ukraine would spark a massive insurgency that would overthrow the Soviet government.
Petliura also pinned great hopes on military struggle. “The overall condition of our statehood – a) our people’s intense hatred for the occupation authorities in Ukraine, b) our government’s and army’s internment in Poland and Romania and c) unfavorable international developments – demand that both I, personally, and our government take action to step up the struggle of our people for their own state,” Petliura wrote in a letter to Tiutiunnyk on November 17, 1921.
MARCHING IN BAST SHOES
In late November 1921, over 1,000 officers and rank-and-file Cossacks were secretly moved from Polish camps to villages in the border region. Officially, they went there to work in forests, but in fact they were preparing for the Second Winter Campaign. The Volyn and Podil units of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army were being formed in Polissia. The first one faked looting a Polish military depot at the Mokvyn station to acquire weapons. Evidently, official Warsaw needed this bogus operation to deny Bolshevik accusations it was supporting anti-Bolshevik units. However, the arms obtained were enough for only half of the fighters; the rest had to enter the campaign unarmed. Ammunition was in even shorter supply.
“A separate mention should be made of footwear and clothes that officers and Cossacks had as they were dispatched to participate in the campaign,” Tiutiunnyk, who led the Insurgent Army, wrote in a report to the chief otaman on November 2. “As far as footwear goes, 35% were completely shoeless (barefoot), while others had footwear in a very poor condition. 50% do not have greatcoats and the clothes of the remaining officers and Cossacks were threadbare.”
On November 4, 1921, an insurgent unit led by Tiutiunnyk crossed the Polish-Soviet border. Moving along forest paths to bypass frontier posts, the insurgents came to the village of Maidan-Holyshevsky (now in Olevsky District, Zhytomyr Region). Without firing a shot, they took the village and disarmed the 1st company of the 196th Frontier Battalion. Then they executed the local Cheka chief and several communists who had shot peasants. After this, the unit crossed the border and was advancing on Korosten, where it had no major battles with the Reds. In every village, the insurgents held meetings with peasants, calling on them to rise against the authorities. The population was sympathetic to them and supplied foodstuffs, forage and transportation without any objection. Youths joined the insurgents in some villages.
The insurgents engaged in their first battles near Korosten and later as they fought for the city itself. Through their secret agents, the Bolsheviks learned about the insurgents’ plan to capture the city and moved several Red Army units to the surrounding area. Led by Lieutenant Colonel Leonid Stupnytsky and Tiutiunnyk, the insurgents launched a two-pronged attack. They succeeded in taking over the city for a while, but when Bolshevik reserves which had been kept in train carriages at the station and two armored trains joined in the fight, they were forced to retreat.
After the battle, the insurgents units were pursued by Hryhoriy Kotovsky’s 9th Cavalry Division. But they suffered even worse from the weather. “It was snowing for the second day in a row. The frost was biting, and our guys were barefoot. Even those that had had shoes were now barefoot. The fighters had wrapped their feet in foot cloth, tied them up with strings and marched like this. They went on reconnaissance missions and attacked. The roads were covered with snow, so we had to first let horses break through the snow to open the way for men. One-fourth of the Cossacks had no cloaks and had to cover themselves with wool blankets and sacks. Half of them had no boots; their feet were wrapped in rags and sackcloth,” UNR Army Captain Hryts Rohozny wrote in his memoirs.
On the morning of November 17, the insurgents were attacked by Kotovsky’s cavalry near Mali Mynky and later encircled on all sides. “The first onslaught of the enemy was repelled with grenades,” Rohozny wrote. “The enemies cavalry spread out for a short while to diminish its losses, and then, when the insurgents started to shoot after longer intervals due to a lack of ammunition, they resumed the pressure under the cover of quick-firing machine gun carts. It was not maneuver-based warfare anymore. It was a massacre.” Insurgents like ex-Minister for Marine Affairs Mykhailo Bilynsky, flag-bearer Sikorsky and quartermaster Khokha, killed themselves to avoid being taken prisoner.
A similar picture of the battle was depicted by Spartak, the flag-bearer of the 3rd Rifle Division: “The Bolshevik machine guns perched on carts came close and the Bolsheviks, seeing that we had no ammunition to fight them back, sprayed us with more bullets. […] Their cavalry encircled the village from all sides and we had no escape. There were many wounded and killed among us; everything was in confusion; Bolshevik cavalrymen were killing our wounded, but when Kotovsky came, he ordered them taken prisoner instead. The cavalry rounded all of us in one big crowd, while the wounded were left in the field and some of them were killed by the Bolsheviks.” Only those who were at the head of the formation – the staff, the cavalry company and the badly wounded carried on carts in the front – managed to escape. They broke out of the encirclement and headed for the Polish border.
The captured insurgents were moved to a local church for the night where Kotovsky carried out an interrogation in the presence of several commissars. Captives were forced to fill out questionnaires which asked about their place of birth, family, education, service in the army and so on. The next day, around 2p.m., they were led out into the street and arranged in a rank. Kotovsky and Illia Harkavy began an ID check. “Kotovsky told those who had served in the Red Army to step up,” Spartak wrote. “More than half did. They were again arranged by twos and asked in what units they had served. Some had Bolshevik army IDs on them which they presented, but when they replied to Kotovsky in Ukrainian, he would send them away to be shot, saying “They will understand you over there.” When Harkavy was spoken to in Ukrainian, he would ask when the speaker had turned Ukrainian and would also send him to be executed.”
Prior to the shooting near Bazar, a large and deep grave – 70 steps by 4 steps – was dug. It was cordoned off by Red Army troops – they drove away people who had come from neighboring villages and hamlets when they heard about the shooting.
An abundance of troops were in the vicinity of Bazar to make sure no insurgency erupted.
On November 21, the first batch of those sentenced to death – they had been kept in a church for two days – were lined up before the ditch. They were invited to repent and switch over to the Red Army. After a minute's silence fighter Stepan Shcherbak spoke up: “We will not serve you. Shoot. The Ukrainian people will not forgive you.”The fighters began singing the Ukrainian national anthem and fell into the grave under machinegun fire. The execution lasted the entire night. Ukrainian insurgents were taken out of the church 25 at a time. Those who were leaving said farewell to those who remained inside.
Commanders of the Second Winter Campaign who were captured by the Red Army were sent to the Cheka’s Special Department in Kyiv for additional interrogation. On January 22, 1922, a panel of judges sentenced them to death, but later VUChK Chief Vasyl Mantsev suspended the execution, wanting to question Ukrainian commanders more about their connections with the Red Army. However, it turned out that only Ivan Vashchenko and Yevhen Kopats were still alive. All the rest “died of diseases” in the investigation prison, while three did not even survive to hear the verdict. Later, the two survivors were also shot.
Armed insurgent units carried out 1,376 assaults on settlements, 259 on government bodies, 342 on food-distribution network points and industrial plants, as registered by VUChK in 1921. That year, 3,785 insurgents were killed, 745 were wounded and 1,475 taken captive. 1,694 Ukrainian government officials emigrated to Poland after the Ukrainian National Republic was occupied by the Bolsheviks. 8 of 11 prime ministers of Ukrainian governments and 117 of 158 ministers and their deputies found themselves outside Ukraine.