Ukraine’s Underrecognized Insurgent Army Marks 65th Anniversary
Last year, Ukraine’s parliament finally recognized the Holodomor as genocide. For the few thousand octogenarian UPA veterans, some of whom gathered at Kyiv’s Sofiyivska Ploshcha (Square) on Sunday, October 14, the struggle for recognition continues.
Joining them in the chilly and humid weather were a few thousand young activists, many of them members of Oleh Tiahnybok’s Svoboda (Ukr. freedom), a nationalist party that has failed to gain seats in parliament. (I do not support Svoboda due to its right-wing slant. However, I do support the idea of recognizing the UPA as an army that fought for Ukraine’s independence.)
Having held a warmup rally at the Shevchenko Monument, they marched in column for a mile through downtown Kyiv to the beat of drums. At some point, an adventurous faction split from the column to “say hello” to Symonenko’s Communists and Vitrenko's Progressive Socialists just a few blocks away, down at Bessarabska Square. These pro-Kremlin folks camped around the Lenin Monument, where they celebrated “Ukraine’s liberation from fascism.” (By fascism, they obviously referred to the UPA.)
Provoked by this false-flag profiling, some Svoboda dumbasses engaged in self-sabotage, trying to break through the police cordon separating them from the Red crowd. Police intervened, busted a few guys, and quickly ended the brawl, with no significant bodily harm reported.
Little did these young men seem to realize that their uncivil behavior played into the hands of those whom they tried to disprove. Meanwhile, the rest of the column proceeded peacefully to Sofiyivska Ploshcha.
This year, at President Yushchenko’s behest, the event has gained an official status of sorts. For the first time in the history of independent Ukraine, the military dispatched a parade orchestra to the UPA remembrance ceremony.
The UPA remains a divisive issue in Ukrainian society, and reflects its post-Soviet identity crisis, one amplified by poverty in terms of income and information. Ukrainians’ grasp of history varies with geography and across generations. Understanding the UPA requires a set of contextual tools with which to disentangle it from the clutter of Soviet mythology.
Under the Soviet rule, the Red Army and Soviet partisans held a historiographic monopoly on every act of freedom fighting by Ukrainians in WW II. The only role reserved for non-Red Ukrainian combatants was that of cutthroat “bourgeois nationalists” who collaborated with the Nazis and committed atrocities. (Certainly, no credit was given to the thousands of Ukrainian Americans and Ukrainian Canadians who fought for the Allies across the globe.)
The Soviet side of the story still prevails in eastern parts of Ukraine. Soviet historiography, with its monological Moscow-written script, created a lasting association between the UPA and the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Galicia, the Ukrainian equivalent of the Russian Liberation Army (RLA). That association runs counter to historical evidence. Unlike the SS Division Galicia and the RLA, the UPA fought against the Red Army and against the Wehrmacht. (Among foreign volunteer units of the Wehrmacht, one can also find Dutch, Flemish, Croatian, Hungarian, Latvian, Estonian, Belarusian, Azeri, Finnish, French, British, Indian, and even American units. View complete list.)
In the 20th century, much of the human tragedy took place in Ukraine, a jigsaw puzzle of a country governed by Austria-Hungary, tsarist Russia, Poland, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union. A cesspool of civil war in the aftermath of WW I and a genocide lab in the 1930s, Ukraine became one of the bloodiest WW II battlegrounds — a graveyard for up to ten million people who perished in the clash of evil empires and embittered ethnic groups.
The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact — an inconvenient truth for Soviet sympathizers — paved the way for the Soviet occupation of western Ukraine in 1939. Stalin’s reign of terror thrived on mass deportations and executions of Ukrainians and Poles, nations with each other’s blood on their hands. (The war path of Polish-Ukrainian relations, evident since the 17th century, culminated in the Volyn massacre and Operation Wisla.)
More perspectives on the anatomy of the Polish-Jewish-Ukrainian conflict:
No wonder, in 1941 the local population often greeted the Germans with open arms, viewing them as liberators. Pogroms erupted. Many blamed the mass executions of the Ukrainian intelligentsia on a “Jewish conspiracy” perpetrated by the retreating NKVD troops. (One could find persons of Jewish origin among NKVD top brass.)
At the outbreak of Operation Barbarossa, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) nursed the illusion that collaboration with the Third Reich would annihilate the Stalin regime, thus freeing the rest of Ukraine.
On the eve of the German invasion, Stalin may very well have toyed with illusions of his own. Russian historian and former GRU officer Viktor Suvorov believes that Stalin relied on Hitler as “the Icebreaker” of the Communist Revolution in Europe. Stalin’s strategy according to Suvorov: The war in Europe would weaken Nazi Germany and European democracies, at which point the Soviet Union, in a surprise strike, would overtake both, thus exporting Communism to Europe. To this end, Stalin had deployed the Red Army on standby alongside the border, in a clear-cut strike position that proved disastrous once the strike came from the other side.
Suvorov’s theory offers a no-nonsense explanation of the close ties between the Third Reich and the Kremlin. How close were those ties? Closer than they taught in Soviet schools.
Many Red Army vets would be loathe to learn that Heinz Guderian had honed his blitzkrieg genius at Panzerschule Kama, a training facility near the Russian town of Kazan. Nor would they be delighted to discover that, upon partitioning Poland in 1939, the Red Army and the Wehrmacht held a joint parade in Brest-Litvosk, as shown in the above video fragment, featuring Krivoshein and Guderian. Accounts of Lenin’s liaison with German intelligence via Parvus fall in the same category.
Hitler proved the OUN and Stalin wrong. He had no plans for Ukraine’s independence, and it was Stalin who ended up dealing with a surprise strike. The short-lived collaboration between the OUN and the Wehrmacht supplied the Soviet propaganda machine with the ammunition that nailed Bandera and Shukhevych, leaders of the Ukrainian resistance movement, as Hitler’s stooges. Soviet history textbooks wax eloquent on the collaboration issue, yet keep mum on the protocols to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
In narrating the tragedy at Babyn Yar, where the Nazis machine-gunned more than 100,000 people — most of them Jews — nowhere do Soviet history textbooks mention the fate of some 621 OUN members killed there, including Ukrainian poet and activist Olena Teliha.
Ukraine has a hell of a history, complete with genocides and wars of all kinds. What’s missing in most of Ukraine’s history is independence.
Ironically, people who have lived through 16 years of Ukraine’s independence still find themselves on the wrong side of history. They who fought for Ukraine’s independence are now fighting for recognition, a mission next to impossible for people in their eighties and nineties.
UPA vets are the same age as their Red Army counterparts. Their beliefs put them worlds apart, but the blood they shed for their loved ones leads them back to this land. As Sting put in one of his songs, “We share the same biology regardless of ideology.”
Nationwide, UPA memorial ceremonies were held in Kharkiv and in Simferopol, where UPA vets were harassed and assaulted by pro-Kremlin activists, who waved Soviet flags and Russian tricolors.
What best practices are there in post-Soviet countries that had non-Red resistance movements? In full respect of the Nuremberg Trials, Latvia does not recognize members of the Latvian Legion. However, Latvia does recognize the Forest Brothers.
If Ukraine aims to be a part of Europe, the Verkhovna Rada should recognize UPA members as WW II combatants, and should put them on the same legal footing as Red Army vets.
Attempts at re-educating and reconciling elderly people contrary to their beliefs should be abandoned. But revisiting Ukrainian history and recognizing, for future generations, the people and events misrepresented in Soviet textbooks makes perfect sense.