Ukrainian Sich Riflemen

Ukrainian Sich Riflemen ( _uk. Українські cічові стрільці (УСС), "Ukraїnski sichovi stril’tsi" (USS) was a Ukrainian unit within the Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War. The unit was formed in 1914 at the initiative of the Supreme Ukrainian Council in August of 1914. The unit was composed of members of different Ukrainian paramilitary organizations in Galicia. It participated in hostilities on the Russian front and later with Austria's disintegration became the regular military unit of the West Ukrainian People's Republic. During German and Austrian occupation of Ukraine in 1918 the unit was stationed in Southern Ukraine. Former soldiers of the unit participated in the formation of Sich Riflemen — military unit of the Ukrainian People's Republic. In 1919 the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen expanded into Ukrainian Galician Army ( _uk. Українська Галицька Армія). It participated in hostilities against Polish forces around Lviv and suffered heavy losses. On May 2 1920 it was disbanded.

Origins and formation

A number of Ukrainian paramilitary and Scouting organizations were appearing in Galicia as early as 1894 and were the expression of growing national consciousness of Galicia's Ukrainians. In 1900 in Sniatyn (modern Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast) a Scouting organization "Sich" was founded by lawyer and social activist Kyryl Trylyovsky. As these Scouting organisations were multiplying all over Galicia they were augmented by youth sport organizations "Sokil" (Falcon). By 1912 smaller Sich Companies appeared in many Ukrainian communities where youth was being brought up on the ideas of the Cossack Zaporozhian Sich. Along with the Scouting organizations a Women's Organizational Commeettee was set up to train nurses. The Ukrainian Sich Union was coordinating numerous Scout companies in Lviv and in the provinces and printed their own newspaper "The Sich News". By the start of the First World War the number of these organizations was up to 2000 in Galicia and Bukovyna [Stepan Pipetsky. Ukrainian Sich Riflemen Movement [ On-line version] Chervona Kalyna. New York. 1956.]

In 1911 a Lviv philosophy student Ivan Chmola organized a secretive paramilitary organization Plast which was made up of young men and women from the Lviv University and schools. This society attracted several prominent individuals, who would later play an important role in the creation of the Sich Riflemen, among them the son of poet Ivan Franko — Petro Franko. These enthusiasts not only trained in the use of firearms but most importantly prepared military manuals, translated military terminology and lobbied the Austrian authorities to legalize the Ukrainian paramilitary organizations. In their activity they were greatly influenced by the similar Polish paramilitary organizations, such as Związek Strzelecki, that were by that time quite numerous, well-organized and legal. The Plast society published their own newspaper "Vidhuk" and organized Lviv's Ukrainian youth, but all attempts to legalize it were blocked by the local authorities, where Poles dominated.

In order to get Ukrainian organisations legalized Kyryl Trylovsky designed a trick — translated the statutes of the already legal Polish paramilitary organisations and presented them to the Austrian authorities. That way the Sich society was finally legal in Galicia and on March 18, 1913 the first Sich Riflemen company was set up in Lviv. This company was joined by Ivan Chmola and members of Plast. Legalization of Sich Riflemen gave an impetus to other Ukrainian organizations and ranks of Scouting organizations all over the province swelled up.

In spring of 1913 the Ukrainian Sich League was formed in Lviv and a statute of the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen (USS) was drafted. On January 25, 1914 another Sich Riflemen company was founded in Lviv, this one numbering over 300 members. Thus there were two Sich companies: USS-1 for students and USS-2 for workers and peasants. In Galicia alone, by the First World War there were 96 Sich companies. Plast was transformed into a Scouting organization and had branches in many towns and villages. From these Scouting societies the Sich Riflemen would continue to draw their cadres well after the war. Nowadays, Plast continues to be the largest Scouting organization in Ukraine.

Initially there was no unanimity among the founders of the League as to the goals of the organization: whether they were striving for complete independence of the Ukrainian people or for limited autonomy within the Austria-Hungary. The pro-Austrian faction prevailed as only units loyal to the Habsburg monarchy were allowed to exist. From the inception the Sich Riflemen saw Russia as their main enemy and were preparing for "liberation of Ukrainian lands" in the Russian Empire. In Galicia and Bukovyna Sich Riflemen were also circulating a magazine "Vidhuk" (Review). In 1914 a statute of USS was published, which outlined the order of service, uniforms of the units and provided military terminology and commands in the Ukrainian language. That same year ammunition and rifles were bought for a first 10,000 men-strong company of the Sich Riflemen that paraded through Lviv on June 28, 1914.

In two months the First World War broke out and the newly established Supreme Ukrainian Council published in the Lviv newspaper "Dilo" a call on Galician Ukrainians to form volunteer units for the war with the Russian Empire. The Ukrainian leaders in Austria-Hungary hoped that with formation of these units the cause of national liberation could be brought forward. They also sought to dispel the suspicion of sympathy towards Russia that some Galician Russophiles were exhibiting. The Austrian war ministry was not prepared for this initiative of the Supreme Ukrainian Council and allowed creation only of a unit with 5,000 men.

See also

* Sich Riflemen



* Orest Subtelny. Ukraine. A history. University of Toronto press. 1994. ISBN 0-8020-0591-0.
* Paul Robert Magocsi. The Roots of Ukrainian Nationalism: Galicia As Ukraine's Piedmont. University of Toronto Press. 2002. ISBN 0521819881.
* [ Encyclopedia of Ukraine on Line] . Ukrainian Sich Riflemen.
* Stepan Ripetsky. Ukrainian Sich Riflemen. [ On line version] .

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