Consistently recognised as a major trade centre, it has always been a
popular port and for that reason has more than often been quietly
coveted by its neighbours, even becoming the capital of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire for some time.
The Galician Scenery
A major defeat in 1867 caused Austria’s Empire to transform into the Austro-Hungarian Empire at which point, an emancipation of many cultures occurred. Following the First World War in 1917, a huge military defeat for the Empire, it was then dissolved and a Ukrainian national movement for self-determination re-emerged, forming the Ukrainian People’s Republic in November of that same year.
Lviv at that time found itself under the Poland partition and was comprised of approximately 60% Poles and 20% Jews with Ukrainians making up the majority of the population surrounding the city. As it was the biggest city within the Galician region, the Poles generally disregarded the very large Ukrainian community that resided amongst them, which would eventually prove problematic – especially with Western Ukraine’s imminent independence assured. Conflict was most definitely inevitable as Polish residents of the city did not want to be residents of a non-Polish state.
On the Battleground
It began in October 1918, when, under authority of the Austrian Archduke and as Polish units were being sent to other fronts, troupes of Ukrainian ethnicity were marched in and from then on stationed within the city. The Ukrainian Sich Riflemen, stationed in Bukovina, were also ready to join forces at any time. The Ukrainian National Rada was preparing to declare the West Ukrainian People’s Republic an independent state on 3 November but had its inauguration moved up to the 1st as there was talk of a Polish liquidation committee to transfer from Krakow to Lviv.
Occupying public utilities and raising Ukrainian flags throughout the city on the very early morning of 1 November, 1918, a new Ukrainian state was pronounced. The Austrian governor handed over power to the Ukrainian National Rada and Lviv was declared the capital; even though a large part of this area was yet considered Polish.
Polish forces however refused to allow it and quickly organised an opposition that brought together both veterans from the Polish Military Organisation as well as hundreds of volunteers. The enemy was under-equipped and short-handed but they knew the city well which proved a strategic tactic especially in the early days. In the meantime, the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen were having trouble penetrating the city itself and only a couple of days later were they able to break through. An attack on the Main Train Station by the Poles however became a small victory for them as Ukrainian forces were no longer able to supply themselves with weaponry and were pushed further out of the city. By the 5th, a stalemate was reached as personnel on the frontlines continued to be insufficient.
Even though Ukrainians continued the fight, the Polish continued to repel them and fighting raged on like this until 18 November, when an armistice was signed. But this would only last for a few days as a Polish detachment arrived in the city with more men and more guns and Ukrainians were forced to withdraw. This however would not prevent chaos from ensuing: Ukrainians continued to surround Lviv from three-sides while soldiers and criminals of Polish origin pillaged the city, the results of which were the deaths of hundreds of Poles, Ukrainians and Jews.
Once order had finally been established, the Polish authorities would punish many people accused of participating in the riots. But it would not prevent the fighting from continuing as the battle for Lviv would persist until May 1919. It would not be until 1920 when both Poland and Ukraine came to an agreement about an acceptable border.