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Bolshevik cartoon showing struggle against Ataman Grigoriev in 1919

The rather pathetic impression of Ukrainian military efficacy left by the history of the Directory gets modified if we take into account the activity of the 'Greens', who were also Ukrainian, also saw themselves as Ukrainian patriots and many of whose leaders had been involved with Petliura in the war against Skoropadsky and the initial occupation of Kiev. Because of their activities large areas of Ukraine were at least occupied by ethnic Ukrainians and closed to secure occupation by either the Reds or the Whites. They have a bad press in Soviet and Jewish historiography but, especially recently, 'certain Ukrainian historians (marginal in the universities but omnipresent in the bookshops)' (10) have begun to honour them as pioneers of Ukrainian nationalism. The problem is that there were so many of them. One of the most notable of the 'revisionist' historians, Roman Koval, has compiled thirty three biographies of leading figures. According to Thomas Chopard (p.57): 'We can recover, sometimes summarily, sometimes more precisely, the overall career and actions of nineteen atamans … All the Atamans previously fought in the First World War … all are young, their average age is is less than 27 years; the oldest, Grigoriev, was 35 in 1919, the youngest, Sumtchuk and Angel, 21 and 22.'

(10) Thomas Chopard: 'L'Ère des atamans', Revue d'histoire, Jan-March 2019, No141, p.56. My translation from the French.  

In saying that  they all fought in the war, Chopard is obviously not counting among their number the anarchist leader Nestor Makhno, who was in prison throughout the war, only released in March 1917. Although he certainly does not fit the usual picture of a Ukrainian 'Cossack' ataman he was one of the most important figures in the general history of independent regional chieftains following their own course with no fixed loyalty to the Reds, Whites or Ukrainian nationalists.

Grigoriev (Hryhoryev in Ukrainian) had been an officer in the Russian imperial army, staff captain of the 56th Zhytomir Infantry Regiment, and as such had been 'an active participant in the Ukrainisation of units of the Russian imperial army (1917) and the creation of regular units of the army of the Ukrainian Peoples Republic on their basis.' (11) But he left the army in protest against the German occupation and formed a rebel army in support of the Directory. As such he was part of the impressive array of forces that entered Kyiv in December. In January, Petliura appointed him 'Chief Otaman of the rebel forces of Kherson region, Zaporizhia and Tavria' but soon after he declared his lack of confidence in the Directory ('all kinds of careerists and adventurers who want to play the role of statesmen and great diplomats. These people are not professionals and are not in the right place. I do not believe them and go over to the Bolsheviks …'). Late in February the forces at his command became 'the First Brigade of the Trans-Dnieper Soviet Division of the Ukrainian Red Army.' In that role he expelled the French and Greek forces who were at the time occupying Kherson, Mykolaiv and Odessa. This was part of an at the time quite massive transfer of Ukrainian peasant affections to the Bolsheviks, supported also by the Left Wing groups that had split off from the Social Democratic and Social Revolutionary parties with the establishment of an essentially right wing government in Kiev. These groups and, it seems, most of the 'atamans', held to what they had believed to be the basic Bolshevik idea - reorganisation of society on the basis of more or less independent self governing assemblies - 'soviets' - rather than the unitary parliamentary model favoured by Petliura. This had also been Vynnychenko's policy.

(11) This account is based on the Ukrainian Wikipedia entries for Nikyfor Oleksandrovych Grigoriev and for The Grigoriev Uprising.

By April however a huge disillusionment with the Bolsheviks had begun to set in. It was the period of 'war communism' and what the Bolsheviks were chiefly after, like the Germans before them, was a monopoly control of grain, a policy enforced by the Cheka at its most brutal. To quote Chopard (Ère des atamans, p.61), ever since 1917 the peasants had demanded 'a power that looked like the rebels, relieved from "the yoke of strangers" that is to say of the national minorities, "a true worker and peasant power", they demanded, in the hands of Ukrainians, when the officers sent from the towns were most often Russian or Jewish.' To quote the Ukrainian Wikipedia account of the Grigoriev uprising, the leadership of the Ukrainian SSR and the Red Army 'did not have time to react to the rapid change in the situation in Ukraine, striving to achieve several ambitious goals at the same time. Namely: to obtain large supplies of food from Ukraine on a gratuitous basis (which required food distribution and a food monopoly), defeat the Volunteer Army in operations in the south of the Donetsk Basin, and invade Europe to support the Soviet regime in Hungary.' In this context the article claims: 'Thousands of peasants died at the hands of uncontrollably acting district and front-line Cheka, punitive squads and Revolutionary Tribunals. The Bureau of the Ukrainian Soviet Press reported on the "unnecessary brutality of the Cheka in the villages" - on floggings, robberies, shootings. Bolsheviks were losing their positions in local councils, peasants were turning to active forms of resistance.'

One of the first of the 'atamans', previously, at least briefly, allied with the Reds, was Yehven Petrovych Angel, who had already gained a reputation for brutality and antisemitism while still allied with Petliura. He was based in Chernihiv province just east of Kiev. According to his Ukrainian Wikipedia account: 

'Already two months after the arrival of the Reds, Cossack unrest began in the north of the Ukrainian People's Republic. On March 25, 1919, free Cossacks from Guzhivka, Rozhnyvka, Krupychpol, Maksimivka and other Cossack communities liberated Ichnya in the Borznyansky District. The uprising was poorly prepared, after the liberation of Ichna, a large part of the Cossacks went home, for which they paid the price. Ataman Angel was not in Ichenskyi at that time, he was conducting negotiations in Tripilla in Kyiv region about joint actions with Ataman Zeleny (ensign Danylo Terpylo ) and other atamans. He became a member of the revolutionary committee of the rebels, whose military commissar became Ataman Zeleny [8].

'Returning to Ichnyan Oblast at the beginning of April, Angel with a detachment of 400-450 Cossacks continued the uprising, liberating villages in Borznyan and Prylutsk counties from the power of the Bolsheviks. On April 12, he liberated the ancient village of Ivanytsia, the former town of the Hundredth of the Prylutsky regiment, a stronghold of the free Cossacks. Red troops knocked out the ataman's detachment from Ivanytsia, but after a couple of days he entered the village again. On April 15, Angel together with Ataman Kyril Shekera captured the district center of Borzna, disarming the 20th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Russian-Bolshevik Division, and held the town until April 23, 1919.

'Near the village of Yaroshivka, Prylutsky District, Angel's squad engaged in a five-hour battle with the Red Army, which tried to stop it. On April 23, the Prylutsky District Executive Committee reported that Ataman Angel was declared "outlaw" based on the order of the [Bolshevik] "Worker-Peasant Government of Ukraine", which was located in Kharkiv .

At the end of April 1919, near the village of Zagrebli in the Lubensk District, Angel's detachment entered into battle with units of the Lubensk Cheka and the Lubensk and Lohvytskyi Military Commissariats. They [the Reds - PB] captured the headquarters of the detachment and a significant part of the weapons, but Angel managed to break away from the pursuit with the main part of the detachment. After this battle, his detachment was divided into several parts - some Cossacks evacuated to family nests, while others, breaking into small groups, redeployed to the Prylutka and Ichnyan forests. On May 3, 1919, Angel with a small detachment (60 Cossacks) moved to the right bank of the Dnieper and joined the detachment of Ataman Zelenyi' 

That pattern - an apparently substantial rebellion easily breaking up as the peasants returned to their farms - seems to have been common. 

The account of the Grigoriev uprising continues:

'If in March - April the situation was most acute in the provinces of Central Ukraine - Kyiv, Poltava, Chernihiv - then, at the end of April/beginning of May, the situation in the South sharply worsened. Parts of the 6th Ukrainian Soviet Division, allocated for re-formation in their native places of Kherson Oblast and Yelisavetgrad [modern Kropyvnytskyi, previously Zinovievsk, then Kirovo - PB] Oblast, took an active part in peasant riots, offered armed resistance to the actions of advance units, and committed violence against Soviet activists. In the first days of May, the activities of the Kherson Provincial Committee were paralyzed, the Yelisavetgrad [modern Zaporozhia - PB] Executive Committee and the Party Committee were dispersed , the Bolsheviks were shot, a state of emergency was declared in Mykolaiv, and the Oleksandriysk Cheka was dispersed. In Kryvyi Rih District the dispersal of the Bolshevik councils and the killing of communists became massive. On May 1, an armoured train of the 6th Ukrainian Soviet Division fired at Yelysavetgrad.

'On May 2, a pogrom of the Jewish population took place at the Znamyanka station, on May 4-6, pogroms swept through Yelysavetgrad, Oleksandria, and Dolynska station …

'On May 7, 1919, Grigoriev received a categorical order from the commander of the 3rd Ukrainian Red Army, M. Khudyakov, to stop the riots or to resign as commander-in-chief. Chekists of the Special Department of the Army tried to arrest Grigoriev, but were captured and shot by soldiers, which prompted him to take decisive action. Communist political workers were arrested in Grigoriev's units, on May 8, 1919, M. Grigoriev published the Universal "To the People of Ukraine and the Red Army Soldiers", where he called for a general uprising against the Bolshevik dictatorship in Ukraine and announced the goals of his struggle:

'"Ukrainian people, tortured people! The brutal war with the German coalition and the Entente states snatched the best sons of the earth from your villages.

'"Civil war and hetmanism drove your best sons into graves and prisons. When you didn't have the strength to endure any more, you left the plow and machine, dug a rusty gun out of the ground and went to defend your right to land and freedom. But here, too, political speculators deceived you and used your credulity with cunning measures: instead of land and free will, they forcefully impose a commune, a state of emergency, and commissars from the Moscow "obzhorka" and the land where Christ was crucified. You work day and night, you shine with a muzzle [machine translation! - PB], you walk in sackcloth and pants; instead of tea, you drink hot water without sugar, but those who promise you a bright future exploit you; they fight you with weapons in their hands, take your bread, requisition your cattle and assure you that all this is for the benefit of the people." (12)

(12) According to the Mikhnovsky's Ukrainian Wikipedia account he wrote several of Grigoriev's proclamations, though a Wikipedia note complains that no source is given. He certainly wouldn't have been working for Grigoriev while Grigoriev was still allied with the Reds.

'On May 10-14, Grigoryov captured Uman, Pomoshna, Novomyrhod, Tarasha, Korsun, Oleksandria, Balta, Ananyiv, Kryvyi Rih, Kobelyaki, Yagotyn, Pyatikhatki, Khrystinivka, Lityn, Lypovets, Grebinka. Soldiers of the 14th regiment of the Red Army revolted in Pavlograd. In Kozyatyn, the Nizhinsky regiment went over to Grigoriev's side. In.Lubnythe 1st regiment of the Red Cossacks rose up, which defeated the Cheka, [and took control of?] the prison and the bank. The Bolshevik party organisation of the city of Lubny announced its support for Grigoriev.

'On May 11, the garrison of Verkhnyodniprovsk joined the insurgents in the Katerynoslav direction . Panic began in the headquarters of the 2nd Soviet Army, and it left Katerynoslav, hiding at the Sinelnikove station. Attempts to organize the defense of Katerynoslav were unsuccessful. A general escape began. On May 12, the Black Sea Regiment of the sailor Orlov and the cavalry unit of the anarchist Maksyuta rose up in the city; units loyal to the Bolsheviks and Soviet institutions left the city. On May 15, Katerynoslav was again captured by units of the Red Army under the command of Parkhomenko; every tenth prisoner was shot by them. On the eve of new massacres, the captured "Grigoryevs" rioted in the prison and, uniting with criminal criminals, defeated it, seized part of the city, and again let Grigoryev's troops into Katerynoslav.

'In occupied cities, Bolshevik councils and the Cheka were dispersed, and communists were shot. Pogroms and murders of Jews and Russians took place. In Yelysavetgrad on May 15, several hundred Jews and Russians were killed, including by criminals released from prison, "for the support of the communes"; about 400 people died in Uman on May 13-15; similarly - in Kremenchuk, Cherkassy,  Novy Buz , Oleksandria. Up to 150 Russians and 100 Jews were killed in Katerynoslav and its suburbs.'

However the defeat of the uprising seems to have been as quick and spectacular as its success:

'To combat the uprising, the Bolshevik government took extraordinary measures: there was a mobilization of communists, workers, Soviet officials, Komsomol members and members of Jewish socialist parties. About 10,000 soldiers were urgently transferred from Russia.

'Already on May 14, three groups of troops (30,000 soldiers), under the command of Kliment Voroshilov and Oleksandr Parkhomenko , began a general counteroffensive from Kyiv, Poltava, and Odessa. On May 18, the Council of Defense of Soviet Ukraine declared terror against the parties of the Ukrainian Left SRs and the Ukrainian Social Democrats - "independents" - as those who inspired the uprising.

'On May 18 , units under the command of Makhno came against the Grigoryov people. Nestor Makhno issued a retraction "Who is Grigoriev?", where he called the chieftain a "robber", "counter-revolutionary", "adventurist", "provocateur-pogromist" .

'In the second half of May, the Grigoryov rebels were surprisingly quickly defeated and localized in the steppe areas of Kherson. On May 19, 1919, a group of the Kremenchug direction under the command of Panas Egorov occupied Kremenchug, the Dnipro military flotilla and the battalion named after Spartak Feofan Ilyin - Cherkas district. From the south, the units of Pavlo Dybenko and Parkhomenko were advancing. Joining Yehorov's group, they occupied Kryvyi Rih, Dovhyntseve station. The forces of three red military groups managed to surround the region of the uprising …

'Of the 15,000 to 23,000 insurgents, a little more than three thousand remained with the ataman, and another two thousand went to various small local atamans, who nominally considered Grigoriev their leader.'

As part of the explanation for the rapid collapse of the rebellion the article continues:

'The political situation in Ukraine did not contribute to the success of the uprising. Anarchist groups associated with the Makhnov movement were influential in the southeast of Ukraine. Having an inconsistent program of affirming "free councils" and a powerless society [presumably meaning a society without authoritative government - PB], anarchists were guided by the decisions of the Kursk Conference of 1918, which raised the slogan of inciting a "second" anarchist revolution in Ukraine. N. Makhno saw the main danger in the advance of the "cadets" (Volunteer Army) from the southeast and had a sharply negative attitude to anti-Semitism.

'In the center and in the north of Ukraine, left-revolutionary political currents dominated. Parties formed by SR currents, independent social democrats, etc. representatives of the left part of the Ukrainian political spectrum, who dominated the Transnistrian region, did not consider the existing contradictions with the Bolsheviks to be antagonistic. The ideological basis of their activity was the concept of a "labor nation", later summarised in M. Shapoval's work "The Great Revolution and the Ukrainian Liberation Program".[Shapoval had been an associate of Vynnychenko who also, in exile, tried to come to terms with the Bolsheviks - PB] These parties saw the basis of national and social enslavement in the domination of "foreign capital" in Ukraine, which "captures cities and power in its hands, develops a foreign culture on Ukrainian soil to subjugate the Ukrainian one", feeds on the labor of the Ukrainian working classes and the Ukrainian working nation devoid of exploitative classes .

'The left wing of Ukrainian politics, even in the most critical moments of its conflict with the RKP(b)-KP(b)U, retained a great potential for conformist cooperation with the Bolshevik government and was always ready for unequal compromises. In such conditions, the rebellion, deprived of consistent political leadership, descended into partisanship and anti-Semitic actions.'