Ukrainian Sich Riflemen

Legion of Ukrainian Sich Riflemen (German: Ukrainische Sitschower Schützen; Ukrainian: Українські cічові стрільці (УСС), romanizedUkrainski sichovi striltsi (USS)) was a Ukrainian unit within the Austro-Hungarian Army during the First World War.

Legion of Ukrainian Sich Riflemen
Sich Riflemen emblem on the cockade
BranchAustro-Hungarian Army
Garrison/HQLviv, Stryi
Nickname(s)Sich Riflemen
EngagementsWorld War I
Yevhen Konovalets
Andriy Melnyk
Yuriy Otmarstein
Ivan Rogulsky



The unit was formed in August 1914 on the initiative of the Supreme Ukrainian Council. It was composed of members of different Ukrainian paramilitary organizations in Galicia, led by Frank Schott, and participated in hostilities on the Russian front. After World War I, with Austria's disintegration, the unit became the regular military unit of the West Ukrainian People's Republic. During German and Austrian occupation of Ukraine in 1918 the unit was stationed in southern Ukraine. Former unit soldiers participated in the formation of Sich Riflemen, a military unit of the Ukrainian People's Republic. In 1919 the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen expanded into the Ukrainian Galician Army (Ukrainian: Українська Галицька Армія, romanizedUkrainska Halytska Armiia). They participated in the Polish–Ukrainian War around Lviv and suffered heavy losses. On May 2, 1920, the unit was disbanded.

Origins and formation

Sotnyk Y. Budzynovskyi with his sotnia staff of the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen.
Ukrainian Sich Riflemen's coat of arms.
Ukrainian Sich Riflemen's emblem.

A number of Ukrainian youth organizations formed in Galicia as early as 1894, the result of the growing national consciousness among Ukrainians in Galicia. In 1900, a sports/firefighting organization Sich was founded by a lawyer and social activist Kyrylo Tryliovs'kyi in Sniatyn (today's Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast), which rejuvenated the ideas of Cossack Zaporozhian Sich to foster patriotism among the young. Alongside these organizations, forming all across Galicia, parallel sports/firefighting organizations Sokil (Falcon) were also springing up. By 1912, many smaller Sich companies appeared in numerous Ukrainian communities. Along with these youth organizations, a Women's Organizational Committee was set up to train nurses. The Ukrainian Sich Union coordinated the activities of all local Sich companies and printed its own newspaper, "The Sich News". By the start of the First World War there were at least 2000 such organizations in Galicia and Bukovina.[1]

In 1911, a philosophy student from Lviv, Ivan Chmola, organized a secret paramilitary group of young men and women from Lviv University, Academic Gymnasium, and other local schools. These enthusiasts learned how to use firearms, prepared military manuals, translated military terminology and lobbied the Austrian authorities to legalize the Ukrainian paramilitary organizations. They were greatly influenced by the similar Polish paramilitary organizations, such as Związek Strzelecki,which were numerous, well-organized and — unlike the Ukrainian organizations — legal. This group later published its own newspaper, "Vidhuk", and continued to organize Lviv's Ukrainian youth. However, several attempts to legalize it were blocked by the local authorities, who were mostly Poles.

Although initially Chmola chose the name "Plast" for this formation, this group represented only one isolated attempt to organize the Ukrainian youth into a legitimate scouting movement under this name. In June 1912, Dr. Oleksandr Tysovs'kyi, a teacher at the Academic Gymnasium in Lviv, administered a ceremony, at which a group of young students under his tutelage took a scout's oath. Thus the official Ukrainian scouting organization Plast was born. Explicitly paramilitary elements were expressly excluded by the organization's constitution, written by Dr. Tysovs'kyi, because he desired to focus its efforts primarily on fostering the ideological aspect of national patriotism, as well as, of course, on advancing the standard scouting curriculum. Possessing greater authority and commanding respect in the Lviv civil society, Dr. Tysovs'kyi won the upper hand, and Ivan Chmola eventually joined efforts with him. Nevertheless, Chmola continued his efforts to train the youth, started organizing scouting camps and teaching adolescents various survival skills, orienteering in different terrains and similar useful skills based on self-reliance, discipline and, most importantly, fellowship. This initiative attracted several prominent individuals, who would later also play important roles in the creation of the Sich Riflemen — for example, Petro Franko, Ivan Franko's son. And many individuals continued to secretly train militarily, of their own accord.

Finally, Kyrylo Tryliovs'kyi translated a similar statute of a Polish paramilitary sharpshooter organization and submitted it to the Austrian authorities for approval. This time, the officials had no choice but to grant approval, and a society of "Sich Sharpshooters" (Sichovi Stril'tsi) was finally legalized in the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria on 18 March 1913. The first such company was set up in Lviv, soon to be augmented by Ivan Chmola and his group. Legalization of Sich Sharpshooters gave impetus to other Ukrainian youth organizations, and the ranks of Sich, Sokil and Plast subsequently swelled up all across Western Ukraine.

In the spring of 1913, the Ukrainian Sich League was formed in Lviv, and a statute of Ukrainian Sich Sharpshooters (USS) was drafted. On 25 January 1914 the second society "Sich Sharpshooters II" was organized in Lviv, numbering over 300 members. Sich Sharpshooters I included mostly students and Sich Sharpshooters II - mostly workers and peasants. By World War I, there were 96 Sich Sharpshooter societies in Galicia alone. Plast was by then transformed into a full-fledged scouting organization with branches in many towns and villages. Many of these young scouts would continue to voluntarily join Ukrainian Sich Sharpshooter movement even well after the war was over, and future generations would also participate in the liberation struggles between the wars and in World War II. After many trials and tribulations, having survived in the Ukrainian Diaspora, Plast was reorganized in Ukraine shortly before Ukraine's independence in 1991 and continues to be the largest scouting organization in Ukraine, fostering the values of national patriotism among Ukrainian youth.

Initially there was no unanimity among the founders of the Ukrainian Sich League as to its goals: some wanted complete independence of the Ukrainian people from the Austro-Hungarian empire, and some wanted limited autonomy within the empire. The pro-Austrian faction prevailed, and only units loyal to the Habsburg monarchy were allowed to exist. From its inception, Ukrainian Sich Sharpshooters saw Russia as their main enemy and were preparing to liberate Ukrainian lands from under the yoke of Russian Empire. In Galicia and Bukovina, Sich Sharpshooters were also circulating a magazine called "Vidhuk" ("Response"). In 1914, a statute of USS was published, which established the order of service and the uniforms, provided military terminology and commands in the Ukrainian language. That same year ammunition and rifles were procured for a 10,000-strong Legion of Ukrainian Sich Sharpshooters, which participated in Lviv parade on 28 June 1914, along with all of the youth organizations - Sich, Sokil and Plast. That same day, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serbian nationalist, precipitating the chain of events that led to World War I.[1]

One month later, World War I broke out and the newly established General Ukrainian Council published in a Lviv newspaper "Dilo" the call for Galician Ukrainians to form volunteer units to fight the Russian Empire. The Ukrainian leaders in Austria-Hungary hoped that the formation of these units would advance the cause of national liberation. They also sought to dispel the suspicions of some Galician Russophiles that the Ukrainians in that area were sympathetic to Russia. The Austrian war ministry was not prepared for this initiative of the General Ukrainian Council and allowed creation of a unit with only 2,500 men. The first volunteers were mainly members of Ukrainian nationalist organizations such as Sich, Sokil and Plast.[2]

Usage during WWI


Before and during the battle in the Carpathians, the legion was on reconnaissance and small-scale duty or inserted between regular troops to keep them under control. However, the initial mistrust of the army leadership turned out to be unfounded, and the officers and enlisted men were officially given the "best report card." Field Marshal Lieutenant Hofmann especially praised the Legion's small company reconnaissance capabilities.[3] The Legion also saw successful action as part of Hofmann's Corps in the Bug Offensive and the Battle of Gorlice-Tarnów.[4]

On September 30, 1916, the Legion was almost completely routed in an engagement at Potutory, near Bereschany. Because of a breakthrough in the adjacent section of the front, Russian troops were able to completely surround and capture the Legion. During the regrouping it was assigned the "K.u.k. Hutsulenkompanie" (the former "Ruthenian" or "Bukovina Volunteer Battalion") was incorporated into it as a separate company.[5] A similar thing happened on July 1, 1917, when, at the beginning of the Kerensky Offensive, once again almost the entire part of the Legion in action was trapped by a Russian attack near Berezhany.[6] The German occupation of Ukraine at the beginning of 1917 led to the capture of the Legion.

With the German occupation of Ukraine in early 1918 and the establishment of the government under Hetman Pavlo Skoropadskyj, the Habsburg Monarchy was in danger of falling behind Germany. As a result, Emperor Charles created the special unit "Kampfgruppe Erzherzog Wilhelm" under the command of Archduke Wilhelm with about 4000 soldiers. This included the Ukrainian Legion. It operated in the south of Ukraine during and after the conquest of Ukraine by the Central Powers in 1918.[7] The Legion reached Kherson and Odessa, and because of the low resistance even the Dnieper River could be used as a transport route. The last engagement of the Legion under the Habsburg banner took place in Zaporizhzhya on April 16, 1918. The Bolsheviks had to evacuate the city.[8]


Rank group Field/senior officers Junior officers Student officers
  Ukrainian Sich Riflemen              
Other ranks
Rank group NCOs Enlisted ranks
  Ukrainian Sich Riflemen          
Старший стрілець
Starshyy striletsʹ

Cultural references

Red Viburnum berries. In Eastern Slavic cultures Viburnum opulus or kalyna often represents the beauty of a young woman

The unit is commemorated in the 1914 song "Oh, the Red Viburnum in the Meadow" (Ukrainian: Ой у лузі червона калина)

See also



  1. ^ a b Stepan Pipets'ky. Ukrainian Sich Sharpshooter Movement On-line version Chervona Kalyna. New York. 1956.
  2. ^ Petro Sodol. Ukrainian Sich Riflemen Ukrainian Sich Riflemen Encyclopedia of Ukraine on Line 1993.
  3. ^ Rutkowski: Die k.k. Ukrainische Legion 1914–1918. S. 24.
  4. ^ Rutkowski: Die k.k. Ukrainische Legion 1914–1918. S. 31 ff.
  5. ^ Rutkowski: Die k.k. Ukrainische Legion 1914–1918. S. 15 und 72 ff.
  6. ^ Rutkowski: Die k.k. Ukrainische Legion 1914–1918. S. 78 ff.
  7. ^ Timothy Snyder: Der König der Ukraine. Die geheimen Leben des Wilhelm von Habsburg. Paul Zsolnay Verlag, Wien 2009, ISBN 978-3-552-05478-3, S. 128 f.
  8. ^ Wolfdieter Bihl: Beiträge zur Ukraine-Politik Österreich-Ungarns 1918. In: Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas NF 14 (1966), S. 51–62, hier: S. 57 f.


  • Orest Subtelny. Ukraine. A history. University of Toronto press. 1994. ISBN 978-0-8020-0591-5.
  • Paul Robert Magocsi. The Roots of Ukrainian Nationalism: Galicia As Ukraine's Piedmont. University of Toronto Press. 2002. ISBN 0-521-81988-1.
  • Encyclopedia of Ukraine on Line. Ukrainian Sich Riflemen.
  • Stepan Ripets'ky. Ukrainian Sich Riflemen. Online version.