Battle of Lwów (1918)

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Lwów

caption=Fights for the Łyczaków Cemetery on a painting by Wojciech Kossak
partof=Polish-Ukrainian War
date=November 1, 1918 - June 1919
result=Polish victory
combatant1=flagicon|Ukraine West Ukrainian People's Republic
combatant2=flagicon|Poland Poland
commander1=Hnat Stefaniv
commander2=Czesław Mączyński

Battle of Lwów of 1918 and 1919 was a six months long conflict between the forces of the West Ukrainian People's Republic, local civilian population and regular Polish Army for the control over the city of Lwów (Lviv), in what was then eastern part of Galicia and now is western part of Ukraine. The battle sparked the Polish-Ukrainian War, ultimately won by Poland.


The city of nowadays called Lviv was called Lwów by the Poles, Lviv by the Ukrainians, and Lemberg by the Austrians. In the beginning of the 20th century, the majority of its population was composed of Poles (roughly 60%) and Jews (roughly 20%), and the city was considered one of the most important Polish cultural centers. However, Ukrainians comprised the majority of the population of the eastern part of Galicia surrounding Lviv. Due to the intevention of Archduke Wilhelm of Austria, the Habsburg who considered himself a Ukrainian patriot, in October 1918 two regiments consisting of mostly Ukrainian troops were brought into the city, so that most of the Austrian troops stationed in Lviv were ethnic Ukrainians. [ Timothy Snyder (2008). Red Prince: the Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke. New York: Basic Books, pg. 117 ] At the same time, most of Polish units in Austro-Hungarian service were sent to other fronts in order to avoid conflict. In addition, the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen were stationed in Bukovina and were supposed to join the Ukrainian troops in the city. The Ukrainian National Rada (a council consisting of all Ukrainian representatives from both houses of the Austrian parliament and from the provincial diets in Galicia and Bukovina) had planned to declare the West Ukrainian People's Republic on November 3rd, 1918 but moved the date forward to November 1st due to reports that the Polish liquidation committee was to transfer from Cracow to Lwów. [ Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5, 1993] entry written by Andrzej Chojnowski ]

Ukrainian Takeover

Between 3:30 and 4:00 A.M. on November 1, 1918 Ukrainian soldiers occupied Lwów's public utilities and military objectives, raised Ukrainian flags throughout the city and proclaimed the birth of the new Ukrainian state. The Austrian governor was interred and handed over power to the vice-director of the governorship, Volodymyr Detsykevich, who in turn recognized the supreme authority of the Ukrainian National Rada. The Austrian military commander called on his subordinates to recognize the Rada as well. Colonel Dmytro Vitovsky became commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian forces in Lwów, which numbered 60 officers and 1,200 soldiers. Lwów was proclaimed the capital of the West Ukrainian People's Republic, which claimed sovereignty over Eastern Galicia, the Carpathians up to the city of Nowy Sącz in the west, Carpathian Ruthenia and northern Bukovina. However, large part of the claimed territory, including most of Lwow, was also considered Polish by the local populations.

Polish Resistance

The Polish forces, initially numbering only about 200 people under Zdzisław Tatar-Trześniowski, organized a small pocket of resistance in a school on the western outskirts of the city, where a group of veterans of the Polish Military Organization put up a fight armed with 64 outdated rifles. After the initial clashes, the defenders were joined by hundreds of volunteers, mostly Scouts, students and youngsters. More than 1000 people joined the Polish ranks on the first day of the war. This enabled the Poles to retake some of the western parts of the city, while most of the city centre remained in Ukrainian hands.

Although numerically superior, well-equipped and battle-hardened, the Vytovskyi's soldiers were mostly villagers and were unaccustomed to city fighting. Furthermore, the elite Ukrainian Sich Riflemen had difficulty breaking into the city from Bukovina due to the intense resistence of Poles in the suburb of Klepariv. Although their enemies were ill-equipped and mostly untrained, they had the advantage of good knowledge of the city, which proved vital in the early days of the defence. In the following day the forces of the defenders reached roughly 6,000 men and women, more than 1400 of them gymnasium students and youngsters. Because of their heroism and mass participation in the fights, they are commonly referred to as Lwów Eaglets. On November 3 the a few units of the Sich Riflemen broke through and entered the city, and command over the Ukrainian forces was transferred to Col. Hnat Stefaniv. However, a Polish assault on the Main Train Station succeeded and the Poles managed to capture two Ukrainian supply trains, largely negating the Ukrainian superiority in arms and munitions. By November 5 the Ukrainians were pushed out of the western part of the town, yet the Polish assault on the city centre was repulsed and both sides reached a stalemate. With insufficient personnel to man a regular front-line, the front was stable only in the centre, while in other areas only the most important buildings were defended.

On November 11, 1918, Poland declared her independence and the following day the first units of the regular forces of the Polish Army under Maj. Wacław Stachiewicz entered Przemyśl, only some 70 kilometres away from Lwów. Believing this move to be part of the preparations to break through the Ukrainian siege, Col. Stefaniv prepared a general offensive on the Polish-held western parts of the city. However, despite the heavy fights that raged on between November 13 and November 15, the Polish defence held out and the Ukrainians were repelled. An armistice was signed on November 18th.

Polish Victory

After two weeks of heavy fights within the city, a Polish detachment consisting of 140 officers, 1,228 soldiers, and 8 artillery guns under the command of Lt. Colonel Michał Karaszewicz-Tokarzewski of the renascent Polish Army, broke through the Ukrainian siege and arrived to the city. On November 21 the siege was broken and the Ukrainians were repelled from the Łyczaków Cemetery, one of the most important areas of the city. The remaining Ukrainian forces withdrew during the following night, although they continued to surround Lviv from three sides. Chaos during the Polish take-over of the city culminated in about two day-long riot, in which mostly Polish criminals and soldiers started pillaging the city; over the course of the riots, hundreds of Poles, Jews and Ukrainians perished. The Jews were accused of cooperating with Ukrainians, and it was claimed that approximately 150 Jews were murdered and 500 Jewish shops and businesses were ransacked in reprisal. [ Hagen, [ p.9] ] , although the Morganthau commission reported only 64 Jewish deaths. The losses of the Jewish population were overstated in some initial reports in the western press and has come to be known as the "Lwów pogrom". [ [ Andrzej Kapiszewski (2004). Controversial Reports on the situation of Jews in Poland in the aftermath of World War I, "Studia Judaica", pp.257-304] ] After establishing order within the city, Polish authorities punished a number of people accused of participation in riots.

However, heavy fighting for other cities claimed by both Poles and Ukrainians continued, and the fights for Lwów lasted until May of 1919.


It is to be noted that the Polish-Ukrainian fight for Lwów is sometimes referred to as "the last civilized conflict" by Polish historians. Because both sides were too weak to create regular front lines and lacked heavy weapons, the civilian casualties were low and did not exceed 400. Also, both sides tried to avoid destroying the city's facilities and the most important buildings were declared "de-militarized zone". Among them were the hospitals, the water works, gas plant and the energy plant. Local cease-fire agreements were signed on a daily basis and there were even numerous situations where both Polish and Ukrainian soldiers played football or partied during cease fires. In his memoirs, Polish Lieutenant (later Colonel) Bolesław Szwarcenberg-Czerny noted, that during one of the cease-fires Lieutenant Levsky, the Ukrainian commander of an outpost fighting with his unit, got so drunk with the Poles that he overslept and woke up late for the cease-fire. Immediately another cease-fire was signed to allow the Ukrainian officer to return to his unit.

Because of that, the losses on both sides were small. The Poles lost 439 men and women, 120 of them gymnasium pupils, such as Antoni Petrykiewicz and Jerzy Bitschan, and 76 - University students. Most of them were interred in the Cemetery of the Defenders of Lwów.


Further reading

* [ "William H. Hagen" The Moral Economy of Popular Violence:The Pogrom in Lwow, November 1918] in Antisemitism And Its Opponents In Modern Poland (edited by Robert Blobaum) ISBN 0801443474
* [ Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993), entry written by Andrzej Chojnowski]
* cite book
author =Michał Klimecki
authorlink =
year =1998
title =Lwów 1918-1919
chapter =
editor =
others =
edition =
pages =205
publisher =Warsaw, Bellona
id =ISBN 8311087504
url =

* cite book
author =various authors
authorlink =
year =1993
title =Walka o polską granicę wschodnią 1918-1921 (Fight for the Polish Eastern Border)
chapter =
editor =Bogusław Polak
others =
edition =
pages =86
publisher =Koszalin, Wyższa Szkoła Inżynierska
id =ISBN 8390051079
url =

*pl icon Czesław Mączyński [ Boje Lwowskie]

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