Course Content

Total learning: 15 lessons Time: 1 semester

Browse topics by week:  0/13

Week 9. Russian Ukraine Between National Self-Determination, German Occupation, and Bolshevik Triumph: The Failed Experiment

This class will tackle the case of Russian Ukraine, the quintessential example of the tensions between the nationally and socially oriented agendas at the Russian periphery. The Ukrainian story is also emblematic for the widespread political turmoil, social disruption, and chaos brought about by the war and its aftermath. Finally, Russian Ukraine is important as a test case for confirming the assumption that violence was far from subsiding after the formal cessation of hostilities in November 1918. In fact, Ukraine became, in the immediate aftermath of WWI, the classical ‘playground’ for an all-encompassing power struggle between different factions, warlords, and ideological currents, a feature characteristic for the ‘small wars’ in Eastern Europe. This class will focus, first, on the war aims, plans, and occupation policies of the Central Powers concerning Russian Ukraine in the later phase of the war. Just as in the case of the North-Western borderlands, the limits of German (and Austrian) empire-building in the East will be emphasized. Second, the various experiments in state- and nation-building on Ukrainian territory between 1917 and 1920 will be examined. The strategies employed by the multiple actors on the ground in order to (ethnically and socially) mobilize the peasant masses will be analyzed. Finally, in order to disentangle the complicated story of failed (and successful) state-building projects in Ukraine, particular attention will be devoted to the role of personalities and to some representative biographies of the main historical figures involved (e.g., Mykhailo Hrushevs’kyi, Pavlo Skoropads’kyi, Wilhelm von Habsburg, and Symon Petlyura).


  • Von Hagen, War in a European Borderland, chapters 3 (“The Ukrainian Adventure of the Central Powers”), 54-71, and 5 (“The German Occupation of Ukraine, 1918”), 87-114.
  • Velychenko, State Building in Revolutionary Ukraine, “The Ukrainian State, April to December 1918”, 105-119, and “The Directory, December 1918 to November 1919”, 120-150.
  • *Snyder, The Red Prince, chapters: “Prince at Arms”, 77-98, and “Shadow Kings,” 99-120.