As the armies of the Ukrainian National Republic began to be overrun by the Read Army, the government institutions of the independent Ukrainian state were evacuated, partly in 1919, and then completely in 1920, from Ukrainian territories. Most of the government institutions were relocated mostly in Tarnow, Poland, and some in Czechoslovakia. They were later moved to Warsaw, Paris and Prague.

In November 1920 the Law on the Temporary Supreme Authority and the Legislative System of the UNR transferred legislative powers and authority over the government to the State Peoples’ Council. Until this Council could be convened, however, its functions were to be carried out by the UNR Council of National Ministers, while the head of the Directory was empowered to act as the supreme state authority and approve laws, treaties, etc. Until 1947 there was no legislative body among the state institutions in exile.

Symon Petliura was the head of the Directory and thus the head of state until his death in May 1926 when Andriy Livytsky replaced him. The government in exile failed to establish itself as the political center of national activity in the Ukrainian diaspora; it was seen by many as simply another political party. The government-in-exile worked to bring the Ukrainian national question to the attention of the League of Nations in the period between the wars; during WWII the government-in-exile suspended its activities.

After the War, the composition of the government-in-exile changed as activists from Western Ukraine joined it and what had been Soviet Ukraine before the War. The government-in-exile existed until 1991, when President Mykola Plaviuk formally handed over his powers to the President of independent Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk.