3. In the Commandantura of Kharkiv
On our way to Slavyansk we were informed that there had been a coup-d'etat in Kiev: with German help, the Congress of Landowners elected General Pavlo Skoropadsky to the office of Hetman of all Ukraine. Within the Zaporozhian Corps, which wished to follow the old tradition of the Zaporozhian Cossacks and generally had democratic leanings, the opinion on the change of Government was divided. Part of the Corps was opposed to the Hetmanate and Col. Petriv was its chief spokesman, while another part believed that the Hetman, being an old soldier, would preserve order in Ukraine. This was imperative in Ukraine at that time due to the Bolshevik threat and it would also be beneficial to curb the overly individualistic Ukrainians. It was also hoped that the Hetman would be capable of dealing with the Germans who had begun to behave like conquerors in Ukraine, and not like allies.
There being no immediate prospects of action for my armored train and mobile artillery, I decided to take a furlough and visit my family in Kharkiv. On arrival in Kharkiv I registered in the local Commandantura. There, I made the acquaintance of chief of the Commandantura office Captain Borys V. Homzyn, a man of high intelligence and culture and, as I was to find out later, a descendant of a noble Ukrainian family.
I asked him whether I could perhaps be assigned to the Commandantura, in view of the fact that fighting operations were finished. After consulting the chief of the inspection department. Captain of Cavalry M. Dobrzanski (formerly of the 29th Regiment of Dragoons. I met him again later when he was a Lieut. Colonel in the Polish Cavalry Officers' School), Captain Homzyn went to the Commandant, Colonel Anisimov, and the latter assigned me to the Commandantura, with proper notification to the staff of the Zaporozhian Corps.
During the time that I worked in the Commandantura, i.e., from August 23rd to the uprising against the Hetman, there were no events worthy of note. While there, I met members of the Ukrainian National Association (UNS) who were opposed to the Hetman. On orders of the Commandant, I intervened frequently at the German Command in matters of arrests which the Germans made without consulting the Ukrainian authorities, although as a matter of principle these matters were within the competence of the Gubernial Commissar and district commissioners.
It became known in October that the Hetman had surrounded himself with former officers of the Tsarist army and appointed as Prime Minister V. Kolokoltsev, a well-known local leader of the Kharkiv Zemstvo (Zemstvo was a unit of local self-government under Tsarism) and Russian patriot, although a progressive.
Meanwhile the German and Austrian troops, following the defeat in the West and also due to Bolshevik propaganda, began to disintegrate. Their conduct toward the local Ukrainian population, on which they levied a tax in kind, over the protest of the Ukrainian Government, and which they collected ruthlessly, dispatching armed detachments to the countryside and executing recalcitrant peasants; their wrecking of entire villages and restoration of land of the great estates to the landowners; and finally, exportation of huge quantities of chornozem (black top-soil) by the thousands of carloads to Germany, all this caused numerous riots and uprisings. The population was solidly against the Germans and this in turn could not remain without its due influence upon the Ukrainian military, and particularly upon the Zaporozhian Corps. The behavior of the Germans also swayed the feelings toward hostility to them of two Ukrainian divisions, the Synezhupannyky which had been formed in Germany and the Sirozhupannyky which had been formed in Austria, both recruited from among Ukrainians, former Russian prisoners of war. The political organization behind these military formations was the Association for Liberation of Ukraine, known by the letters SVU (Soyuz Vyzvolennya Ukrainy). Because of unrest in these divisions, the Germans partially demobilized them, in spite of the fact that they were excellent fighting units and indispensable for the defense of Ukraine. On top of all this, the Germans arrested Simon Petal who was already a legendary hero to the whole country.
The gravest political error committed by Hetman Scoreboards was his signing, along with the Otaman of the Don Cossacks, P. Krasnov, on November 14, 1918, of an agreement in which Gen. Krasnov purported to be representing a "future Russia" promising federation of Ukraine with Russia. Our officer group was the first to find out about this, because the meeting and signing took place at a railroad station east of Kharkiv. This act of the Hetman, unwarranted by the existing political situation, placed the entire conscious Ukrainian community in opposition and the UNS then proclaimed an uprising against the Hetman. Faced with the pressure of public opinion, the Germans released Simon Petlura. To direct the movement against the Hetman and to restore to Ukraine all political rights provided for by the Fourth Universal Proclamation, the UNS elected a Directorate (Dyrektoria) composed of 5 prominent Ukrainian leaders: Volodymyr Vynnychenko, Simon Petlura, Fedir Shvets, Opanas Andrievsky and Andriy Makarenko. They represented all strata of society and all political trends of the country. The Zaporozhian Corps and all other military units which had been formed by the Hetman Government and even the so-called Serdyuk Division which consisted of the sons of wealthy farmers and was the Hetman's mainstay, all joined the rebels. The Directorate relied in the first days of the uprising mainly on the USS Legion (Ukrainian Sitch Riflemen) which was quartered in the area of Bila Tserkva near Kiev. The USS Legion, aided by demobilized former Tsarist soldiers from the neighborhood, attacked Kiev, defeated the Hetman's volunteer detachments which were composed chiefly of former Russian officers, and on December 15, 1918 the Directorate entered Kiev, the Hetman leaving for Germany.
Since that summer the Bolsheviks had been massing troops on the northern and eastern borders of Ukraine, whose nucleus consisted of alien brigades (Latvian, Bessarabian etc.) augmented by Moscow volunteers who proclaimed the motto "Ukraine does not give us bread – let's go to Ukraine after bread." And while the morale of German troops in Ukraine became shaky, the Bolsheviks made contact with German Councils of Soldiers' Deputies and got their promise that the Germans would maintain neutrality during an attack by the Bolsheviks against Ukraine. In return, the Bolsheviks promised the Germans peaceful return to Germany. Early in November large numbers of Bolshevik agitators appeared in Kharkiv, going first of all after railroad workers. With the eruption of the uprising against the Hetman, the great railroad yards of Kharkiv and the locomotive factory were completely dominated by the Bolsheviks. A Soviet of railroad management was set up and it refused to provide transportation which would bring parts of the Zaporozhian Corps to Kharkiv. There was a change in the Kharkiv military command. Prior to the uprising the Gubernial Commander of Kharkiv, with jurisdiction over all county commands, had been Colonel Myronenko-Vasiutynsky, who was replaced by Otaman P. Truba, Colonel M. Popsuy-Shapka replaced Col. Anisimov as city commander. The personnel of the Commandantura did not change, except that Captain H. Simantsiv became chief aide of Col. Popsuy-Shapka. Simantsiv was a very intelligent and energetic person, a leader of the Kharkiv branch of UNS and by his political convictions a socialist-revolutionary. The only armed force on which both commands could rely, the Gubernial and local, was the headquarters battalion of about 80 men under the command of Captain Havrylenko. I had been appointed chief of the Commandantura's technical department with the task of taking over all transportation means in Kharkiv, primarily the very few automobiles. In this role I made my appearance at the Soviet of the Southern Railroad, accompanied by only two non-coms of the headquarters company. In conversation with the chairman I demanded that orders be issued in my presence providing railroad transportation for units of the Zaporozhian Corps located at Kupianske station and anywhere else where representatives of the Corps would demand. I threatened that upon refusal I would arrest the entire Soviet and place them before a court-martial, with simultaneous appointment of experienced officers to manage the railroad and all stations. I pointed to the window and said: "Look and see that the building is surrounded with our patrols and no one is going to leave this place." I was lucky that none of them took up my challenge because there was not a single soldier in sight, but such a bluff could be pulled off only during those perilous times when human life was worth nothing. My ultimatum was accepted and the chairman of the Soviet issued orders right there in my presence that all commands of Ukrainian military authorities should be complied with. This was an unexpected success, and as a result the very next day units of the Zaporozhian Corps under the command of Colonel I. Lytvynenko appeared on the streets of Kharkiv. An attempt by the Communized workers to seize the State Bank, the Telephone Exchange and Post Office was nipped in the bud and complete quiet reigned in Kharkiv. Colonel Popsuy-Shapka appealed to Ukrainian students and to the Ukrainian population of Kharkiv to establish units of self-defense in connection with the Bolshevik movement in the city and the approach of the reds from Bilhorod. Several thousand volunteered and the Commandantura organized them. This put us on 24-hour duty and all the sleep we could catch was on chairs.
It was only toward the end of November that we were informed about the "November Coup" in Galicia, where the Ukrainian National Council under Dr. Evhen Petrushevych seized power and declared the independence of the Western Ukrainian National Republic (ZOUNR), i.e. of all Ukrainian territories which had formerly been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Secretariat of Military Affairs under Colonel D. Vitovsky began organizing the Ukrainian Galician Army (UHA) taking advantage of reserves of the USS Legion as its center. There was no time for organization, however, since from the very first day the Poles, who had a military organization in Lviv, rose against the Ukrainian authorities in arms: this was the beginning of the Ukrainian-Polish war. Ukrainians were now compelled to fight on two fronts: east and west. We in Kharkiv were so absorbed in the struggle against the Bolsheviks that we knew little about events in Galicia, but news reached us soon that the Poles had taken Lviv and that the Directorate, in spite of a shortage of manpower to defend the front against the Bolsheviks, dispatched some units to help our Galician brothers. This was more in the nature of a display of national unity, just as the Galician USS Legion had been helping us politically and militarily; Meanwhile the Bolsheviks were pushing their way into Ukraine from the north and east. The volunteer self-defense units offered to go to the front lines, but this could not be done for lack of arms and difficulty in organizing supply lines, and of course, there was a great reluctance to send untrained young boys to the front. Nevertheless they did man the defense of several important points and one company was assigned to the chief of the Kharkiv militia. Students also helped in setting up defense posts and barricades which were to be manned by the Zaporozhian Corps. By Christmas the Bolsheviks were already close to Kharkiv. Fighting went on for a whole week, however, and only on December 31 Col. Truba issued orders to evacuate and proceed to Poltava. It was too late to do anything, but nevertheless Col. Truba ordered me to salvage the valuables from the vaults of the Bank. I was given several teams of horses hitched to sleighs and a guard of four officers. The Bolsheviks were already within the city limits. We had hardly finished loading three sleighs when local Bolsheviks opened fire on us from windows and the unloaded sleighs dispersed. We barely escaped with our lives, but managed to transfer everything to a train. Only some of our gallant youths joined the Zaporozhians and withdrew with us. When we were ready to start, we found out that the engineer had disappeared and we lost hope of ever leaving Kharkiv. When I had been in command of an armored train I had handled the throttle several times and volunteered to take the train out in view of the hopeless situation. I went quite slowly, but still I managed to reach Poltava and it was high time, because the Bolsheviks were approaching Poltava from Sumy! During a brief stop in the Poltava Depot, I was called to appear before Colonel Popsuy-Shapka and ordered to take over the command battalion, which was also being evacuated by the same train, from Capt. Havrylenko. According to Commander Truba's orders my unit would be completed to full strength from all county command companies which were marching toward Poltava. After completion, the battalion was to become a fighting unit in the Zaporozhian Corps as the Independent Zaporozhian Rifle Battalion. To complete its organization, the battalion was moved to the city of Lubni, but it also had combat duty in holding the front toward Romen and keeping a small garrison at the Hrebinka railroad station. Captain Havrylenko was to be either my aide or company commander.