The battle which took place 70 years ago at the Red Field - the plane on the right side of the Tisza River near the city of Khust - was a key event in the tragic history of a state which had been proclaimed on March 15, 1939 and had existed for just hours. Its name was the Subcarpathian Rus', and in 1920-1938 it used to be one of the five parts of Czechoslovakia.
It was a tragedy of the Subcarpathian Rus' that it achieved independence in the epoch marred by the fascist aggression in Europe. Czechoslovakia, into which the Subcarpathian Rus' was incorporated on the condition of autonomy according to the 1919 Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, was reluctant to allow the status to materialize. Only when Czechoslovakia itself stopped being a player in the European politics and lost the Sudetenland to Germany following the Munich Agreement between Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, the government of the demoralized and territorially curtailed Republic finally granted autonomy to the Carpathian Rus'. The parliament of the Carpathian Rus' convened in Uzhgorod on October 8, 1938 and proclaimed itself the only legitimate body to represent all Rusyn regions (including the Presov region) whose populations thus realized their rights to self-determination and self-government.
Immediately upon being promulgated the Rusyn autonomy became the target of provocations and undisguised threats from Hungary which was open about its intention to annex the territory of the Subcarpathian Rus'. As the ally of fascist Germany and Italy, Hungary led by Regent Horthy had the full support of Hitler and Mussolini for its aggressive plans.
On March 6, 1939 Hitler made the decision to eliminate Czechoslovakia as a sovereign state, and on March 12 he OKed Hungary's invasion of the Subcarpathian Rus' and the annexation of its territory. When Rusyn Prime Minister A. Voloshin sent a telegram to Berlin asking for protection against the Hungarian aggression, the German Consul in Khust responded by advising from the name of the German Foreign Ministry against resistance to the invasion.
In an extreme situation – the Hungarian army entered the territory of the Subcarpathian Rus' already on March 14, 1939 - the Rusyn parliament declared independence on March 15, 1939 and elected A. Voloshin as the President of the Republic. What must be explained particularly in this context is the connection between the declaration of independence and the Red Field Battle.
Though the Subcarpathian Rus' formally had its own armed forces (its national self-defense organization – the Subcarpathian Sich – was formed on November 9, 1938) it did not have the potential to repel the Hungarian aggression backed by the fascist Germany. To make things worse, the army of Czechoslovakia rendered practically no resistance to the advancing Hungarian forces, largely because Czechoslovakia no longer existed as a sovereign country. On March 15-18 its troops were withdrawing from the Subcarpathian territories without fighting, leaving the unarmed Rusyns to face the adversary alone.
Highly patriotic and indifferent to political intrigues, the citizens of the Subcarpathian Rus' rose to defend their homeland. Masses of unarmed and ununiformed people flocked to its capital – the city of Khust – to join the militia heading for the Republic's southern frontier. The majority of them were peasants and students who had absolutely no military training... For many it was going to be the first and the last battle in their lives, and the people went to fight for the freedom of their nation and homeland, and not for any “Ukrainian integral nationalism” or the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists.
The major battle took place at the Red Field on March 15. The Hungarian regular army was confronted by some 2,000 Rusyn militiamen and roughly as many soldiers from what used to be the army of Czechoslovakia who decided to join the Subcarpathian Rus'. The Hungarians were superior in numbers and were trained and well-armed. Besides, they had a tactical advantage attacking down the mountain slopes. The Rusyns held positions located along a railroad on a plain terrain and lacked the necessary amounts of firearms and ammunition. Fighting raged for a whole day, and by desperately resisting the Rusyn militiamen won their parliament the time for an urgent session. The Hungarians lost 160 soldiers plus 400 Hungarians were wounded. The death toll on the Rusyn side reached 230, and 450 Rusyns and Czechoslovakian soldiers were taken captive. The resistance nevertheless continued. Fighting went on in the streets of Khust all night and resumed on March 16-18 near Vishnevoy, Bushtina, Solotvyno, Sevlush, Belki, Dovgoy, Upper Veretskie, Chinadiev, and Svaliava. Over 5,000 defenders of the Subcarpathian Rus' died in combat. By the night of March 18 the Hungarian forces occupied the entire Subcarpathia and reached the Polish border.
The first – and also the last - day of the Subcarpathian Rus' was a bloodbath. There were no national division lines among the defenders of the Rusyn Republic. Rusyns, Czechs, and Ukrainians fought in the same ranks. Nowadays, it is a pain to hear the official Kyiv making claims that “the best representatives of the Ukrainian nation – members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists - sacrificed their lives in the name of the freedom of the Subcarpathian Rus'”. What about the Rusyns and the Czechs who clearly were not members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists? Even members of the US-based alliance of the veterans of the First Division of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, better known as the SS Division Galicia, did not go so far as to make statements like the above. One reads in a March 3, 2009 paper by Augustine Stephan in their media outlet titled “Ukrainian Forces in the Subcarpathia”: “There were 15,000 registered Sich members, some 300 of them being young Ukrainians from Galicia, Upper Nepryadna, and Bukovina”. Bizarrely, the current Ukrainian administration does not regard other 14,700 people as defenders of the Subcarpathian Rus'.
On the anniversary days we commemorate the heroes of the Red Field Battle who were in fact the first to face the forces of fascism in Europe in combat. And we are not going to forget that the only country to protest the occupation of the Subcarpathian Rus' by Hungarian fascists was the Soviet Union.
Only in 1940 did the major European powers and the US denounce the resolutions of the international conferences which led to the division of Czechoslovakia in the fall of 1938 and made the tragedy of the Subcarpathian Rus' and the Red Field bloodbath inevitable.
Source:Strategic Culture Foundation