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Yaroslav Stetsko
Understanding the great leader  

January 19th, 2007 marks the 95th anniversary of the birth of Yaroslav Stetsko. Somehow the anniversary has added neither a new historical awareness nor a discovery of the person who was a leader that left his mark on both Ukrainian socio-political life and the life of our organization, CYM. What hinders our discovery of this personage and facts that we did not know about him? We analyze this below.

Yaroslav Stetsko belongs to that category of personalities, about whom much is written and discussed by both supporters/followers and political and ideological opponents. One might say that Konovalets, Bandera, Shuhevych and Stetsko are well-known individuals whose biographies are carefully studied and known by virtually every educated Ukrainian.

In reality, aside from a famous name (that often is controversially utilized), we discover a complete dearth of knowledge of biographical information about our leaders. In my opinion, a completely fulsome understanding (perception) of Yaroslav Stetsko’s stature is hindered by 3 factors:

  1. An unusually strong connection of Stetsko to events that occurred on June 30th, 1941. Frequently, one encounters a strong association between the Leader and this important political Act (Bill). However, there are many interesting and important events in Stetsko’s life that occurred before and after this date;
  2. The photo image of Stetsko – the picture of Stetsko that is disseminated most frequently comes from later selections depicting an intelligent but an older, more mature man. This makes it difficult to perceive Yaroslav Stetsko as the vibrant, active student who was at the top of his class in higher learning institutions in Poland, and the youthful ideologist of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationlists (OUN);
  3. The perception of Yaroslav Stetsko through the prism of his wife Slava Stetsko – an indisputably strong and charismatic personality. To some degree, this interferes with an assessment of Stetsko in his own right.

As a result of these factors, one wants to add a few more strokes to the painting of the famous ideologist, organizer and political activist...

Stetsko, the thinker:   The underground and extremely wide-spread (in the 1930’s) Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists propagated its ideas in several forbidden publications: “Surma”, “The Development of the Nation”, “Visnyk KE OUN” and “Yunak”. The first 2 were published beyond the territory of Ukraine, but would secretly find their way to Halychyna. “Visnyk” and “Yunak” were published in Western Ukraine. The editor of these publications was none other than 19-year old Yaroslav Stetsko, student of Lviv and Krakow Universities.

When, in 1936, a criminal trial commenced against the OUN leadership in Lviv, the youngest of the accused was Yaroslav Stetsko (with the exception of the girls of the reconnoitering division: the daughters of the Director of the National Museum in Lviv, Vera Sventsitska, the daughters of the Mathematics Professor, Catherine Zarytska and the daughters of the famous lawyer and director of “Dnister”, Daria Fedak). And where specific crimes of assassination and the manufacture of explosives were alleged against the remaining accused, the prosecutor accused Yaroslav Stetsko and Wolodymyr Yaniv (the future dean of the Free Ukrainian University) of “poisoning the minds of Ukrainian society”.

The Polish prosecutor considered Stetsko and Yaniv to be the most dangerous, yet counsel Dr. Starosolsky viewed them as blameless because “to act is easy, but to think is difficult”. Psychologically, it is easy for the young generation to physically react to existing circumstances even if dangerous or life threatening. It is significantly more difficult for this generation to rely on its creativity and imagination in the search for answers to the most troubling of issues. That is why I have the right to say that both my clients chose the most difficult of duties that faced the young Ukrainian patriots – a duty that is very difficult to accept particularly for a young person: the duty to find a wise resolution of the problems associated with this horrific, critical situation that is faced by the entire world today, and especially by the Ukrainian nation”. This aspect of Stetsko as the thinker, ideologist requires further investigation.

Stetsko, the organizer:   One frequently encounters the assertion that “Stetsko was Bandera’s deputy in the revolutionary leadership of OUN.” Although accurate, Stetsko was himself also the Head of the OUN Leadership Executive from 1968 to 1986 (a total of 18 years, the longest term of any of the leaders of the Organization). In addition, as a result of Yaroslav Stetsko’s efforts, the leadership of OUN was rebuilt in the diaspora (and foreign sections of OUN were created).

In reviewing Stetsko’s appeal to CYM members, one can often find his motto: “Measure your strengths in terms of what you want them to be, and not what they are!” It’s hard to believe that in 1936, prior to his incarceration, Stetsko declared: “through my actions, I advocated the thesis that Ukraine should become an ideological, moral and cultural centre, around which should focus the struggles of other enslaved nations...” This declaration turned into fact when over the course of 10 years, he managed to organize the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations (A.B.N.)

And there is one more event that is rarely discussed, namely, that after Stetsko’s release from prison, Evhen Konovalets entrusted him with the task of organizing the Second Great Assembly of OUN (in Rome). Although the Assembly was comprised of only 19 leaders, the point is that in characteristic fashion, Stetsko worked in 3 of the 4 committees (except the Military Committee) that were organizing and preparing for this event. Further, during the actual Assembly, Stetsko was the Secretary and the Chair of the Revolutionary Committee.

Yaroslav Stetsko was not only a capable organizer, he was a talented political technologist. When visiting Stockholm, during a press conference, Khrushchev ranted for an hour about the nationalists. What was the cause of his rather public meltdown? The day before, Stetsko had visited and brought a wreath to the gravesite of Karl XII. Such a simple gesture but how effective in causing such a reaction in a political leader! Yaroslav Stetsko was an exceptional organizer of international, organizational and publishing communities. He was indeed, a leader.

Stetsko, the statesman:   This aspect of his personality is similar to the above-mentioned and deals largely with the period of his life while in the diaspora (although we will dwell on the prominent role he played in the declaration of the Act of June 30th, 1941).

A significant event occurred in 1958 when the Ukrainian delegation headed by Yaroslav Stetsko participated in the creation of the World Anti-Communist League in Mexico, although the official entry of Ukraine occurred in 1967. The reason for this delay occurred as a result of Stetsko’s highly principled position that the League should not be simply “anti-communist” but should advocate against Russian imperialism. As a result of this insistent position of the Ukrainian delegation, the League’s Constitution was accordingly amended. The second issue for which Yaroslav Stetsko lobbied was that Ukraine should be represented in this League at the same level as the other state delegations (for example, American, Canadian, German and others). In this day and age, it is hard to imagine a similarly principled politician; but that is who Stetsko was, and as a result, he was able to achieve both his goals.

Stetsko was a charismatic individual, acknowledged as such by statesmen of many other countries. Of noteworthy interest is the fact that General John Hackett, Commander of NATO's Northern Army Group and friend of Stetsko, wrote a novel entitled “The Third World War” that was a fictionalized scenario of World War III based on a Soviet Army invasion of West Germany and where nationalists infiltrate the KGB, achieve a successful coup d’etat and cause the collapse of the USSR.

Another interesting event occurred when the Turkish Prime Minister officially invited Yaroslav Stetsko to his country and over the loud protest of Soviet diplomats, organized a tour on the Black Sea so that Stetsko could see his country’s shoreline.

In the context of the Ukrainian Youth Association (CYM), it is noteworthy to mention that in 1967 when Ukraine was officially accepted into the World Anti-Communist League, the Ukrainian delegation (of 11 members) consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Stetsko, representatives of major American and Canadian Ukrainian organizations, one member of Plast from Australia and 6 members of CYM!

Is it conceivable to imagine such representation in today’s roster of politicians and organizations? Stetsko not only desired it, but he was able to create a political elite of a stateless (at the time) nation.

It is impossible to paint a complete picture of Yaroslav Stetsko in one or even a few articles; but it is possible, especially in this anniversary year, to gather the memoirs of the many CYM members that lived and worked with this Leader.

Perhaps there is no time? No opportunity? Then let us recall his appeal to us: “Measure your strengths in terms of what you want them to be, and not what they are !” and “Strive for the greatest!”

- Sviatoslav Lypovetskyj (Ternopil)
Translation from Ukrainian: Lida Narozniak (Toronto)

For further reading on this topic, we recommend:

Wikipedia on Yaroslav Stetsko

Faithful Son of Ukraine


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