October 5, 2020 marks the 137th anniversary of the birth of the outstanding commander of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, the legendary Colonel Petro Bolbochan.
Peter Bolbochan came from a family of priests, graduated from theological seminary, but later chose a career in the military. A graduate of the Chuguiv Infantry School, Petro Bolbochan, as a lieutenant, commanded scouts in 1911-1912, and was the commander of a machine-gun unit. With the beginning of World War I he fought bravely, rose to the rank of captain of the Russian army, and was awarded several orders for bravery.
After the October coup, Petro Bolbochan took an active part in the Ukrainization of parts of the South-Western Front. In January 1918, when Bolshevik troops were approaching Kyiv, he created a volunteer unit, the Republican kurin, which numbered 500 people. Kurin took part in street battles with the Bolsheviks, and after retreating from Kyiv in February 1918, he became one of the organizers of the Zaporozhian Brigade, later deployed in the division and then in the corps.
The Cossacks led by Bolbochan played a key role in the conquest of Kyiv in February 1918, as well as in the liberation of Left-Bank and South-Eastern Ukraine from the Bolsheviks in the spring of 1918. The triumph of the Ukrainian army was a brilliant Crimean operation, during which the forces of the Zaporozhian division under the command of Peter Bolbochan forced Sivash and captured Crimea. Unfortunately, the socialist leadership of the Ukrainian People’s Republic failed to use the consequences of these victories to build the Ukrainian state and strengthen its army due to unprofessionalism, contempt for the formation of the Ukrainian army and lack of state will. During the reign of Hetman Pavel Skoropadsky, pro-Russian government officials considered Bolbochan a dangerous element and persuaded the hetman to eliminate the Cossack corps. It all ended with the corps being sent to defend the northern border with Bolshevik Russia. The Cossacks, under the skilful command of Peter Bolbochan, held the border for three months, repelling attacks by numerous well-armed enemies. Bolbochan was promoted to the rank of colonel for his courage and heroism. He was also highly valued by his enemies. Thus, the Bolsheviks announced a reward for his head.
On November 14, 1918, the hetman, who after the defeat of Germany in the First World War was left without the support of the allies, issued a charter of federation with White Army. Ukrainian opposition parties started an uprising and formed their own government, the Directory. Although Bolbochan’s Cossacks sided with the insurgents, it became clear to the colonel that Ukrainian politicians could not learn from their own mistakes. Thus, the head of the Directory Vynnychenko believed that the Russian Bolsheviks were allies and recommended that the colonel agree with them on joint action. At this time, in Poltava, the Bolsheviks tried to carry out a coup. Local “separatists” led by Shinkar captured and shot the command of the 6th Poltava Army Corps and 100 officers. Bolbochan suppressed the uprising, but instead of gratitude, he received criticism from Ukrainian officials. Politicians saw Bolbochan’s growing popularity among the military as a phantom threat of a military coup, and considered the Russian Bolsheviks allies.
Meanwhile the situation on the Left Bank was deteriorating. Constantly in battle with a large and well-armed enemy, Bolbochan’s units suffered heavy losses and did not receive supplies. In mid-January 1919, 400 or even 200 soldiers remained in the regiments of the Zaporizhzhya Corps, and the Ukrainians were forced to retreat. The colonel sharply criticized the inconsistent, contradictory policies of the UPR government and its ministers. He pointed out to them obvious mistakes and miscalculations. This did not go unnoticed by Kyiv politicians envious of his military talent. Bolbochan was accused of treason, and a campaign of harassment of the military leader began.
On January 22, 1919, Bolbochan was removed from command of the Zaporizhzhya Corps. He was arrested by Petliura’s favorite, Captain Omelyan Volokh. Upon learning of the colonel’s arrest, the Cossacks were ready to release him by force. But Bolbochan did not want to shed blood and hoped that the state leadership would have enough common sense to understand the situation. The arrest of a popular colonel among the soldiers during a serious aggravation at the front made a depressing impression on the Ukrainian military. Thus, the Ukrainian troops were deprived of professional leadership due to the efforts of the Ukrainian authorities.
Meanwhile, the investigation, which lasted more than 4 months, found no traces of the crime in the actions of the colonel. Although representatives of the left-wing socialist parties, led by Vynnychenko, demanded severe punishment for Bolbochan, Therefore, when the regiment commanders of the Zaporizhzhya Corps appealed to the Chief Ataman Petliura to return Petro Bolbochan to the post of corps commander, the frightened Petliura perceived this as an attempt to seize power and ordered the immediate arrest of the military leader. The next day, an obedient military court-martial sentenced Colonel Bolbochan to death. He was executed on June 28, 1919. The shooting was led by Petliura’s chief of security, Colonel Chobotaryov. Even the last minutes of the colonel’s life testified to the fact that Petro Bolbochan had authority among the military as a commander and an outstanding Ukrainian patriot. The soldiers refused to shoot, and an enraged Chobotaryov shot the colonel with his own pistol.
The death of a prominent military leader made a depressing impression on the Ukrainian army. Even enemies recognized the colonel for his undeniable merits in the defense of Ukraine.
The Russian occupiers were unable to defeat the Ukrainian colonel, nor were they able to destroy the volunteer movement during the recent Russian-Ukrainian war, but what the external enemies failed to do was achieved by the incompetent and thoroughly corrupt Ukrainian Government. That is why, having before them such examples of the past and present, Ukrainian nationalists realize that they should rely only on themselves and be ready to fight against internal and external enemy to complete victory.