The spring of 1917 was warm and beautiful. That spring we planted very little grain because all the fields were full of trenches, roads, barbed wire, cables and telephone lines. Russian troops fighting in foreign lands were unaware that in their own country grew chaos and great dissatisfaction. Then, one day as if a bolt of lightening struck the front lines, Tsar Nicholas was removed from power and Kerensky took control of the country. In honour of Kerensky, Russian army started organizing parades and raising threatening cries against the Tsar. In Jezierna a huge military revue parade was held with all sorts of weaponry and services.
Belgian soldiers were fighting in this war as outcasts on the side of the Russian army against the Austrians and the Germans. A large military airfield was build for their air force on the meadows belonging to the Bogdanówka manor. Passionate speeches were spoken at this airfield about freedom and peace, although Kerensky did not think about ending the war. Soon regiments of Russian storm troopers started arriving at the Jezierna train station from where they were channeled to the front lines.
At the same time a Czech division led by Jan Surovy (later a Czech general) moved into Bogdanówka. This division was created in Russia from the prisoners of the former Austrian army. They wanted to fight for their freedom at the side of the Russians against Austria. Some of the soldiers from this division were very unruly.They stole whatever they could, abused civilian people, cooked chickens in the Sykora’s chapel and even slept on the altar there.
Soon after a Finnish Steel division, in Russia regarded as the best soldiers, also arrived in our area as well as a new cavalry brigade of slant-eyed Kalmyk’s. With such a concentration of troops, there was no question that the war was not about to end.
One morning Austrian planes bombed the railway station and the supply base in Jezierna. On their way back they flew over Bogdanówka and opened fire from the machine guns, but dropped only one bomb on the supply wagons in Ferluk’s garden. It must have been one remaining bomb from the Jezierna bombardment.
There was a much larger movement of troops taking place far behind the present front lines where Kerensky was in a process of preparing a large-scale offensive.
Time was slowly passing as summer harvest was approaching in this chaos. We were met with yet another unfortunate event, our only mare died. The horse was sick for four days while a Russian officer was trying to save her, without success. I cried over this horse as I would over my own mother. The carcass laid in the stables and we could not move it alone. My mother went and asked some officer for help. He ordered couple of soldiers to remove the dead animal from the barn. The mare, which was dead for two days now, went stiff and it was difficult to push her through the door. Theses bastards destroyed a good part of the barn wall before they dragged the carcass to the animal burial ground. I remember, my mother lamenting over this beautiful mare, which was the breadwinner for our family. We lost our only horse needed to haul whatever the miserable harvest we had from the fields. We improvised by making a small cart with which we moved all the grain to our barn, fifteen sheaves at a time.
Harvest was still in full swing when the Russians initiated their powerful offensive. On the eve of the offensive, Russian soldiers build an altar in the middle of Mr. Olender’s orchard, where they celebrated a Mass and listened to a very patriotic sermon. They then sang a prayer and a new song, which was born during the Kerensky reign;
“Padią bratcy towarysze na Załotu Goru,
My oddadim za swabodu charoszu żyźn swaju”.
[Companion brothers will go to the Golden Mountain, We will give our good life for freedom.]
From the Czech division that went to the front only a few survivors came back. Of the fifty men who stayed in our barn, seven returned. Their leader, Jan Surovy lost one eye in that battle. When a young Czech soldier was asked, ‘where are the others?’ He just raised his hand and pointed up to the sky. Their dead were buried in the fields near Prysow, where in 1928 or maybe in 1929 during the Polish reign, a mausoleum was built in their memory.
After several days of murderous Russian offensive, the German and Austrian army counterattacked and broke the Russian front over a large area. Russian troops begun retreating again beyond the Seret River. They took their supplies and everything else they could in a hurry, and what they could not take, they either burned or blew up with dynamite.
A large warehouse, standing beside Mr. Shaygin, Żurawel and Jan Olender houses, was supposed to be torched as well by the Cossacks. Several desperate women started begging them not to do it because the fire would not only destroy the warehouse, but their buildings would catch fire. Here again the Russians showed their human side. Cossack officer looked at all the women and said;
“I understand, but what can I do when our commandant gave us such an order?”
He thought for a moment and then told the people to take everything from the warehouse so that nothing would be left for the Germans. To simulate the fire, he told us to bring some straw, all the empty barrels from oil and herrings and dump it in the nearby garden. He then set it on fire and threw couple of smoke bombs into it. Black column of smoke billowed high into the sky. The officer laughing, said to the women;
“I did it, so you can remember me as a good man.”
He then mounted a horse, slapped his high boot with a whip and rode with the Cossacks over the bridge towards Daniłowce.
We were very pleased with the Russians retreating, because maybe now our father will return, from whom we had no news because he was far away fighting at another front.
In the meantime the battles raged and both fighting armies were coming towards our village like the wraiths. Fighting over the Jackowce fields was very fierce and lasted all day long. Russian second line of defense was in the trenches that were dug in 1915 on our field known as Góra (Hill) and Ścieżka (Path). Fierce fighting begun around nine o’clock in the morning, Russian troops started retreating from our village as German troops approached. Bullets were whistling, explosions everywhere, as we were hiding in the ditches and trenches. Fortunately, the front did not stop here and the fighting ended about four o’clock in the afternoon. Russians retreated, leaving 36 dead and many wounded on the battlefield. Next day an Austrian officer gave an order to bury all the dead Russians and to collect all the weapons left on the battle field. The dead were buried in two mass graves of eighteen in each in the Bogdanówka cemetery.
Germans were buried in Jackowce cemetery together with those who were killed the previous day on the Jackowce fields.
The front again stopped for a while over the River Seret. Both sides were pretty exhausted, so no one was engaging in an offensive action. Russian soldiers who were still in Galicia, could see that there was little sense for them to shed any more of their blood. After some time a small truce and ceasefire was negotiated. It was a clear indication that everyone had enough of fighting.
The unrest in Russia however, was growing from day to day. Some were calling for the tsar to come back to the throne while others supported Kerensky, and still others Lenin. Some generals created their personal armies to fight against each other. Everyone was right in their own way, but no one knew whom to join and what to fight for. The soldiers hearing of this discontent and division within Russia, started deserting and fighting their way back home. Austria and Germany took advantage of this internal strife and entered Ukraine without a fight. They started taking whatever they could from Ukraine and shipping it from Odessa and Constance to the port of Trieste as reinforcements to the weakening Italian and French front. Germans were even stripping black soil from the fertile Ukrainian lands and transporting it by trains to Germany. Thousands of coffins, supposedly containing dead German soldiers, were filled with bacon and taken by rail through Poland to the fatherland. Despite these benefits, it did not do much good for Austria or Germany.
Autumn of 1917 was generally calm in our area. Armed forces did not stay for long, but sometimes a battalion or two would stop briefly on their march to the East. All the horses and cattle were taken from our village except for one cow that was left per family. People had to work their fields with picks and spades and pull the harrows by hand.
Translated by John Janiga