It was different. 80 years ago was indeed David against Goliath. David was all alone facing more than one Goliath. No one supplied lethal weapons. The Ukrainian soldiers used their own sometimes very primitive or that which they had captured. Nevertheless, by some accounts the struggle lasted into the late 1950’s. It was partisan warfare supported by the population, mostly sporadic with the element of surprise as the main weapon.
In establishing historical events and personages noteworthy we look to current relevance. In other words, we seek effect on current events. The more significant or lasting the effect the greater the importance.
So let’s go back to events 80 years old. How can they be relevant today? They can and they are. Ukraine is in the midst of a savage war that no one expected it to win, let alone be competitive. The war was to last days according to the aggressor. Here we are more than six months later with the likelihood of a Ukrainian victory. There is an intangible reason why Ukraine has been as indomitable and, perhaps, persevering. Frankly it is because of its history.
The Ukrainian nation as as substantive entity with a history of statehood has been existent for 1200 years. The city of Kyiv was founded in the V century. The Kyivan state appeared in the IX century. Aside from the Kyivan state which lasted for almost 400 years and its successor the Halytsko-Volynsky state which lasted another one hundred years, Ukrainian independence and statehood has been intermittent and short-lived. Today’s independence of thirty one years is the longest such period since the XiV century. Perhaps for that reason Ukrainian historiography is replete with tragedy and struggle.
This year we observe one such heroic struggle. Eighty years ago in the midst of the conflict of World War 2 largely fought on Ukrainian land in 1942 the people of Ukraine created an army, a national peoples army to fight the many enemies of Ukraine. There were the Nazi Germans. There were the Soviet Russians. There were the Polish partisans of a government in exile as well as Polish communist forces and even the Hungarians, Romanians and Czechoslovaks were not friends or allies but allied with the Nazis or siding with the Soviet Russians.
The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) – the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) are often referred to as a singular term for the Ukrainian liberation struggle from 1929 through the 1950’s at least. Without the OUN there would not have been an UPA. Still the UPA was a nationwide phenomenon. However, the core of its first squads consisted of members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. They were integral parts of one movement – the OUN”s structure included a military wing. A varied format was used in order to attract non-OUN conscripts.
At its peak the UPA’s personnel including auxiliary, consisted of some two hundred thousand persons, including an armed underground as well as security services, communications, medical and sanitary service. A comparison of the number of members of UPA fighters, their organization and duration with other non-government partisan formations, suggests that the UPA was not just a fighting guerilla formation — in many respects it was a well organized army albeit without a state or government, but not without leadership.
Daria Husak, the last scout for General Roman Shukhevych, the commander in chief of the UPA, passed away recently on August 12, 2022 at 98. She was a member of both the OUN and the UPA. Her life was that of many Ukrainian nationalists of that time. She first joined the OUN youth, then the ranks of full membership. In 1947 she became the personal scout of General Shukhevych. According to Soviet documents in January 1950 she was directed by Shukhevych to go to Moscow upon false documents to establish a liaison at the American Embassy which she did. Upon her return, on March 4, 1950 she was arrested. She spent the next twenty five years in Soviet prisons and concentration camps. Her duty was not to persevere simply but to carry on the struggle in prison and camp. She served as an example for the younger generation. Upon her release in 1975 together with other former political prisoners she pursued an active role in community and cultural matters on behalf of Ukraine.
Traditionally, October 14, 1942, the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary the Protectress, is often referred to as the date that the first UPA unit was formed. The year is accurate but the actual date is symbolic. The UPA declared this day its official holiday. In fact in September and October 1942, a member of the OUN, Ostap began his work in the woods of Polissya (Northwest Ukraine) to form the first armed units to actively fight against the Nazi invaders. After a few months, these armed groups took shape as the first units of the UPA.
The OUN-UPA have been the subject of many treatises, research papers, articles, etc. as well as diatribes, and propaganda written by historians, journalists, political activists, propagandists, Ukrainian and foreign, friendly and hostile. Enemies of the OUN-UPA, have furnished assessments on the OUN-UPA as well.
Heinrich Schoene, Nazi General Commissar of Volyn-Podillya, reported at a meeting in Rivne June 5, 1943 to Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories Alfred Rosenberg that “Ukrainian nationalists cause more difficulties than the Bolshevik gangs” to his administration. Nikita Krushchev in his memoirs lamented the UPA’s success, because of his own mistakes. A mortal enemy of the OUN-UPA was Pavel Sudoplatov. He had been deputy director of Soviet Foreign Intelligence from 1939 until 1942, then appointed the director of the Administration of Special Tasks, until finally the director of the Fourth Directorate. His assessment of the Ukrainian nationalist struggle during and after World War 2 was expressed in his memoirs published in 1994 with much animosity but equal respect.
Following the Second World War, ”The New York Times” carried several articles about the Ukrainian nationalist’ struggle affecting the political environment in Eastern Europe.
Just after the war, the general staff of the UPA issued an appeal to all Ukrainians who had been interned or exiled:
“Wherever you are, in the mines, the forest or the camps, always remain what you have formerly been, remain true Ukrainians and continue our fight.”
The role of the OUN-UPA in Soviet camps was significant and dramatic. Leading OUN members such as Kateryna Zarytska, Mykhaylo Soroka, Yuriy Shukhevych, the son of the Commander-in-chief of the UPA, or the aforementioned Daria Husak who were interned became symbols of resistance in camps and prisons.
American journalist Anne Applebaum in her book “Gulag” noted, in particular, the Ukrainian political prisoners in the Gulags. She stressed that by far the most influential ethnic groups in the camps were Ukrainians and Baltic nations. Their influence was both in their large numbers and their open opposition to the Soviet Union. Ms. Applebaum offered as an example of Ukrainian organization and discipline, a specific event the “Kingir uprising” in one of the Kazakhstan camps. She described the uprising and concluded that the strike committee had been chosen by a “Center” and assessed that the Ukrainians behaved as if they were united by some “organization.”
The legacy of the OUN-UPA translated in Soviet society into a jargon and colloquialism that denoted hostility especially by the Russian segment. Ukrainian patriots in everyday life were referred to as “Bandiory” or “Banderivci”. Ivan Dziuba, one of the more noteworthy Ukrainian dissidents in the Soviet Union in his seminal publication “Internationalism or Russification” cited this in one of the events he narrated:
“When in 1963 the Young Writers’ and Artists’ Club decided to honor the memory of Ivan Franko and organized a torchlight procession to his monument you could hear Russian murmuring from the crowd along Kiev’s main street: ‘Look! Banderists!(sic) What a lot of them!’”
This label has survived. The connotation remains hostile on the part of Ukraine’s enemies or detractors. Those so labelled have accepted the term readily as a badge of honor. One of the most popular war songs in Ukraine today includes the words: “Bandera is our father…”
Russian brutality notwithstanding, consisting of all four crimes specified by the International Criminal Court, aggression, crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, Ukraine has been largely successful in the current war, much to the surprise not only of the aggressor but of most people. The future may not be certain, but there is a certainty that Ukraine will not surrender. Outright victory for Ukraine or the worst case scenario is that the war will continue in hybrid and partisan fashion. Every Ukrainian grandmother will be equipped with explosives.
There is no illusion that Russians will become civilized. There is an expectation, however, that the entire civilized democratic world will never again keep its head in the sand.
Ukraine’s perseverance has been a testimonial to the indomitable people of Ukraine and the military and humanitarian assistance of the West. One reason why Ukraine has needed and will continue to require military, humanitarian and reconstruction assistance for the foreseeable future is that despite Ukraine’s independence for thirty one years, the Russian fifth column has been operative in Ukraine through many years with both sophisticated and crude attempts at cultural genocide and extant normal phenomena as intermarriage, emigration. Western naivete has contributed much to Russia’s ability to stall Ukraine’s development. “The Financial Times” actually endorsed the Russian dupe Viktor Yanukovich for president of Ukraine in 2010. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitored the 2010 election and scored it fair and transparent when actually it was marred by gross fraud, consisting of intimidation and use of administrative resources. As a result when President Yanukovich was ousted by the people of Ukraine and Russia attacked both Crimea and the Donbas region, the Ukrainian armed forces were estimated at only six thousand able personnel.
What ensued in the post Revolution of Dignity Ukraine was a military and economic buildup and development. Only now has the West truly recognized the Russian menace and perhaps, the “opening of eyes” is one of the silver linings of this brutal war. And so with Ukraine’s indomitable spirit, honed by Ukraine’s historical struggle as exemplified by the heroes of the OUN-UPA, the enhancement of its military capability through personal dedication and assistance from the West, Ukraine today is not only competing on the field of battle against what was considered great odds, but Ukraine is also democracy’s best chance of saving the world. This is the legacy we observe on the 80th anniversary of the formation of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and the 31st anniversary of renewed Ukrainian statehood.
August 26, 2022 Askold S. Lozynskyj