4. 1919 Independent Zaporozhian Rifle Battalion

We all left for Lubni immediately and arrived there on January 4. I made a personal check of the personnel and material resources of the battalion: there were no weapons, no food, no supplies of any kind nor people to perform medical duties. Everyone had to scrounge for food by himself, and for lack of uniforms most soldiers wore civilian clothes; only one out of ten men had good shoes. I immediately appointed my brother Oleksander to the quartermaster command; although I was decidedly opposed to any form of nepotism, I had no other choice. Knowing my brother's knack for organization, I knew he would go out of his way to help me. As I have already noted, he had been staying in Lubni and had many friends there; he got in touch with the city administration and they gave him woolen goods for 100 uniforms and overcoats (there was a first-class woolen mill in Lubni, owned by S. Shemet the well-known Ukrainian leader of the land-owner-hetman movement). Local shoemakers received orders for 200 pairs of boots. From military warehouses we were issued weapons, utensils, mattresses, sheets and blankets.

We had to send part of our better-equipped men in the direction of Romen to Hrebinka, a very important railroad junction to us and the Zaporozhian Corps because it provided communication with Kiev. Within a few days we were able to produce a company of over 70 well-dressed and well-armed men which we paraded across the city making an impression upon the people: respect for us grew immediately and the population felt safe. It is interesting to note here that prior to our arrival in Lubni, a local communist sergeant formed a cavalry company in the village of Tymky, terrorizing Lubni and the entire neighborhood. The city even paid him 100,000 rubles ransom. As garrison commander I ordered a curfew to prevent night robberies and I called upon youth to volunteer for service in the battalion. About thirty local high school students volunteered, among them one Jew, Bukhman. My staff and myself, with part of the battalion, were quartered on a train in the station, as this facilitated better contact with Poltava, Kiev, Hrebinka and Romen. The guard in the direction of Romen was inspected by me daily. Everything looked all right, but my men noticed that some civilians, probably as a result of news coming through "scuttlebutt" were hostile toward them and called them hirelings of the bourgeoisie. There was good discipline and morale in the battalion and this was not to the liking of peasants who had been agitated by the Bolsheviks. Many Bolshevik agents swarmed over the countryside and I had neither the time nor the men to watch for the appearance of hostile agents. It was easy for them to penetrate into the villages in which no authorities were present. Warfare between the Bolsheviks and all Ukrainian Forces was waged along railroad lines: our forces were inadequate and because of winter we very rarely policed the villages, and not even the towns which were situated far from the railroad.

Among others, a classmate of mine from the Ostrih High School (Gymnasium), class of '07, V. Moshynsky, who was a teacher of mathematics at the time in the local girls' high school came to see me. He learned about me from posters and immediately stated that he was a Communist, but a Ukrainian one. He said that he condemned the Russian Bolsheviks' attack upon Ukraine and their undemocratic methods and political demagoguery, but that he was certain that the Moscow Bolsheviks would leave Ukraine when the war was over because, he alleged, they had been invited to Ukraine by the Ukrainian Bolshevik Government. He made a proposition to me that I should remain in Lubni on his assurance and join the reds when they come; he said that he knew the reds were in dire need of imaginative and experienced officers. He added that a Ukrainian Red Government was already functioning in Kharkiv and that its members were our classmates and colleagues: D. Z. Manuilsky, H. Lander and Georgi Pyatakov, who would certainly welcome me into the ranks of the Ukrainian Bolshevik Army. On my part I reminded him that we were Ukrainians and that at one time in high school we had been members of the Ukrainian "Hromada" which stood clearly aloof from Muscovite political trends. I added that I fully realized that the Bolsheviks would never leave Ukraine voluntarily. At the same time I expressed my surprise at his detailed information of what was going on in Kharkiv. When he saw that his talk had left me unconvinced, on taking his leave he said: "perhaps you are right, we shall see." Indeed, later that year, in August, he was executed by the Bolsheviks for his attitude of opposition in spite of the fact that he had held the high position of commissar of the province of Zhytomir.

Within a few days, a delegate of our Government, Mr. Stepan Skrypnyk2 came to me from Kiev with orders to evacuate the county state treasury. He was the first to tell me that Simon Petlura had been designated by the Directorate as commander-in-chief with the title of Chief Otaman of the Armies of the Ukrainian National Republic. Out of the money requisitioned in the county treasury, S. Skrypnyk gave me 20,000 rubles (their value was about 500 pre-war rubles) for the needs of the battalion. This was the first sum which gave me an opportunity to purchase a lot of indispensable things, primarily medical supplies, and to pay each soldier 25 rubles.

Within days the battalion was engaged in action. Captain Musiyenko informed me from Hrebinka by telephone that he was engaged in battle with a Bolshevik band which was approaching Hrebinka from Drabova-Baryatynska; the attack of the band was temporarily repelled, probably with great losses, but the Captain feared that he might become surrounded at night because the band was ten times as strong as his forces and fought in full battle order. I took two platoons and immediately left for Hrebinka and, along with Capt. Musiyenko, led an attack toward Drabova: as a result we simply dispersed that company with machine gun fire. I had to reinforce Capt. Musiyenko, however, leaving him one of my platoons, and I ordered him to keep strong patrols on the outskirts of Hrebinka.

That same day an improvised armored train entered the Lubni station quite unexpectedly from the direction of Hrebinka. Capt. Musiyenko could not warn me in time due to a disruption of telephone and telegraph communications which shortly, however, we succeeded in restoring. There were about 30 men on the train under Otaman Myasnyk. At first, it was hard to find out from his words and behavior what he had come for, but his mysterious and bandit-like appearance made me order the battalion to an alert. I ordered half a company with machine guns to proceed from the Theological Seminary in Lubni to the railroad depot. This seemed to cool the enthusiasm of Myasnyk. Meanwhile the Tymky Communist company entered the city and began skirmishing with my patrols. I proposed to Myasnyk that he help me liquidate this Bolshevik band and he put 20 of his men at my disposal. At the same time he declared that he had orders from the Government, to take the money from the country treasury, but when I remarked that the money had been taken to Kiev, he became very angry and said that he would have to check this. He immediately recalled his men who were on their way to help my men. It was now quite clear to me that Myasnyk had come to rob the treasury and perhaps also the city and that we were in his way. He left with his armored train toward Hrebinka. I was very much alarmed by the question: who had permitted him to organize an armored train and to roam all over the railroad tracks without any control? This fact alone gave an idea of the complete lack of military and administrative control in our hinterland. We found out later that Myasnyk had taken money from the treasury in Pyryatyn and then robbed all railroad stations on the Yahotyn-Hrebinka sector. After this, his name disappeared from the annals of the liberation struggle completely. He probably joined the Bolsheviks.

We fought a battle with the Bolshevik company of Tymky and liquidated it. We had it quiet for a few days after this. Several boys from the Bolsheviks joined my battalion, saying that they had been pressed into service, and kept by the Bolsheviks under terror. Subsequently, they were exemplary soldiers. It was also quiet on the Hrebinka front.

During those days Colonel Popsuy-Shapka passed through Lubni on his way to Kiev and, naturally, spent some time with me. He informed me that the Zaporozhian Corps was going through Kremenchuk and Znamenka for the purpose of defending that sector and joining our forces which were operating in the Odessa-Mykolaiv and Dnipropetrovske-Zaporozha region, and that in case of necessity it would cross Romania into Galicia to join the rest of the Army which, for purposes of reorganization was stationed in the area of Lutsk-Rivne-Proskuriv-Husiatyn. On the advice of the General Staff, Col. Popsuy-Shapka told me, Commander-in-Chief Petlura agreed that the Army detach itself from the enemy under cover of rear-guards and take a rest and regroup for a counter-attack in the early spring. To keep the Bolshevik hinterland under threat, the Commander-in-Chief left trusted men in many places from which we withdrew with orders to organize insurgent partisan units. Such units, based on forests in the Trypilla area of Kiev province and in the Kovel-Sarny region would keep communications under control. This insurgent-partisan movement developed to such an extent in 1919, that the Bolsheviks could not cope with it. These were really large units, some several thousand men strong and they operated behind Bolshevik lines entirely unimpeded, as for example the group of Otaman Yurko Tyutyunnyk, which was 4,000 strong and was subsequently incorporated in the Army as the so-called Kiev Division. Colonel Popsuy-Shapka also brought me orders from Colonel Bolbochan that my Battalion was being transferred to the command of the Army Staff in Vinnytsya.

Right after Col. Popsuy-Shapka left I was advised by the Army Staff that I must take part in liquidation of a Bolshevik band in the area of Yahotyn. The band would be attacked from the direction of Kiev by the SS Brigade (Sitch Riflemen) under the command of Col. R. Sushko. After liquidation of the band our Battalion was to proceed to Vinnytsya via Berdychiv and there await further orders. The following day the Battalion proceeded on two trains toward Hrebinka, the Company of Capt. Musiyenko joined us, and under cover of two armed trolleys we went on toward Yahotyn. Before we reached Yahotyn we found evidence of battle along the track and learned that Col. Sushko's Brigade routed the Bolshevik band in a surprise night attack and immediately went back toward Kiev, leaving orders for us with the station master to go through Kiev without stopping to Vinnytsya because Kiev was threatened from the direction of Kruty-Nizhyn. Our trains started and we reached the station of Kiev III (a junction on the left bank of the Dnipro). The picture I saw at this station was horrible: all tracks were filled with evacuation trains, mainly freight trains and the only bridge across the Dnipro could be crossed by trains on an average one train every half hour. The station commandant was Otaman Samusenko who told my aide, Capt. Linytsky, without any hesitation that he would let our trains through before our cum on payment of 100,000 rubles. And to think that such people who were out to make money on the people's misfortune were given positions of trust. This was the same Samusenko who subsequently staged a pogrom in Proskuriv for which he was sentenced to the firing squad by court-martial. Revolution produces odd situations with which the law cannot cope, particularly if it is going on during the tempest of war. I ordered Samusenko's arrest, took over command of the station and in cooperation with the station master I began to untie the bottleneck. It took about 12 hours to check the contents and destination of trains, the number and condition of locomotives, and to coordinate matters with the commandant of the Kiev passenger station on the Right Bank of the Dnipro clear the tracks for smoother communications. Our trains began to move late at night and we reached Vinnytsya after 24 hours.

At that time Vinnytsya was the seat of the Army Staff and I expected to find things to be more orderly. Far from it. Only much later, when I began to understand the laws or lawlessness of revolution, I became aware of my lack of experience and adaptability to conditions of anarchy, and to the ruthlessness of clever people. I never changed my hard soldierly nature which at that time seemed out of place, but actually indispensable, unless one would become an opportunist and sacrifice the future for the present. Only those who lived through similar circumstances will be able to understand what I mean. Nevertheless I found out that sometimes it was necessary to apply political and psychological flexibility. I never acquired a moral flexibility, even in the face of death. No soldier, and especially the one whom fate calls to a position of high responsibility, should ever try to be "morally flexible," but unfortunately, during our revolution, subsequent difficult times of exile, under new hardships of World War II and finally upon closer contact with the West, I observed many instances of such superfluous flexibility, which nearly bordered on lack of backbone. I have never been able to observe that denial of moral principles would pay off: either to the cause or to the person.

In Vinnytsya I reported to the Minister of Military Affairs, Col. 0. Shapoval, former commandant of the 1st Bohdanivsky Regiment in the Zaporozhian Corps. It must be noted that although Col. Shapoval was a member of one of our leftist socialist groups, he proved to be a true statesman. He was a soldier-patriot, a man of firm character who placed military matters above party tactics. After hearing my report, Col. Shapoval ordered a review of my battalion for 7 A.M. the next day, February 8. On a bright cold morning the men appeared for the review in front of the station: four rifle companies, one machine-gun company, one cavalry platoon and units of liaison and supply. We were not full strength, only about 250 men, but trim in appearance and indentically uniformed. They were well trained because I had been exercising them during every free moment; even I was impressed by their appearance and awaited the Minister with a feeling of pride. A large group of officers and officials of various ministries immediately gathered around the depot and they all asked what group this was. The most impressive thing about my men was the fact that they were all wearing steel helmets which my brother, Captain Shandruk procured during our prolonged stay in Kiev. At 7 o'clock sharp I issued the command for a salute by presenting arms and gave my report to the Minister who had come to take the review accompanied by the whole Staff, including Col. M. Kakurin and Otaman Truba. Colonel M. Kakurin, an officer of the Russian General Staff was an advisor to the Minister and a noted expert in military affairs.3 I was very pleased to hear from Col. Shapoval and Col. Kakurin that they had never seen such a fine unit before and that I should present the battalion for review by the Commander-in-Chief Simon Petlura the following day. I was given a special citation of the High Command of the Armies of the Ukrainian National Republic signed by S. Petlura. Later, I had a lengthy talk with Cols. Shapoval and Kakurin and Otaman Truba in which I made known the battalion's requirements. All my requests were granted with firm orders issued: the battalion would be completed to full strength in Brailov (the next station west of Vinnytsya), where all command units from Kharkiv already had been dispatched; I would receive all necessary equipment with material for uniforms and footwear (there was nothing ready; everything would have to be custom-made) and finally, a physician was ordered to join the battalion, Dr. Yurko Dobrylovsky. Otaman Truba also gave me 250,000 karbovantsi, in the presence of the Minister, for the battalion's expenses. After completing all organizational work, on which I had to make weekly progress reports, the battalion was transferred to the railroad junction of Yarmolyntsi with orders to hold this point and to defend the Husiatyn-Yarmolyntsi line. This was an example of real good care of a military, unit which had not as yet had an opportunity to prove itself in battle. Probably that same day we left for Brailov via Proskuriv.

 

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[2] At present Archbishop of the Ukrainian Autocephalic Orthodox Church in the United States.

[3] Late in 1919 Colonel M. Kakurin joined the communists and was chief of operations under Gen. Tukhachevsky in the war of 1920 against Poland. He was later a professor of Tactics in the Red Army General Staff and Command College (so-called Frunze Academy in Moscow). It is very unfortunate that after the resignation of Col. Shapoval our military command was unable to enlist the services of Col. Kakurin in our cause. Colonel Kakurin was co-author of a book "Voyna s Belopolakami v 1920 g." (War against the White Poles in 1920.)