1. The Eve and the First Days of the Russian Revolution
Toward the end of 1916 I was in command of the 3rd Battalion, 232nd Reserve Infantry Regiment in the city of Tver. Attached to this battalion was a special company of draftees, numbering a little over 80 men who had completed higher or at least secondary education. I was often surprised at that time and forced to give thought to the somewhat aggressive behavior of those men toward their superiors and non-commissioned officers. Those educated draftees had not as yet completed their basic training and hence could not be appointed to non-commissioned command posts in their company. As a result of my social contacts with them (obviously within the bounds of the existing discipline within the Tsarist Army), I made attempts to get at the cause of their odd behavior through personal talks. From conversations with them I concluded that they had been informed, mostly by relatives visiting them on Sundays and holidays, even from such distant places as Kharkiv or Kiev, that the war would come to an early end with completely unexpected consequences. The men of Ukrainian origin were especially outspoken with me, knowing that I was an Ukrainian, too. In spite of such an attitude on the part of this Company, its commander, Lt. Omelchenko, and I managed to make it take so much training that the commander of the 32nd Reserve Brigade, Gen. Pigulevsky, assembled all battalion commanders and chiefs of N.C.O. Schools of the 42nd Brigade one fall day in order to demonstrate to them the arms and field training of that Company. I had some experience in this respect because prior to taking over command of the battalion, I had been in charge of the regimental school for non-commissioned officers. My battalion, moreover, despite certain laxity of discipline due to the war and the fact that a majority of its ranks consisted of so-called draftees of the second call (38 to 42 years of age), was awarded first place in the sharpshooting contest of the entire Moscow Military District, then under the command of General Morozovsky. The battalion also received first place in the brigade classification conducted by Gen. Morozovsky's deputy, General Syla-Novitsky, who was of Ukrainian origin. In the regiment, the battalion had the designation "disciplinary," but not in the punitive sense, only to denote its high discipline. Regardless of my rigorous service demands, off-duty I was merely an older colleague to my men and this fact stood me in good stead during the first days of the revolution.
I did not feel alarmed, but out of curiosity at the behavior of my men, I told my regimental commander, Col. Shastin, about it. He immediately decided to dispatch the chief of regimental intelligence to Petrograd to get at the root of the situation. The man dispatched was Lt. Ivanov, and on his return from Petrograd Col. Shastin called a secret officers' meeting and reported that there was a threat of a strike in heavy industry in Petrograd, and even chances of revolution breaking out. It should be noted that the largest arms and munitions plants were located in the Petrograd area: Petrogradsky, Petrozavodsky, Putilovsky, Sestroretsky, Ladozhsky, Continental and others. They were the largest in Russia and considerably increased in size and production since the beginning of the war. Col. Shastin added that the numerous and unreliable Petrograd garrison would also have to be considered, as the Guard Regiments are composed chiefly of Ukrainians. At that point the Colonel cast a meaningful look at me and at Captain I. Marchenko, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 232nd Regiment, who was sitting next to me.
The Tver Garrison consisted of three infantry regiments, an artillery division, a regiment of Don Cossacks and the well-known Tver Cavalry School – a total of about 40,000 men.
For the time being everything went on as before: training, rifle practice and dispatch of marching companies to the Front. Came New Year's and all the traditional celebrations in the regiments were cancelled. Newspapers arrived late, but nothing was to be found in them, due to the censorship, anyway. We knew through "scuttlebutt" that a new Government had been formed, headed by the notorious member of the "Black Hundreds," Goremykin. It is worth remarking that at that time there was a lot of surreptitious but very indignant talk among the officers about the leading role played at the Tsar's Court by the charlatan Grigori Rasputin, who claimed to be able to cure the heir apparent, the Tsarevich Alexis of hemophilia. This was the cause of his hold upon the Tsaritza; and now Goremykin was Rasputin's protegee. Reports reached us late in February that a group of Russian aristocrats, headed by Prince Yusupov had killed Rasputin; that there were strikes and riots in Petrograd, so far of an economic nature, but that troops sent to put down the strikes had refused to obey orders. On March 4, 1917 Colonel Shastin assembled all regimental officers and announced that revolution had broken out in Petrograd and Moscow and that the Tsar had renounced the throne in his own and his heir's name.
Out of nowhere, like "Phoenix from the ashes" the regiment was suddenly overflowing with all sorts of agitators and revolutionaries wearing leather jackets. They immediately proceeded to establish "Soviets (councils) of Soldiers' Deputies" in all regiments of our garrison, following the example of near-by Moscow. These councils assumed the role of military authorities and our council removed Colonel Shastin, appointing Lt. Col. Lukashevsky in his place. The men disliked Col. Shastin solely because of his melancholy nature. He was a very liberal and sincere man, and the change in him occurred probably as a result of a serious wound at the Front. Fearful lest the agitated masses of soldiers kill him, I got in touch with Lt. Col. Lukashevsky and took Shastin to a near-by monastery; it was probably during the night of March 5th. I felt safe for the time being, the "Soviets" (councils) of the battalion and of the regiment having "confirmed" me in my position. A noted demagogue and a man without character, Lt.-Col. Pogorelov was "elected" chief of the Tver Garrison. Thus, the entire command of the garrison was completely taken over by the garrison councils. The next day, when complete anarchy reigned in the city, Lt.-Col. Pogorelov appointed me "chief of guards" in the city and I was required to restore a semblance of order. While I was serving in this capacity, however, some provocateurs killed General Chekhovsky who had arrived from Moscow to conduct an inspection on orders of the Soviet of Soldiers' Deputies (he was probably a brother of the well-known Ukrainian political leader, Professor V. Chekhovsky). The provocateurs immediately accused me of neglect of duty as commander of the guards and arrested me. When reports of my arrest reached my battalion, the men armed themselves with live ammunition and, accompanied by the regimental band, marched from the barracks to the city, to liberate me. Along their march they were joined by the Don Cossacks and the men of the Officers' School. The Garrison Soviet became apprehensive that it might be court-martialled, but chiefly, as I was able to find out later, that I might be proclaimed chief of the garrison, a delegation was therefore sent to me to City Hall where I was being temporarily detained under parole arrest. The purpose was to talk to me so that I would induce my men to go back to their barracks. Naturally, I was informed that I was free. I went out to my soldiers and told them that I was free and that they should go back without causing any trouble. I went back, however, to my place of confinement where I felt safer, and told the Soviet that I demanded an investigation of the killing of General Chekhovsky and until such an investigation was completed, I would voluntarily remain under arrest. The fact that members of the Soviet tried to induce me to leave for my home made me see clearly that I could save my life only if I remained where I was, under arrest. The investigation was conducted by a lawyer, a classmate of mine from the Aleksievska Military School in Moscow, Captain M. Ruzhytsky, subsequently a Colonel and Chief Prosecutor of the Army of the Ukrainian National Republic. He issued an order for my immediate release. I assume that this entire provocation against me was caused by my attempts to have separate detachments of Ukrainians established out of the Tver Garrison. My Ukrainian colleagues and I had demanded that one of the garrison regiments be made exclusively Ukrainian. Following my release I requested Lt.-Col. Lukashevsky to assign me immediately to the Front, to my own 70th Ryazhesk Regiment which covered a sector of the Front near Dvinsk. That same night I left on a brief furlough. All the officers accompanied me to the station, along with many soldiers from my battalion; but there were also lurking quite a few suspicious-looking people. The reason they did not take a chance and attack me was the presence of a large number of my soldiers.
After my furlough, I joined my regiment at the Front. Here the atmosphere was entirely different, as it would be, facing the enemy. The regiment had a Soviet of Soldiers' Deputies, too, but acting merely in an advisory capacity attached to the Commandant, and concerned mainly with economic matters. I did not have an official assignment because all posts were filled, therefore I remained on special orders of the regimental commander, Col. Soloviev. The Regimental Soviet, however, soon proposed that I be appointed chairman of the Regimental Economic Committee.
A rumor began spreading early in June that an offensive would be mounted on the entire Western Front and on the Caucasian Front at the same time. In this connection on June 12, Dvinsk was visited by the favorite son of the revolution, the Socialist-Revolutionary Prime Minister and Minister of War of the Provisional Russian Government, Alexander Kerensky. Each regiment picked a delegation and Kerensky was to address the delegates. I was in charge of the delegation of my regiment. Over 1,000 delegates from the entire North-western Front assembled in the huge hall of the Dvinsk railroad station. After a fairly long wait, Kerensky finally appeared in the entourage of generals A. Dragomirov, Yu. Danilov, Budberg and others. The first impression was unfavorable: semi-military dress, all hatless and Kerensky in a fatigue cap; earthy-grey face, nervous movements. He began his address: no enthusiasm, only sporadic shouts by demagogues about the heroes of the revolution, appeals to the patriotic feelings of the soldiers and workers (whose only concern at that time was "let's go home, war without annexations or contributions") to defend "our common one and indivisible mother Russia." During his address Kerensky kept losing his false teeth and waving his arms; this detracted from his speech and caused ironic smiles in the audience. He went on like that for about half an hour and I thought that it would certainly not be he to lead Russia out of the chaos of the revolution. When two Non-Coms and I, who were the delegates of our regiment, were leaving the hall I asked them about their impressions. One of them, Sgt. Skidanenko, said: "the same impression as yours." I understood what he meant.
The so-called Brusilov Offensive started on June 18. But rumors notwithstanding, it was launched only on the Southwestern Front, and faced by the fire of German and Austrian artillery, it broke down on the second day. The offensive was not simultaneous, only in stages, and the attack on the Northern Front began only on July 8th, and ended the same day. After this June offensive, a "fraternization" initiated by the Germans went on on all fronts, with barter trade going on between the opposing lines. For all practical purposes the war was over.
We Ukrainians knew that the Central Rada with Prof. Michael Hrushevsky at its head was functioning in Kiev. It was a kind of parliament with the so-called Secretariat acting as a Government. We had been waiting keenly for someone from among the top leadership of the Ukrainian national movement to visit us and to tell us what we should do. As early as May, we had formed a Ukrainian national battalion out of the 18th Infantry Division and we had our Ukrainian banner. The battalion had over fifteen hundred men, I was in command and Captain Petrenko was my aide. We sent our delegates to the Central Rada in Kiev, but they never came back to the regiment.
In August food shortages became so acute that our regimental Soviet, on the initiative of two Non-Coms from Siberia, decided to send the Committee to Siberia to purchase meat and flour. The Division Soviet took over the idea and appointed me to head the Committee. It took us two weeks to reach Barnaul because railroads were completely disorganized, particularly in connection with the action of General Krimov who was marching on Petrograd at the head of a cavalry corps in defense of the Kerensky Provisional Government. It became known much later that Krimov killed himself and the corps was disarmed by units of the Petrograd Garrison when they were approaching Petrograd. Kerensky, however, managed to escape from Petrograd.
It was none other than Kerensky, acting as Prime Minister, who opposed the demands of the Ukrainian Central Rada merely to recognize home-rule for Ukraine and he issued an order to halt Ukrainianization of the armed forces at the Front and in the hinterland alleging that this would undermine the defensive power of Russia; this, however, was merely a pretext. The order did not help because there was no power which could be used against the soldiers of Ukrainian and other nationalities who were following the Ukrainian example and emancipating themselves. It was quite natural for the Ukrainian soldiers to follow the voice of national and patriotic duty, but still, there was quite a numerous part who followed the voice of self-preservation and nostalgia. They wanted to go home, and in this they followed the example of the Muscovites who had become completely anarchized and began robbing military and private property, wrecking railroad stations (especially restaurants) and freight cars on the way to their homes. It comes to mind frequently, when I recall those days, that the Communist rulers deliberately permitted the worst instincts of men to get the better of them at that time in order to promote chaos, but right after the revolution the strictest kind of discipline was introduced. All Ukrainian detachments were completely disciplined and because of this fact, both Governments, that of the Ukrainian Central Rada and the Russian Provisional, kept receiving requests from cities, towns, villages, factories and railroads to provide Ukrainian soldiers for their protection. Regular pitched battles were frequently joined between Ukrainian and Russian units, or groups of deserters, which always ended in victory of the Ukrainians, but which caused the Muscovites to hate the Ukrainians. On the infrequent occasions of Russian victory, the Muscovite bands usually disarmed the Ukrainians and shot them on the spot. But such incidents passed unnoticed by the Moscow Government and Command and nobody was ever punished.
All sources of Ukrainian memoiristic literature covering that period and historiography indicate that Congresses of Ukrainian soldiers were held in May and June 1917 and sailors of the Black Sea Fleet attended the latter, having hoisted the Ukrainian banner over that part of the former Imperial Navy. The Congresses elected a Ukrainian Military Committee headed by Simon Petlura and recommended that he proceed immediately with the establishment of new Ukrainian military formations and continue to Ukrainianize units of the Russian Army. It is significant that Kerensky prohibited these Congresses. Since that time there began formation, albeit on a very small scale, of exclusively Ukrainian units, mainly defensive. Formed in Kiev was the 1st Bohdan Khmelnytsky Infantry Regiment, in Kharkiv the Slobidsky Corps, in Chernihiv and Chyhyryn so-called Free Cossacks; also guard companies and battalions for the protection of important railroad junctions, such as Zhmerynka, Birzula, Koziatyn, Shepetivka and others, against plundering and to force demobilized Russian echelons from the southern and southwestern fronts to pass through northern junctions, by-passing Ukraine. Ukrainianization of the 34th Army Corps began in June; it was under the command of General P. Skoropadsky, later, in 1918, Hetman of Ukraine.
Meanwhile I, and my two Sputniks (fellow-travelers) were in Siberia. Complete order still reigned there and prices in particular were at least 5 times lower than in Ukraine and European Russia. For example: in Kharkiv butter was 9 rubles a pound, while in Barnaul a 50-lb. barrel of export butter cost 40 rubles, i.e. 80 kopecks per pound. Gold rubles were in circulation here, while in Ukraine they had disappeared a year earlier. We purchased in Novosibirsk and Barnaul 3 carloads of meat, 1 carload of ham and 10,000 lbs. butter and, accompanied by one of my fellow-travelers all this was routed to Dvinsk on special orders of the Tomsk Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies. I took advantage of the return trip to visit my wife who was staying with her mother in Kharkiv. This was the end of October, it had taken me three weeks to reach Kharkiv and from there I could not even attempt to get to Dvinsk because the Bolshevik coup d'etat had taken place in the meantime. Early in December the quartermaster of my regiment, Lt. Zhyvotiuk visited me in Kharkiv and told me about events in the regiment and on the front. On orders of the regimental Soviet, the regiment demobilized voluntarily late in September, while the Ukrainian battalion under the command of Capt. Petrenko reached Kiev. Lt. Zhyvotiuk also told me that he had seen Capt. Petrenko in Kiev, and the latter told him that when he had reported to the Secretary of Defense, Lt.-Col. Zhukovsky, asking what he was to do with the battalion which was waiting in railroad cars at the Kiev 2 station, the Secretary replied: "Demobilize. Ukraine is socialist and instead of a regular army we are going to have a militia." Of all the food loaded in Siberia, the regiment received only the ham, the rest was requisitioned in Moscow, said Lt. Zhyvotiuk.
The Bolshevik coup in Kharkiv was extremely bloody, the Communists executing about 6,000 officers. A local bookbinder, M. Rukhimovich, became head of the garrison. He was subsequently a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine, a short and skinny man who distinguished himself by his brutality toward officers. He issued an order requiring registration of all military men and I, naturally, reported, although I became very nervous when the file clerk took my card to Rukhimovich's office. Officers who were standing in line for registration advised me to flee immediately, but I stayed. A few minutes later the file clerk came back and quite politely asked me to see the commander of the garrison. Mr. Rukhimovich offered me the job of his aide and commandant of the city. This put me in a hopeless position: I could neither refuse, nor accept. After thinking it over for a little while I said that I accepted in principle, but being without experience, I wanted another day for my final answer. Surprisingly, he agreed. Right after I got home I told my wife that she should move to her aunt's while I changed into a private's overcoat and cap and walked to the Lubotyn station, to take a train from there to the city of Lubni where my family was living. I knew that my brother Oleksander, a Captain in the same 70th Ryazhesk Regiment and commander of trench mortars, was already there. This was January 1918.
Rumors reached us in Lubni that under the attack of the Bolsheviks pressing from the north and east under the command of Muraviev, the Central Rada had left Kiev and moved to Zhytomir; that Kiev itself was engulfed by a revolt of Bolsheviks and it was being defended by the Slobidsky Corps under the command of Simon Petlura. At that time I knew nothing as yet about the proclamation of complete independence of Ukraine (proclaimed by the Central Rada in Kiev on January 22, 1918). In spite of a severe winter, my brother and I were hiding in a near-by forest visiting the house only at night to have something to eat and most important, to warm up. We always had our pistols drawn in the woods. Sometimes there was heavy firing in the city, and then we would not leave our hideout at all, which was in a stack of hay. Then, at twilight, our sister or mother would come out to us. Every other day the Communists came to our parents' house and inquired about me. My brother and I were hiding out like that for almost three weeks. Then my brother, for whom no inquiries were made, went home and I stayed in the woods.
By the end of January my brother brought me a telegram addressed to my father. It was from my wife in Kharkiv and its text was alarming. I set out for Kharkiv immediately: first on foot to the railroad station at Romodan, from there some farmers met by chance took me by sled all the way to Poltava and from there trains were still running to Kharkiv. I found out upon my arrival that some armed bandits had come to my wife's apartment and took her to an isolated spot. Her mother followed them from a distance and when she met a Red Army soldier she told him what had happened. He ran after the bandits immediately and ordered them to stop. They let my wife go and started running, but the soldier killed both.
News reached Kharkiv that a delegation of the Central Rada had signed a peace treaty with the Central Powers at Brest, under which Ukraine was to get military aid against the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks in Kharkiv were so absorbed by events and preparations to defend the city, and they had already finished their "purge," so I was left undisturbed, without, however, leaving a house where I was completely unknown. The next news was that German troops were advancing into Ukraine, that they had liberated Kiev with the Central Rada returning there and that Ukrainian troops were closing on Poltava with the Germans. After checking this news, I left one night in the direction of Poltava and then Romodan. Near Solonytsia I was caught in a cross-fire: a battle was going on between Ukrainian troops and Bolsheviks, with the division of Commander Otaman Natiyev attacking, as I found out later. The Bolsheviks pushed a rifle in my hands and dispatched me to the right wing of the battle along with 11 soldiers. When I heard that they were all speaking Ukrainian, I led them away from the fighting line and when we were all alone, I ordered them to put their arms on the ground and to sit down fifty paces away. I covered them with my rifle. About 30 minutes later all firing ceased at the Romodan station and I saw two trains pull out in the direction of Poltava. The Bolsheviks were withdrawing. Right away we heard the clatter of horses hoofs and we were attacked by cavalry. But when they saw that we were without arms, they stopped and I told them of my adventure. This was a cavalry company of the Zaporozhian Division under the command of Captain Rimsky-Korsakov. There I joined an armored car detachment and was placed in command of an armored car armed with a mountain cannon. I immediately christened the car "Polubotok" the name of a famous Ukrainian Hetman. Colonel S. Merezhynsky was in command of the armored car division.