2 March 1917

Kyiv woke up. How did Ukrainian Revolution start

Hrushevsky was in a Moscow library when revolution broke off. Vynnychenko was also staying in Moscow. Petliura was in Minsk, working at Union of Zemstvos’ mission at the Western Front. Kyiv was asleep…

Kyiv was fast asleep covered by snow and wrapped in several blankets (since there was a coal shortage, and the coal prices were high).

Serhiy Yefremov, a publicist and a future minister wrote:  "we were sad and hopeless on the eve of 1917new year …I remember quite well despair and melancholy that dominated the small group of Ukrainians, who gathered February 26 for Shevchenko anniversary… Words got stuck in our throats, conversation broke off like rotten yarn".

Mykhailo Shkilnyk, Galician captured by Russian troops, wrote:

"It seemed that "everything was silent in all languages". But that was untrue. Ukrainian Progressists , SDecs [members of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Labor Party – tr.], SRs [esery, members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party – tr.] went underground, especially the younger ones. They went to the villagers, workers, and the military; they kept working there illegally against the tyranny of the Tsar…"

Kyiv had no idea what will happen in spring. And the spring 1917 brought with the revolution.

 Winter of 1916/1917 was extremely snowy. Due to severe snowfalls, the information regarding revolution in Petrograd reached Kyiv with a delay

Huge snowfall disrupted railway and telegraph services. Demonstrations and meetings happened almost daily, new parties and councils emerged, new newspapers opened. Tsar's portraits disappeared from the walls, and the monument to Stolypin at Kyiv's Dumska Square got dismantled. There it was – freedom and democracy!

The first message about the Petrograd events reached Kyiv in the evening of February 28. It was a telegram from the State Duma Deputy Oleksandr Bublikov, who became the Commissioner of the Ministry of Railways:

"To all the heads of the entire network. By the order of the Committee of the State Duma, today I take charge of the Ministry of Railways and make the following order on behalf of the Chairman of the State Duma:


The old authorities that caused ruin in all the branches of government rendered helpless.

The State Duma assumed the responsibility for creating the new authority.

I appeal to you on behalf of our Motherland: now the salvation of our country depends on your effort.

It expects of you more than just doing your job. It expects heroic deeds… All the employees are to remain in their workplaces.

Member of the State Duma Bublikov".

Aleksandr Bublikov whose telegram became the first piece of information about February Revolution in Petrograd for Kyiv residents



It was hard to believe the text of the telegram – the political system seemed to be way too strong, churches had been conducting panikhida services for the Emperor Alexander II of Russia, people had been cheering at the name of Nicholas II. Those cheers had never raised any objections, or even the tiniest resentment. Kyiv residents kept living in the Russian Empire, while a new revolutionary power ruled in Petrograd.

Telegraph operators sent a request back to Petrograd, asking if they understood Bublikov's telegram correctly. The answer was positive. And the first words of the Boblikov's telegram spread among the people: Tsar is gone!

The city started talking about Provisional Government.

"…Everyone's eyes had lit up, everyone was talking, guessing the future. Shmidt ran to Dumska Square where people were gathering in small groups to get more information and to listen in on people's talks".

People started gathering in groups – friends, acquaintances, those sharing similar perspective. They were considering the situation.

The South-Western Railway Administration. Employees of this establishment were first among Kiev residents to find out about Petrograd events


Each community – Ukrainians, Poles, Jews, students, workers, soldiers, doctors, lawyers, civil servants, and refugees – created their own organizations. Councils, unions, societies, parties were popping out everywhere. Then these newly emerged organizations started looking for allies and possible ways to join forces.

On March 2, assembles were held in each of the higher educational institutions of Kyiv – the St. Volodymyr University, Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, Institute of Commerce, Higher Courses for Women, Medical Institute.

There were foremed councils of Jewish students, Ukrainian students, and Georgian students. Students from Galicia formed a separate group. Each party formed its own student body. And all of this was headed by Kyiv Students Coalition Council.

School and gymnasium students, looking at their older friends, formed their own organization. In less than a year these secondary school students and Galicia students will became the driving force of the Kruty Student Battalion (Kurin) of Sich Riflemen.

That same day the assembly of Kyiv workers took place. And the next day – the Worker Deputy Council was created.

There were only few Bolsheviks among the deputies; two out of 35 members – Ivanov and Fialek. The Council was headed by Nezlobin – either a Menshevik, or an SR (Eser).

National Auditorium building where the Worker Deputy Council was formed


The Worker Council was compiled of members of political parties (Mensheviks, Russian and Ukrainian SRs, Ukrainian SDecs, Bund (the General Jewish Labour Bund), Poale Zion, Polish socialists and social-democrats, etc.), shop unions (Arsenal Factory, Greter and Kryvenko machine building plant, railway depots) and ethnic groups (Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian).

On March 2 the Polish community in Kyiv also held a meeting. At first they formed a Committee of Nine with the 9 of the most renowned Kyiv Poles as its members. The Committee's objective was to "get in the good graces with the new government, and help it build a new life".

In a few days they convened a wider number of Poles, this time not just from Kyiv, but from the entire Right-Bank Ukraine, and established the Polish Executive Committee in Ruthenia (Rus).

When revolution started the future leaders of the Ukrainian movement were out of Kyiv.

Hrushevsky was in a Moscow library when revolution broke off. Vynnychenko was also staying in Moscow. Petliura was in Minsk, working at Union of Zemstvos' (counties) mission at the Western Front.

Pavlo Skoropadsky had just been appointed as the 34th Corps Commander.

Maksym Synytsky, lawyer and the head of Ukrainian publishing house "Chas", was the first to learn the news. He shared it with writer Vasyl Koroliv-Stary.

Kateryna and Dmyto Antonovych received their wake up call when the phone rang with that sweet word "Freedom!".

Kateryna Antonovych learned about the revolution from a phone call

"the Phone is ringing. I pick it up.

- Do you recognize who's talking?

-Yes, I do, - this is one of our darling friends from the Ukrainian Сlub.

-Hope, I am the first to tell you this incredible news! There's revolution in Petersburg and tsar Nikolas II abdicated the throne, and there's no tsarism anymore! And it's FREEDOM, and I sincerely congratulate you on that!

In the first moment I froze… We have always been so careful in our phone conversations, we knew the police was listening in! And suddenly our darling and always so careful friend says such and incredible, unbelievable news on a phone!

I am silent, I can't believe, I can't accept this sudden news. Tsar abdicated his throne, did it really happen? Is it true that we are finally FREE?

Or might he be mistaken, talking about it so freely? "Don't be afraid! Now we can say everything out loud!"

I am silently hanging up the phone… Standing right there, trying to get a grasp of it, and I don't know whether to believe it or not… I walk into my husband's office, anxiously tell him the news…

People scream outside: Hurray, Slava, FREEDOM! There is a rally carrying red banners! So it must be true!!! We hug and kiss! It is such an immense joy!!!"

Ukrainians met first at Yevhen Chykalenko's home, and later at "Rodyna" club at 42 Volodymyrska Street.

 Volodymyrska Street. The building where "Rodyna" club was located (on the left)

Ever since the first news from Petrograd, club meetings were held almost every day. In that very club first ideological disputes between the older and younger generations of Ukrainian activists started.

The Ukrainians who hosted the Club were members of Hromada secret society and Ukrainophile movement. They supported the idea of moderate Ukrainian movement, and didn't want to endanger themselves by open confrontation with the Russian authorities.

They had something to loose: they accumulated certain wealth, respect with the community, and they shared Ukrainophile views that used to be the reason for prosecution and that got some of the movement members imprisoned twenty-thirty years ago.

Meanwhile, the youth craved revolution!

More and more radically-minded young people came to take part in the meetings. Finally, they took over, and Yevhen Chykalenko left for his estate at Pereshory. Later, Dmytro Antonovych wrote in his memoirs:

"…we failed to find common ground with TUP [the Society of Ukrainian Progressivists– ed.], but entered into a mechanical agreement: it was decided to form provisional Central Council with the core of 25 people, so it will be further co-opted by mostly out-of-Kyiv delegates".

After a few days of discussion of the principles of Central Rada (Council) it was finally formed on March 7.

Mykhailo Hrushevsky was elected as a Head. He was elected in absentia, as he was still in Moscow. In just a few days the Central Rada became the major force of the Ukrainian national movement, and, a bit later, it was transformed into the Parliament of the Ukrainian People's (National) Republic (UNR).

The army also joined revolutionary processes and was seeking to enter the social and political life.

There were lots of military personnel in Kyiv. Here the district military headquarters, number of military units, hospitals and a POW camp were stationed.

The assembly of officers and soldiers of the Kyiv garrison convened March 5. It was attended by about 3 thousand people and formed the Provisional Council of Officer and Soldier Deputies.

March 7, the Council of Officers, Doctors, Military Officials of units, quarters, headquarters, and institutions of the Kyiv garrison was formed. Lieutenant Colonel Stotsky was appointed the head of the Council. Officer Council suggested that soldiers and cadets of the garrison formed their own separate councils.

March 6 and 7 became the days of unification of the army with the people. These were the exact words – "with the people" – that newspapers used to describe those events. Military parade in front of the City Duma was very emotional.

"Flowers, red flags, sounds of Marseillaieze", "red ribbons pinned to people's chests, sleeves, hats" – this is how "Kievskaya mysl" newspaper described the parade.

Someone tied red flag to the Stolypin Monument.

 Monument to Stolypin in Kyiv, dismantled on March 17 (30), 1917

When General Khodorovych arrived, the crowd carried him on their arms inside the Duma building.

Lots of military were stationed in Kyiv at that time – Kyiv District Headquarters, military second-line units, hospitals etc. Soldiers and officers were everywhere – walking along the streets in their uniforms, sometimes carrying weapons, sitting in cafes, cutting lines to take a street car, often free of charge.

The future Ukrainian General Vsevolod Petrive made the following note regarding the causes of the revolution:

" the Russian Army, similar to many others, granted huge power to its senior officers, especially in war time… this great endowment of the senior stuff caused, in the time of positional war, huge disparity in life of an officer and a regular soldier. The further the frontline was, the bigger was this disparity. Deep behind the lines officer bashes became normal state of events; but the aggravated the grey soldier mass. Soldiers were aware of their losses, of their sacrifice, and that it would never pay off, since the so called "recruitment package" for soldiers' families was just a fiction."  

Petro Vysotsky from the village of Yurchukha, who served as a soldier in his unpublished memoirs wrote:

"… people at the front were very distant from politics, and they only knew what was written in the newspapers, and the newspapers were of different direction. We, the frontline soldiers, had only one direction and wish – for the war to end so we could come back home".

On March 7 there was another military parade.

Airplane with a red flag was circling the air above Duma Square. One of the banners read: "Army is with people".

Huge number of public organizations required some coordination of their activities. The Council of United public Organizations became such a coordinating body. It was headed by the Deputy City Head Mykola Stradomsky.

Each public organization was allowed to send its delegates to the Council. This opportunity was used by students, workers, teachers, lowers, journalists, civil servants and ethnic communities – Jews, Poles, Ukrainians.

There were two secretary positions on the Council, one of which was obtained by Ukrainian journalist Andriy Nikovsky. One of the first rulings of the Council was assuming charge of the city police.

There were conflicts with the police since the first days of revolution.

People perceived it as the symbol of old regime. They disarmed police officers right on the streets, spit on them, beat them up, even took off their clothes. So, on March 5, the police didn't show up for work.

The Head of Kyiv Police Department Serhiy Gornostayev threatened his officers with all kinds of punishment. But the treats rendered useless. Police refused to work.

 Building of the Kyiv Police Headquarters. Since spring of 1917 served as Militia Headquarters

Militia took on upon itself the duty of maintaining order. It was formed as volunteer squads – students, workers and national groups (Armenians, Poles; Jewish students decided not to form separate Jewish militia squad). They used green sleeve stripes as distinguishing sign. Militia patrolled the streets, detained troublemakers. Captain Volodymyr Kalachevsky headed the militia.

Militia occupied former police premises. However, it failed to become full-fledged replacement to the police, since the new militiamen could only conduct investigation based on revolutionary need.

In addition, there were clashes between different militia squads. Say, a group of militia students from Kyiv University encountered militia students from Polytechnic Institute and they would start an argument, or even a fight…

A few days later the authorities arrived at a solution to form commissariat in each of militia station that would consist of an attorney or an assistant attorney, member of the Worker Deputy Council, a justice of the peace and a procecutor representative.

The Commissars were supposed to oversee that militia follows the law. They had the right to issue arrest and search warrants. This brought some kind of order to militia operations. However, soon it became obvious that some of the militiamen were unhappy with their volunteer status, since they did not get any pay for patrolling the streets.

Thus, on March 7, it was decided to abandon volunteer practice in militia operation, so that students and workers could return to their duties.

The Head of City Militia Volodymyr Kalachevsky suggested forming regular militia that would get paid for its services, and announced his resignation.

Each of the newly formed organizations considered it necessary to hold their own rally. "We had to show to our enemy and opponents that the Central Rada has great support among people, and that in case of its violation it has the right and the power to defend itself" – that is how this process was described by (Who? No name in the original text)

National awareness did not rain down on us. Several generations of activists and thinkers laid grounds for this demonstration.

Yevhen Chykalenko in the foreword to his diary noted that "that's how it used to be with the national Ukrainian movement: our grandfathers, and our fathers, and we worked as best as we could, but we never saw the results to that work, as it seemed to disappear in depths of the broad masses. Until the revolution of 1917, when all of that work suddenly came out of the shadows and into the light".

Future UNR Army General Volodymyr Sikevych wrote in his notebook: "There was so much electricity in the air, it seemed any minute it will all go upside-down".

Roman Mlynovetsky

Independist Roman Mlynovetsky, who in the April of 1917 organized the Doroshenko regiment: "Ukraine still had broad masses not assimilated by Moscow that compiled the majority of the population; it had old culture and memories of glorious past and our own ancient powerful state.

Moreover, occupational policy of Moscow gave plenty of reason for the eruption of great national revolution and turning passive masses into powerful nation aware of its cause".  

One of the founders of the Central Rada, veterinarian and writer Vasyl Koroliv-Stary shared his memories of these events: 

Vasyl Koroliv-Stary

"...in Russian life disintegration processes became more and more obvious. It had already been clear that the war can't go on. The air stunk of revolution. And it did come. It arrived happy peaceful, promising, "bloodless".

Gadiach Zemstvo (county) newspaper edited by Olena Pchilka wrote:

"those who read newspapers carefully… can't even imagine that there is a person among us that is still unaware of how this huge change happened – that "there is no more Tsar" and everything is totally new, like in a fairy tale! However, there are such people!"

And further: "it started with lots of people who got unhappy with what was going on in Russia. And it's better not to remind ourselves of what was going on.

On the highest levels, among the ministers…they did whatever they wanted, not answering to anyone. And they stole hundreds, even millions! And there was no order in any of the state affairs. And that's when the country was at war, suffering, and it seemed like a great time to start doing something, and to do it well…

So it was done – phonies, frauds and crooks ruled in Russia…

And then we were done with it…"

And now Ukrainians, Jews, Poles, soldiers, students, workers are marching the streets. Each on their own day, separate from the rest, with their own banners.

But then they all unite: on March 19 Kyiv celebrated democracy in its Freedom Celebration.

 One of the multiple demonstrations in Kyiv in spring 1917

Kyiv residents got to know each other, they discovered the other Kyivites. Jewish community saw Ukrainians, Poles noticed Jews, Ukrainians discovered themselves, and for the first time they felt their own power.

"Neighbor greeted neighbor with slogans on their banners, the demonstration made notable impression on Moscow (Russian) and Jewish population of Kyiv, so now it sees that the state autonomy demand of the Central Rada has numerous supporters even in russified Kyiv and is not just a fantasy of M. Hrushevsky and his few followers".

This was the largest assembly of people in the Ukrainian capital. The estimate number of participants reached 100 thousand.

Kyiv was asleep. Kyiv woke up!

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