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Archduke Wilhelm von Österreich-Toskana
The Tale of Basil the Embroidered

The Archduke Wilhelm was born on 10 February 1895, in Pola.   He was the third son of Archduke Karl Stefan, who was the chief candidate to be King of Poland from 1915-1918.  Apparently, Archduke Wilhelm ended his studies at the Maria Theresa Military Academy to become an officer in the Ulanenregiment Nr. 13 in 1915. Toward the end of WWI,  he commanded a brigade of the "Ukrainische Legion" which consisted of Ruthenes from Galicia, by mid-1918, its name was changed to the "Ukrainian Sich Rifles" as an historic link to the proud Sich cossacks of the hetman days before the Russian suppression 150 years earlier.

During this period, he became known as Vasily Vyshyvaniy (Vasyl Vyshyvany, Vyshyvannyi, Wyschiwanni, and other spellings), "Basil the Embroidered," to his friends and supporters, and he spoke fluent Ukrainian and had intimate knowledge of the Ruthenes' culture.  After the war, he took Vyshyvaniy as his personal name, dropping his Habsburg affiliation all together.

The King of the Ukraine?

For a short time, there was a rumour that he schould become king of the country; this dated from early spring 1918, when the Germans were searching for a suitable candidate to be king of the Ukraine.  Soon, this scheme ran contrary to the Germans' support for the new Hetman, Pavel Skoropadsky, who in May and June sent many letters to both German ambassador Mumm and to Kaiser Wilhelm insisting that the Archduke should be removed from the country.  In fact, Kaiser Wilhelm personally looked into the matter, which, thanks to the ever-exanding rumours, became known as the "Archduke Wilhelm Affair." But German Ambassador Mumm believed the Archduke's continued presence was a good source of pressure on the unreliable Hetman.
Austrian officers review the 1. Ukrainian Division, soon to be called the "Sich Rifles," in July 1918. It came under command of the Directorate of Simeon Petlyura in 1919. And then it fell to Polish control in winter 1920 when that country invaded the Ukraine and occupied Kiev, driving out the bolsheviks.  However, reversals in the spring of 1920 caused Petlyura to be driven to Kamienetz on the Polish border.  The Peace of Riga in Dec. 1920  demanded the independent Ukrainian army be disbanded.
A Colonel of the Sich

He remained in the small Ukrainian force even after the Germans evacuated the Ukraine in November and December 1918.  The Directorate of Simeon Petlyura formed the Sich Rifles out of the few battalions of the Ukrainian national army, but they were too small a force to compete with the Red Army.  Throughout 1919, Basil was stationed in Kameniec Podolski, on the Polish frontier.  Basil's rank was that of a colonel in the Sich Rifles. 

By March 1920, it became clear to him that Petlyura and the movement was totally in the power of the Polish government, especially once the Polish army occupied Kiev, and formed a Polish military administration.  The disastrous offensive in May 1920 by the Red Army of General Budënny threw the Polish-Ukrainian alliance out of Kiev and drove them beyond Lemberg.  It was obvious that the independent Ukrainian movement was all but dead on the battlefield.
Official portrait of Col. Wilhelm Habsburg, of the Ukraine Sich Rifles (Y.C.C.), 1918
Archduke Wilhelm in the uniform of a Ukrainian colonel, 1920.
Hope Abounds: The Freikorps Period

Basil fled through Poland to Germany, along with his fellow officers in the Sich rifles.  He took up residence in Munich and soon opened an office for Ukrainian nationals in Germany, whose chief objective was the restoration of an independent Ukrainian state.  Even though conditions in the city were anything but favourable for financial or military support, at least Basil could count on moral support from the Freikorps and former veterans of the German occupation.  He immediately came into contact with Theodor Freiherr von Cramer-Klett, a Munich industrialist who founded the “Aufbau” (Reconstruction) organisation, which was supposed to help companies lobby for better business relations with the German government but soon became the focal point for right-wing nationalist groups of all kinds, including Basil’s Free Ukraine movement, and the National Socialists. 

By winter 1921, Basil’s ambition for a new Ukraine was financed by a group of supporters who also aided an eclectic range of eastern personalities kicking around Munich without employment. Among them were Prince Cyril Romanov, the last claimant to the throne of Russia; Max von Scheubner-Richter, leading Baltic German who encouraged the Freikorps to fight in Latvia for "Baltikum" in 1919; General Biskupski, Polish-Russian general who attempted to unify Poland and Ukraine in May 1920; Ivan Poltavetz-Ostranitza, fellow colonel in the Sich rifles and self-proclaimed “Last True Cossack”; and General "Prince" Paul Avalov-Bermondt, the Russian adventurer who tried to keep the Freikorps mission in Latvia alive as an anti-bolshevik struggle in the last months of 1919 and early 1920.

Anyway, a campaign drive by Basil's supporters for "Free Ukraine" in spring 1921 yielded 2 million Mark, which was not a vast amount at that time, but still significant for southern Germany. Other monies were sent his way, all in the name of overthrowing at least a small part of the general post-war settlement.  In June 1921, Basil publicly commissioned General Biskupski to form a new Ukrainian volunteer army on Bavarian soil for an expected return to war against the bolsheviks.

In return, the Aufbau organisation and its member businesses expected financial compensation for their patronage, namely control of the industrial concessions in the Ukraine. In September 1921, Biskupski contacted Hungary to purchase horses for the Ukrainian army. Basil busied himself by establishing recruiting centers in Berlin and other centres of Ukrainian and Russian anti-bolshevik refugees. General Erich Ludendorff appeared at some of Basil’s recruitment drives, denouncing bolshevism and the Versailles Treaty. 

The movement was compromised by its leaders.  For example, Poltavetz-Ostranitza helped campaign among the emigres for volunteers, and some of the Aufbau members approached him to take charge and use the small Ukrainian army in Bavaria to overthrow the Austrian Republic as the first step in undoing the revolutions that swept across Europe.  General Biskupski had a strange fantasy of launching a new two-prong invasion of Soviet Russia, one from the north, consisting of the Freikorps, émigré Russians, and monarchist supporters of the Romanovs, all under the command of General Avalov-Bermondt, while Basil launched an attack on the Ukraine in the south with his new volunteer army. 

Basil soon realised he was dealing less with capable men and more with defeated day-dreamers.  The whole idea of a massive combined invasion was all but impossible, even from an ideological point of view: Baltikum, Imperial Russia, and Free Ukraine could never exist side-by-side, and everybody knew it.  It was simply a ploy by Aufbau members to get manpower on their side.

The Free Ukraine volunteer army languished around Munich and lesser Bavarian cities for several months until the German government ordered them to disband in early 1922, sending Reichswehr officers to ensure the Russians and Ukrainians did not revolt.  Shortly thereafter, the Rapallo Treaty between Soviet Russia and Germany was signed.  It would seem that a precondition for rapproachement between the two states involved defanging Basil’s Free Ukrainian movement, as well as the Russian monarchists.  Bail decided to learn a trade, as his financial support from Aufbau was suddenly cut off—Ludendorff managed to get the funds transferred to the National Socialists.

Lest the Ukraine Be Forgotten

From 1925 to 1929, Basil lived in Spain and worked as an estate agent. Then, returned to Austria.   He kept constant contact with the Ukrainian exiles across Europe and participated in most efforts to raise the prestige of the Ukrainian cause, as it was being assaulted by the four countries in which Ukrainian territory was occupied.  Poland was plainly hostile to the Ukrainians in Eastern Galicia; their favourite method of rounding up nationalists was to burst into Ukrainian churches on Christmas and Easter, when the police figured suspects would be together celebrating mass. In Rumania, the government forbade all Ukrainian culture in Bukovina and Bessarabia.  In Czechoslovakia, the administration of their eastern Carpatho-Ukraine was so backward that famine and plague struck annually and their suffering was unlike anything in central Europe.  Finally, Soviet Ukraine was a centre of total war by the communists on the peasants and the intellectuals.

Basil responded to the man-made famine of 1932-1933 by supporting campaigns in Vienna and other countries to pressure the Soviets to relent.  An International Committee to Help the Hungry in Ukraine was founded in Paris, in response to appeals of the Greek-Catholic Episcopate in Ukraine, headed by Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky. The committee included many distinguished foreigners, as well as as "Vasyl Vyshyvany, a member of the Ukrainian Riflemen of the Sitch," as the Ukrainian language newspaper Svoboda reported in October 1933.

The Mysterious End of Basil the Embroidered

Basil's "exile" was still Vienna.  He was kept under surveillance by the Gestapo after 1938 because he had connections to Ukrainian people; this was now a problem for the Nazi's new policy of courting the Hungarians and later the Soviets by denouncing the Ukrainians' nationalism (the Nazis were the biggest supporters of the Ukrainians until this time).  His surveillance was particularly intruding during WWII, during which time the Reichskommissar in the Ukraine persecuted the people and even sang praise of Stalin's brutal engineere famine and collectivization during the 1930s, something which outraged Basil, as he had been a supporter for the Ukrainian hungry and his campaign had received valuable assistance and information from Berlin at the time.

Basil was living in Vienna when the Red Army entered toward the end of the war.  In 1947, the Soviets brought him to Kiev, where he supposedly died in 1949 or 1950, according to the Red Cross. However, some Austrian POW witnesses insist that he died in 1955 in Vladimir Volynski, after suffering the worst persecution and privations by his jailers. 

GWS, 10/01 [rev. 9/05]