Ukrainian People's Army

The Ukrainian People's Army (Ukrainian: Армія Української Народної Республіки), also known as the Ukrainian National Army (UNA) or simply as Petliurovtsi (Ukrainian: Петлюровці) was the army of the Ukrainian People's Republic (1917–1921). They were often quickly reorganized units of the former Imperial Russian Army or newly formed volunteer detachments that later joined the national armed forces. The army lacked a certain degree of uniformity, adequate leadership to keep discipline and morale. Unlike the Ukrainian Galician Army, the Ukrainian People's Army did not manage to evolve a solid organizational structure, and consisted mostly of volunteer units, not regulars.[1]

Ukrainian People's Army
Country Ukrainian People's Republic
AllegianceUkrainian People's Republic
RoleLand warfare
Size100,000 personnel at its peak
CommanderSymon Petliura


Creation: Military congresses

When the Tsentralna Rada (Central Rada) came to power in Ukraine in spring of 1917, it was forced to promptly put together an army to defend Ukraine against the Bolsheviks. Nearly all units of the newly created army were detached from the Imperial Russian Army. On March 29, 1917 the first organization of military forum the Ukrainian Military Club was organized at the Kiev Military District on the initiative of Mykola Mikhnovsky. Also during 1917 there were three All-Ukrainian Military Congresses that elected their representatives to the Central Rada. After the first such congress that took place on May 18–21, 1917 in Kiev, the Ukrainian General Military Committee was created.[2] The committee was placed in charge for creation and restructuring of the army. The head of the committee was elected the future first General Secretary of Military Affairs, Symon Petlyura.[2]

The next congress, defying a ban placed by the Russian Provisional Government, took place on June 18–23, 1917 in Kiev. At this congress the 1st "Universal" of the Central Rada was read and the first elections to that institution took place. The last congress took place on November 2–12, 1917 and also in Kiev. Due to the civil unrest that was initiated by the Bolsheviks across the country also known as the October Revolution the congress took longer than its predecessors as it was interrupted for a few days in order to create the first Ukrainian Regiment for the Defense of Revolution (headed by Colonel Yuri Kapkan). The main requests of the congress were proclamation of the Ukrainian Democratic Republic, full Ukrainization of army and navy, and an immediate peace treaty.

At the time, the Central Rada did not see the need for a standing army, reinforced by conscription. Instead, a 'Free Cossack' concept (which was no different from a militia) was introduced and ratified in November 1917.[1] Only when the Bolsheviks invaded the Ukrainian People's Republic, in December 1917, was the need for a regular standing army appreciated. The new organization was to include; eight infantry corps and four cavalry divisions. But these plans were never realized, as the Rada was overthrown in a coup led by Pavlo Skoropadsky, who brought the Hetmanate to power in Ukraine.[1] A temporary peace treaty with the Bolsheviks was also signed on 12 June 1918.[3]

Head of the Ukrainian Central Rada, Mykhailo Hrushevskyi, at a military parade in Kiev in 1917
Ukrainian soldiers in Kiev in 1917
Soldiers of the Ukrainian People's Army in 1917
Kiev unit artillerymen with a howitzer
The 1st Ukrainian Division was formed in the spring of 1918 by Ukrainian POWs in German camps. Since they wore blue coats they were generally called Sinyozhupanna.
Uniform of a soldier from the Blue Coat Division
Troops from the 1st Zaporizhian Detachment with a Garford-Putilov Armoured Car called "Haidamaka"
3rd Haidamatsky Infantry Regiment of Sloboda Ukraine troops with an Austin Armoured Car called "Shvidkiy"
Newly enlisted volunteers swearing an oath of allegiance in 1919
Ukrainian POWs released from Serbian captivity swear the oath of allegiance to Ukraine and the Ukrainian Brigade on August 3, 1919
UPR soldiers who participated in the 1919 First Winter Campaign

After taking power, the Hetmanate government established its own plans for a standing army. These were to consist of 310,000 military personnel divided into eight territorial corps, with an annual budget of 1,254 million karbovantsi.[1] However, this army did not develop beyond the organizational stage, due to many dissident movements and gross unpopularity of the Hetmanate amongst peasants and civilians. In November 1918, the Directorate came to power in Ukraine, bringing with it yet another vision for the structure of the army. During this time, most units simply crossed from the Hetmanate to the Directorate with little organizational change occurring.[1]

War of Independence

The Bolsheviks first invaded the Ukrainian People's Republic in January 1918.[4] After several weeks of battle, the Red Army overwhelmed the fairly small Ukrainian force, and took Kiev on February 9. This forced the Central Rada to seek help from the Central powers of World War I. After signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Ukrainian Army was to receive assistance in fighting the Red Army. A German-Austrian Operation Faustschlag offensive removed the Bolsheviks from Kiev in early March, and the Rada government returned to the capital. In April, the Red Army was forced to completely retreat from Ukraine, and a peace treaty was signed.[4][5][6][7][8] The German/Austro-Hungarian victories in Ukraine were due to the apathy of the locals and the inferior fighting skills of Bolsheviks troops compared to their Austro-Hungarian and German counterparts.[8]

In December 1918, after the Directorate's coming to power, the army reached its peak at an estimated 100,000 recruits.[9] These armed forces proved to be neither battleworthy nor well-organized.[10] At the time most of Pavlo Skoropadskyi's Ukrainian State forces changed sides and joined the Directory.[10]

In January 1919, Ukraine declared war on Soviet Russia, after the latter established a provisional government in Kharkiv, proclaiming the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Simultaneously, the West Ukrainian People's Republic had taken Lviv, thereby beginning a war with the Second Polish Republic.[3] In January 1919, the Ukrainian People's Army and the Ukrainian Galician Army united, after the West Ukrainian People's Republic had been completely occupied by Polish forces, and Kiev by Soviet forces.[4][11] Symon Petlyura became the commander in chief of the new Ukrainian Army; this improved the order and discipline in the army.[10] Special inspectors with wide authority were introduced, similar to Bolshevik commissars.[10] The army grew as 35,000 soldiers of central Ukraine were joined by 50,000 Galicians.[10] Having this force, the army of the UNR launched a successful raid on Kiev and Odessa in August 1919.[10] But eventually the united armies suffered severe casualties in their suicidal war against the Polish army, Denikin's Whites and the Bolsheviks.[10] An epidemic of spotted fever contributed to this defeat.[10] Therefore, Ukraine signed an armistice with the Entente and later with Poland in May 1919.[12]

After failing to capture Kiev on their own, the Ukrainian army signed the Treaty of Warsaw with Poland, in April 1920.[13] Under the treaty, Ukrainian forces fought side by side with Polish forces against Soviet Russia and other Ukrainian 'Red' movements (Denikin, the Germans and the Entente had long since been expelled from Ukraine). Following a decisive failure in the Kiev Offensive, Ukrainian presence only decreased in the seesaw Polish-Soviet war.[14] Until finally the newly founded Soviet Union and Poland signed the Treaty of Riga on March 18, 1921, ending the war. The small remnants of the Ukrainian People's army either resorted to Guerrilla warfare or joined the Polish Army.[1]


The headquarters of the Ukrainian Armed forces was called the General Bulawa. The original structure of the army, as designated by the Tsentralna Rada, planned to organize an optimistic eight infantry corps and four cavalry divisions. But these plans were never realized due to the internal struggle for power in Ukraine. Instead, the army was hastily formed of various armed volunteer units and 'Free Cossacks'.[1] But in May 1919 (long after the Directorate assumed power), the Ukrainian people's army was forced to reorganize after its manpower dropped from 100,000 to 15,000 in just five months of warfare with Soviet Russia.[9] According to then Ukrainian politician Volodymyr Vynnychenko mainly because of communist propaganda.[10] The new, semi-organized structure was made up of five brigade-sized "army groups" and a large number of 'Free Cossacks':

  • Sich Riflemen, which were disbanded in late 1919 (5,000 servicemen)[9]
  • Zaporizhtsy group (3,000 servicemen)[9]
  • Volynska group (4,000 servicemen)[9]
  • Udovychenko's regiment (1,200 servicemen)[9]
  • Tutunnyka's group (1,500)[9]

In May 1920 in the middle of the Polish-Soviet War, the army was once again forced to reorganize, after its strength more than doubled in size.[9] The new structure included: six infantry and one cavalry division. Each infantry division was to have three brigades armed with artillery, a cavalry regiment and an engineer regiment. The single cavalry division had six mounted regiments. The formation of six reserve brigades was also attempted, but this was only partially successful. The reinforcement brigades were later made into an under strength, two brigade machine gun division. Thus, the structure was, as follows:[15]

  • 1st Infantry Zaporizhska Division[15]
  • 2nd Infantry Volynska Division[15]
  • 3rd Infantry Zalizna Division[15]
  • 4th Infantry Kyivska Division[15]
  • 5th Infantry Khersonska Division[15]
  • 6th Infantry Sichovykh Striltsiv Division[15][16]
  • 1st Machine Gun Division[15]
  • 1st Cavalry Division[15]

Ranks and insignia

Following the reformation that took place among the Ukrainian military units the older Russian rank structure and insignia were dropped and replaced with those of the Hetmanate times. Most notable is the introduction of the rank of Otaman that replaced the General ranks of the Russian army. The army headquarters became known as the General Bulawa. The military representative in the Directorate of Ukraine, Symon Petliura was given the rank of the Chief Otaman. The new position was introduced by the former Russian General and later Otaman Oleksander Hrekov.

Ranks (in descending order) since end of 1917:

General ranks
  1. Otaman Frontu
  2. Otaman Armii
  3. Otaman Korpusu
  4. Otaman Divizii
  5. Otaman Brihady (Brigadier general)
Other officers
  1. Polkovnyk (Colonel)
  2. Osavul (Lieutenant colonel)
  3. Kurinny (Major)
  4. Sotnyk (Captain)
  5. Pivsotenny (Lieutenant)
  1. Bunchuzhny (Company Sergeant)
  2. Chotar (Platoon Sergeant)
  3. Royovyi (Sergeant)
  4. Kozak (see Cossacks)

Ranks have altered in June 1918, but only for officers:

General (Heneral)
  1. Heneralnyi Bunchuzhnyi (General)
  2. Heneralnyi Znachkovyi (Lieutenant general)
  3. Heneralnyi Khorunzhyi (Major general)
  1. Polkovnyk (Colonel)
  2. Viyskova Starshyna (Lieutenant colonel)
  3. Sotnyk (Captain)
  4. Znachkovyi (Lieutenant)
  5. Khorunzhyi (2 Lieutenant)

Main military formations (UPR)

  • 1st Ukrainian Corps, former 34th Russian Corps
  • 2nd Sich Zaporozhian Corps, former 6th Russian Corps
  • Kurin of Sich Riflemen (not to be confused with the Austrian military formation of Ukrainian Sich Riflemen), formed out of the Austrian prisoners of war interned in Russian concentration camps
    • Cavalry Regiment of Sich Riflemen
  • Khmelnytsky Cossack Regiment (Bohdanivtsi)
  • Polubotko Cossack Regiment (Polubotkivtsi)
  • Zaporizhian Corps
    • 1st Zaporizhian Infantry Regiment (Hetman Doroshenko IR)
    • 2nd Zaporizhian Infantry Regiment
    • 3rd Zaporizhian Infantry Regiment (Hetman Khmelnytsky IR)
    • 3rd Haidamaka Infantry Regiment
    • 1st Zaporizhian Regiment of Haidamaka Cavalry (Kosh Hordienko Cavalry)
    • 1st Zaporizhian Engineer Regiment
    • 1st Zaporizhian Artillery Regiment
    • 1st Zaporizhian Auto-Armor Division
    • Cavalry-Mountainous Artillery Division
    • Zaporizhian Air-Floating Squadron
    • Black Zaporizhians (1 Cavalry Regiment of Black Zaporizhians)
  • Free Cossacks
    • Ukrainian Steppe Division (Anti-Bolshevik revolutionary-military unit)
  • Ukrainian Marines
    • 1st Hutsul Marines Regiment
    • 2nd Hutsul Marines Regiment
    • 3rd Marines Regiment
  • 1st Riflemen-Cavalry Division (Gray-Coats)
  • Blue-Coats (military formations)
  • Sloboda Ukraine Haidamaka Kosh
    • Black Haidamaka Kurin
    • Red Haidamaka Kurin
  • 3rd Iron Riflemen Division
    • Sich Riflemen Light Artillery Regiment
    • Don Cossack Regiment (mounted)
  • 20th Pavlohrad Cavalry Regiment
  • 6th Sich Division (former 2nd Division)
  • Kiev Insurgent Division of Yu.Tyutyunyk
  • Ukrainian Navy
  • Ukrainian People's Republic Air Fleet

Main military formations (WUPR)

See also


  1. Lev Shankovsky, Danylo Husar Struk. "Army of the Ukrainian National Republic". Encyclopedia of Ukraine. Retrieved 2007-12-20.
  2. (in Ukrainian) From Bogdanivtsi to the Rebel Army. A brief history of the Ukrainian armed forces in 1917-1921, Ukrayinska Pravda (6 December 2018)
  3. "Ukrainian-Soviet War, 1917–21". Encyclopedia of Ukraine. Retrieved 2008-01-30.
  4. "Ukraine - World War I and the struggle for independence". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2008-01-30.
  5. (in Ukrainian) 100 years ago Bakhmut and the rest of Donbass liberated, Ukrayinska Pravda (18 April 2018)
  6. Tynchenko, Yaros (23 March 2018), "The Ukrainian Navy and the Crimean Issue in 1917-18", The Ukrainian Week, retrieved October 14, 2018
  7. Germany Takes Control of Crimea, New York Herald (18 May 1918)
  8. War Without Fronts: Atamans and Commissars in Ukraine, 1917-1919 by Mikhail Akulov, Harvard University, August 2013 (page 102 and 103)
  9. "Довідники/Довідник з історії України". Вiртуальна Русь. Archived from the original on 2008-01-17. Retrieved 2008-01-30.
  10. The Army and Independence, The Ukrainian Week (12 April 2013)
  11. Abbott p.19
  12. Abbott p.18
  13. Davies, White Eagle..., Polish edition, p.99-103
  14. Abbott, p.20
  15. Abbott, p 19, 20
  16. In honour of the disbanded Sich Riflemen
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