Freedom was their ultimate goal, while
their immediate goal was to protect the Ukrainian population from brutal and
widespread Nazi and Soviet exploitation and repression.
While engulfed in an inevitable, hopeless armed
struggle against Soviet elite forces, UPA’s leadership on May 30, 1947, dedicated
its founding date to coincide with the historic, Ukrainian
Cossack holiday of Pokrova.
UPA saw their resistance as a continuation
of Ukraine’s centuries-old struggle for independence. That saw its roots as the
descendants of Kyivan Rus, the Cossack Hetmanate states, the uprisings by
Maksym Zaliznyak and Oleksa Dovbush, to the Ukrainian National Army that won
brief independence after World War I. That was followed by the rural uprisings
in the 1920s-1930s in the newly formed Soviet Ukraine (mostly resistance to the
Bolshevik collectivization of farmland that led Josef Stalin and his henchmen
in Ukraine to orchestrate the man-made
famine of millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930s).
But there won’t be any victory parades or
solemn commemoration for UPA given by official Kyiv – even though the last time
I checked, UPA never surrendered or capitulated, unlike the Soviet Union, which
fell apart in1991. I’m not sure there should be parades anyway, but the fact
veterans don’t enjoy World War II combatant status in Ukraine.
The reason for the most part is that the
Soviet narrative of history still prevails, more than 20 years after
independence. Post-Soviet Ukraine still hasn’t confronted its past soberly, and
doesn’t want to, it appears.
So year after year, I get to hear rubbish
like how Kharkiv was Ukraine’s first capital…or how UPA were nothing but backstabbing,
brainwashed, illiterate farmers who betrayed their nation.
Here are some facts to destroy the Soviet
myths about UPA. The myths are still perpetuated today by Ukrainophobes who
find every reason to undermine Ukraine’s autonomy based on pseudo-scientific
research filled with Soviet sources of footnotes and endnotes.
Notice how the Organization of Ukrainian
Nationalists hasn’t been mentioned yet. It’s because UPA and OUN – the wing
that was led by Stepan Bandera – weren’t one whole entity. Soviet propaganda
lumped the two together to discredit both easier.
OUN didn’t single-handedly establish UPA.
was an underground political organization with its own rules and hierarchy.
Sure, the two had much in common – like making Ukraine free and forming their
own armed units after the Soviets and Nazis invaded in 1941 – but they weren’t
one and the same thing. OUN and UPA were connected by common goals, and by the
fact that many OUN members were UPA soldiers and officers, and vice versa.
However, not all OUN members took part in armed resistance against the Nazi and
Soviet invader-occupiers. And not all UPA fighters shared the nationalistic
views of OUN.
Anyone who has examined underground
Ukrainian documents from that tumultuous era could testify that OUN-UPA was
never used together in official documentation for reasons described above.
UPA was anti-colonial in nature which
fought mercilessly and cold-bloodedly punished its enemies just like the Irish
Republican Army or the Jewish partisans in Palestine did. It was a fight to
death, for an ideal that wasn’t apocalyptic, but almost evangelical: the
Ukrainian partisans knew their death would plant the seeds for future
generations of Ukrainians to pick up the mantle and create their nation.
UPA had no outside support yet it resisted
the Nazi and Soviet criminal machines and survived into the 1950s, a decade
after WWII ended. They had no outside supplies of weapons, financing and
logistical support – unlike the Soviet partisans, the Polish Home
Army or the French resistance movement who had
help from their governments in-exile…or Tito’s men in Yugoslavia.
Yet UPA managed to quickly
mobilize into highly structured and organized groups. Their fighters set up
officer training schools, counter-intelligence spy networks, propaganda teams
and supply networks – all from among the Ukrainian population.
The result was a feared, powerful
armed resistance movement.
To illustrate this, here are some
statistics of what the Soviets criminally did to western Ukraine where UPA
activity was most concentrated, although UPA was active throughout the country.
According to history professor Yaroslav
In 1944-1953, various Soviet
forces killed an estimated 153,000 Ukrainian resistance combatants and
supporters; arrested an estimated 134,000; some 66,000 families (almost 204,000
people) were deported from western Ukraine to Siberia and northern Russia.
Additional Ukrainians were killed
and deported when the Soviets invaded western Ukraine in 1939-1941 when it
started World War II together with its erstwhile ally Nazi Germany.
Faizulin found that, as of July
26, 1945, there were 156 special Soviet units marauding western Ukraine masquerading
as UPA units. They numbered 1,783 NKVD (Soviet secret police) and former UPA
soldiers who “liquidated” 1,980 underground fighters and captured 1,142 people.
And as of Feb. 20, 1950 (five years after World War II), 19 NKVD units
(numbering 130 people) were roaming western Ukraine as UPA imposters, killing,
raping, torturing and stealing.
History Professor Ivan Patryliak
writes about other UPA myths:
Soviet propagandists painted UPA
being comprised of former Ukrainian National Army veterans from World War I –
when in fact as of 1944 only 2.17 percent of UPA combatants were aged 40 years
Another myth, writes Patryliak,
is that UPA also consisted of illiterate farmers who were brainwashed by
fanatic nationalists when in fact the rural make up of combatants didn’t differ
much from other armies of the time, including the Soviet army. Thus, only 1.73
percent of UPA soldiers were illiterate, whereas 2.9 percent of Red partisans
UPA pitched battles in Kyiv Oblast,
Zhytomyr, Vinnytsia, Khmelnytsky, as well as other oblasts beyond western
Ukrainian where the Soviets said UPA only operated. Indeed, UPA’s cell network
encompassed the whole country. UPA divided its armies into “west,” “north,” “south”
And UPA’s numbers boasted
Ukrainians from every modern-day oblast. Although, UPA was mostly ethnically
Ukrainian, as of 1944, 98 percent were registered as Ukrainians, there were
Russians (0.83 percent), Uzbeks (0.35 percent), Belarusians (0.14 percent), Don
Cossacks (0.07 percent), Czechs (0.07 percent).
There were also Jewish men and
women UPA members, the majority of whom were medics and nurses.
There’s much to be studied still,
but many archived materials have been destroyed, inaccessibly locked up in
Moscow and bureaucratically difficult to access in Ukraine.
My late friend and colleague, Ilko Kucheriv, once said that
it’s about time the Ukrainians write their own history, and not have others
write it for them. This could be done, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of, if
it’s done right, in a historical and contextual process with input from a
variety of scientific disciplines.
Post staff writer Mark Rachkevych can be reached at email@example.com