Michael Palij, The Anarchism of Nestor Makhno, 1918-1921: An Aspect of the Ukrainian Revolution, 1976.

13. Makhno and the Directory

The rapid political change, the fall of the hetman regime, the establishment of the Directory, and the second Bolshevik invasion had their repercussions in the Makhno movement. Makhno was taken by surprise when the news came that the hetman regime, which he was then fighting, had been overthrown and the Directory was assuming power:

All this happened on about the 20th of November, 1918. At one village, Alievo, ... I considered it necessary to call a rally of the peasants at the village. I . . . began to speak to them about their servile conditions under the oppression of the hetman and his friends, the Austro-German Junkers, who were brought here and put on their necks by the Central Rada.l

However, for these peasants the hetman regime was already a thing of the past, because "on this day the village had received a telegram . . . relating . . . that a coup had occurred in Kyiv: Hetman Skoropads'kyi was overthrown, the Ukrainian Directory headed by V. Vynnychenko was organized."

After a local teacher had read the telegram to the peasants and given a speech, he asked: "What position will you, Bat'ko Makhno, and your revolutionary-partisan forces, assume toward the Ukrainian Directoryf?] " This question confused Makhno and made him nervous because "in this village I did not expect it, and therefore, it made me somewhat sad—all the more because at this rally there was a mass of partisans, and the question about political confidence in Vynnychenko was unusually grave; the answer demanded not only truth but also serious, responsible substantiation." After a while he overcame his nervousness and began to argue that although Vynnychenko was a "Socialist, and a Socialist who participated and is participating in the life and struggle of the toilers," now he had joined with Petliura, who brought the Austro-German troops into Ukraine. Therefore, "I do not think that the revolutionary-partisan movement under my leadership can find a common language with this Ukrainian Directory; especially as the program of the Ukrainian Directory and how and by whom it was elected, is still unknown to us." In conclusion he declared: "We will not recognize the Ukrainian Directory . . . we will not carry on an armed struggle against the Directory, but we will . . . make preparations for this struggle against it."2

After the rally Makhno's close associates, especially Oleksander Marchenko, judged that he had spoken correctly. Semen Karetnyk, in addition, took the position that the Directory would not be able to maintain its authority over all Ukraine, because the "Revolution in the village is assuming an openly antigovernmental character . . . which we should support with all our power." Most of Makhno's associates agreed with Karetnyk and decided that as soon as they arrived at Huliai-Pole they would issue a declaration against the Directory as a government and as antirevolutionary. In and around Huliai-Pole, according to Makhno, the majority of the people shared their point of view concerning the Directory. To assure that the people in the freed areas "correctly understood the revolutionary position of Huliai-Pole . . . toward the Directory" the partisans launched a campaign with this purpose. Thus from the very outset Makhno tried to prevent the Directory from establishing its authority in the area where his partisans operated.

Before the fall of the hetman regime Ukrainian leaders in Kateryno-slav, headed by the brothers Mykola and Havrylo Horobets,4 organized a Katerynoslav Republican Regiment (Kish) to prevent a local Bolshevik uprising, because the hetman Russian force was ineffective. When the Directory began a general uprising, the Ukrainian troops disarmed the state police (Varta) and assisted in establishing the local authority of the Directory. However, this action was threatened by the local Bolsheviks and by the Eighth Corps, which was organized during the hetman periods, under the command of General Vasylchenko and General I. G. Konovalov, his chief of staff. It was composed of two infantry regiments, originally about three to four hundred men, largely Russian officers; by mid-November the Corps had over one thousand men. At the end of November, when the Ukrainians left, it became strictly a Russian formation and began to use Russian as the official language. There also was a Russian volunteer detachment of officers, about one hundred and fifty men, which served the City Council and then joined the Corps. In the midst of the struggle, the commander of Ukrainian forces established contact with Makhno who subsequently sent two representatives, Oleksander Chubenko and Myrhorods'kyi, both left Socialist Revolutionaries.

The Ukrainian commander proposed to join forces against the common enemies and reestablish a Ukrainian authority;Makhno,however, had instructed his delegates "to sound out the ground among the soldiers of the Katerynoslav garrison and the young staff officers . . . and to establish secret contact with them."6 Makhno had no intention of joining forces with the Directory, because he regarded it as a worse phenomenon than the Ukrainian Central Rada, but he felt the partisans were not in a position at that time to launch an open campaign against it.7 Makhno found himself caught between the forces of Denikin and those of the Directory.

Also there were still the Austro-German troops. Thus:

The slightest decision by the Ukrainian Directory directed against us could force us to withdraw a number of combat units from the front lines against the volunteer units of the Denikin army and in this way, so to speak, 'to liquidate ourselves' in the fight against the Denikin forces without a prospect for successful victory in the struggle against the troops of the Directory .8

Makhno felt that to dare such a fight he would need at his disposal "at least a 70- to 100,000-strong well-armed partisan army" and so decided to maintain a cautious neutrality, allowing, among other things, the passage of enlisted men mobilized by the Directory through his territory. However, he ordered all the trains carrying them stopped for propaganda meetings directed against the government in general, and the Directory in particular.9

In the meantime, the Ukrainian forces in Katerynoslav grew stronger. At the beginning of December the Russian Eighth Corps was driven out of the city by Ukrainian troops after one day of fighting. Subsequently the Eighth Corps moved to the Crimea and at the beginning of January 1919, it joined the Russian troops there. Soon afterward Ukrainian troops disarmed the Austro-German troops stationed in Katerynoslav, obtaining large quantities of arms. On December 22, 1918, the Ukrainian troops dispersed the Katerynoslav Soviets and on December 26, they disarmed the Bolshevik military revolutionary headquarters and attacked the Bolshevik detachments located at Nyzhnied-niprovs'k, a suburb of Katerynoslav, on the left bank of the Dnieper.10

In response, the local Bolsheviks offered Makhno command of their detachments with the aim of seizing the city. The offer was accepted and, on December 27, the united forces' several thousand men began to attack. To increase his chance of victory, Makhno used deception, sending an empty train into the city on a foggy morning followed by another armored train loaded with troops, which was then able to occupy the station and its surroundings. Simultaneously, he opened heavy artillery bombardment from the left bank of the Dnieper. During the fighting a Ukrainian artillery officer, Colonel Martynenko, changed sides and joined Makhno with sixteen guns and their teams, greatly facilitating Makhno's victory. After three days of heavy fighting Makhno occupied a larger area and late on December 30 the Ukrainian troops retreated. The city, particularly the center, was badly damaged by the shelling, which had killed about two hundred people and wounded fifteen hundred. As soon as Makhno seized part of the city, he released the prisoners, who began to plunder, despite Makhno's orders to the contrary and the shooting of several looters.11

Makhno's triumph, however, was short lived. The next day the Ukrainian troops, reinforced by the Sich Riflemen under Colonel Roman Samokysh, counterattacked. Makhno and his Bolshevik allies were badly beaten and suffered heavy losses. About two thousand Bolsheviks drowned in the Dnieper while attempting to escape across the frozen river. Makhno lost about six hundred men and with the remaining four hundred he retreated to Synel'nikove on the Left Bank. There he and his detachment rejoined the one commanded by Petrenko. Although his partisan group was substantially weakened, a number of independent partisan detachments soon joined him, swelling the force to over six thousand men who were, however, badly armed and clothed. Later, more partisan groups joined, among them a detachment from the area of Starokostiantynivka and others from the areas of Berdians'k, MariupiP, and MelitopiP.12

Meanwhile Makhno's detachments had resumed fighting the Ukrainian troops retreating from northeastern Ukraine before Antonov-Ovseenko's advancing Red Army. Their aim, however, was not primarily to fight, but to capture certain supplies. On January 6, 1919, Makhno's units attacked the city of Lozova but were beaten back with some losses. Those taken prisoner confessed that "they wanted to capture spirits, sugar, and manufactured goods." As the Ukrainian troops were crossing Katerynoslav province a more serious struggle occurred near Hubymikha on January 17, and Makhno was defeated.

The situation changed as the Bolshevik forces advanced deeper into the Left Bank. On January 20, after a sixteen-day battle, Antonov-Ovseenko captured Poltava while the Second Division of Pavel E. Dybenko occupied Synel'nikove. Meanwhile Dybenko established contact with Makhno and they agreed to attack Katerynoslav. Bitter fighting and heavy bombardment of the city continued for five days and it was only when the sixth Soviet Regiment crossed the Dnieper and attacked the city from another side that the Ukrainian troops were forced to retreat. On January 27, 1919, the Bolshevik forces occupied Katerynoslav.14

After the withdrawal of the Ukrainian troops to the Right Bank, Makhno found himself caught between the Bolshevik and anti-Bolshevik Russian forces. Makhno's previous inimical attitude toward the Directory and its troops, marked by both combat and propaganda, now entered a new phase, which might be described as an unwritten agreement of neutrality.


1. Makhno, Ukrains'kaia revoliutsiia, 3 : 283.

2. Ibid., pp. 154-55, 283.

3. Ibid., pp. 156-57, 164; M. S., "Makhno ta ioho viis'ko," LCK, no. 6 (1935), p. 17.

4. The two brothers were Ukrainized Russians. Their original name was Vorob'ev. Mykola was a Tsarist artillery officer. As early as summer 1917 they organized the Ukrainian Free Cossacks, consisting of Katerynoslav workers (Panas Fedenko, Isaak Mazepa, p. 22).

5. V. I. Gureev, "Ekaterinoslavskii pokhod," (manuscript), pp. 5—7; Mahalevs'kyi, "Bat'ko Makhno," KD 1930, p. 68; Mazepa, Ukraina v ohni, 1:60—63.

6. Mazepa, Ukraina v ohni, 1:63; Makhno, Ukrainskaia revoliutsiia, 3 :168—69.

7. Makhno, Ukrainskaia revoliutsii, 3:172—73; Voline, Uknoion Revolution, p. 103. According to Mahalevs'kyi, Otaman Horobets and Makhno's delegates concluded an agreement: (1) The troops of the Directory and Makhno should act together against the Don; (2) Makhno received arms and uniforms from the troops of the Directory. (3) the troops of the Directory would be permitted to carry out mobilization in the area occupied by Makhno (Mahalevs'kyi, "Bat'ko Makhno," p. 69; see also Dubrovs'kyi, Bat'ko Nestor Makhno, pp. 7—8; Liubomyr Vynar, "Zv'iazky Nestora Makhno z armiieiu U. N. R., 1918—1920," Rozbudova derzhavy, no. 3 (11) (1953), p. 16.

8. Makhno, Ukrains'kaia revoliutsiia, 3 :173.

9. Ibid., pp. 174-75.

10. Gureev, "Ekaterinoslavskii pokhod," p. 102; G. Al'mendinger, "K pis'mu v redaktsiiu rotmistra Labinskogo," Pereklichka, no. 106 (1960), p. 13;Mazepa, Ukraina v ohni, 1:63; Igrenev, "Ekaterinoslavskiia vospominaniia," ARR 3:235— 36; Mahalevs'kyi, "Bat'ko Makhno," p. 68; Lebed', Itogi i uroki trekh, p. 13; Kubanin, Makhnovshchina, p. 40.

11. Omelianovych-Pavlenko, Zytnovyi pokhid, 2:26; Borys Monkevych, "Oborona Katerynoslava," LCK, no. 9 (1935), p. 6; P. Arshinov, Dva pobega, p. 83; Mazepa, Ukraina v ohni, 1:64; Belash, "Makhnovshchina," LR, no. 3 (1928), p. 213; Footman, Civil War in Russia, p. 94; Igrenev, "Ekaterinoslavskiia vospominaniia," p. 237; Lebed', Itogi i uroki, pp. 13—14; Kubanin, Makhnovshchina, pp. 42—43; Mahalevs'kyi, "Bat'ko Makhno," p. 69.

12. IA. IAkovlev, Russkii anarkhizm, p. 15; Kubanin, Makhnovshchina, p. 44; Gutman, "Pod vlast'iu anarkhistov," p. 68; Chernomordik, Makhno i makhnovshchina, p. 15; Arshinov, Dva pobega, p. 83; Belash, "Makhnovshchina," pp. 214—18; Dubrovs'kyi, Bat'ko Nestor Makhno, p. 8; Rudnev, Makhnovshchina, p. 23.

13. Lazurenko, "Povstannia proty Het'mana," no. 41, pp. 8—9; no. 42, p. 14.

14. Antonov-Ovseenko, Zapiski, 3:193; Stepan Samiilenko, Dnislavy, pp. 78— 79; Istoriia ukrains'koho viss'ka, p. 458; Lazurenko, "Povstannia proty Het'mana," no. 42, pp. 14—15; Monkevych, "Oborona Katerynoslava," p. 8; Mahalevs'kyi, "Bat'ko Makhno," p. 70; Arthur E. Adams, "Bolshevik Administration in the Ukraine, 1918," The Review of Politics 20 (1958): 93-94.