In the annals of Modern Ukrainian history, organizations like the youth organization Plast, the formation of former military personnel under the banner of the Ukrainian Military Organization (UVO), its successor consisting of the two generations from the UVO and Plast. the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) have left an indelible mark on Ukrainian society which reverberates even today. Two of its most prominent leaders Roman Shukhevych and Stepan Bandera were witness to this except that instead of UPA, Bandera was a political prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. In particular, these structures played a most prominent role in the liberation struggle of the Ukrainian people during the Twentieth century which was witness to several attempts at proclaiming Ukrainian statehood with the last one certainly the most successful.
These movements operated in very difficult and uncertain times and with very different yet complementary methods. Early Plast became a recruiting ground for young Ukrainian nationalists. When the Polish government determined that Plast was dangerous and officially terminated its existence, the OUN took over as a clandestine structure after Plast’s honing of many of its recruits. All except Plast which essentially functioned manifestly as a scouting organization have borne their share of accolades and criticism. Plast fortunately remains above the fray.
On the subject of accolades, suffice it to say that without the UVO, OUN, UPA trio contemporary Ukraine would appear more like Belarus than the independent democratic country whose people have spawned at least two revolutions, one that overturned a stolen election and another that toppled a renegade president. I admit that I am not entirely objective on this but a stateless nation that has wallowed in persecution and oppression for so many centuries could not become a true nation without a nationalist influence. Nationalism contrary to what is being propagated even by so called democrats is not color supremacy racism or national chauvinism. Nationalism is patriotism, nothing more and nothing less.
The criticism leveled by most detractors is that somehow the UVO, OUN and UPA were fascist, extolling the benefits of a one party system not unlike the Communist of National Socialist versions. The critics have yet to point specifically to fascist language in any UVO, OUN or UPA documents. Among other misrepresentations, what they attempt to purport is that the OUN somehow suggested a one party homogeneous Ukrainian state, and thus it was a fascist group. There is no evidence of that inclination.
The fact of the matter is that, in the early years when Ukrainian independence was merely a dream, the members of the UVO, OUN or the UPA never considered in depth what a free Ukrainian state would be like simply because that was too far removed from reality. They were involved in a bitter struggle for freedom. However, sociologically they recognized both human and civil rights as the inherent rights of all nations and individuals. It was only when the vision of an independent Ukraine became somewhat less nebulous that they began to express their positions on what that independent Ukraine would look like.
Following Molotov Ribbentrop in September 1939 the two great aggressors Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union carved up Eastern Europe. That war between the two was inevitable was apparent only in hindsight. Nonetheless, it became clearer as early as towards the end of 1940. Sensing a new world order the OUN issued a manifesto in December 1940 in which for the first time it addressed what human and social freedoms it stood for: “We fight for the dignity and freedom of the individual, for the right to freely and manifestly voice one’s conviction, for the freedom of all religious confessions and for the total freedom of one’s conscience.” It also addressed the needs of other nations: “We bring security for all nations oppressed by Moscow.”
This was just the beginning. The Second Grand Congress of the OUN (Bandera faction) took place in April 1941. By then it was quite clear that a Nazi-Soviet conflict was inevitable, and in that political eventuality Ukrainian independence was very much a reality. The resolutions addressed the matter of an independent Ukrainian state and while it saw itself as the leading revolutionary political force it addressed economic and social issues: “equality of all Ukrainians in rights and responsibilities regarding the nation and the state; establishing equal terms and duties for professions, as well as industries based on productive solidarity and equality for all workers,… Ukrainian land for Ukrainian farmers, factories and industrial complexes to Ukrainian workers, Ukrainian bread for Ukrainian people, a free initiative for a free people, … free medical care,… assistance to families with many children, … care and security for mothers and children, etc. ”
As the Nazi invasion of Ukrainian territory became imminent in May 1941 the OUN issued a political directive which stated unequivocally that with the first opportunity would come the proclamation of an independent Ukrainian state. “That permanent state would be constituted on the organized will of all the Ukrainian people in the form of a general election of a head of state…” This was hardly fascist or undemocratic.
And then came the ultimate test. Nazi Germany attacked Ukrainian territory the Soviets had to retreat. There was a political vacuum and an opportunity. The OUN proclaimed an independent Ukrainian state eighty years ago on June 30, 1941 in the City of Lviv implementing its directive to its members. What type of state would it be and who would govern? The question was answered immediately at the proclamation itself. The OUN did not simply assume power on its own. In the “Prosvita” building in Lviv it convened a National Assembly and chose a temporary government composed of OUN members and non-members, including recognized community leaders and a Council of Elders. The Reverend Josef Slipyj served as that Council’s vice president.
The significance of this event was twofold. The OUN was no Nazi lackey but in fact its fierce enemy as warned earlier in a letter to Adolf Hitler should the Nazis oppose an independent Ukraine. The OUN declared publicly and clearly that its goal was establishing an independent Ukrainian state whether the Nazis approved or not. Secondly, the OUN divulged its concept, albeit still a work in progress, of state building as being a product of the will of the people expressed through a general election. The OUN initiated the process but the ultimate rule belonged to the people.
February 27, 2021 Askold S. Lozynskyj