Lukianivske Cemetery Kiev, City of Kiev, Ukraine
Archduke Wilhelm Franz of Austria, later Wilhelm Franz von Habsburg-Lothringen (10 February 1895 – 18 August 1948), also known as Vasyl Vyshyvani was an Austrian archduke, a colonel of the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen, and a poet. Archduke Wilhelm of Austria adopted Ukraine as his country and tried to become its King after the Russian Revolution.
Wilhelm was born on the Adriatic in 1895 into a family that went back to 1273 when his ancestor, Rudolf, became Holy Roman Emperor. In the fifteenth century the Habsburgs made marriages which brought them control over Hungary, Bohemia, southern Italy, the Low Countries and Spain, the latter subsequently bringing with it one of the largest colonial empires in the world. In the sixteenth century, the family married into the Polish royal family as well, acquiring extensive territories in Galicia and the western Ukraine.
He was the youngest son of Archduke Karl Stephan and Archduchess Maria Theresia, Princess of Tuscany. Wilhelm’s father suggested that various members of the Habsburg family should adopt one or other of the nations and become King of that. He hoped to become King of Poland. His eldest son, Archduke Karl Albrecht of Austria-Teschen, who shared this ambition, married a formidable Swedish aristocrat, Alice Elisabeth Ankarcrona, and became as Polish as any Pole—being subsequently tortured by the Gestapo for his trouble. Wilhelm latched onto the Ukraine.
As a junior officer in the Austrian Army during the First World War, Wilhelm fought in the famous Galician campaign in 1916 where many of his troops were Ukrainian. He thought they were excellent soldiers and they returned his respect. He spoke flawless Ukrainian, enjoyed the manly camaraderie of the camp-fire, and wore an embroidered Ukrainian shirt underneath his field-grey battledress. He earned the nick-name Vasyl Vyshyvanyi or Embroidered Vasily. The Austrian Emperor Karl, who had succeeded the elderly Franz Joseph in 1916, consulted his cousin Wilhelm personally on Ukrainian policy, which became very important after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russian in 1917.
By the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, in March 1918, the Germans occupied the northern half of Ukraine and the Austrians the southern half. The latter, partly on Wilhelm’s advice, adopted a policy that was designed to fulfil Ukrainian aspirations to nationhood, admittedly under Austrian supervision. By contrast, the German aim was only to fill German stomachs with Ukrainian food, requisitioned from the peasantry by local forces under the control of a slightly sinister Ukrainian monarchist called Pavel Skoropadsky.
Wilhelm’s dream of greater power, which was shared by Emperor Karl, was destroyed by the German collapse in late 1918. Austria had to withdraw and the Ukraine became a battleground between Red and White Russians, a situation he deplored but could do nothing about. He spent much of the rest of his life engaged in Ukrainian affairs.
Eventually, while living in semi-retirement in Vienna in 1947, Soviet intelligence troops kidnapped him and took him to Kiev where he was tried for anti-Soviet activities. He was sentenced to twenty-five years in a forced labour camp, but survived only a few months before dying of tuberculosis.
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