11. In Kamyanets Podilsky
At that time I suffered a relapse of my old illness, nephritis, and I was given one week's furlough, by Col. Udovychenko, to rest in bed and get well. On my way to Kamyanets, where my wife was staying, I met the Commander-in-Chief in Verbovets as he was proceeding to the front-line of our Division. After receiving my report about the situation in the Division and finding out that I was going for a rest, the Commander told me that he also wanted to speak to Col. Udovychenko about me. He wanted to transfer me to Kamyanets, the temporary capital, to take command of the 1st Recruit Regiment which was to be formed there and which was to garrison the city as a sort of guard regiment. For two reasons I felt that I should refuse this new assignment: I did not want to leave my brave comrades and soldiers; and I doubted whether Col. Udovychenko would let me go. A decision was difficult as I could not ask the Commander questions about the details of my new assignment. The Commander's aide. Col. O. Dotsenko, however, took advantage of a good moment and whispered to me: "take it, you will have the full support of the Commander and us" (this meant of the Commander's staff). I therefore gave an answer that if I felt better and if Col. Udovychenko would let me take a few of my officers from the regiment, I would be at the Commander's disposition. When I returned to the regiment after a week, Col. Udovychenko, with his usual composure and tolerance, not only consented to my transfer, but even let me take several officers, well knowing that I would pick the best and weaken the staff of my former regiment. My need, however, was also for reliable aides in forming a new and exemplary regiment. So began a new chapter in my life.
After arriving in Kamyanets I reported to the Minister of War, Col. V. Petriv, and received my first instructions: the 1st Recruit Regiment will be under the Minister of War through the Quartermaster-general of the Staff, Staff General S. Dyadyusha, who would have the rights of division commander in relation to the regiment. The regiment would be quartered in the barracks of the former Russian 45th Azov Regiment, where a nucleus of officer and noncom personnel was already available, and Capt. Kolodyazh, an officer of Moldavian descent, was provisional commander. After paying Gen. Dyadyusha a visit, I reported to State Inspector of the Ministry of War, A. Pevny, whom I knew from Kharkiv. I had a hearty talk with him about the appointment of a state inspector for the regiment, and he told me that he would make the appointment after consulting Col. Kedrovsky and Capt. Hladky, state inspector attached to the General Staff. I also visited Hladky and asked him not only for an inspector, but even for a controller, on condition that I could show some initiative and not be stopped over details. The man appointed as inspector was Capt. Harasym Drachenko of the Grey Division. He gave me full support and even defended me from all sorts of whispers coming from various party circles. In my further talks with Col. Petriv and Gen. Dyadyusha I insisted on providing the regiment with food and clothing because under then existing conditions these were of the greatest importance to the soldiers. In this I also had the support of State Inspection.
After a closer look at the personnel of the regiment I appointed Capt. Kolodyazh as my deputy, I placed Capt. Shevtsiv of the 9th Infantry Regiment in command of the 1st Battalion, Capt. Vinnytsky of the 2nd Battalion, and Capt. Sirenko of the 3rd Battalion. Lt.-Colonel Nechytailo, also of the 9th Reg. was my quartermaster and other officers taken by me from the 9th Regiment were Capt. Vodyanytsky, Lieut. Raskin, Lieut. Ovcharenko and a few junior officers. I immediately ordered decontamination of the barracks and all equipment, and preparation of food. The biggest trouble was clothing and shoes, but we managed somehow. The regimental warehouse had plenty of fine pre-war tarpaulin and the Quartermaster-General permitted its conversion to shoes and puttees, and delivered an appropriate quantity of leather for soles and trimming, but would not undertake to set up shoemakers shops. I then applied to the City Council and its Chairman, Mr. Fisher (I showed him the letter from Rabbi Feldfix), agreed to send me a master shoemaker to organize production. My condition was that the shop would be in the barracks of the regiment, for better control. In a few days we had a shop in production, turning out sixty-five to seventy pairs of shoes and puttees a day. The shoes were so good that I saw them being worn by soldiers a year later without much sign of wear! Many state dignitaries, including Prime Minister I.P. Mazepa, came to the regiment and admired the production of shoes – from that time on, I had no trouble in getting funds and goods from the Quartermaster-General. Things were difficult with uniforms which were also in charge of the Quartermaster-General and were supplied primarily to front-line units. Some were assigned to me, but it was still warm and my troops wore heavy white shirts of which there was a plentiful supply as the Bolsheviks, surprisingly, did not take them when evacuating. Because of these shirts, my soldiers were called "our white guards." There were no difficulties with food and we were soon able to organize an officers' mess. The remount Commission supplied us with a number of horses and carts, but we had to repair the wagons ourselves. Lt-Col. Nechytailo helped me greatly in all these undertakings. Our main task, however, was mustering and training troops.
By the middle of September noncoms began arriving every day, and soon thereafter, also recruits. We conducted an accelerated review with the noncoms for a few days, according to rules tried out in the Zaporozhian Battalion. The inspection commission headed by Capt. Drachenko rejected only a few noncoms who were suspected of Communism and they were sent back to the Chief of the Draft District. Recruits came chiefly from the counties of Mohyliv and Ushytsya, 20-year-olds in groups of 40 to 100. Two commissions were set up in the regiment, Medical and Educational, the latter charged with picking out the brighter and better educated boys to the School for Non-commissioned Officers. It was very odd that nearly all recruits, as if by prearrangement, arrived in barracks literally in underwear, sometimes just in a long nightshirt, and barefoot. When asked about this they said that they had nothing else to wear or that that was the way their parents had equipped them. Another order that the boys brought from home was "don't fight Onykyn" (Denikin) whose troops were just then moving north in Right-Bank Ukraine (Bredov). Gen. Dyadyusha and Col. Petriv often attended field exercises and offered valuable advice. Within ten to twelve days the regiment had 2,000 men who were gradually being put in uniform and intensively trained. The Commander in Chief visited us before the Feast of the Holy Virgin (October 14), and told us that a "solemn swearing in" would take place on the holiday, and the regiment should be ready for it. We even had our own band by then.
On October 14th the swearing in took place. I brought out the regiment composed of three battalions, although some companies were not full strength because we could not parade those that were still barefoot. The armed regiment marching to the main square with its band made a tremendous impression. Foreign military agents watched the proceedings. Gen. Dyadyusha introduced me to some, and they would not believe that the regiment was actually only three weeks old. The ceremony lifted us all in spirit, especially the beautiful Divine Service and the sermon of Chief Chaplain, Very Rev. Pavlo Pashchevsky.
And now, although the work in the regiment was organized, the worries of my staff and mine were increasing. In connection with the departure of our Armies and the approach of "White-Guard" Russians, desertions from the regiment were growing. We had reports that the Reds had the better of the Whites in battles, and particularly Budenny's mounted group spread fear among the Whites. Our recruits were doubtlessly influenced by the approach of the march to the front-lines while we had only one exercise with live ammunition, and moreover our troops had no winter clothing. Our soldiers also saw thousands of typhoid patients brought to Kamyanets from the front. The noncoms were in this matter "in cahoots" with the enlisted men, therefore I gave orders that one officer of each company must spend the night with his men in barracks. Obviously, Capt. Drachenko and I informed our superiors about desertions and about the situation every day. We had daily talks with the men informing them about the cause of the struggle and tried to make them conscious patriots. I requested Col. Petriv to make a proposal in the Council of Ministers that desertion be made punishable by death, but he was opposed on the ground that such a law would be undemocratic (Col. Petriv was a member of the Party of Socialists-Revolutionaries). In violation of service, procedure I appealed in this matter directly to the Commander in Chief, and the law was passed. In the meantime I formed several patrols of non-coms commanded by officers and dispatched them to the villages to catch deserters. But if one day fifty boys were brought in, the same night an equal number escaped in spite of all precautions. By early December parents of recruits came from the countryside and simply took their boys home at night. It was no use even to think about applying the death penalty.
Late in November the situation of our armed forces was precarious. Although the enemy did not attack, heavy winter did, and due to a lack of clothing and medical supplies, we had the catastrophe of the "Quadrangle of Death" in the Lubar-Ostropil region. The two united Armies which prior to the attack on Kiev had about 100,000 men under arms and 300 cannon, were reduced by the end of November to 4,000 men still able to carry arms, but unable to fight. The question arises: what happened to the rest? Uncounted thousands were dying of typhoid fever and thousands froze in the open fields. In every peasant cottage there were between ten and twenty sick soldiers, also on floors of schools, and more than 1,000 in a little hospital for 100 – all this without medical aid of any kind. All those unnamed heroes begged their comrades in their feverish ravings to shoot them and not leave them to their cruel fate. There was no water and no one to hand it around. There are no words eloquent enough to describe this suffering, and there is no one brave enough to talk about these sacrifices of our heroic soldiers.
The hapless population, chiefly the peasants in the areas of operation of our troops was also decimated by diseases. They came to the aid of our troops not as soldiers but as human beings and showed them unlimited compassion. When, in the spring of 1920, I was preparing for an offensive which we were undertaking together with the Poles, I was located with my brigade in several villages of Nova-Ushytsya county. There I saw entire villages empty of people, and tragic black boards at the entrance saying:
"Caution, typhoid wiped out the village." In one village I found the whole family of my good friend A.M. Hamaliya, an attorney in Lubni, who had been escaping to the west with the Denikin troops. They looked like skeletons and I did not recognize them, but they recognized me, told me who they were and then the brigade physician saved their lives.
I have often heard it said that our soldiers also died of malnutrition. This is true only to the extent that there was no one to take care of food supplies, but food was plentiful, there was enough to eat and all kinds of food products could be gotten from the peasants. This proves that in spite of several years' war in Ukraine, in spite of the revolution, in spite of requisitions by the Bolsheviks, Germans and Denikin, the land was still not poor, and the farmers often would refuse to take debased money, but supply food without charge. Organization of food supplies was particularly efficient in the UHA.