The Polish-Ukrainian War, from November 1918 to July 1919, was a conflict between the Second Polish Republic and Ukrainian forces (both the West Ukrainian People’s Republic and Ukrainian People’s Republic).
The conflict had its roots in ethnic, cultural and political differences between the Polish and Ukrainian populations living in the region both as successor states of the dissolved Russian and Austrian empires. The war started in Eastern Galicia after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and spilled over into Chełm Land and Volhynia (Wołyń) regions formerly belonging to the Russian Empire, which were both claimed by the Ukrainian State (a client state of the German Empire) and the Ukrainian People’s Republic. Poland re-occupied the disputed territory on 18 July 1919.
The origins of the conflict lie in the complex nationality situation in Galicia at the turn of the 20th century. As a result of the House of Habsburg’s relative leniency toward national minorities, Austria-Hungary was the perfect ground for the development of both Polish and Ukrainian national movements. During the 1848 Revolution, the Austrians, concerned by Polish demands for greater autonomy within the province, gave support to a small group of Ruthenians, the name of the East Slavic people that would later adopt the self-identification of “Ukrainians” or “Rusyns”; their goal was to be recognised as a distinct nationality.
Schools teaching Ruthenian language were established, Ruthenian political parties formed and attempts were begun to develop their national culture. That came as a surprise to some Poles, who until the revolution had believed, along with most politically-aware Ruthenians, that Ruthenians were part of the Polish nation, which, was then defined in political rather than ethnographic, terms. In the late 1890s and the first decades of the next century, the populist Ruthenian intelligentsia adopted the term Ukrainians to describe their nationality. Beginning with the 20th century, national consciousness reached a large number of Ruthenian peasants.
Multiple incidents between the two nations occurred throughout the late 19th century and the early 20th century. For example, the Polish administration opposed the Ukrainians in parliamentary elections in 1897. Another conflict developed in 1901 to 1908 around Lviv University since Ukrainian students demanded a separate Ukrainian university, but Polish students and faculty[clarification needed] attempted to suppress the movement. In 1903, both Poles and Ukrainians held separate conferences in Lviv: the Poles in May and Ukrainians in August. Afterwards, the two national movements developed with contradictory goals, which was a cause of the later clash.
The ethnic composition of Galicia underlay the conflict between the Poles and Ukrainians there. The Austrian province of Galicia consisted of territory seized from Poland in 1772, during the First Partition of Poland. The land included the territory of historical importance to Poland, including the ancient capital of Kraków, and had a majority Polish population, but the east Galicia included the heartland of the historic territory of Galicia-Volhynia and had a Ukrainian majority. In eastern Galicia, Ukrainians made up approximately 65% of the population, and Poles made up only 22% of the population.
Of the 44 administrative divisions of Austrian eastern Galicia, Lviv (Polish: Lwów, German: Lemberg), the largest city was the capital of the province, was the only one in which Poles made up a majority of the population. In Lviv, the population in 1910 was approximately 60% Polish and 17% Ukrainian. The city, with its Polish inhabitants, was considered by many Poles to have been one of Poland’s cultural capitals. For many Poles, including those in Lviv population, it was unthinkable for their city not to be under Polish control.
The religious and ethnic divisions corresponded to social stratification. Galicia’s leading social class were Polish nobles or descendants of Rus’ gentry who had been Polonised in the past, but in the east of the province, Ruthenians (Ukrainians) were the majority of the peasants. Poles and Jews were responsible for most of the commercial and industrial development in Galicia in the late 19th century.
Throughout the 19th and the early 20th centuries, the local Ukrainians attempted to persuade the Austrians to divide Galicia into Western (Polish) and Eastern (Ukrainian) provinces. These efforts were resisted and thwarted by those local Poles, who feared losing control of Lviv and East Galicia. The Austrians eventually agreed in principle to divide the province of Galicia. In October 1916, Emperor Karl I promised to do so once the war had ended.
Due to the intervention of Archduke Wilhelm of Austria, who adopted a Ukrainian identity and considered himself a Ukrainian patriot, in October 1918 two regiments of mostly Ukrainian troops were garrisoned in Lemberg (modern Lviv). As the Austro-Hungarian government collapsed, on 18 October 1918, the Ukrainian National Council (Rada), consisting of Ukrainian members of the Austrian parliament and regional Galician and Bukovynan diets as well as leaders of Ukrainian political parties, was formed. The council announced the intention to unite the West Ukrainian lands into a single state. As the Poles were taking their own steps to take over Lviv and Eastern Galicia, Captain Dmytro Vitovsky of the Sich Riflemen led the group of young Ukrainian officers in a decisive action and during the night of 31 October/01 November, the Ukrainian military units, consisting of 1,400 soldiers and 60 officers, took control over Lviv. The West Ukrainian People’s Republic was proclaimed on 13 November 1918, with Lviv as its capital.
The timing of proclamation of the Republic caught the Polish ethnic population and administration by surprise. The new Ukrainian Republic claimed sovereignty over Eastern Galicia, including the Carpathians up to the city of Nowy Sącz in the West, as well as Volhynia, Carpathian Ruthenia and Bukovina (the last two territories were claimed also by Hungary and Romania respectively. Although, the majority of the population of the Western-Ukrainian People’s Republic were Ukrainians, many urban settlements had Polish majorities. In Lviv, the Ukrainian residents enthusiastically supported the proclamation. The city’s significant Jewish minority accepted or remained neutral towards the Ukrainian proclamation, while the city’s Polish majority was shocked to find themselves in a proclaimed Ukrainian state. Since the West Ukrainian People’s Republic was not internationally recognized and Poland’s boundaries had not yet been defined, the issue of ownership of the disputed territory was reduced to a question of military control.
Fighting between Ukrainian and Polish forces was concentrated around the declared Ukrainian capital of Lviv and the approaches to that city. In Lviv, the Ukrainian forces were opposed by local self-defence units formed mostly of World War I veterans, students and children. However, skilful command, good tactics and high morale allowed Poles to resist the badly planned Ukrainian attacks. In addition, the Poles were able to skilfully buy time and wait for reinforcements through the arrangement of cease-fires with the Ukrainians. While Poles could count on widespread support from the civilian population, the Ukrainian side was largely dependent on help from outside the city. Other uprisings against Ukrainian rule erupted in Drohobych, Przemyśl, Sambir and Jarosław. In Przemyśl, local Ukrainian soldiers quickly dispersed to their homes and Poles seized the bridges over the River San and the railroad to Lviv, enabling the Polish forces in that city to obtain significant reinforcements.
After two weeks of heavy fighting within Lviv, an armed unit under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Michał Karaszewicz-Tokarzewski of the renascent Polish Army broke through the Ukrainian siege on 21 November and arrived in the city. The Ukrainians were repelled. Immediately after capturing the city, some in the local Jewish militia attacked Polish troops, while at the same time elements of the Polish forces as well as common criminals looted the Jewish and Ukrainian quarters of the city, killing approximately 340 civilians. The Poles also interned a number of Ukrainian activists in detention camps. The Ukrainian government provided financial assistance to the Jewish victims of the violence and were able to recruit a Jewish battalion into their army. Some factions blame these atrocities on the Blue Army of General Haller. This is unlikely as this French-trained and supported fighting force did not leave France and the Western Front until April 1919, well after the riotinng.
On 09 November Polish forces attempted to seize the Drohobych oil fields by surprise but outnumbered by the Ukrainians, they were driven back. The Ukrainians would retain control over the oil fields until May 1919.
On 06 November, a new Ukrainian polity was proclaimed in the Northern half of the region of Bukovina: Ukrainian Bukovina under President Omelian Popovych. The new state had its capital at Chernivtsi. It was dissolved on 11 November, when the Romanian Army occupied Chernivtsi. The Ukrainian administration and its military support retreated from the city the day before.
By the end of November 1918, Polish forces controlled Lviv and the railroad linking Lviv to central Poland through Przemyśl, while Ukrainians controlled the rest of Eastern Galicia east of the river San, including the areas south and north of the railroad into Lviv. Thus, the Polish-controlled city of Lviv (Lwów) faced Ukrainian forces on three sides.
Battles over Volhynia
Immediately after the collapse of Austria-Hungary, Polish forces had captured the Kholm (Polish: Chełm) area; shortly thereafter the Austrian commandants in southwestern Volhynia (Volodymyr-Volynskyi and Kovel) handed over the government to the local Polish national committees. In November-December 1918, the Poles also advanced into Podlachia and Western Polesia, but were stopped in western Volhynia by the troops of gen. M. Osetsky.
As Polish units tried to seize control of the region, the forces of the Ukrainian People’s Republic under Symon Petlura tried to recover the territory of Kholm Governorate already controlled by the Polish troops.
According to Richard Pipes, the first major pogrom in this region took place in January 1919 in the town of Ovruch, where Jews were robbed and killed by regiments of Kozyr-Zyrka affiliated with Symon Petlura’s Nicolas Werth claims that armed units of the Ukrainian People’s Republic were also responsible for rapes, looting, and massacres in Zhytomir, in which 500-700 Jews lost their lives.
After two months of heavy fighting the conflict was resolved in March 1919 by fresh and well-equipped Polish units under General Edward Rydz-Śmigły.
Stalemate in Eastern Galicia
Thanks to fast and effective mobilization in December 1918, the Ukrainians possessed a large numerical advantage until February 1919 and pushed the Poles into defensive positions. According to an American report from the period of 13 January to 01 February 1919, Ukrainians eventually managed to surround Lviv on three sides. The city’s inhabitants were deprived of water supply and electricity. Ukrainian army also held villages on both sidelines of the railway leading to Przemyśl.
Ukrainian forces continued to control most of eastern Galicia and were a threat to Lviv itself until May 1919. During this time, according to Italian and Polish reports, Ukrainian forces enjoyed high morale (an Italian observer behind Galician lines stated that the Ukrainians were fighting with the “courage of the doomed”) while many of the Polish soldiers, particularly from what had been Congress Poland, wanted to return home because they saw no reason to fight against Ruthenians over Ruthenian lands; the Polish forces were outnumbered by two to one and lacked ammunition. Despite being initially outnumbered, the Poles had certain advantages. Their forces had many more and better-trained officers resulting in a better disciplined and more mobile force; the Poles also enjoyed excellent intelligence and, due to their control of railroads behind their lines, were able to move their soldiers quite quickly. As a result, although the Poles had fewer total troops than did the Ukrainians, in particularly important battles they were able to bring in as many soldiers as did the Ukrainians.
On 09 December 1918, Ukrainian forces broke through the outer defences of Przemyśl in the hope of capturing the city and thus cutting off Polish-controlled Lviv from central Poland. However, the Poles were able to quickly send relief troops and by 17 December the Ukrainians were forced back. On 27 December, bolstered by peasant troops sent to Galicia from Eastern Ukraine in the hopes that the Western Ukrainians would be able to form a disciplined force out of them, a general Ukrainian offensive against Lviv began. Lviv’s defences held, and the eastern Ukrainian troops mutinied.
From 06 to 11 January 1919 a Polish attack by 5,000 newly recruited forces from formerly Russian Poland commanded by Jan Romer was repulsed by Western Ukrainian forces near Rava-Ruska, north of Lviv. Only a small number of troops together with Romer were able to break through to Lviv after suffering heavy losses. Between 11 and 13 January, Polish forces attempted to dislodge Ukrainian troops besieging Lviv from the south while at the same time Ukrainian troops attempted another general assault on Lviv. Both efforts failed. In February 1919, Polish troops attempting to capture Sambir were defeated by the Ukrainian defenders with heavy losses, although the poor mobility of the Ukrainian troops prevented them from taking advantage of this victory.
On 14 February, Ukrainian forces began another assault on Lviv. By 20 February, they were able to successfully cut off the rail links between Lviv and Przemysl, leaving Lviv surrounded and the Ukrainian forces in a good position to take the city. However, a French-led mission from the Entente arrived at the Ukrainian headquarters on 22 February and demanded that the Ukrainian cease hostilities under threat of breaking all diplomatic ties between the Entente and the Ukrainian government. On 25 February the Ukrainian military suspended its offensive. The Barthélemy mission proposed a demarcation line (28 February) leaving almost 70% of the East Galician territory to Ukrainians, and Lviv with oil fields to Poland. The Ukrainians would be supplied with half of the oil production. The proposal was accepted by the Poles. The Allied demands, which included the loss of significant amount of Ukrainian-held and inhabited territory, were however deemed to excessively favour the Poles by the Ukrainians, who resumed their offensive on 04 March. On 05 March Ukrainian artillery blew up the Polish forces’ ammunition dump in Lviv; the resultant explosion caused a panic among Polish forces. The Ukrainians, however, failed to take advantage of this. During the time of the cease-fire, the Poles had been able to organise a relief force of 8,000-10,000 troops which by 12 March reached Przemyśl and by 18 March had driven the Ukrainian forces from the Lviv-Przemyśl railroad, permanently securing Lviv.
On 06 to 11 January of 1919 a small part of the Ukrainian Galician Army invaded Transcarpathia to spread pro-Ukrainian sentiments among residents (the region was occupied by Hungarians and Czechoslovaks). Ukrainian troops fought with Czechoslovak and Hungarian local police. They succeeded in capturing some Hungarian-controlled Ukrainian settlements. After some clashes with Czechoslovaks, the Ukrainians retreated because Czechoslovakia (instead of Ukrainian People’s Republic) was the only country that traded with the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic and that supported it politically. Further conflict with the Czechoslovak authorities would have led to the complete economical and political isolation of the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic.
On 14 May 1919, a Polish general offensive began throughout Volhynia and Eastern Galicia. It was carried out by units of the Polish Army, aided by the newly arrived Blue Army of General Józef Haller de Hallenburg. This army, composed of Polish forces which had fought for the Entente on the Western front, numbering 60,000 troops, was well equipped by the Western Allies and partially staffed with experienced French officers specifically to fight the Bolsheviks and not the forces of the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic. Despite this, the Poles dispatched Haller’s army against the Ukrainians in order to break the stalemate in eastern Galicia. The Allies sent several telegrams ordering the Poles to halt their offensive, as using the French-equipped army against the Ukrainians specifically contradicted the conditions of the French assistance, but these were ignored, with the Polish side arguing that the Ukrainians were Bolshevik sympathizers. At the same time, on 23 May, Romania opened a second front against Ukrainian forces, demanding their withdrawal from the southern sections of eastern Galicia, including the temporary capital of Stanislaviv. This resulted in a loss of territory, ammunition and further isolation from the outside world.
The Ukrainian lines were broken, mostly due to the withdrawal of the elite Sich Riflemen. On 27 May the Polish forces reached the Złota Lipa–Berezhany-Jezierna [pl]-Radziwiłłów line. The Polish advance was accompanied by a large wave of anti-Jewish violence and looting by disorganized Polish mobs, as in Lviv in 1918, and by Polish military units operating against the orders of their officers, in particular, those of the Poznań regiments and Haller’s army. Following the demands of the Entente, the Polish offensive was halted and Haller’s troops assumed defensive positions.
Chortkiv Offensive and Ultimate Polish Victory
On 08 June 1919, the Ukrainian forces under the new command of Oleksander Hrekov, a former general in the Russian army, started a counter-offensive, and after three weeks advanced to Hnyla Lypa and the upper Stryi river, defeating five Polish divisions. Although the Polish forces had been forced to withdraw, they were able to prevent their forces from collapsing and avoided being encircled and captured. Thus, in spite of their victories, the Ukrainian forces were unable to obtain significant amounts of arms and ammunition. By 27 June the Ukrainian forces had advanced 120 km along the Dnister river and on another they had advanced 150 km, past the town of Brody. They came to within two days’ march of Lviv.
The successful Chortkiv offensive halted primarily because of a lack of arms – there were only 5-10 bullets for each Ukrainian soldier. The West Ukrainian government controlled the Drohobych oil fields with which it planned to purchase arms for the struggle, but for political and diplomatic reasons weapons and ammunition could only be sent to Ukraine through Czechoslovakia. Although the Ukrainian forces managed to push the Poles back approximately 120-150 km. they failed to secure a route to Czechoslovakia. This meant that they were unable to replenish their supply of arms and ammunition, and the resulting lack of supplies forced Hrekov to end his campaign.
Józef Piłsudski assumed the command of the Polish forces on 27 June and started yet another offensive, helped by two fresh Polish divisions. On 28 June, the Polish offensive began. Short of ammunition and facing an enemy now twice its size, the Ukrainian Galician Army and ZUNR leadership were pushed back to the line of the Zbruch river on 16 to 18 July, after which ZUNR was occupied by Poland. Although the Ukrainian infantry had run out of ammunition, its artillery had not. This provided the Ukrainian forces with cover for an orderly retreat. Approximately 100,000 civilian refugees and 60,000 troops, 20,000 of whom were combat ready, were able to escape across the Zbruch River into Central Ukraine.
The Polish and Ukrainian forces struggled on the diplomatic as well as military fronts both during and after the war. The Ukrainians hoped that the western allies of World War I would support their cause because the Treaty of Versailles that ended the first world war was based on the principle of national self-determination. Accordingly, the diplomats of the West Ukrainian People’s Republic hoped that the West would compel Poland to withdraw from territories with a Ukrainian demographic majority.
Opinion among the allies was divided. Britain, under the leadership of prime minister David Lloyd George, and to a lesser extent Italy were opposed to Polish expansion. Their representatives maintained that granting the territory of the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic to Poland would violate the principle of national self-determination and that hostile national minorities would undermine the Polish state. In reality, the British policy was dictated by unwillingness to harm Russian interests in the region and alienate the future Russian state through preventing possible union of Eastern Galicia with Russia. In addition, Britain was interested in Western Ukraine’s oil fields. Czechoslovakia, itself involved in a conflict with Poland, was friendly towards the Ukrainian government and sold it weapons in exchange for oil. France, on the other hand, strongly supported Poland in the conflict. The French hoped that a large, powerful Polish state would serve as a counterbalance to Germany and would isolate Germany from Soviet Russia. French diplomats consistently supported Polish claims to territories also claimed by Germany, Lithuania and Ukraine. France also provided large numbers of arms and ammunition, and French officers, most notably General Haller’s forces, to Polish forces that were used against the western Ukrainian military, much to the horror of Lloyd George and President Wilson.
During the winter of 1918-1919, a diplomatic offensive by the Polish government tried to tilt the opinions of the Allies in favour of fully backing the Polish cause and to counter German disinformation campaign, which aimed to weaken French, British and American support of the new Polish state. Government officials in Poland and abroad repeatedly raised the issue of a possible link between Germany and the West Ukrainian People’s Republic, insisting that the Germans were financially supporting the West Ukrainian government and the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in order to sow a wave of political unrest and chaos in the region. However, the Ukrainians objected to such claims, arguing that the Poles only sought to portray the West Ukrainian People’s Republic as pro-German and sympathetic to the Bolsheviks because of a successful defence put up by the Ukrainian Galician Army, which stalled the Polish military offensive.
In attempt to end the war, in January 1919 an Allied commission led by a French general was sent to negotiate a peace treaty between the two sides, prompting a ceasefire. In February it recommended that the West Ukrainian People’s Republic surrender a third of its territory, including the city of Lviv and the Drohobych oil fields. The Ukrainians refused, the truce did not correspond to ethnology of the country or the military situation and broke diplomatic ties with Poland. In mid-March 1919, the French marshal Ferdinand Foch, who wanted to use Poland as an operational base for an offensive against the Red Army, brought the issue of Polish-Ukrainian war before the Supreme Council and appealed for large-scale Polish-Romanian military operation which would be conducted with Allied support, as well as sending Haller’s divisions to Poland immediately to relieve Lviv from Ukrainian siege.
Another Allied commission, led by South African General Louis Botha, proposed an armistice in May that would involve the (West) Ukrainians keeping the Drohobych oil fields and the Poles keeping Lviv. The Ukrainian side agreed to this proposal but it was rejected by the Poles on the grounds that it didn’t take into consideration the overall military situation of Poland and the circumstances on the eastern front. The Bolshevik army broke through the UNR forces and was advancing to Podolia and Volhynia. The Poles argued that they need military control over whole Eastern Galicia to secure the Russian front in its southern part and strengthen it by a junction with Romania. The Poles launched an attack soon afterward using a large force equipped by France (Haller’s Army), which captured most of the territory of the West Ukrainian People’s Republic. Urgent telegrams by the Western allies to halt this offensive were ignored. Czechoslovakia, which had inherited seven oil refineries from pre-war Austrian times and which was dependent on its contracts for oil with the Ukrainian government, demanded that the Poles send the Czechoslovaks the oil that had been paid for to the Ukrainian government. The Poles refused, stating that the oil was paid for with ammunition that had been used against Polish soldiers. Although the Czechoslovaks did not retaliate, according to Polish reports the Czechoslovaks considered seizing the oil fields from the Poles and returning them to the Ukrainians who would honour their contracts.
On 25 June 1919, the Allied Council legitimised Polish control over Eastern Galicia through the resolution that approved military occupation by Polish forces, including Haller’s Army, up to the river Zbruch and authorized the Polish government to establish an interim civil administration, which would preserve as far as possible the territorial autonomy and liberties of the inhabitants. On 21 November 1919, the Highest Council of the Paris Peace Conference granted Eastern Galicia to Poland for a period of 25 years, after which a plebiscite was to be held there, and obliged the Polish government to give territorial autonomy to the region. This decision was suspended on 22 December 1919 and never implemented. On 21 April 1920, Józef Piłsudski and Symon Petliura signed an alliance, in which Poland promised the Ukrainian People’s Republic the military help in the Kyiv Offensive against the Red Army in exchange for the acceptance of Polish-Ukrainian border on the river Zbruch.
Following this agreement, the government of the West Ukrainian People’s Republic went into exile in Vienna, where it enjoyed the support of various West Ukrainian political emigrees as well as soldiers of the Galician army interned in Bohemia. Although not officially recognised by any state as the government of West Ukraine, it engaged in diplomatic activity with the French and British governments in the hopes of obtaining a favourable settlement at Versailles. As a result of its efforts, the council of the League of Nations declared on 23 February 1921 that Galicia lay outside the territory of Poland and that Poland did not have the mandate to establish administrative control in that country and that Poland was merely the occupying military power of Galicia, the sovereign of which were the Allied Powers (pursuant to the Treaty of Saint-Germain signed with Austria in September 1919) and whose fate would be determined by the Council of Ambassadors at the League of Nations. The Council of Ambassadors in Paris stated on 08 July 1921, that so-called “West Ukrainian Government” of Yevhen Petrushevych did not constitute a government either de facto or de jure and did not have the right to represent any of the territories formerly belonging to the Austrian empire. After a long series of negotiations, on 14 March 1923, the Council of Ambassadors decided that Galicia would be incorporated into Poland “taking into consideration that Poland has recognized that in regard to the eastern part of Galicia ethnographic conditions fully deserve its autonomous status.” After 1923, Galicia was internationally recognized as part of the Polish state. The government of the West Ukrainian People’s Republic then disbanded, while Poland reneged on its promise of autonomy for Eastern Galicia.
Historian Christoph Mick states there was no systematic violence nor massacres of ethnic Poles by Ukrainians during the course of this war but that both sides blamed each other for bloodshed. When Ukrainian forces first captured Lviv they refused to take hostages, tolerated Polish recruitment centres and were even prepared to enter negotiations with the Polish side, but were met with armed resistance. Polish historians, however, describe numerous examples during which Ukrainian troops used terror to subdue Poles into compliance. Ukrainian authorities tried to intimidate Polish population in Lviv by sending soldiers and armed trucks into the streets and dispersed crowds that could turn to Polish demonstrations. Ukrainian soldiers patrolled the streets with firearms and machine guns aimed at pedestrians; Polish sources claim that the Ukrainians shot bystanders who were looking at them from windows or building entrances. while Ukrainians claimed Poles were shooting at their soldiers from windows and behind gateways. Polish fighters also often dressed in civilian clothing when shooting at Ukrainian soldiers. According to historian Christoph Mick, both Poles and Ukrainians engaged in a propaganda war with each side accusing the other of war crimes and brutality. During fights over Lviv, Polish nurses who assisted wounded soldiers were said to have been captured by Ukrainian forces and tortured before being executed, while Ukrainians sources claimed that Polish soldiers shot Ukrainian medical patrols and accused Poles of rape and bloodlust.
When Poles captured Lviv, a mixed group of Polish criminals released from prisons, militiamen and some regular soldiers pillaged the Jewish and Ukrainian parts of the city, and abusing local civilians. According to historian Norman Davis the Poles killed approximately 340 civilians, 2/3 of them Ukrainians and the rest Jews. According to Christoph Mick, only Jews were killed during these events and Ukrainians, while subject to hostile acts, were not murdered.
According to Polish historians, during the course of the war, Ukrainian forces conducted massacres against the Polish population in Sokoloniki where 500 buildings were burned down and circa 50 Poles killed. In Zamarstynow, a Ukrainian commander accused the Polish civilian population of supporting the Polish side and allowed for brutal house searchers by his troops in which civilians were beaten, robbed, murdered and raped. Ukrainian forces also murdered prisoners of war during these events. A day later, Polish troops executed a group of Ukrainian prisoners in retaliation. On 24 November 1919, the village of Bilka Szlachecka was attacked by Ukrainian forces, burned down and its civilian population massacred, with 45 civilians murdered and 22 wounded. In Chodaczkow Wielki, 4 Polish girls were murdered by Ukrainian soldiers and their bodies mutilated. A special Polish commission for investigation of these atrocities established that even more drastic events occurred, but refused to blame Ukrainian nation for them, putting the blame for them on small percentage of Ukrainian society, mainly soldiers, peasants and so called “half-intelligentsia”, that is village teachers, officers and members of gendarmerie. The commission, which included representatives from Italy and France, established that in just three districts 90 murders were committed on civilians besides robberies. Numerous churches desecrated by Ukrainian forces as well. Nuns from three cloisters were raped and later murdered by being blown up by explosive grenades. They were cases of people being buried alive. The commission also noted however that several Ukrainian villagers have hidden Poles. The head of the commission, Zamorski recommended imprisonment of culprits of the atrocities, while establishing friendly relationship with Ukrainian population based on existing laws.
Overall, although there is no evidence of government-controlled mass persecutions of civilians by either the Ukrainians or the Poles, given the paramilitary nature of the fighting atrocities were committed by soldiers or paramilitaries from both sides.
Aftermath and Legacy
Approximately 10,000 Poles and 15,000 Ukrainians, mostly soldiers, died during this war. Ukrainian POWs were kept in ex-Austrian POW camps in Dąbie (Kraków), Łańcut, Pikulice, Strzałków, and Wadowice.
Both sides conducted mass arrests of civilians. By July 1919, as many as 25,000 Poles ended up in Ukrainian internment camps, in Zhovkva, Zolochiv, Mykulyntsi, Strusiv, Yazlovets, Kolomyya and Kosiv. Interned Polish civilians, soldiers and Catholic priests were held during the winter months in unheated barracks or railway cars with little food, many subsequently died from exposure to the cold, starvation and typhoid.
After the war, in 1920-1921, over one hundred thousand people were placed in camps (often characterised as internment camps or sometimes as concentration camps by the Polish government. In many cases, prisoners were denied food and medical attention, and some starved, died of disease or committed suicide. The victims included not only Ukrainian soldiers and officers but also priests, lawyers and doctors who had supported the Ukrainian cause. The death toll at these camps was estimated at 20,000 from diseases or 30,000 people.
Following the war, the French, who had supported Poland diplomatically and militarily, obtained control over the eastern Galician oil fields under conditions that were very unfavourable to Poland.
In the beginning of the Second World War, the area was annexed by the Soviet Union and attached to Ukraine, which at that time was a republic of the Soviet Union. According to the Yalta Conference decisions, while the Polish population of Eastern Galicia was resettled to Poland, the borders of which were shifted westwards, the region itself remained within Soviet Ukraine after the war and currently forms the westernmost part of now independent Ukraine.
Although the 70 to 75 thousand men who fought in the Ukrainian Galician Army lost their war, and the Polish territory was brought back to Poland, the experience of proclaiming a Ukrainian state and fighting for it significantly intensified and deepened the nationalistic Ukrainian orientation within Galicia. Since the interwar era, Galicia has been the centre of Ukrainian nationalism.
According to a noted interwar Polish publicist, the Polish-Ukrainian War was the principal cause for the failure to establish a Ukrainian state in Kyiv in late 1918 and early 1919. During that critical time the Galician forces, large, well-disciplined and immune to Communist subversion, could have tilted the balance of power in favour of a Ukrainian state. Instead, it focused all of its resources on defending its Galician homeland. When the western Ukrainian forces transferred rast in the summer of 1919 after they had been overwhelmed by the Poles, the Russian forces had grown significantly, and the impact of the Galicians was no longer decisive.
After the war, the Ukrainian soldiers who fought became the subject of folk songs and their graves a site of annual pilgrimages in western Ukraine which persisted into Soviet times despite persecution by the Soviet authorities of those honouring the Ukrainian troops.
For Poles living in Eastern Galicia, the victory of the Polish forces over the Ukrainian Galician Army and the prospect of the region once again becoming part of the newly-reconstructed Polish Republic, after 123 years of foreign domination caused a great wave of excitement. In the years after the war, battles such as that of Lwów were remembered as outstanding examples of Polish heroism and resilience. Young defenders of the Łyczakowski Cemetery, who lost their lives defending the city, such as Jerzy Bitschan became household names in Poland during the interwar period.