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Austrian Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, 1900
Galicia in today's West Ukraine. The Western part of Galicia is now in Poland.

Galicia was an ancient principality which lies to the east of the Carpathian mountains. It is today part of the independent state of Ukraine and is sometimes now referred to as West Ukraine (East Ukraine being the old Russian province). Its capital is Lemberg (today: Lviv). Until the 20th century its indigenous population were called Ruthenians.

In 1858, the population estimates were: 4,625,000, comprising 2,150,000 Ruthenians, 1,925,000 ethnic Poles, 93,000 Germans (or Austrians), 3000 others, and 448,700 Jews.


Austrian Kaiser Franz-Josef.

Prince Vladimir of Novgorod and later Grand Duke of Kiev, a direct descendant of the Viking Rurik, arguably the founder of Russia, is said to have added Galicia (sometimes also called 'Red Russia', or 'Red Ruthenia') to his dominions some time before 988. Whether the incumbent Prince of Galicia was permitted to continue reigning with Vladimir as a feudal overlord to whom he should now pay homage is unclear. Some historians suggest that Vladimir simply installed a member of his wider family as the new prince.[1] About 1240 Galicia was devastated by the Mongols, who swept across 'Red Russia'. In 1256 Prince Danielo Romanovich Halitsky, Prince of Galicia (r.1245-64), founded a new capital, Lviv.[2] However the Tartars returned in 1282 and desolated Galicia again, and left it to fall under the sway of its neighbours, Poland and Lithuania.[3] Subsequently Cossacks also over-ran Galicia.

The last native Prince of Galicia was George, who in 1334 styled himself Natus dux totius Russiae minoris, died in 1339, and his principality now lay at the mercy of the invader.[4] In 1340 King Casimir III of Poland invaded Galicia[5] (annexed in 1352 while "hardly Polish at all"[6]), while the Duke of Lithuania Lubart invaded and seized Volhynia, to the north of Galicia.[7][8] But despite the colonisation efforts of both[9], shipping in their settlers, the natives fought back in forms of sporadic guerilla warfare. In 1672 Galicia was invaded by the Turks[10], and Hetman Jablonowski again defended it against the Turks in 1695.[11] In 1704 the forces of King Charles XII of Sweden invaded.[12] The Swedes were defeated at the Battle of Poltava in July 1709 and driven out of Galicia, which was re-occupied by a now anarchic Poland, in disarray.

Austrian rule

Galicia 1914
Ruthenians and a typical farm at the end of The Great War.

In the 1772 partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Galicia (plus the old province of Krakow) fell to Austria, who renamed it the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria (which became one of the titles of the Emperor), its area covering some 30,000 square miles, similar in size to Scotland or Bavaria.[13] The Austrians proceeded to turn the capital, Lemberg (Lvov), into a modern city, "deeply influenced by the enlightened reforms of Emperor Joseph II"[14], who visited the city in 1780.

For the first century of Austrian rule, Vienna ruled through governors resident in Lemberg. Municipal autonomy was introduced in 1870, and the following year a separate Ministry of Galician Affairs was also set up in Vienna.[15] From October 16 - 20, 1851, the Emperor Franz-Joseph visited the city and its university, (for decades this Emperor had allowed himself only one mistress, Anna Nakowska, the wife of a Galician railway official), and he visited the city again in September 1880.[16] In the mid 19th century the Austrian Empire railway network soon arrived and in 1846 the Kaiser-Ferdinands-Nordbahn linked Vienna with Lemberg,[17] and soon connecting lines from Russia also reached Galicia.

In the 1850s the Austrians discovered oil in the district of Boryslaw-Drohobycz, and the oilfield 'exploded' into activity with over 100 trains a day leaving the Imperial Refinery at Drohobycz. By 1908 the Galician oilfield claimed to the the third largest in the world after those of Texas and Persia.[18]

The Austrians pressed on with their reforms. The number of schools multiplied greatly. Most of the large estates in Galicia had remained in the hands of a score of powerful Polish magnates, who now attended Court in Vienna, and who ran seriously feudal estates which included serfs. [19] The natives in Galicia were unhappy with the Polish influence and domination, and in 1846 the Galician peasantry rebelled, massacring hundreds of the hated Polish landowners. As a result, in 1848 the Emperor Franz Josef abolished serfdom. The Supreme Ruthenian Council (Holovna Ruska Rada) was now established to gain influence with the Austrian Government and to prevent Poles from gaining any monopoly on language and educational issues.

The Austrians dramatically improved healthcare in Galicia in the nineteenth century. The death rate from smallpox was progressively lowered from 4.82 per thousand in 1873 to an average of only 0.54 in 1888-94. Mean death rates similarly declined, and by 1900 most county and market towns had at least one medical practitioner.[20] By 1907 universal suffrage for elections to the Imperial Reichsrat in Vienna had come, and Galician Deputies took their place alongside the other peoples of the Empire. In 1908 Galicia sent the largest of all delegations, in brilliant costumes, to the Emperor's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.[21]

By 1914 Lemberg was fourth largest city of the Habsburg monarchy.[22]

Austrian Kaiser (from Dec 1916) Karl visiting the front line in Galicia.

The Great War

Throughout the Great War the Galician volunteers and regulars (the Ukrainian Legion) fought loyally and proudly for their Emperors, first Franz-Joseph, then Karl, both of whom visited Lemberg during the conflict.[23] Following the outbreak of war between the Russian Empire and the Central Powers, in mid-August 1914 numerically superior Russian forces under General Brusilov broke through into Galicia, forcing the Austro-Hungarians to retreat. The Russian Eighth Army advanced 130 miles in the course of a fortnight, capturing Lemberg after severe heavy fighting (210,000 Russians and 300,000 Austrians killed or wounded).[24]

The arrival of German forces to assist the Austrians meant the Russians were driven back and Lemberg was recovered by the Austrians at the beginning of June 1915. Following the February Revolution in 1917 in Russia, their Provisional Government's new Minister of War, Kerensky ordered a major offensive against the Austrians and its Commander-in-Chief was again to be General Brusilov. On June 16 the offensive, which for the first time included a woman's volunteer 'Battalion of Death' began across Galicia, aimed towards Lemberg.

On day three, the Central Powers counter-attacked and the Russian offensive simply collapsed, with hundreds of thousands of casualties, tens of thousands of deserters and millions of square miles of territory lost. It was the end of Russia's war.[25] In July 1917 a huge debate took place in the Russian Duma over autonomy for Ukraine (being that part of it in Russia, not Galicia), which was violently opposed by a majority, and which caused a major parliamentary crisis[26] resulting in the resignation of the Premier, Prince Lvov, and his Cadet Party.

Extent of German-Austrian advance in March 1918

February 1918 Ukraine Treaty

Ukraine delegation at Brest-Litovsk March 1918.

In early 1918 three young men, supposedly representing the Ukrainian Rada, a left-socialist 'government', Andrew Levitsky (Jewish), Mykola Liubinsky[27], and Simon Sevruk, set off to demand a place at the conference table for the talks which would ultimately end in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, with far-reaching plans for a Greater Ukraine which would include Galicia and Ruthenia plus the Bukovina and the district of Cholm (Kulm). However it soon became clear that they would be of no value when "dealing with hard facts" and especially when they announced that they would refuse to talk any language but their own. General Max Hoffman ignored their "impudence", and told them that "they must be crazy if they thought they were in a position to force Austria to cede territory to them."

Then, the Hungarian Prime Minister, Count Wekerle, opposed the conditions of the proposed separate treaty with the Ukraine during a Crown Council in Vienna. Meanwhile the Bolshevik 'Ukrainian Government' at Kharkov, rejecting the Kiev Rada (the Red Guards were then advancing on Kiev in any case and the Rada government driven out on the 5th February, to reassemble elsewhere), telegraphed that they too were proposing to send two delegates, but as part of the Russian delegation, to take part in the negotiations with the Central Powers. Trotsky now announced that an agreement concluded with the Ukrainian Rada would not be an agreement with the Ukraine. Austria's Count Czernin, however, now declared, on behalf of the Central Powers, that they recognised "immediately the Ukrainian People's Republic (the Rada state) as an independent, free and sovereign State, which is able to enter into international agreements independently."

General Ludendorff expressed his satisfaction with these terms, and suggested the Rada should be supported by force of arms if necessary. This related mainly to Ukrainian lands and peoples in Russia. A question-mark remained over Galicia, especially as the claims of the Rada delegates regarding Ruthenian districts of Galicia had been refused. The final Ukraine Treaty, agreed on February 8th by all but Trotsky's Bolsheviks, stated that Cholm province could go to the 'new' Ukraine, but Galicia, Ruthenia and Bukovina were to become a Ukrainian province within the Austrian Empire, with linguistic rights guaranteed to the natives. News of the signature of the Ukraine Treaty was announced world-wide by telegraph.[28]

Brief Independence

"Corrupt Petlura has sold Ukraine to the Polish landowners." (Ukrainian text)

The Rada, however, soon proved incapable of effective government and on the afternoon of April 28th, when the Rada was in full session, its ministers, bar one, were arrested. The delegates themselves were dismissed. The following day General Paul Skoropadsky was proclaimed Hetman of the Ukraine before the Congress of Landowners. General Max Hoffman noted that "everything [that has been] done in the Ukraine is the result of the most careful consultation between the (German) Chancellor, the Foreign Office, and G.H.Q." Skoropadsky's regime was marked by a substantial economic revival, the land-owners, industrialists, and bourgeoisie being only too anxious to co-operate with the new (non-Red) government. For a short time the Ukraine became a bourgeoisie Mecca and thither flocked thousands of refugees from Bolshevist Russia, eager to join in the riot of speculation sweeping Kiev, and Lemberg.[29]

However the former Rada's proposed confiscation of all the landed estates being overturned by Skorapadsky's regime, and his new social and agricultural policies designed to get things working, inaugurated a period of violent insurrections by the peasants. Passive resistance and even sabotage became the order of the day. In Odessa an aeroplane factory was set on fire; numerous munitions dumps were exploded and trains wrecked. Partisans now ambushed isolated units of soldiers. Austrian and German troops had to be called in to assist the Hetman's police. With the final withdrawal of Central Powers' troops to the Western Front in the summer of 1918 Skoropadsky's regime began to collapse and in November it was declared that Ukraine was no longer independent but an integral part of Greater Russia.[30]

In December 1918 a People's Republic under a Directory presided over by Symon Petlura was proclaimed. However he then formed an alliance with Poland to defeat the Bolsheviks, offering Poland, in return, Galicia. This provoked a huge backlash amongst Ukrainian nationalists and peasant committees in Galicia who were "manifestly anti-Polish and wanted to destroy everything Polish regardless of class distinction" with dramatic reports of Polish landed proprietors being burnt alive and the prisons "crammed with Poles".[31] Petlura was overthrown after a brief duration by the Bolsheviks, who occupied Kiev in February 1919. (Petlura was later assassinated in broad daylight in the centre of Paris, on 25 May 1926, by the Russian Jew and anarchist Sholom Schwartzbard.)

What equated to a stubborn civil war now ensued between the native Ruthenians and the Poles. The 'Big Four' leaders at the Paris Peace Commission sent to the new Polish Minister for Foreign Affairs in Warsaw, on 3 April 1919, a very stiff Note calling for a cessation. The Armistice Commission unanimously drafted a Convention for halting hostilities in Galicia which was sent to the opposing sides on May 12th. It was accepted by the Ruthenians, and rejected by the Poles who defied the Conference and demanded full military occupation.[32]

Between the World Wars

Polish Mandate

The new resurrected Poland argued forcefully at the Paris Peace Conference for Galicia and all Ruthenia to be given to them. During the arguments between the Polish representatives and the western Allies, Paderewski (for Poland) argued that Ruthenians and Ukrainians were "primitive people" and only even existed because of Polish "assistance and practical help", and that Poland had (laughingly) "never imposed upon any nation our language or religion"![33] Clearly he should have stuck to the piano as his history was seriously wanting. In June 1919, by the treaties of Trianon and Versailles, Galicia was formally removed from the Austrian Empire by the victorious plutocratic Western Allies. The depleted Austro-Hungarian garrisons returned home leaving a void.

Poland's Marshal Pilsudski, with his French-supplied army, now invaded Galicia, capturing Lemberg where Polish troops ran amok in Jewish neighbourhoods, incensed by Jewish protestations of neutrality in the contest for the city between the Poles and the Ruthenians.[34] Then with a force of Poles and reliable Ukrainian nationalists they made a mad dash towards Kiev, taking it on 6 May 1920, in a desperate bid to transform and incorporate all the Ukraine into a 'Greater Poland'. (See: Poland)[35] The majority indigenous Ruthenians in Galicia were defeated in their own homeland. They loathed the Polish landowners "who wished to maintain their control over the peasants", "with a deep hatred".[36].

The impotent Western Allies, unable to act, and presented with the usual Polish fait accompli, in the end only awarded a new League of Nations Mandate for 25 years to Poland, which they objected to. Poland nevertheless remained in possession and then arrogantly gave Galicia the unhistorical name of 'Eastern Little Poland'. [37] As expected by the indigenous population, administration and education were strongly Polonised, the promised autonomy ignored, and the Ruthenian language and culture suppressed.[38][39] One historian pointed out that by 1933 it was clear that the Ruthenian native population in Galicia had lost most of the advantages which they enjoyed under Austrian rule.[40]

From 1920 until 1933 Frederick Augustus Voigt was the Manchester Guardian's correspondent in Germany, and although based in Berlin, Voigt travelled widely and also ventured further afield in central and eastern Europe, taking a particular interest in the political conditions within Poland. His particular interest was in exposing to the world their political repression and state terror and he caused a sensation with his reports on Polish attacks on the Ruthenians in Galicia. The Poles continued to rule with a harsh military presence, putting down strikes and further unrest in 1931 and 1934 - in the latter year Ruthenian patriots assassinated Bronisaw Pieracki, the Polish Minister of the Interior.[41]

Some of the Soviet victims bodies, murdered by the NKVD, in Lvov's Brygidka prison and found by the liberating German army June 1941.
The German General Government which, from August 1941-1944 incl., included Galicia.

On 3rd August 1939, the German Consul in Lemberg wrote to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin that between July 29th and 31st several hundred Ukrainians, mostly from the intelligentsia, had been arrested by the Poles in Galicia. He continued: "After the German-Polish tension began the Ukrainians have seen the opportunity approaching for which they have longed for over many years, namely of realizing the aim of a free Ukraine.....The Poles are not unaware of this. In order to remove the great danger which threatens the existence of the Polish State from within [in Galicia], the Poles have tried time and again since last April to come to terms with the Ukrainians. These attempts are pointless as they contain no realistic offers.

Only if the Polish Government could decide on a far-reaching offer of autonomy would the conditions be created for placing Polish-Ukrainian relations on a different basis.......the hatred of the Ukrainians for the Poles has bitten so deeply that the Ukrainians would [probably] regard an autonomy statute only as a tactical gain, and not a final solution [to the Polish occupation of their province].........Undoubtedly at present a dangerous mood prevails amongst the Ukrainians. The petty methods of Polish chicanery and oppression are wasted and of no effect. Even the Polish large-scale terror actions, the so-called 'pacifications', which took place a few weeks ago in several districts of the Tarnopol Vovoydship, can no longer break the Ukrainians' will for freedom.

In their anxiety about developments in Galician affairs, the Polish Government have taken [further] 'preventative measures' and, in the last few days, have caused mass arrests of Ukrainians to be made. These arrests were intended particularly to weaken the Ukrainian ruling classes and therefore affected principally the clergy, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and officials of economic organizations. From my impressions up to now, there seems no doubt that, in the event of an armed conflict between Germany and Poland, the Ukrainians in Galicia would rise as one man. It may be expected they will take possession of the Polish estates and the scattered new Polish settlements in Galicia within a few days and drive out or slaughter the Poles. I expect that in the former Russian territories of Poland, revolts would likewise occur."[42]

The Soviets

In September 1939, Galicia was seized and occupied by Red Army of the Soviet Union. There was significant warfare in the Lvov vicinity during World War II, and in the 1939-45 period Galicia belonged to that slice of Europe which suffered greater human losses than anywhere in previous history.[43]. In the period before the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Lemberg became the headquarters of a brutal Communist regime enforcing Stalinist norms. Up to a million people were condemned to Soviet concentration camps or to exile in the depths of Siberia or Central Asia.[44] In Lemberg largely Jewish (according to the populance) Bolshevik Commissars had established a division of the NKVD, and proceeded to incarcerate, torture and murder thousands, of people.

When the city fell to the German Army in 1941, the local populance, who cheered them into town, told the officers of their missing families, friends and relatives. The Germans besieged the NKVD Headquarters and prisons and eventually the Bolsheviks surrendered. The Germans then supervised these monsters to bring out of the buildings the bodies, of which there were hundreds, and line them up in the street for identification.[45] The German Waffen-SS regiment raised a division of Ukrainian volunteers in Galicia, the XV Waffen-SS Galizien, exclusively for military duties against the Communist Soviet Union.[46]

Ukrainian National Movement

In the period from the 1840s to the 1870s, mutual antagonism emerged between the Ukrainian national movement and Russian imperial government. Many national activists set either political autonomy or even independence as their long-term goal, while the authorities increasingly came to perceive all Ukrainian cultural work as subversive. This period was in many ways formative of both Ukrainian nationalism and the imperial policies regarding that nationalism. The activities of the Slavic Society of St Cyril and St Methodius in the years 1845 to 1847 marked the beginning of Ukrainian political nationalism and sparked the first wave of government repressions.[47]

Austria, after 1867, recognized the rights of national minorities, such as the Ukrainians (then called Ruthenians). Western Ukrainians were able to establish their own schools and obtain political representation in local and national parliaments. The Russian empire, on the other hand, banned the public use and study of Ukrainian (then called “Little Russian”) and any political activity associated with it.

The Kingdom of Galicia and Lodermeria, as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had been granted relatively liberal rights of self-government. This had allowed the Ukrainians/Ruthenians in Galicia to promote their own language in primary schools and public life, to publish native-language newspapers and books, and to advance the study of Ukrainian history and folk culture. Galicia became a sort of 'Ukrainian Piedmont' for the rest of the national movement in the Russian part of Ukraine: a forcing house of national consciousness and an oasis of freedom for nationalist intellectuals. Lemberg (Lviv), its capital, was a thriving centre of Ukrainian culture.

Although subjects of the Tsar, both the composer Lysenko and the historian Hrushevsky had found their nation in Galicia. The nationalist intellectuals who pioneered the Ukrainian literary language in the middle decades of the nineteenth century all borrowed terms from the Galician dialect, which they considered the most advanced. The Romantic poetry of Taras Shevchenko, which played the same role as Mickiewicz's poetry in Poland in shaping the intelligentsia's national consciousness, was an important part of this literary renaissance in Galicia.[48]


  1. Previté-Orton, C. W., Litt.D., F.B.A., A History of Europe from 1198 to 1378, London, 1937, p.166.
  2. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, 1990, vol.7, p.581.
  3. Previté-Orton, 1937, p.168.
  4. Morfill, W.R., M.A., Russia, London, 1891, p.48.
  5. Medlicott, M.A.,D.Lit., Professor W.N., Dakin, M.A., PhD., Douglas, & Lambert, M.E., M.A., Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, First series, vol.xvi, HMSO, London, 1968, p.9.
  6. Previté-Orton, C.W., The Shorter Cambridge Medieval History, Cambridge University Press, U.K., 1952, p.924.
  7. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, 1990, vol.7, p.581.
  8. Previte-Orton, 1937, p.490.
  9. Previté-Orton, 1952, p.925.
  10. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 5th edition, vol.xi, Edinburgh, 1815, p.756.
  11. Baedeker, 1905, p.283.
  12. Encyclopaedia Britannica 1815, p.756.
  13. Davies, Norman, Vanished Kingdoms, London, 2011, p.449-450. ISBN:978-1-846-14338-0
  14. Davies, 2011, 451.
  15. Davies, 2011, pps: 459/469/470.
  17. Davies, 2011, p.453, where he cites a well-known travel writer who said Lemberg was "half-way to Asia"!
  18. Davies, 2011, p.457.
  19. Davies, 2011, pps: 455/465.
  20. Komlos, John, editor, Economic Development in the Habsburg Monarchy and in the Successor States, Columbia University Press, New York, 1990, p.2-3, "Health Care in Rural Eastern Galicia in the Late 19th Century" by Stella Hryniuk.
  21. Davies, 2011, p.470-1.
  22. Shermer, David, World War 1, London, 1973, p.53, ISBN:0-7064-0245-6
  24. Figes, Orlando,A People's Tragedy - The Russian Revolution 1891 - 1924, London, 1996, p.255. ISBN 0-224-04162-2
  25. Figes, 1996, p.418-9.
  26. Figes, 1996, p.420.
  27. A graduate in Philology from the University of Kiev, he was in the 1920s a research associate at the ludicrous Institute of the Ukrainian Scientific Language and co-editor of the Bulletin of the Institute of the Ukrainian Scientific Language, all part and parcel of the Ukrainian nationalist movement trying to demonstrate that Russian and Ukrainian are different languages.
  28. Wheeler-Bennett, John W., Brest-Litovsk: The Forgotten Peace, March 1918, London, 1966. pps:154, 167-8, 202-3, 211, 214, 220-1.
  29. Wheeler-Bennett, 1966, 321-3.
  30. Wheeler-Bennett, 1966, 323-5.
  31. A Collection of Reports on Bolshevism in Russia, No.34, from Sir Horace Rumbold to Earl Curzon, British War Office, 1919. Published in HMSO 'Uncovered editions', 2000, pps:124-128, ISBN 0-11-702424-4
  32. Temperley, H.W.V., editor, A History of the Peace Conference of Paris, vol.1, London, 1920, p.335-6.
  33. Woodward, Professor E.L., and Butler, Rohan, Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, First Series, vol.iii, 1919, HMSO, London, 1949, p.352.
  34. Ferguson, Niall, The War of the World, Allen Lane pubs., London 2006, p.169. ISBN:0-713-99708-7
  35. Figes, 1996, p.697-8.
  36. Medlicott, M.A.,D.Lit., Professor W.N., Dakin, M.A., PhD., Douglas, & Lambert, M.E., M.A., Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, First series, vol.xvi, HMSO, London, 1968, p.9.
  37. Carr, Professor E.H., International Relations since the Peace Treaties, revised edition, Macmillan, London, 1945, p.33-4.
  38. Medlicott, Prof. W.N., Dakin, Prof.Douglas, & Bennett, Gillian, Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, 1st series, vol.xiii, HMSO, London. 1981, pps: 539-549; 966-968
  39. Medlicott, Prof. W.N., Dakin, Prof.Douglas, & Bennett, Gillian, Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, 1st series, vol.xxv, HMSO, London. 1984, p.785-788.
  40. Seton-Watson, R.W., Britain and the Dictators, Cambridge University Press, 1938, p.331.
  41. Davies, 2011, p.477.
  42. Documents on German Foreign Policy 1918-1945 by an editorial committee, Her Majesty's Stationary Office, London, 1956, p.1053-5.
  43. Davies, 2011, p.478.
  44. Davies, 2011, p.478-9.
  46. Davies, 2011, p.479.
  47. Johannes Remy: Brothers or Enemies – The Ukrainian National Movement and Russia from the 1840s to the 1870s, University of Toronto Press, 2016, Chapter One, p. 3
  48. Figes, 1996, p.74.