Lemkos in Their Struggle for Reunification — Petro Kohutov

The revolutionary events of 1917 in Russia had a strong impact on the emergence of the national liberation movement of the oppressed peoples in the Austro- Hungarian Monarchy. In Lemkovina this movement developed under extremely complex conditions. The economic backwardness, illiteracy and poverty of the local population was among the major reasons for this difficulty.

The fact that thousands of able-bodied persons emigrated to the United States and the intelligentsia and politically- minded peasantry was physically destroyed or scattered during the years of World War I also contributed to this difficulty. Despite all this, the movement for social liberation, for tne realization of the people’s age-old dream to reunite with their brothers in the East gained a fresh impetus after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.

Public assemblies known as "vichy" were held in the villages and townships of the northern and southern slopes of the Carpathians. Participating in them was the population of the Lemko and Presov area, including Lemkos who returned home from Russian POW camps. The former servicemen were not only passive observers, but also direct participants in the socialist revolution.

In December 1917 representatives from villages of the Sanok area gathered for a vichy in the village of Vyslik. The local priest, Panteleimon Shpylka, quoted 13 paragraphs of Wilson’s Declaration "On the Right of Nations for Self-Determination" and called upon those present to establish a republic. Panteleimon Shpylka from Vyslik, Mikhailo Krik from Pryluky and Andriy Kir from Komancha were elected into the Provisional Government. The detachment of people’s volunteers was also organized to maintain law and order. The public assembly unanimously expressed a desire to reunite with the Ukraine.

The Republic of Komancha existed for only one month. Polish troops invaded its territory and arrested Andriy Kir. Panteleimon Shpylka and Mikhailo Kril managed to escape and found themselves in Transcarpathia.

The second and most important part of the highland, in regard to the revolutionary-liberation movement became central and western Lemkovina.

On October 30, 1918, a meeting of delegates of the People’s Soviet took place in the village of Hladyshiv. At this meeting they discussed the issues concerning the organization of a local government and preparations for the All-Lemko Forum.

The hearts of local peasants were overjoyed as they busied themselves with preparations for the forum scheduled to be held on December 5, 1918, in the village of Florinka. Work in the People’s Soviet was in full swing. Schools and libraries were opened, cooperative societies and voluntary people’s detachments were organized. Delegates to the All-Lemko forum were being elected throughout the land.

On the eve of the forum, the initiative group composed of the local priest Vasyl Kuryl, lawyer Yaroslav Kachmarchyk, clergyman Dmytro Khyliak, peasant Mykola Hromosyak and teacher Mefodiy Trokhanovsky discussed the agenda of the public assembly, prepared the draft resolution and other related documents.

December 1918 in Lemkovina was frosty. The snow white attire of the Carpathians made the forest-grown mountains inimitably beautiful. Five hundred delegates from the People’s Soviet who represented 130 villages and townships or Lemkovina came to attend the forum in Florinka. Among those present were delegates of the Polish government and Lemko immigration in the United States as well as from the Presov area. At midday the church bells started to tone solemnly. Vasyl Kurylo warmly greeted the delegates and guests to the forum. He said that the day was of extreme importance to the history of the nation. Dmytro Khyliak spoke on the past of Lemkovina stating that the Lemkos had been living in the Carpathians for many, many years and this was their autonomous region. Up to the 14th century this area was part of Kievan Rus and then it was conquered by feudal Poland. Dr. Yaroslav Kachmarchyk spoke about the October Socialist Revolution in Russia and the Ukraine and the influence it provided on the revolutionary- liberation movement in Lemkovina. He also analyzed the situation concerning the peoples of the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and mentioned Wilson’s program "On the Right of Nations for Self-Determination" saying that the Lemkos should heed to it and act accordingly.

Victor Hladyk spoke on behalf of the Lemko emigration in the United States. He assured those present that Lemkos living in the United States would always be ready to render material and moral assistance to their brothers in the Carpathians.

The forum elected the Executive Committee of the Lemko People’s Republic. It was made щ> of Dr. Yaroslav Kachmarchyk, a lawyer from Mushyna, Dmytro Khyliak, a priest from Izby, and Myrola Hromosyak, a peasant from Krynytsa.

The political declaration adopted by the public assembly read in particular: "The Lemkos’ sole, vital, purposeful and useful orientation was and continues to be their striving for reunification with their brothers in the East into a single political body." In order to fulfill this goal they decided to send delegations to the Paris Peace Conference, to the government of the Soviet Ukraine in Kiev, and to the Polish government in Warsaw. It is worth mentioning that official Polish circles showed a respectful attitude to the resolution of the All-Lemko Forum and even helped in their realization.

In agreement with Polish authorities, a building in Hrybiv, which formerly housed the local elders’ administration, was turned into the residence of the lemko People’s Republic (LPR). A representative of the Polish government assigned the newly formed voluntary people’s detachment of the LPR 50 rifles, two machine guns and ammunition.

In April 1918, Dr. Yaroslav Kachmarchyk conducted negotiations in Warsaw with Prime Minister Andrei Morachewski and Colonel Stansilaw Rybak, Minister of War. In the course of negotiations they came to an agreement that Poland would not interfere with the self-determination of Lemkos until this problem was resolved at the Paris Peace Conference. A delegation composed of V. Hladyk, P. Dzvonchyk and D. Markov (the latter was also authorized to represent the interests of Galicia) were dispatched to attend the Paris Peace Conference. P. Malcuh and D. Kashyk made their way to Kiev. Dr. Y. Kachmarchyk handed over the Declaration to the Polish government.

In Paris, representatives from Lemkovina were received at the secretariat headquarters of the Peace Conference by Dr. Cramarge. The declaration of the All-Lemko Forum was personally handed over to the Chairman of the Peace Conference Clemansau by delegate D. Markov.

The problem of Lemkovina and Galicia was studied by the commission headed by French General Leraux. D. Markov, V. Hladyk, and P. Dzvonchyk were among the participants of this commission’s sitting. The delegation sent by S. Petlura (composed of Sydorenko and Paneiko) was also in Paris at that time. It objected to the reunification of Galicia with the Ukraine. At a session of the special commission headed by General Beautas, Sydorenko said: "Our greatest desire is to keep good relations with Poland, whose interests coincide with ours." On May 21, 1919, Sydorenko confirmed this statement for the second time before the Supreme Soviet of the Peace Conference. The next day, Petlura’s delegation was received by George Benjamin Clemansau, and a month later, on June 25, the Supreme Soviet of the Peace Conference gave Poland its consent to occupy Galicia and Lemkovina.

Practical deeds of the ruling circles of the Ukrainian nationalist organizations played into Poland’s hands and ended with the Warsaw Agreement of April 22, 1922, whereby S. Petlura refused a separate Galicia, Volyn, Polissya, Khomshchyna and Lemkovina in favor of Poland.

The failure of the Lemkos at the International Forum was caused by the fact that the Peace Conference, and George Benjamin Clemansau himself, wanted to establish a great Poland which would be a reliable ally of the Western countries against both the Soviet state and Germany. Such a formulation of the Polish question at the Peace Conference did not allow to simplify the destiny of Galicia and Lemkovina in conformity with the will of the Rusyn Ukrainians.

1919 was coming to and end. The international situation was worsening by the day. This was dangerous for the Lemko People’s Republic. The Civil War was raging in the Soviet Republic and the Ukraine had to fight off the attacks of the Pilsudsky legions armed by the Entente. Poland found itself under the rule of reactionary bourgeoisie.

The second All-Lemko Forum, held on March 12, 1920, in Florinka, was attended by 600 delegates who represented the entire Lemko area. Having discussed both the domestic and foreign situation of the republic, the Forum authorized the government to negotiate with Czechoslovakia on appending Lemkovina to this country while safeguarding its autonomous status. This is proved by the memorandum of the Lemko People’s Republic sent to the Czechoslovakian government in March 1920. The document is kept in the archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.

The Polish government, upon obtaining the resolution of the Paris Peace Conference on its eastern frontiers, abolished the Lemko People’s Republic and its government in January 1921. Dr. Yaroslav Kachmarchyk, Dmytro Khyliak and Mykola Hromosyak were arrested.

The political declaration of December 5, 1918, adopted by the All-Lemko Forum in Florinka, was handed over by a British diplomat to Count Galicki, representative of Poland at the Peace Conference. This declaration became the main document at a political lawsuit held in Novy Sacz where the government of the Lemko People’s Republic was brought to trial.

The court hearing took place on June 10, 1921.

The indictment had it that Dr. Yaroslav Kachmarchyk, 36, a lawyer from Mushyn, Dmytro Khyliak, 54, a priest of Izby, and Mykola Hromosyak, 74, a peasant from Krynytsa, were guilty of organizing, after the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy had collapsed, meetings, public assemblies, and, of making speeches asserting that the Lemkos in Lemkovina were autonomous and, as a sovereign nation, did not recognize Polish authority. Instead, continued the indictment, they wishes to be independent and set a goal to reunite with the Soviet Ukraine.

In his speech, the prosecutor said that when dark clouds hung over Poland, the Lemkos sided with the Bolsheviks who were enemies of this state. He asked the jury to bring in the most severe verdict.

However, by a majority of votes, the accused were acquitted.

The revolutionary-liberation movement also seized the Presov area which was situated on the southern slopes of the Carpathians and inhabited by Rusyns. I. Polyvka, an outstanding public figure from Makovitsa, organized a meeting of representatives from the entire area on November 8, 1918 in Stara Lyubovnia. The main idea of all speeches at this meeting was that the Lemkos had a century-old dream of reuniting with their brothers into a great Ukraine. At the meeting, they elected the People’s Soviet, also adopted the political declaration and program. However, shortly after this event, the Czechoslovak legions occupied the Presov area, and the organizers or the People’s Soviet headed by I. Polyvka were arrested.

The Rusyns of Transcarpathia held a forum on May 8, 1919 in Uzhgorod. Here, in Uzhgorod, they once again confirmed the people’s will and striving for reunification. The new occupation of Transcarpathia was an obstacle in the realization of their long-cherished aspiration.