It is Polish Indepence Day which gave me the idea to write a few words about this unknown conflict. I do not have lots of knowledge about this war so any additions especially from Ukrainian side are welcome. Instead I will tell you the stories of my father who fought in this war when he was 14! (I had father in much more advanced age that normally fathers used to be). I hope it will be interesting reading for you.
During communism talking and writing about this was forbidden as well as about Polish-Bolshevik war 1919-1920.
Autumn of 1918 was a real autumn of nations (as well as in 1989). Lots of nations proclamed indepedence after fall of big multi-national countries. In our region they were Czechoslovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and many others.
Soon it lead to inevitable territorial clashes between all those new organisms.
Poland proclamated idependence in November 1918 having no government, economy nor army. Additionally there were 80.000 demoralized German troops of fallen Prussian Empire. Polish paramilitary organizations started to disarm them and allowed the organized evacuation from new Polish territory. But some fights occured in Warsaw between German troops reluctant to put arms down and Polish students.
While it was happening Ukraine proclamed independence before and had already a few thousands troops. Ukraine territory claims included city of Lvov and Galician territory. The territory was populated by both Poles and Ukrainians. There was also very big population of Jews and some Armenian and other minorities. Poles, Jews and other nationalities populated the cities while the countryside was populated in vast majority by Ukrainians.
In city of Lvov Polish idependce organization appeared including several hundreds of citizens, mainly students but also young scouts and even pupils. Meanwhile Ukrainian authorities with several thousands troops appeared there as well to gain the city to Ukrainian state. Short negotiations failed and soon the neighbours living together for several hundreds of years stood against each other in tragic bloody fight. Ukrainians outnumbered Poles and soon gained all main buildings in the city.
Poles organized student and scout military units. They knew the city while Ukrainian mainly peasant soldiers were not feeling there well. Soldiers included teenagers and girls. There were even 2 9years old boys. One young Jewish girl captured with some other youngsters Ukrainian machinegun. Fights were lasting for 3 weeks.
Meanwhile having no army and problems with Germans Polish voluntary help was being organized to help fights in Lvov.
My father was in gymnasium at the moment. When the news broke out that volunteers are needed the whole school imediatelly was completly empty - morale was extremally high. My father escaped from home and stood in enlisting queue together with lots of other youngsters.
Enlisting soldier asked him: are you 16 years old? - Yes, sure he replied and shown falsificated id. - Do you have permission from your parents? - again he asked. - No, but immediatelly I will write it. Soldier looked at him and accepted.
My father had a beautiful sister and many young gentlemen were visting her to gain her attention. One of them was a young officer: Leopold Okulicki. In 1944, 25 years after this story he became on of the commanders of Warsaw Uprising. My grandfathers found out that my father enlisted and asked Okulicki to take care of him. So he got to Okulicki's unit: assault platoon. It was called assault because ... they had helmets as one of very few units: German ones. Reinforcements were put into a train. Equipment was very poor gathering of Germand, Russian and Austrian rifles. My father received a short cavalry rifle. The train was full and there were some older drunk soldiers. One of them was playing with his rifle and shot his companion sitting next to him.
After that they had to march in very deep snow which was exhausting for a young boy: roads were under Ukrainian artillery fire. Finally they got to some poor trenches next to Lvov. It was position war in heavy conditions of winter. Ukrainian peasants who surrounded them were cutting telephonical wires. There were traps around of wires and bells to hear when someone approaches. The peasants found out about that and were ringing those bells all the nights. I remember from stories that at least one was caught and shot. My father was very tiny so he stood in a trench on 2 bricks. There was one old and constantly breaking down machinegun in a unit.
One day Okulicki gathered his platoon and said: we do not have machineguns but Ukrainians have many. I need volunteers to storm Ukrainian trenches and bring some. Volunteers: one step forward.
Immediatelly the whole platoon made a step forward. - You stay here - he said to my father.
The soldiers went into the night. Soon the shooting and explosions were heard: they stormed Ukrainians with hand grenades. Soon the whole unit appeared bringing 2 machineguns. There was noone lost except for Okulicki. He was unconcious and had all body covered with blood: one of Polish soldiers dropped a hand grenade next to him. Long after that my father visted him in a hospital: he as all covered with bandages and had 19 wounds.
Soldiers were ill: there was extremally cold and while sitting next to a fire having front exposed to heat and back exposed to cold lots of soldiers got dysentery. So did my father and was withdrawn from his war.
He went back proud in a uniform to Krakow. Still he was serving.
Meanwhile fights with Ukrainians ended - Poland gained Lvov and some territory of nowadays Ukraine. Politics changed and Poland united with Ukrainian leader: Petlura against the Soviet Russia. Polish - Bolshevik war broke out. While having heavy fights in the east with Bolsheviks Czechoslovakia made claims to some territories belonging to Poland and launched offensive in southern Poland. My father was hoping to enlist for those fights but due to illness was not let to line unit. Instead he was directed to watch ammo magazines near Krakow (or in Krakow).
And it was not easy task too. In those uneasy times many ideologies were clashing. Polish communists were supporting Bolsheviks and there were sabouteurs targeting the ammo dumps.
One day my father spotted a suspicious guy near the ammo. He aimed his rifle but .. could not shoot. The guy escaped.
And basically this is the end of the story. Poland had tragic fights in those days with Ukrainians, Bolsheviks, Czechs, Germans and Lithuanians. Never after those times Poland had good relationship with those countries: too much pain and hatred. Between 1919 and 1939 Poland had good relationship only with one neighbour: Romania.
Young boys and girls fighting in Lvov are called now "Lvov eagles". My father received this award as well.
What happened with actors after that. My father returned to school. Parading there in a uniform he was called by classical professor: oh, you are murderer. In 1939 he was escaping to the east from Wehrmacht.
He had Lvov Eagle award with himself. Being surrounded by hostile Ukrainians he dropped it. Then he shared the faith of hundreds thousands of Poles and was taken by NKVD to work camp near Volga. But this is completly another story.
Leopold Okulicki was engaged in Polish underground during the war and was one of tragical leaders of Warsaw Uprising. He had the nickname "Bear". Unfortunatelly he was the one who was pressing to fight not looking at circumstances and caused this great tragedy.
He was arrested by NKVD after war with other leaders of Home Army had a fiction trial and was murdered.
The beautiful sister with almost all of the family was killed in airstrike in 1939.
Hope that it was an interesting story.
Just a remark: it was not spreading any political ideology, just to show how tragic time it was. Fortunatelly we have great relationship with Ukraine now.
And during trial in Moscow: