Khotin Uprising

The Khotin Uprising was an insurrection by Ukrainians in northern Bessarabia less than a year after its Union with the Romanian Kingdom, on January 23–February 1, 1919. The city of Khotin (Ukrainian: Хотин, Khotyn, Romanian: Hotin) is located now in the Chernivtsi Oblast, Ukraine.

Historical context

In 1918 the town of Khotin was annexed to Greater Romania, along with the rest of Bessarabia, after its representative body (Sfatul Țării) voted to join Romania. Bessarabia had been part of the Russian Empire since the Treaty of Bucharest (1812). The Khotin region (The Northern part of the Khotin/Hotin County) had acquired a large Ukrainian population during the 19th century by migration from neighboring Podolia,[citation needed] and many villages became almost entirely Ukrainian. Before 1713, the region was part of Moldavia, which is why Romania made claims to the region.

Romanian occupation

During World War I fighting in the region, Austria-Hungary had occupied most of the Khotyn/Hotin county in late 1917 and early 1918. While, the rest of Bessarabia was under Romanian control from the vote in Sfatul Țării on April 9, 1918, the region occupied by Austrian troops remained under Austrian control. The Romanian troops took control of it only when the Central Powers were defeated. They entered the city on November 10, 1918,[1] just after Romania re-entered the war on the side of the Allies and were met with active resistance[citation needed] of the Ukrainian population and the official protest from the Ukrainian State, which also laid claim on it. The area's swift occupation by the Romanian troops was largely supported by the Entente that considered Romania instrumental for stopping the spreading of Bolshevism towards the south-Eastern Europe.

The Ukrainian population saw the Ukrainian People's Republic whose lands where just across the Dniester River as the solution to their strive for self-determination. However, the UPR was involved at the time in an armed conflict with the Bolshevik forces, while the West Ukrainian People's Republic, another nascent Ukrainian state to the north of the region, was at the time involved in a war with Poland which eventually crushed the Western Ukrainian statehood attempt. Both conflicts involved all of the Ukrainian military forces, and none could be spared to start yet another armed conflict with Romania.

The Uprising

The first task of the Romanian force was to suppress and harass the Ukrainian population who saw little future for themselves in the Kingdom of Romania.[2] Such policies only radicalised the opposition and in the night of January 23 the population of Khotin rose into armed rebellion. By the morning the city was cleared of Romanian forces and in two following days the entire district was seized by the partisans. The power was assumed by a newly created 5-member Khotyn Directory (head - M. Liskun, secretary - L. Tokan),[3] that proclaimed the right of self-determination for the Bessarabians and "overthrowing of the Romanian yoke". The directory of UNR has sent to the uprising its representative I. Maevki, and helped them with weapons. Three regiments were created, centered in three villages: Rukshin, Anadol, Dankovtsi.

Seeing little chance to obtain any assistance from the nascent Ukrainian states they had to rely on their own in an attempt to liberate themselves from Romanian rule. The rebel force quickly grew to almost 30,000 people organized into three infantry regiments, a cavalry squadron and an artillery squadron.[4]

While Khotyn region were regarded as of secondary importance by the Romanian authorities until the uprising, the killing of Romanian general Stan Poetaş in the village of Atachi, a northern suburb of Khotyn, the highest ranking Romanian officer killed during World War I, has awakened them to the importance of the territory. A week later, major forces of the Romanian army arrived to the area in order to quell the rebellion. The rebels could not succeed against the well-organized regular army equipped with the modern ammunition, partly provided by the Entente. The Ukrainians retreated towards the Dniester River still hoping to receive some assistance from the UPR; the latter, however, facing the critical situation in the war with the Bolshevik forces was unable to provide any. Romanian Army re-took control of the region on February 1, 1919. Facing tremendous losses from the overwhelming Romanian force, the guerrillas rushed across the river followed by the refugees. About 4,000 fighters and up to 50,000 refugees crossed into Ukraine during the 12 days of the uprising.[5] Most of them returned several months later, when the Romanian authorities, under pressure from local Ukrainian civilians whose husbands fled, declared an amnesty.


The plight of those who remained was miserable. The number of people killed in action or executed by Romanian authorities is estimated to be up to 15,000.[4] During the reign of terror that followed, dozens of Ukrainian villages in Bukovina were set on fire (Рукшин, Недобоївці, Ширівці, Ставчани, Керстенці, etc.)[3][6] and razed to the ground[citation needed]. The plunder by the Romanian army was accompanied by a large scale maraudering,[6] torture[citation needed] and rape.[citation needed]

Until 1940, when the area was ceded to the Soviet Union following the Soviet Ultimatum to Romania, the authorities implemented a policy of forced Romanianization of the Ukrainian population.

The Romanian historian Ion Nistor ascribed the revolt partly to the Bolshevik agitation, trying to minimize the role of the anti-Ukrainian actions of the Romanian Troops in the region.[7] However, the rebels were separated from Bolshevik forces by the lands of the UPR which was involved in its own armed conflict with the Bolsheviks.