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140 years of Petro Bolbochan: Crimea’s Liberator

#UWC news
October 5,2023 1179
140 years of Petro Bolbochan: Crimea’s Liberator

On October 5, 2023, the Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) joins Ukrainians in Ukraine and around the world in commemorating Colonel Petro Bolbochan’s 140th birthday. The renowned Ukrainian military leader was one of the most talented army field commanders in Ukraine’s history. Bolbochan commanded Ukrainian troops in the legendary Crimean Operation of 1918, when the Ukrainian National Republic’s Army defeated the separatist Russian Bolshevik republic on the peninsula, and returned Crimea to Ukrainian rule.

Bolbochan was born in 1883 in the region of Bukovyna, then part of the Russian Empire. The future military commander embraced the Ukrainian national idea in his youth. He enrolled in the Infantry Yunker School in Chuhuiv, Kharkiv region, where he organized a Ukrainian club to popularize the language among the military youth. He was a soldier in the Russian Imperial Army when World War I broke out in 1914, and fought on the frontlines against Austro-Hungarian troops in Galicia for the next three years.

With the fall of the Russian Empire and the onset of the Ukrainian National Revolution in March 1917, Petro Bolbochan contributed to the organization of the Ukrainian army by enlisting volunteers from the 5th Corps of the Southwestern Front of the Russian Imperial Army. He commanded the 1st Ukrainian Republican Regiment, which submitted to the authority of the Central Rada in Kyiv at the end of December 1917.

With the outbreak of the First Soviet-Ukrainian War in January 1918, Colonel Bolbochan defended Kyiv against Russian Bolshevik troops, and then provided cover for the government of the Ukrainian National Republic when it fled from the capital city. After Ukraine concluded the Brest Peace Treaty with the Central Powers in February 1918, he commanded Ukrainian military units that liberated Kyiv, Poltava and eastern Ukrainian lands from Russian occupation.

In April 1918, Ukrainian armies received a secret order from the UNR government to seize Crimea ahead of the imminent German advance. The UNR Army formed a separate Crimean group for this purpose with Colonel Bolbochan as its commander. 

On April 18, 1918, the advance units of the Crimean Group engaged Russian Bolshevik forces in a fierce battle for the city of Melitopol. On April 22, Ukrainian troops forced their way across the Syvash Sea and liberated the city of Dzhankoi, the northernmost railway junction in Crimea, from the Bolsheviks. On April 24, Ukrainian troops entered the Crimean capital of Simferopol. On April 29, the ships of the Black Sea Fleet which were based in Sevastopol raised Ukrainian national flags.

Patriotic manifestation of sailors of the Ukrainian Black Sea Fleet

The historic Crimean Operation of 1918 was one of the most successful Ukrainian military actions during the 1917-1921 War of Independence, and Colonel Petro Bolbochan is rightly celebrated as a Ukrainian national hero.

Today, as Ukrainians fight for their country’s liberty, independence and sovereignty against the genocidal Russian military invasion, the events and heroes of the Ukrainian National Revolution of 1917-1921 are especially significant, as they inspire Ukraine’s courageous defenders and all Ukrainians.

Crimean Tatars also revere Petro Bolbochan as a hero. In 2023, his likeness is being as a symbol by the pro-Ukrainian insurgent forces whose actions in Crimea have intensified as the Armed Forces of Ukraine continue their approach towards the peninsula.

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