Blue and Yellow Cockades

In late 1918, in Felsőverecke (Verkhni Vorota) the local gendarmes interrogated a pro-Ukrainian Greek Catholic parson who was charged with anti-Hungarian propaganda. Felsőverecke (Verkhni Vorota) was one of the settlements whose community did not want to cooperate with the pro-Hungarian National Council of Hungarian Ruthenians. The interrogators’ report testifies to the fact that the suspect, when asked about his political beliefs, declared: if he is paid, he can similarly be a Hungarian or a Ukrainian.


In February 1919, Guthy Tódor, Secretary of State of Ruska Kraina ministry informed Augustin Stefan, Ruska Kraina governor in Munkács (Mukachevo) that a delegation visited him and complained about the police force in Huszt (Khust) using violence against the Ruthenians that wore blue and yellow cockades as a sign of their pro-Ukrainian beliefs.  Archive sources testify to the fact that this was not the only case. The governor took measures in the case as soon as he could.


The two stories above show that the emergence of the Ukrainian national idea among the Hungarian Ruthenians at the turn of 1918-1919 was a political issue requiring special attention. The separatist ambitions to unite with the Galician Ukrainians endangered Hungary’s fragile unity. Impetuous measures against the results of Ukrainian propaganda could easily lead to the fierce reaction of the unsatisfied population that lived in deep poverty.

On both sides of the Eastern Carpathians, the Eastern Slavonic population has been called the Ruthenians or the Rusyns for centuries. The essential difference between them was that while among the Galician Ruthenians the Ukrainian national revival process ran its course in the XIX century, the Ukrainian name of a nation was spread, among the Hungarian Ruthenians these did not happen. Even in early XX century scientists argued what should form the model of the Ruthenian literary language in Hungary – the Russian or the Ukrainian Literary language, or perhaps the vernacular. A great part of their history developed in a different state framework. Since their settlement after the XIII century, the Ruthenians living on the south-western slopes of the Eastern Carpathians were under the control of the Hungarian Kingdom. Those living on the north-eastern slopes of the same mountain range, who called themselves Ukrainians by XIX century, after the break-up of Kievan Rus fell under the control of Poland and only after late XVIII century were under the control of the Habsburg monarchy. However, it does not mean that there was an impenetrable wall along the Carpathian peaks that would hamper maintaining relationships. Now think about it, Kőrösmező (Yasinia), one of the major north-eastern Hungary centres of the Ukrainian movement, was 150 kilometres closer to the Galician Stanislav (now Ivano-Frankivsk) than to Ungvár (Uzhhorod), the centre of the Ruthenian cultural organizations. It is natural that sooner or later the Ukrainian national idea had to come to the minds of people living on the territories that were under the Hungarian control. These processes were naturally strengthened by the war-time collapse starting in WWI autumn 1918, weakening of Hungary’s sovereignty, intense dissatisfaction of the Ruthenian population and, as a result, taking root of the Ukrainian identity in Verkhovyna.

These processes occurred under favourable conditions as far as the Ukrainian state-forming attempts started first in 1917 to the East of the Carpathians along the Dnipro River, then from autumn 1918 in Galicia. The Ruthenian National Councils that were formed in the Szepes County Ólublón (Stará Ľubovňa), Máramaros (Maramureș) County Kőrösmező (Yasinia), as well as in Szolyva (Svalyava) placed faith already in the unfolding new Ukrainian statehood. On 8 November 1918, the election of the president of the Hutsul People’s Assembly a war-time veteran Stepan Klochurak happened with blue and yellow decorations. On 1 November 1918, the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic was proclaimed and its interim Constitution specified the desired borders of the state, including, as they called them „former” Hungarian counties: Szepes, Sáros, Zemplén, Ung, Ugocsa, Bereg, Máramaros (Maramureș).

At the turn of 1918-1919 Count Mihály Károlyi government tried to balance these Ukrainian ambitions. Propagandists walked in the highland settlements and popularized Ruszka Krajna (Ruska Kraina) autonomy. Szarvady Kálmán, a newspaper editor from Huszt (Khust) took part in this work as well. In December 1918 he wrote, somewhat bitterly, that due to the Ruthenians’ former insults “they hope to get remedy for their situation only from a country that would set no limits to the use of their mother tongue, freedom of worship, cultural and economic success, where the government authority would give no empty promises, but protect them from the brutality of administrative, forestry, and gendarmerie officers. This is what they imagine Ukraine to be.” However, the propagandist journalist did not consider the situation hopeless, he did not think the Ruthenians were committed enough towards the Ukrainian statehood not to be able to counterbalance their commitment with proper measures. He advised changing the district administrators, notaries, pastors, foresters as soon as possible for the new state officials to improve the judgement that had been formed towards the Hungarian authority. In the highland, leaflets were distributed calling the Hungarian state “foreign” and “hostile” for the Ruthenians. The most important, of course, was whether they would manage to win over the people having some kind of influence and credibility among the Rusyns for them to stand by their contingent pro-Ukrainian views in practice.

However, leaflets and enthusiastic advocates were not the only means to carry into effect the pro-Ukrainian idea. The two military formations of the West Ukrainian People’s Republic crossed the passes on two different territories. In early January, at the time of Orthodox Christmas, Galician armed men assisted in the uprising against the Hungarian garrison. As a result, they proclaimed the Hutsul People’s Republic, then moved on to the southern part of Máramaros (Maramureș) County where the Romanian occupation that started in January as well blocked their attempt. The Hutsul rebels, though strengthened with the Galician armed men, had to withdraw to the villages surrounding Kőrösmező (Yasinia).

An armoured train of the Ukrainian Galician Army reached Chop in Ung County without any serious resistance; in Mukachevo they even had time to fly a Ukrainian flag on top of some buildings. Eventually, the local chief constable of the county and Kutkafalvy Miklós, Bereg County government commissioner and Lord Lieutenant arranged for them to be disarmed and they had to go back beyond the Carpathians. Other Ukrainian expansion attempts were stopped by the coming Czechoslovakian army. The Ukrainian generalship decided not to risk their troops’ disarmament or preventive detention by crossing the Carpathian passes. It is worthy of note that due to the Polish expansion, the western Ukrainian army leaders were forced into Stanislav and disappointedly informed Stepan Kochurak from Kőrösmező (Yasinia) that the Rusyn population from around Szolyva (Svalyava) actively participated in driving out of Galician soldiers from Bereg County. The fact that by January 1919 the Galician troops could not stay on the territory of future Transcarpathia did not prevent adherents of the pro-Ukrainian political movement, namely the people’s assembly consisting of several hundred delegates to proclaim Hungarian Ruthenians’ joining the “Great Ukraine” on 21 January in Huszt (Khust). A day later the union of Pridnieper Ukrainian People’s Republic and the Galician West Ukrainian People’s Republic was proclaimed in Kyiv, the latter including the north-eastern Hungarian counties. Ukrainian High Authority did not happen in the desired Hungarian counties.

The Ukrainian issue appeared at the diplomatic level as well. On 29 December 1918 at the Council of Ministers of the Hungarian Republic Prime Minister Mihály Károlyi told that “a Ukrainian envoy” visited him and informed that “he knows for certain that the Romanians are gathering around Czernowitz (Chernivtsi) to occupy the north-eastern Ruthenian territories. He asked whether the Hungarian government would defend the Ruthenian territories against the Romanians. He also asked what the government would say if the Ukrainians occupied the territories and they promised the final decision would depend on a referendum”. Count Mihály Károlyi told he would reply later, however, he emphasized that “the Hungarian government would equally protest against any occupation”. Oszkár Jászi, on the other hand, said, “It would not be bad if the Ukrainians occupied the territory instead of the Romanians. If the northern territories were in the hands of not only the Czechs and the Romanians but also the Polish and the Ukrainians, it would mean a tactical advantage for us.” Károlyi held negotiations with the Galician Ukrainian National Council in mid-November 1918, a trade treaty was signed, moreover, the Ukrainian party voiced the suggestion they would willingly see Hungarian officers lead their troops. Since 1918, the West Ukrainian People’s Republic was represented in Budapest by the monarchy’s ex-officer Yaroslav Biberovich. The primary task of the former soldier, now a diplomat was to guarantee undisturbed trade between Austria and the West Ukrainian People’s Republic via Hungary. Numerous sources testify to the relations between the Hungarian Republic and the Galician Ukrainian state. For instance, on 23 January 1919, two days after the Ukrainian soldiers were driven out of Bereg County and the above-mentioned congress in Huszt (Khust), the Hungarian Council of Ministers voted to give the western Ukrainians three wagons of ammunition in exchange for oil.

In late January 1919, the Hungarian Republic accredited the United Ukrainian People’s Republic’s extraordinary diplomatic mission in Budapest. The delegation was led by a young diplomat Mykola Galagan. After arriving in Budapest, the Ukrainian diplomat soon had the opportunity to negotiate with Mihály Károlyi who was already the president of the People’s Republic at the time. Their negotiation touched upon several issues including Mihály Károlyi’s suggestion that The Ukrainian People’s Republic should renounce their demand of the Hungarian counties populated by the Rusyns. Galagan’s reply to the suggestion was that according to the Wilson principles the population of the north-eastern counties should decide on the outcome via a referendum. On the last day of February 1919, Minister of Commerce of Hungary informed the Hungarian government of his negotiations with the Ukrainians. He told that his condition for signing the trade treaty was that the Ukrainians publicly renounce their demand of the Rusyn territories. The Ukrainian delegate answered he was ready for a confidential, non-public agreement in the course of a negotiation with the president of the republic. We are not aware of whether the negotiations occurred or not, however, we know that in early March the Galician press informed of coming into force of the signed trade treaty between the Hungarian and the Ukrainian parties.

Ukrainian-Hungarian diplomatic relations were maintained further on at the time of the Hungarian Soviet Republic and after its fall. However, after the spring of 1919, the territories populated by the Rusyns could not be the subject of Ukrainian-Hungarian disputes. As a result of the peace conference, the territory went to Czechoslovakia and the pro-Ukrainian Ruthenian organizations accepted it when faced with the situation. In the Czechoslovakian period, pro-Ukrainian views intensified among the Rusyns and one of its well-known manifestations was the establishment of the short-lived Carpathian Ukraine in 1939. The Treaty of Riga in 1921 put an end to the Ukrainian state-forming attempts after WWI when newly-formed Poland and Soviet Russia divided the Pridnieper and the Galician territories. Although after WWII these territories were within one country, building an independent Ukrainian state, after the post-WWI attempts, only started 70 years later, in the late XX century.


Imre Szakál,
historian, lecturer, research staff member
Ferenc Rákóczi II Transcarpathian Hungarian College of Higher Education

This work is the fifth part in the collection of articles “The hundred-year-old Transcarpathia” initiated by Tivadar Lehoczky Social Sciences Research Centre of Ferenc Rákóczi II Transcarpathian Hungarian College of Higher Education.