Stepan Bandera: Hero or Nazi sympathizer?

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Oct. 2, 2008, 12:16 a.m. | Op-ed — by Yuriy Lukanov
The great Ukrainian nationalist got a bum rap from Soviet propagandists

A new date is approaching that once again will spark infighting and mutual accusations in Ukrainian society. New Year’s Day 2009 marks 100 years since the birth of Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera.

Bandera took charge of the fight for Ukraine’s independence in the early and middle part of the last century. He was killed in Munich in 1959 by Soviet special agent Bogdan Stashynskiy. The murder was followed by a sensational court hearing covered by the world’s biggest media.

For the first time ever it was proven that the highest officials in Moscow ordered the elimination of the regime’s political opponents. The world finally realized it, and Bandera was added to the list of tragic historical personalities destroyed by the Communist regime.

In Ukraine, however, things are very different.

He has been gone for nearly half a century, but people continue quarreling over him even more than over living political activists. The difference in approach is huge: some people consider him a hero, while others claim he was a Nazi servant and traitor of Ukraine.

The author of this column filmed a documentary about this old hero of today’s scandals, called “The Three Loves of Stepan Bandera.” The subject got me interested because it had to do with the fight for Ukraine’s independence. At the same time, the concentration of tragedies and drama was so high that even Shakespeare would have trouble digesting it.

Take, for example, the personality of Bandera's killer. Lviv student Bohdan Stashynsky agreed to cooperate with NKVD (The People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs). He was given a terrible choice: either cooperate or his whole family – which had ties with the resistance movement led by Bandera – goes to Stalin’s camps for 25 years. This was equal to a death sentence.

But after killing Bandera, Stashynsky surrendered to police in West Berlin.

After the release of the documentary in 1998, nobody accused me of trying to split society or promote the “traitor of the Ukrainian people and Nazi servant.” I perceived Bandera to be a weighty personality from recent history, a person who could generate heated discussions among historians only. But suddenly, after the last presidential election in 2005, the name Stepan Bandera gained power again.

So, what happened then?

In the times of the Soviet Union, Stepan Bandera and his brothers-in-arms were scarecrows for the country’s citizens. The Communist Party, which declared itself internationalist, was fiercely fighting against the so-called “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalists.” A Moscow that could not tolerate the very thought of Ukraine becoming an independent state painted all those who fought for it in the the blackest colors. So Bandera became the symbol of Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism.

He was the leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), which declared in the 1930s that its primary goal was fighting for Ukraine’s independence. It declared war against all governments that controlled ethnic Ukrainian lands or territories where ethnic Ukrainians had a majority.

First and foremost, the leaders of the Communist U.S.S.R. destroyed the Ukrainian intellectual elite though an artificial famine in 1932-33, when a minimum of six million people died.

One of Bandera's achievements was the creation of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) which carried out armed resistance in the forests and mountains of Western Ukraine against both the USSR and Germany during WWII.

After the war was over, the UPA continued to fight. Compared to other peoples, it was the Ukrainians who turned out to be the most persevering. While other nations laid down their arms by the end of the ‘40s, the Ukrainian mass resistance movement lasted till the mid-1950s. Individual fights continued way into the early ‘60s.

The UPA fighters got a lot of praise from the Nobel Prize winner and recently deceased writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He wrote in his fundamental research of the Soviet system, “The Gulag Archipelago,” that the UPA fighters who landed in camps directly from forest footpaths, fought against the spirit of slavery that reigned there, and initiated several revolts.

It seemed that after Ukraine pronounced independence in 1991, all fighters for Ukrainian statehood would get the recognition they deserved. For a long time this subject remained relatively neutral – it did not cause particularly heated discussions.

But after the changes in power of 2005, a new ideological campaign started against President Victor Yushchenko, who insists that all Ukrainians who fought on opposite sides of barricades – both UPA and the Soviet Red Army fighters – should shake hands and reconcile, like the Spanish did after their civil war.

But Yushchenko’s opponents started to exploit stereotypes that had been forced onto Ukrainians for decades. As part of the pro-Russian population's nostalgia for the Soviet Union, it was agreed that “serving” Hitler was the greatest of Bandera’s faults. At the same time, they turned a blind eye toward the fact that Germany and the Soviet Union cooperated.

OUN and Bandera haters continue perceiving the U.S.S.R. as the medium of truth and all good that broke the neck of the “beast of fascism.” They again turn a blind eye to the fact that the Communist regime of the U.S.S.R. differed very little from the Nazi regime of Germany.

It doesn’t even occur to them that the relations with the Germans were tactical, while the strategic goal was achieving Ukraine’s independence. They deny that OUN had its own interests and was fighting for them against the will of the states at war.

Even Russia’s ex-president Vladimir Putin scolded the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. If this tiny army that never had more than 100,000 fighters at a time continues to keep the leaders of a huge nuclear state awake at night, it means that it had a spiritual victory.

And so did its leader and inspiration, Stepan Bandera.

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Anonymous Oct. 2, 2008, 1:32 a.m.    

The irony, of course, is that Russia has white-washed the greatest mass murderer in history (Josef Stalin), while going ballistic over alleged "Nazi sympathies" of a relatively minor player in World War II. In fact, Bandera, as an individual, was not even a "player".....he spent most of the war years in a Nazi concentration camp.

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Anonymous Jan. 11, 2009, 6:29 p.m.    


I just love the neo-soviet morons such as yourself who undermine Ukraine's independance and developing democracy from the comfort of a western abode.

Keep up the English lessons pal, you'll be out of your taxi and flipping hamburgers somewhere soon.


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Anonymous Jan. 28, 2009, 6:18 a.m.    

Is that all you got?

Whishful thinking at its best. LOL!

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Anonymous Oct. 2, 2008, 9:18 p.m.    

UPA picture looks sowewhat idealistic, without even mentioning it took part in ethinc cleansing, killing 30 to 60 thousend of Poles in the Volyn region.

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Anonymous Oct. 3, 2008, 5:11 p.m.    

Even Polish textbooks do not refer to 'ethnic cleansing' by Ukrainians during the war in Volyn or any other regions that later became part of Ukraine. After all, how could they? They worked to suppress Ukrainian nationalists between the wars during the quasi-fascist Pilsudski dictatorship and then had some of their own soldiers (as did Ukraine) fighting alongside the Soviets - the very people who helped themselves to half the country in 1939.

History is written by the victors. That any contrary evidence to Soviet accounts of the UPA exists at all is testament to the fact that there were people who obviously kept the other side of this story alive.

To single out one group (UPA) for alleged atrocities ignores the reality of WW2 in which virtually all sides were guilty of such. Remember the Katyn marshes? Not if you only read Soviet history books. The Russians even had the audacity to claim at Nuremburg that this was done by the Germans despite their hands dripping in blood.

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Anonymous Oct. 3, 2008, 7:28 p.m.    

Polish textbooks do refer to /ethnic cleansing/ done by UPA. So as do English works.

Even though 'in reality of WW2 virtually all sides were guilty of such atrocities', we should keep our ability to measure and to judge between good and bad. And do not easily justify one group, only because other groups were even worse.

I keep on my opinion, that UPA picture in the article above looks idealistic.

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Anonymous Oct. 7, 2008, 6:25 a.m.    

Yea, but nobody is asking a question weather perpetrators of Katyn are heros.

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Anonymous Oct. 3, 2008, 3:55 a.m.    

utter rubbish, this charge has been floating around for awhile promoted by Communist agents to defame the good name of Bandera and the UPA. Totally baseless and a fabrication of some fertile mind of a communist.

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Anonymous Oct. 2, 2008, 11:14 p.m.    

What are your sources besides Soviet texts?

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Anonymous Oct. 3, 2008, 11:59 a.m.    

ome non-soviet sources:

Institute of Ukrainian History, Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, Chapter 11

Polish Institute of National Remembrance

My post is not about good name of Bandera, as he was detained in nazi camp since 1041, but about having full picture, thus being prone from any propaganda.

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Anonymous Oct. 3, 2008, 9:52 p.m.    

OK...I did confirm the atrocities and brutalities. Neither Poles nor Ukrainians covered themselves with glory (in terms of their treatment of each others' civilians) during the bloody war years.

Much of what happened was simply inexcusable and it is up to this generation to seek reconciliation and learn from our past mistakes. Fortunately, Poles and Ukrainians recognize this and can build on their past mistakes.

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Anonymous Oct. 7, 2008, 6:45 p.m.    

Did you forget about the Polish atrocity called Akcia Wicla where the Poles systematically killed and ethnically clensed Ukrainians?

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Anonymous Oct. 7, 2008, 8:44 p.m.    

Is anybody askin a question weather these people are heores?

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Anonymous Oct. 2, 2008, 9:40 p.m.    

What an irony. He spent a good portion of the war in a Nazi concentration camp, then he gets murdered by a Soviet agent. I think that anyone considering him a traitor to Ukraine should reconsider.

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Anonymous Oct. 3, 2008, 2:34 a.m.    

The comment made that Stepan Bandera collaborated with the Nazis is categorically a malicious untruth spread, we are quite sure, by Russia. There is absolutely NO historical evidence to substantiate this vile rumour and we are not supporters of Bandera but we are spporters of the truth, especially as it concerns Ukraine. Who did collaborate with Hitler was Stalin, and Stalin also supplied the Nazis with wheat from Ukrainian fields. So Russians can hang their heads in shame that they helped keep the Nazis healthy a lot longer than otherwise might have been possible. Dr. Bohdan Zaputovich & Dr. Maria Hrycaiko Zaputovich Toronto, Canada.

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Anonymous Oct. 7, 2008, 6:18 a.m.    

There is planty of evindence that Bandera was involved in mass-murder of Polish civilians. Is that "untruth" as well?

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Anonymous Nov. 6, 2008, 10:11 a.m.    

Yes, that were accusation from Polish side. Do you know about operation VISLA?

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Anonymous Oct. 6, 2008, 2:28 p.m.    

This account is rather simpistic, the fact is that OUN did collaborate with the Nazis, and did adhere to a fascistic integral nationalist ideaology. It is only by recognising this that one can truly understand the historical significance of the split which took place in OUN and the culminated in the radical democratic politics, reflected in the writings of Poltava and Hornovy, which adopted in 1943, which placed the movement in opposition to Hitler and Stalin. Bandera was extremely critical of these politic. Furthermore it is historically innacurate to say bandera led to the creation of UPA, historical truth shows that it emerged very much in contradiction to Bandera's ideology and was a combination of forces which emerged and were cohered in opposition to the Nazis.

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Anonymous Oct. 6, 2008, 6:17 p.m.    

If there was no collaboration with the Nazis, what then was the 1943 congress decisions all about then, why did the core organisation of the Ukrainian national movement consider it so important to discard its previous ideological viewpoints - which forged by Bandera and his followers? The whole reason being that the experience of the Nazi occupation had undermined this body of opinion. Those who keep saying there was no collaboration are engaging in a re-writing of history undermining the legitimate defence of the UPA. The open wlecome given to neo-Nazis on UPA memorial parades in Kyiv did not help much either frankly.

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Anonymous Oct. 7, 2008, 6:14 a.m.    

Is Mr.Lukanov really asking if Bandera was a hero?

The guy was involved in mass-murder of civilians and never accomplished antything politicaly or military. He was just as much of a hero as Schikotilo was. Calling him a hero just because he was Ukrainian Nationalist is about the same as Germans calling Hitler a hero.

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Anonymous Nov. 6, 2008, 10:09 a.m.    

If you are not very good in history, haven't in Ukraine those times how can you blame a person who was trying to rescue his country? And what is bad in loving your people and your country? - Nothing, and this it called nationalism. (Look up for a definition in the dictionary if you don't know what it means). And DON'T compare S.Bandera with Hitler, the second was fascist, not a nationalist - he was fighting not for his country, he was trying to seize the world.

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Anonymous Oct. 7, 2008, 6:42 p.m.    

Why is it that when a Ukrainian patriot/nationalist is discussed some people (Rusia, Soviets and their lackies) say that these people are fascists and traitors. Yet any Russian historical figure that stands for Russian nationalism is called a hero/patriot. These are the people that should be labeled traitors.

Stepan Bandera fought for a free and independent Ukraine. He fought against the Germans and Russians/Soviets. It is only due to Russian/Soviet propaganda that this Ukrainian hero is villified.

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Anonymous Oct. 7, 2008, 7:33 p.m.    

You wrote - "He fought against the Germans and Russians/Soviets."

You forget Polish. Thousands of Polish civilians indcluding women and children were massacered by groups lead by Stepan Bandera. And, no it is not "Russian/Soviet" propoganda. It's a historic fact with documented witness testimonies and identified mass-graves sites.

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Anonymous Oct. 8, 2008, 10:12 p.m.    

And how many Ukrainians have been killed by "hounourable" Poles

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Anonymous Oct. 9, 2008, 12:31 a.m.    

Is anybody asking if those Poles were heroes?

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Anonymous Oct. 7, 2008, 7:49 p.m.    

If anybody has any doubt to what Banderovtsi were, see "Massacres of Poles in Volhynia"

Some hero.

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Anonymous Oct. 8, 2008, 1:50 a.m.    

For those of you that still want to believe that Bandera did not cooperate with Natzis, here is a good link for you:

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Anonymous Oct. 8, 2008, 10:08 p.m.    

My what an intellectual, Wiki as an authoratative source. Related to Palin?

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Anonymous Oct. 9, 2008, 12:42 a.m.    

The newspaper looks authentic to me. Perhaps you can go to Library archives and look for original.

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Anonymous Jan. 18, 2009, 2:44 a.m.    

For brainless orange neo-nazi turd like yourself even Hitler's Men Kampf is written by Putin, heh, heh, heh

Stepan Bandera: Hero or Nazi sympathizer?

For the Ukraine orange shitt for brains every nazi sympatizer is a hero. That's why the Ukraine neo-nazi need yet another good arsewoping, and mighty Russia will give it to them as usual .

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