One year after joining with opposition in anti-presidential demonstrations, UNA-UNSO is coming apart at the seams
The one-time leader of the Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian National Self Defense (UNA-UNSO), Korchynsky doesn’t mince words when describing Roman Shukhevych, one of the organization’s inspirations.
“He was a terrorist,” Korchynsky said.
His words come as no surprise to those who love and hate UNA-UNSO. After all, shocking statements and outrageous behavior is what the nationalist group is famous for. Always on the edge, UNA-UNSO is nothing if not a presence – radical, revolutionary, rebellious.
Since its birth a decade ago, UNA-UNSO has played a significant, if often controversial, role in the development of independent Ukraine. Through the years, people may have disagreed with the group’s political agenda, but most Ukrainians know about UNA-UNSO.
In the last five years, however, infighting and lack of focus has splintered the nationalist group.
Korchynsky left the organization in 1997, saying it had become a weakened force incapable of the action for which it was once known.
In fact, UNA-UNSO may very well have quietly disappeared from Ukraine’s political arena and the public’s consciousness. But last year’s alliance with the Ukraine Without Kuchma opposition coalition and the arrest of several prominent UNA-UNSO members in March during anti-presidential protests have put the group back in the limelight.
Some analysts said the anti-Kuchma campaign breathed new life into UNA-UNSO. Others say involvement may have marked the beginning of its downfall.
Stefan Bandera, grandson of the noted nationalist leader of the same name, is thoughtful when speaking about UNA-UNSO and its role in Ukraine’s nationalist movement.
“It depends on which UNA-UNSO you mean – the one of today or the one of yesterday,” he said.
The group has undergone several makeovers in its 10-year existence.
UNA-UNSO sprang from an umbrella organization called the Ukrainian Inter Party Assembly, which was established in 1989.
One of the assembly’s first campaigns was to encourage Ukrainians to adopt citizenship of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, the short-lived independent Ukrainian state established in 1917.
The assembly chose as their first leader Yury Shukhevich, grandson of Roman Shukhevich. Along with the elder Bandera, Shukhevich was a founding member of a nationalist group that carried out a number of terrorist acts in western Ukraine in the first half of the 20th century. Among the group’s actions was the assassination of Poland’s Interior Minister Bronislaw Pieracki in 1934.
In 1991, the assembly underwent an organizational and name change. It became known as the Ukrainian National Assembly, or UNA. Meanwhile, a paramilitary branch of UNA, called the Ukrainian National Self Defense or UNSO, was founded. Its goal was to create a force capable of opposing the communist diehards who made a grab for power in the August coup.
Officially, Shukhevich, a blind man who spent 35 years as a political prisoner, was leader of both the political and defense branches of the party. Real power, however, was in the hands of four men: Korchinsky, Andry Shkil, Oleh Vytovych and Taras Melnyk.
By 1991, UNA-UNSO had 2,000 members and was a force to be reckoned with, Korchinsky said.
The group established itself as one of action, sending troops of eager young men to fight in Moldova’s breakaway Transdniester region, in Georgia’s Abkhazia and in Chechnya.
The primary purpose behind involvement in each military conflict was to demonstrate that Ukraine had a fighting force capable of defending itself.
While UNA-UNSO proved that it had the military might to help out so-called freedom fighters in former Soviet republics, the group was not able to achieve its ultimate goal – to constitutionally take power in Ukraine.
By 1997, the group began to fray and to lose direction.
Leaders were then faced with two choices: to become a terrorist organization, or a legitimate political party.
Korchinsky felt the party was too big to become a terrorist group and that its members would soon become bored with the life of a traditional political party. He decided to leave.
Vytovych, and later Shkil, led the organization increasingly toward becoming a political party.
In addition to its own internal problems, UNA-UNSO was losing support from the Ukrainian diaspora.
Widespread rumors that the group was funded by agents in Moscow caused disillusionment among members of North America’s Ukrainian diaspora community, Bandera said. They believed the KGB supported anti-Communist movements in order to control them.
“I can’t say whether it is true or not, but people are still suspicious,” Bandera said.
UNA-UNSO’s role in the Ukraine Without Kuchma movement, established in November 2000, erased some of those suspicions.
One of UNA-UNSO’s most important roles in the movement was to guard a tent city set up for three months last winter along Khreshchatyk. At night UNA-UNSO members guarded the protest tents. Operating like a military unit, they patrolled, sometimes with clubs, to keep out opponents.
“If it weren’t for [UNA-UNSO], tent city wouldn’t have survived for as long as it did,” Bandera said.
Increased visibility resulted in increased membership.
Tetyana Chornovil, UNA-UNSO’s press secretary, said the party was signing
|UNA-UNSO Press Secretary Tetyana Chornovil lies chained to railroad tracks|
up 10 new members a day for a few weeks last spring.
Then the group’s revival came to a sudden halt when the party’s leader, Andry Shkil, and 18 other UNA-UNSO members were arrested for participating in an anti-Kuchma rally.
On March 9, about 6,000 police officers were deployed to downtown Kyiv to protect Kuchma, who was to make a brief appearance at Shevchenko Park.
In the morning, police clashed with protesters. Some demonstrators were arrested, while others took their revenge later in the afternoon by hurling eggs, rocks and insults at police.
Police arrested 19 UNA-UNSO members after the disturbance. Shkil was charged with organizing it.
arrests, trains and conspiracy theories
More than seven months have passed since the protest, and still none of the accused has been tried.
Shkil’s lawyer, Tetyana Montyan, said the government has no evidence and therefore has delayed prosecution of protestors, most of whom have been charged with assaulting police and causing Hr 50,000 in damages, including Hr 6,000 for cleaning egg off police shields.
Shkil maintains the outburst was spontaneous and unplanned.
“Our justice system is so politicized that everything depends on political parties and politicians and how much they can influence the court and prosecutor,” said Viktor Shyshkyn, a former prosecutor general and current member of the opposition party Sobor.
Meanwhile, the court battles are taking their toll on the party.
Demonstrations, leadership meetings and organized protests have all but ceased; new membership has declined. Press secretary Chornovil spends her time trying to gain support for imprisoned members instead of organizing press conferences.
A thin 22-year-old with large brown eyes, Chornovil is not what most people imagine when they picture a UNA-UNSO member. Instead of a black bandana and boots, she favors high heels and shiny blouses.
But her actions are as tough as her exterior is classy.
On May 19, in an effort to re-ignite public interest in their cohorts’ plight, Chornovil and Oruslava Dobko, the girlfriend of one of the imprisoned UNA-UNSO members, tied themselves to railroad tracks at Kyiv’s railway station.
“At that time everyone had forgotten about our guys in jail, so we wanted to remind them,” Chornovil recalled recently.
When planning the action, Chornovil had expected she would be up against a train with wheels high enough to pass over a person without injuring them. What approached her on that day, however, was a low-grounded diesel engine. The train could have killed her. Instead, it stopped seven meters short of her.
Chornovil grabbed local headlines, but not the international attention from human rights groups that she had hoped for.
Instead, within a few months, UNA-UNSO developed a new internal problem, which plagues the group to this day.
On Oct. 12, Eduard Kovalenko, the self-declared head of UNA-UNSO’s political council, publicly announced the party planned to abandon its radical agenda in favor of promoting social issues. He said the majority of UNA-UNSO members, including those imprisoned, supported him and not Shkil. Furthermore, he said members like Chornovil, who carried
|Members of UNA-UNSO take to the streets during an anti-presidential rally last March|
out provocative actions, would be punished in the future.
Shkil took the statement as a threat to his leadership, and from prison he told heads of regional chapters to choose between him and Kovalenko. Kovalenko responded by firing Chornovil as UNA-UNSO’s press secretary. Shkil retorted by hiring Chornovil as his personal press secretary.
She, in turn, drummed up support for Shkil. At an Oct. 26 meeting of UNA-UNSO members, the group voted in favor of postponing any ideological changes until Shkil and other leaders are released from jail.
Montyan said she believes the government is responsible for the present split within UNA-UNSO.
While Shkil remains behind bars, some of the party’s less radical members, like Mykola Karluk, who has thrown his support behind Kovalenko, were freed from prison.
Oleksandr Kuzovkin, one of two prosecutors trying the case, couldn’t say why three of the accused remain free. The decision to keep 16 of the 19 accused in prison was made by Prosecutor General Mykhailo Potebenko.
Former UNA-UNSO head Korchinsky said the group was used by anti-Kuchma forces for protection, only to be abandoned when they got in trouble.
Volodymyr Polokhalo, editor of monthly journal Politychna Dumka, said by imprisoning members, the government has helped to boost the image of UNA-UNSO.
“UNA-UNSO are just ripples in the waves of Ukrainian history, which means they are nothing serious, but they attract attention,” Polokhalo said, adding that the party is a powerless group with no political force or mass support.
For his part, Bandera said he believes UNA-UNSO was in part created by and used by the government. By depicting UNA-UNSO members as “boogie men,” the government has helped create an image that all Ukrainian nationalists are a threat to society, he said. This has caused a divide between nationalists and Ukrainian society.
Shkil, who still sits in a prison cell awaiting trial, is unsure what the future holds for him. He said, however, he is positive of one thing:
“You can crush a party but not an idea,” Shkil said.