6. Defense of the Yarmolyntsi-Husiatyn Sector

It had become necessary to move the Government and Army staff west and away from the front-line. Early in March I was therefore ordered to move to the railroad junction of Yarmolyntsi and simultaneously I was appointed garrison commander of an area within a 15-mile radius of Yarmolyntsi. I was to make the area ready for defensive action and to evacuate a huge depot of artillery supplies located at Victoria, about 5 miles west of Yarmolyntsi, to Galicia. When the news spread in Brailov that our battalion was leaving, a delegation of the local populace came to me, headed by the above mentioned Chief Rabbi I. Feldfix. They made a desperate appeal to me to leave a small crew in Brailov to preserve order. There was only one advice I could give the Rabbi: that he should make this request to the Army Staff or to the Minister of Jewish Affairs. Rabbi Feldfix then handed me an envelope with a document written in Hebrew, and lifting both hands high, he said: "Whenever in your life you will find yourself in a position of danger, show this paper to any Jew, and you will be given all possible help by the Jews".5

After the arrival of my battalion at the Yarmolyntsi station, I dispatched two rifle companies and one cavalry company to the near-by city of Yarmolyntsi and left the rest at the station. I placed a string of patrols all along the eastern line of my command sector. One day a cavalry dispatch rider came galloping to me with a laconic message from Capt. Moroz, commander of the cavalry company, stating that my presence in the city is immediately required. When I came there, Capt. Moroz told me that about two hours earlier a group of 19 riders headed by "Otaman" Bohun had entered the city and began robbing the people. Moroz had surrounded them, disarmed them, and now the robbers were under arrest in the schoolhouse. I summoned Bohun, and he declared with an air of arrogance that I had no right to detain him and his troops, demanding immediate release and return of their arms. When I explained to him that he was a common robber and that according to the laws of war he will be court-martialled, he laughed. I immediately convened a court-martial headed by Captain Moroz and with 2 officers and 2 enlisted men as members. Only Bohun was sentenced to death and the sentence was confirmed by Commander in Chief Simon Petlura within 24 hours. I had a talk with Bohun's group of men and they all enlisted in my battalion. I found them to be very good and disciplined soldiers. As the Ukrainian proverb justly says: "fish stink from the head down."

Soon thereafter Lieut. Fedorchak and Subaltern Fedak from the Chief Command of the Ukrainian Galician Army came to me with a document confirmed by the Army Staff which stated that they were authorized to evacuate the artillery stores from Victoria and that they should load 20 carloads each day. I put the 4th Company under Capt. Musiyenko at their disposal and transferred it to Victoria. I continued to equip my battalion while in Yarmolyntsi and succeeded in obtaining 200 pairs of shoes. Several days later the Army Staff ordered me to transfer the entire battalion to Victoria in order to speed up the evacuation of artillery stores. I was to turn over defense of the Yarmolyntsi junction to the Haydamak Group under Otaman M. Sereda. The latter appeared the same day and I moved the battalion to Victoria. I saw an extraordinary picture on my arrival at Victoria: Capt. Musiyenko told me that a few hours before a unit under the command of Major Kaspariants (an Armenian by birth, former Non-Corn in the Russian tsarist army) arrived there. There were 9 men who placed a 3" cannon in front of the railroad station and Kaspariants personally fired the cannon around a 360 radius all over the distant countryside. When I asked him why he was doing this, he replied: "to keep the Communized countryside frightened." I told him to leave the place immediately and reported the incident to the Army Staff. I never heard of Kaspariants again. This is the kind of behavior we had to contend with, in spite of severe punishment meted out to culprits. These are obviously quite normal occurrences of every revolution. As a student of history, I knew well what went on in France in the late 16th century, in England over a period of nearly two centuries, and again in France during the Great Revolution. The difference was, however, that revolutionary events in Ukraine were more in the nature of purely accidental and quite petty banditism, whereas in the great historical revolutions tens of thousands of people perished, particularly those of another faith, as e.g. Jews. The Ukrainian revolution never assumed the character of mass destruction, as in the Soviet Union, where millions died, including nearly all Bolshevik leaders, and in the artificially induced famine when several million of my hapless countrymen died. In Ukraine, in the 1917-1921 period things were comparatively well under control, mainly thanks to the attitude of our Government and the Commander in Chief, Simon Petlura. Nevertheless, some newspapers in the West, which on one hand were misinformed about events in eastern Europe, and on the other hand deliberately inspired by Russians, attempted to slander the entire Ukrainian liberation movement, and particularly the Ukrainian Armed Forces for an alleged lack of culture and tendency toward anarchy. It is quite obvious that the newly established Ukrainian Government could not have the same kind of political and diplomatic contacts as the Russians, it did not have financial means for propaganda counteraction which in our materialistic epoch, is actually the only factor of political decision. The Ukrainian Government should certainly have publicized all positive manifestations of the struggle for independence and corrected unfounded falsehoods. In this instance it would have been well to the point to answer both the White, as well as the Red provocateurs in the words of the Ukrainian proverb: "people might believe some of your lies, but not for long."

In order to investigate the veracity of Kaspariants' report about pro-Communist sympathies of the countryside, I immediately dispatched patrols under Capt. Musiyenko to the largest village in the area, the name of which I no longer remember. The patrols came back with quite disturbing reports: the people in the villages were not basically pro-Communist, but there were large numbers of Bolshevik agitators all over. There was a bright side to the reports: the peasants were not inclined to offer resistance to our battalion, saying: "it would be a hard job to fight those boys in steel helmets." That same night, however, Captain Musiyenko disappeared, and there was all reason to believe that he had gone over to the Communists. Special security measures had to be undertaken. The next day I took a motor trolley toward Yarmolyntsi to get a report from Otaman Sereda, and on my way I nearly fell into a Bolshevik trap: they were there, but well concealed and they permitted my trolley to get quite close. I had to hurry and set up defenses around Victoria, as one railroad employee had found out that night over the telephone from his colleague in Yarmolyntsi that a Bolshevik armored train had arrived there. We blew up all bridges between Yarmolyntsi and Victoria immediately, but the Bolshevik armored train could reach us by artillery fire and we had to move about 1,5 miles west of Victoria. For about 3 days the Bolshevik troops did not bother us at all, but we learned later that they had forcibly armed the entire countryside in order to surround us. While we were still in Yarmolyntsi, a Rumanian officer, Lieut. S. Madij reported to me. He was an artillery man and with his help I organized a battery in Victoria, two 3" cannon mounted on wheels and two more on flat-cars, something in the nature of an improvised armored train. I placed the cavalry company and the battery in Horodok, 2 miles west of Victoria, and I told Capt. Moroz specifically that his squadron was the combat protection for the battery. The battalion was well uniformed and well armed, with a total complement of 700 men; this was a lot at a time when some of our entire divisions did not have more than 400-500 men. I was not surprised when one day, one of many days so full of different and difficult work that I and my officers often slept with our clothes on, and sometimes had to go without sleep for 2-3 days at a time the battalion was visited for a full inspection by the Commander in Chief accompanied by the Commander of the Chortkiv Military District, Major M. Orobko. The Staff usually transmitted my reports to the Commander in Chief, and the latter, upon inspection, expressed his satisfaction with the condition of my troops and the order prevailing in areas which were under our control. The next day after the Commander in Chief, Simon Petlura left, our battalion passed a difficult trial of battle, unfortunately with heavy and unexpected losses.

Meanwhile the situation on the fronts against the Bolsheviks was not rosy at all. Our army was in retreat on all fronts, as I found out from reports coming to me from the Army Staff. The Zaporozhian Battalion and the Odessa Group were retreating in the direction of Tiraspol, and was trying, with the aid of our Government, to be permitted to cross Rumania into Galicia, in order to reach the region of Proskuriv or Volochyska. The Sitch Riflemen Corps and other units attached to it were retreating on the Proskuriv Volochyska line, and the Northern and Kholm Groups were moving toward Sarny and Lutsk. At that time, a thing quite usual under conditions of military failure, all kinds of adventurers began to appear, who were not dedicated to any ideals, but merely sought to satisfy their personal ambition or to gain material profit. Thus, for example, Commander of the Northern Group, Major P. Oskilko6 proclaimed himself commander of all military forces of Ukraine and went so far as to put members of the Government under arrest. This certainly contributed to a decline of morale and combat readiness of our troops on the northern front. Another self-styled "Otaman," Volokh, who became commander of the Zaporozhian Corps in some mysterious manner, announced that he was in favor of a communist order in Ukraine and began unauthorized negotiations for an armistice with the head of the Ukrainian Soviet Government, Christian Rakovsky. There was disorganization and demoralization among our troops. The Commander in Chief and the Army Staff made feverish attempts to restore discipline, and they were soon successful, because the masses of the Ukrainian troops were patriotic and understood that adventurous moves were harmful.

Since the very beginning of its assumption of power, the Directorate sought all possible diplomatic means to get help from the victorious Allies in order to continue resistance against the Reds. Delegates of the Ukrainian Government negotiated with Allied representatives wherever possible, particularly in Rumania. This was all fruitless, however, because the Allies were in favor of restoring Russia and their statesmen believed that Russia could be rebuilt on democratic principles. In this they were duped by foreign agents of Moscow abroad who had old contacts with foreign governments. Indeed, it was perhaps difficult to foresee at that time that "Satan is ascending," but we know that the West helped Poland and the newly established Baltic States, the only country refused help was Ukraine, and the whole world, together with the Russians, opposed the struggle of the Ukrainian people. Old Russian diplomats of the Tsarist times, pictured the Ukrainian national movement as Ukrainian Bolshevism. When I had a chance, much later, to become acquainted with memoiristic literature, and primarily that of the Russians, I observed that the Russians were ready to accept the existence of Bolshevik Russia, but of an independent Ukraine never. The world has suffered much harm because of the Russophile tendencies and political shortsightedness of such political leaders, or rather dictators, as Georges Clemenceau, David Lloyd George, and to some extent Winston Churchill. We should always keep in mind that they were the undertakers of the Ukrainian freedom cause and actual creators of the power of Bolshevism. It was not the Germans, who delivered Lenin and Co. to Russia in 1917, but the Allied statesmen, who were the real authors of Bolshevism because they would not help wreck the rule of the Reds and thus contributed to the ascendancy of the Soviet empire. They are responsible for the decline of the power of their nations: France will surely never rise again, and England is slowly following her. There existed, however, sure possibilities of finishing off Moscow imperialism by aiding Ukraine and the other nations, Turkestan, Byelorussia, and others. Instead, we now have rampant Red imperialism which is on its way to conquer the world without even attempting to conceal its plans. While it is true that to err is human, the French have a better saying: "c'est plus qu'un crime, c'est une faute" (mistakes are worse than crimes). To what extent the West was politically and militarily demoralized at the time of the close of World War I is evidenced by the following fact: yielding to the persistent demands of the envoy of the Provisional Russian Government, P. Izvolsky and delegate Paul Milyukov, M. Clemenceau decided to establish a staging area in southern Ukraine near Odessa, for operational aid to the Russian Volunteer Army which assembled in the Caucasus under General L. Kornilov, and after his death of Generals Aleksieyev and A. Denikin and fought the Reds. Four Allied divisions landed in Odessa supported by appropriate naval forces. The divisions were: one French, one Greek and two French colonial. Fighting began between the Ukrainian garrison in Odessa and Russian White Guards which were being organized under Allied protection. The Ukrainian garrison retreated from Odessa, which was immediately attacked by the insurgent group of Otaman Hryhoriyiv 6,000 strong, which not only dispersed the Volunteers, but also forced the entire Allied Corps to flee from Odessa, with the Greek units offering the only real resistance as attested to by memoiristic sources. Unfortunately, Hryhoriyiv was one of the many naive who trusted Moscow. He joined the Bolsheviks and was subsequently liquidated by them.

 

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[5] First of all I asked my liaison officer H. Roytberg to translate the contents of the document for me. He read it, then kissed it and said: "You deserve it, I have observed your attitude toward the populace and particularly toward the Jews." He would not, however, tell us what the document said. No other Jew would tell me its contents cither. There were several occasions when the document came in handy. As noted before, H. Roytberg is now living in the United States.

[6] Later murdered by the Communists in Volhynia under Poland 1930.