Vasyl I Vyshyvanyi

From Kaiserreich


Wilhelm Franz von Habsburg-Lothringen (born on February 10 1895 in Austria) is an Austrian archduke and current King of Ukraine, with the name of Vasyl I Vyshyvanyi.

Early Life

Archduke Wilhelm was the youngest son of Archduke Karl Stephan and Archduchess Maria Theresia, Princess of Tuscany. He was born in Pula, Austria, on February 10 1895. Accommodating the nineteenth century rise of nationalism, Archduke Karl Stephan decided that his branch of the Habsburg family would adopt a Polish identity and would combine a loyalty to their Habsburg family with a loyalty to Poland. Accordingly, he had his two children learn Polish from an early age and tried to instill in them a sense of Polish patriotism. His oldest son became a Polish officer and his two younger daughters married into the Polish noble families of Radziwill and Czartoryski.

Wilhelm, the youngest child, rebelled, and came to identify with the Poles' traditional rivals, the Ukrainians. He developed a fascination with Ukrainian culture, and as a youth escaped from his family's estate, travelling incognito to Hutsul villages in the nearby Carpathian mountains. This interest in the relatively impoverished Ukrainian people earned him the nickname of the "Red Prince". Eventually the Habsburgs came to accept and encourage this interest, and he was groomed by them to take a leadership role amongst the Ukrainian people in a manner similar to the one in which his father and older brother were to take amongst the Habsburgs' Polish subjects.

Activities in Ukrainian Nation-building

Eventually approved by his father, his as well as his father's ambition became for Wilhelm to become the King of Ukraine. Despite his youth, he played an important historical role. As a member of the Habsburg imperial house he came to work closely with Ukrainian deputies to the parliament of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in an effort to gain more rights for the Ukrainian minority, serving as a liaison between the Ukrainian community leaders and Austria's emperor Karl I. During the Weltkrieg he commanded a detachment of Ukrainians from Halychyna, serving as a Lieutenant with the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen. During the German and Austrian occupation of Ukraine in 1918, he commanded a Ukrainian Sich Riflemen regiment stationed in Southern Ukraine.

During the time of his stay in Southern Ukraine, Wilhelm became the focal point of a quiet struggle between the two allies, Austria-Hungary and the German Empire, for the future of Ukraine which they both occupied. The Habsburgs hoped for Ukraine to be a politically self-sufficient ally in order to counter German power. Accordingly, they planned for Wilhelm to eventually become Ukraine's king and supported his efforts to gain popularity among Ukraine's people as well as to promote Ukrainian patriotism. The Germans, on the other hand, were primarily concerned with obtaining grain, and supported Pavlo Skoropadsky's rule.

Promoted to the rank of captain, Wilhelm was made commander of "Battle Group Archduke Wilhelm," created by the Emperor Karl I, and provided with approximately 4,000 Ukrainian soldiers and officers under his command. His troops occupied a small area near the site of the old Zaporozhian Sich, and were tasked with supporting the Ukrainian national cause in any way possible. This was done by screening officials by ethnicity, creating a newspaper, and engaging in cultural work with local peasants. Wilhelm mixed easily with the local peasants, who admired his ability to live simply like his soldiers. Within Wilhelm's personal occupation zone, peasants were allowed to keep the lands that they had taken from the landlords in 1917, and Wilhelm prevented the Habsburg armed forces from requisitioning grain. Ukrainians who had resisted requisitioning elsewhere - including those who had killed German or Austrian soldiers - were given refuge within Wilhelm's territory. These actions outraged Germany and Austrian officials in Kiev, but increased his popularity among local Ukrainians, who referred to him as affectionately as "Prince Vasyl".

King of Ukraine

Thanks to help from his father, who persauded the Austrian Emperor of the loyalty of his son, the Austrian managed to impose Wilhelm on the Germans: he was crowned King of Ukraine with the name of Vasyl I Vyshyvanyi.

As a King he struggled to improve the conditions of his countrymen, but he couldn't rely on any help from Austria-Hungary, as the Dual Monarchy was facing harsh times and couldn't spare any resources. Unfortunately for him, the internal struggle of the Monarchy led to even harder consequences for him. When the renegotiation of the Ausgleich in 1927 came to a deadlock and Germany had to step in and mediate, the price asked by the Germans was the transfer of power in Ukraine from the King to the Hetman, Pavlo Skoropadsky. Since then, Wilhelm has been slowly relagated as a marginal figure in Ukranian politics, even if he still has the support of the people.

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