History of Ukraine

The “Train of Unity” has arrived at the Kyiv railway station. Among the passengers are students of the Ivan Bohun military lyceum. Kruty station is located 150 km away from Kyiv. This is where one hundred years ago, on January 29th, a small contingent of Ukrainian forces, who were mostly students and cadets, defended against a fully-equipped army of four thousand Bolshevik soldiers. Historians estimate between 300 to 600 students, cadets, and volunteer fighters faced the Russian Bolshevik soldiers. The battle lasted for 5 hours. When the Ukrainian fighters ran out of ammunition, they were forced to retreat. 30 students were taken captive and executed the next day. Now, that small group of Ukrainian fighters is celebrated for courage and bravery while the battle became a symbol of Ukraine’s resistance against Russia.

“I don’t think it is right to present the Battle of Kruty as a tragedy, and especially as a defeat. It is obvious that the death of people, especially young people, is a tragedy, but we don’t consider the battle a defeat,” says Volodymyr Viatrovych, Head of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance.

Historians at Ukraine’s Institute of National Remembrance suggest up to 100 Ukrainian fighters were killed. At least two were students of the Przemyśl school, now modern Poland. On the 100th anniversary, representatives of the school came to Kruty to honor the defenders’ memory.

“Two of our students died in this battle: Hryhoriy Pipskyi and Ivan Sorokevych. They are now on our wall of honor. We are proud of them. This pain and this history lives on in our families,” says Anna Leskiw, Head of Ukrainian school in Przemyśl, Poland.

Oleksiy Chudchenko was born and raised in Kruty, but he learned of the historic battle only after Ukraine gained independence in 1991. In Soviet times, the topic was taboo:

“At first, there was a birch cross here. Back then, there were no official events like now. Lately, I started coming to commemorate the date. I am overwhelmed with pride for these people, for the students who died defending Ukraine.”

In January 1918, Ukrainian defenders delayed the advance of Bolshevik invaders on their way to Kyiv. This was a decisive moment for Ukraine’s struggle for independence. The Ukrainian People’s Republic went on to sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, recognizing the Republic’s sovereignty.

Ukraine’s war veteran Volodymyr Zhemchuhov came to Kruty for the first time. He compares the battle to Russia’s military intervention in eastern Ukraine:

“In 2014, Russian occupants were also met by young people. Most of the soldiers I saw were around 19 or 20 years old. They also came out to defend their land.”

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