The October Revolution - so named because the date fell in that month according to the old Julian calendar - was arguably the signal event of the twentieth century, and obviously one that had massive repercussions for Kyiv and Ukraine. As Ukraine's remaining ultra-leftists gather for their annual observance of Lenin's coup, What's On decided to revisit what Kyiv native Mikhail Bulgakov called the "great and terrible year" 1917, and examine what it meant for Ukraine. The events of autumn 1917 were of course the second stage of the revolution, overthrowing the Petrograd-based Vremenoe', or provisional, government of Russian parliamentarians led by the Social Revolutionary Aleksandr Kerensky. (St. Petersburg, at the time the Russian imperial capital, was renamed Petrograd during World War I to rid it of any nasty Germanic connotations.) The provisional government had taken over after the Tsar Nikolai IPs abdication in February, 1917, but it proved weak and unpopular. As protests against the provisional government burgeoned in response to Russia's continuing disastrous involvement in the war, the Social Revolutionaries were forced to establish a coalition government with the executive committee of the pro-Bolshevik Petrograd Council, or 'soviet' in Russian. This power-sharing arrangement led to a bureaucratic quagmire and infighting between socialists and Bolsheviks who hated each other, leading to government inaction on urgent issues such as widespread famine and the slaughter on the front The city's various communist workers', soldiers' and peasants' councils, led by the Petrograd Council, were more powerful than the provisional government, though strategic concerns, including the fact that they weren't yet ready to rule, kept them from destroying it, and in fact led them to prop it up. Finally, on 7 November, 1917 the Petrograd Council's military revolutionary committee did smash the Kerensky forces and announced that the 'Soviets', or councils, now ran the country. The Congress of Soviets elected a government headed by Lenin, called the Council of People's Commissars or 'Sovnarkom'. The local Soviets now transferred more and more of their own power to it.
Now Lenin's small band of revolutionaries had to consolidate their control over Russia and its vast empire. Seizing power in Russia proper was not much of a challenge, though the fighting in Moscow lasted for two weeks. But the Bolsheviks were less immediately successful in ethnically non-Russian regions of the Empire. That included Ukraine, which had been clamouring for independence since the February Revolutioa In Kyiv, the Ukrainian Central Rada had declared Ukraine's autonomy on 23 June, 1917, prompted by the fiery enthusiasm and self-organising capacities of the country's national movements. The Rada was an elected parliamentary organ; the Ukrainian government's executive branch was called the General Secretariat, and was headed by Volodymyr Vynnychenko. The Rada created the Ukrainian People's Republic (UPR) on 22 November, 1917 in a move supported by the All-Ukrainian Congress of Councils, a gathering of regional and ethnic representatives. It also adopted a document known as the third Universal, a sort of constitution that guaranteed the country's people safety of person and the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and faith Ukraine had been the theatre for some of World War Fs bitterest fighting, so the Bolshevik government's frenzied attempts to make peace with Germany had quite an influence on the country's people. Still, there were various opinions in Ukraine about what path the country should take in participating in the peace talks. Ukraine's own Social Democrats wanted all the 'prerogatives of an independent state' in the talks. Representatives of Ukraine's non-Russian parties wanted to limit themselves to mere participation in the talks, without
The Ukrainian People's Republics' constitution the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and faith
the Social Democrats' pretensions. Vynnychenko wanted to be reasonable, and to consult with the French and English allies. Finally the government appointed delegates to sign for peace on the Ukrainian front, and on 9 December 1917 the government announced that it wanted a general truce. The pertinent document read, "The Ukrainian People's Republic, with the Ukrainian front on its territory, and which is independent in international affairs, must take part in all the world talks conferences and congresses on an equal basis with other states...and must oversee the interests of the Ukrainian people", "iet Ukraine didn't receive significant recognition from the Western powers when push came to shove. For their own political reasons, the latter wanted to preserve the Eastern front, and so didn't particularly welcome the birth of the Ukrainian state.
Creating an armed forces is one of the most important tasks for a new state. This proved to be impossible, however, given the attrition of manpower that three years' of war had caused. Ukrainian soldiers wanted to get home to their villages and especially farms. Ukraine's unsolved agrarian problems hampered the creation of a UPR army. Massive economic problems also played their part in weakening the government, as did sabotage on the part of leftover Russian bureaucrats who still occupied the new country's administrative structures. Nevertheless, the construction of a national state system continued. The government took measures to rationalise the legal system, bolster the national culture, and create an education system. Ukrainisation began, as Ukrainian language, literature, geography and history were introduced in schools. Buffeted by the storms of social upheaval and revolution, the Central Rada worked hard to develop the Ukrainian idea, promoting ideas of autonomy and federalism, proclaiming independence and entering the international scene. On 22 January, 1918, the Rada adopted the fourth Universal, which proclaimed the UPR's sovereignty and independence. On 27 January, the first peace treaty of World War I was signed between the UPR and the four states of the German alliance in Brest-Litovsk A day before the agreement was signed, however, Leon Trotsky's Red Army entered Kyiv and the Rada was forced to concede that it needed immediate military help to keep the country free from Soviet control. On 18 February, German and Austro-Hungarian troops began to occupy Ukraine, temporarily squashing the Bolshevik threat and restoring order. According to the peace treaty that Bolshevik Russia completed on 3 March with the Central European States, the Bolsheviks would recognise the UPR, withdraw their forces from Ukraine and start peace negotiations. But after Germany fell, the Kremlin sent its Red Army to Ukraine again. Communist troops moved forward under the slogans of the parallel Ukrainian government that had been set up as a puppet of Moscow. On 7 January, 1918 the Bolsheviks proclaimed a parallel Ukrainian People's Republic, with its capital in Kharkiv, and subordinate to the Russian Bolsheviks. Sheltered by the Kharkiv government, the Red Guards began to occupy Ukraine.
Next, a coup on 29 April, 1918 spoiled the progress that Kyiv's Central Rada had made and initiated a new period in post-revolutionary Ukrainian history. Former tsarist General Pavlo Skoropadsky exploited the chaos to take power, having himself proclaimed hetman of Ukraine. The name 'Ukrainian People's Republic' was retired. In one of his first interviews, Skoropadsky insisted that Ukraine shouldn't be a laboratory for socialist experiments. He invited authoritative figures to work constructively in his government, but still couldn't get much done beyond the symbolic national-cultural sphere. The military apparatus, which was interested in making money by getting as much food and raw materials out of Ukraine as it could, continually meddled in state affairs. Ukrainian peasants, meanwhile, turned violent when it became clear that Skoropadsky supported the return of their hatedlandlords. The hetman's regime could survive only with the help of the German occupation. On 12 November, 1918 Germany and the entente countries concluded a truce that meant the final end of World War I. The German and Austro-Hungarian armies had to pull out of Ukraine. This led to an anti-hetman uprising in the country, raised by peasants radicalised by the revolution and headed by the Directory, an organ created by another military formation called the Ukrainian National UNI0N (UNU). It included Volodymyr Vynnychenko and Sy-mon Petlyura. On 14 November the Directory formally proclaimed a rebellion, which would be effected by thousands of battle-hardened rebel veterans. Some weeks later, the Directory took control of all of Ukraine and restored the UPR Skoropadsky was defeated, for better or for worse - for worse because, despite all the problems with his reign, he had been the only one to foment any stability in Ukraine
At this time, too, there emerged the Western Ukrainian People's Republic, with its capital in Lviv and its origins in the mass national-liberation movement that had inspired Ukrainians who lived in the Ukraine's western, and recently Austro-Hungarian, regions. On 1
The great powers at the Paris Conference saw no place in the new world order for an independent Ukraine
November, 1918, however, the Kyiv Rada under Petlyura declared that it "from this day.Jiolds power in Lviv, and across the territory of the Ukrainian state." On 9 November the Rada formed a coalition government called the Provisional State Secretariat, which included 14 state secretaries headed by Kost' Levytsky. Western Ukrainian statehood was a stillborn child. The reUNI0N of both Ukrainian states was announced on 22 January, 1919 in Kyiv, but it wasn't as simple as all that In 1919, Polish troops occupied eastern Galicia and western Volyn. At the beginning of the same month, Soviet Russia invaded the UPR and occupied its capital on 5 February. The Directory moved to Vinnytsia, then to Zh-merynka, then to Proskuriv, then to Rivne. Early in May, Symon Petlyura and other figures of the UPR saw the writing on the wall and emigrated Finally, later that year, the Bolsheviks renamed the state they had conquered the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic. The dream of an independent Ukraine was over until 1992, killed by a variety of factors: a rural national character that made it hard for Ukrainians to organise politically, Bolshevik aggression, the division of the Ukrainian identity into Austro-Hungarian and Russian parts, and other factors that made forming a state difficult The lack of unity of the Ukrainian political elite, its division and endless internecine hostility, and a general Ukrainian lack of training in statecraft are all attested to by many sources. The Paris Conference that ended World War I, and that supported the birth of a new Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, did not see any place for an independent Ukraine, which had alone tried to resist Bolshevist expansion on the post-World War I political map of Europe.