Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA)
After the fall of Czarist Russia in 1917, an independent Ukrainian State (The Ukrainian National Republic) was created and existed until 1921. Headed by Symon Petliura (the former commander-in-chief of the armed forces), it continued to function as a government-in-exile. In 1926, Petliura was assassinated by a Soviet agent in Paris. At that time, the majority of Ukrainian lands were forcibly incorporated into the USSR, while Western Ukraine was annexed by Poland. During the 1930's, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin terrorized Eastern Ukraine into submission by means of massive arrest, deportations, executions, show trials, and an artificial famine engineered by the Communist Party which starved over 7 million Ukrainian peasants who refused to give up their land and join the Communist collective farms. This "terror-famine" (as described by Robert Conquest) was accompanied by a wide-ranging attack on all aspects of Ukrainian intellectual, cultural, and spiritual life.
In Western Ukraine, the situation under Polish rule was somewhat different. Despite harsh Polish oppression, the generation of Ukrainians growing up in the 1920s vividly remembered the short-lived period of independence which they experienced as children. In 1929, Colonel Evhen Konovalets (an officer in the army of the Ukrainian National Republic) founded an underground organization, OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists), which waged a relentless armed struggle throughout Western Ukraine against the Polish occupation. Konovalets also sent infiltration groups of Ukrainian nationalists into Eastern Ukraine in order to organize an underground movement against Soviet rule. In 1938, Konovalets was assassinated by a Soviet agent in Rotterdam, Holland. Two years after his death, the OUN split into two factions, with the larger, more-militant group consisting of younger nationalists led by Stepan Bandera.
The German invasion of Poland in 1939 resulted in the collapse of Polish rule in Western Ukraine and the arrival of Soviet Red Army as "liberators". Over the next two years, this "liberation" was characterized by massive arrests, deportation, executions and terror directed against anyone who displayed the slightest trace of Ukrainian national consciousness.
In June 1941, Hitler unexpectedly invaded the Soviet Union. This caused the Red Army to retreat eastward. On June 30, 1941, before German intentions had become fully clear, the Bandera factions of the OUN proclaimed the formation of an independent Ukrainian government in Lviv, the capital of Western Ukraine. This was done without the previous knowledge of the Germans, who responded immediately by arresting Bandera and his closest associates. There was to be no Ukrainian administration in any form: the only role the Germans were prepared to assign to Ukrainians was that of servants. From there on, organized Ukrainian nationalism acted independently of the Germans and in opposition of them. This found expression in the formation of various armed military forces of a guerrilla type. Eventually, under the auspices of OUN these partisan groups united in October of 1942 under a single command known as the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). The three letters, UPA, embody the whole epoch, spirit and content of armed political struggle of the Ukrainian nation during WWII and for a decade after its formal termination. The Supreme Ukrainian Liberation Council (the underground government) named General Roman Shukhevych (better known as Taras Chuprynka) Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which carried on the struggle for independence. At that time, there was a general belief that the WWII alliance of Western Democracies with the Soviet Union would be of very short duration and Ukrainians should remain prepared for a new conflict.
In their struggle on two fronts, German and Russian, the UPA forces won important victories. Among the significant causalities of forces battling the UPA were: the German General Lutze (1943), the Russian Marshall Vatutin (1944), and the Polish Communist General Swierczewski (1947). In his book "1999", Richard Nixon expresses amazement at the UPA's ability to conduct such large-scale military operations on two fronts.
In 1947 a Russian-Polish-Czech Alliance was formed in order to wipe out the Ukrainian Insurgent Army operating in the Carpathian Mountains. The UPA was able to function effectively because they had a wide-spread popular support. As a result, the Polish Communist government in 1947 deported all the inhabitants of the Lemko Carpathian Mountain region of Western Ukraine. It should be noted that membership in the UPA was open to people of various political viewpoints and even non-Ukrainians. For example, there was a Georgian battalion in UPA. Also, a number of Jewish doctors provided medical care in the ranks of UPA. Many women and children worked as nurses, couriers, and performed reconnaissance missions for the UPA. While the OUN provided political and ideological leadership of the UPA, individual UPA members did not have to belong to OUN and were permitted to hold different political opinions as long as they were willing to fight for an independent Ukraine. Estimates of UPA membership range from 50 to 200 thousand. General Roman Shukhevych, while being supreme commander of the UPA, was also the head of OUN in Ukraine (since Bandera was in exile). He issued several declarations stressing that the ultimate purpose of the UPA was to achieve an independent Ukraine State based on democratic principles.
In 1944, in the Carpathian Mountains, the OUN and UPA organized the Anti-Bolshevik Block of Nation (ABN) which united the various non-Russian nationalities of the Soviet Union in their struggle for freedom.
Aiming at informing the West about the plight of Ukraine, the UPA command in 1947 ordered an UPA battalion (c.400 men) to cross Czechoslovakia and Austria into the American Zone in Germany. The soldiers fought their way through the Iron Curtain, bringing with them samples of the free Ukrainian press and other valuable information. Other smaller groups arrived the same way in 1948-1959. On March 5, 1950 General Shukhevych (Taras Chuprynka), who led the UPA troops since 1943, was killed in a battle near his headquarters in the village of Bilohorscha near Lviv, overrun by the Bolshevik secret police troops.
Despite the end of WWII in 1945, the UPA's armed struggle continued well into the 1950's. In his autobiographical book Khrushchev Remembers, the former Soviet dictator admits that the Soviet lost thousands of troops after WWII while fighting UPA. Many members of OUN and UPA were sentenced to 25 years of hard labor in Siberian concentration camps. Even then the Bolsheviks did not succeed in suppressing their spirits of freedom. After Stalin's death in 1953, the Ukrainian and other prisoners rebelled in camps of Vorkuta, Kolyma, and Kingir (where secret police detachments killed 500 women who demanded freedom). These uprisings were later described by the Russian dissident novelist A. Solzhenitsyn in his Gulaf Archipelago. During the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, the UPA detachments again became active helping the revolution by destroying bridges and holding back trains carrying Soviet troops on their way to Hungary.
In the 1960s, the new post-war generation of intellectuals in Ukraine began demanding changes to Soviet cultural and nationality policy and criticizing Russification. In 1965, the first wave of arrests and persecutions by the KGB placed many of these young dissidents into Soviet jails and concentration camps; even more came in 1972 following a second massive crackdown. It was here that these intellectuals, mostly writers and poets from cities in Eastern Ukraine who had been raised under Communism, encountered the older generation of OUN-UPA members, mostly from peasant and priestly families in Western Ukraine, who had waged an uncompromising armed struggle against all aspects of Soviet society. The writings of Ukrainian dissidents in the 1970s evolved into calls for political and religious freedom, and then into outright demands for national independence in the 1980s. Many of today's political activists and leaders in Ukraine are former prisoners of Soviet jails of the 1960s and 1970s. Clearly, the UPA veterans had a significant impact on them.
Most UPA soldiers were deeply religious, being members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Many priests served as chaplains in the UPA. Stalin outlawed the Church in 1945 and arrested the whole hierarchy. The Church was driven into modern-day catacombs from which it emerged triumphantly in 1990. Of the original bishops, only Josyf Cardinal Slipyj survived 18 years of imprisonment and was released and sent to Rome in 1963. In 1982, on the 40th anniversary of UPA's founding, Cardinal Slipyj issued a special commemorative pastoral letter in which he warmly praised the dedication of UPA members and recalled his long sentence. The Soviet government was not satisfied with General Shukhevych's death in 1950. Any Ukrainian who exhibited traces of national identity was subject to being labeled a "Banderite" with unpleasant consequences. Bandera himself was assassinated by a KGB agent in 1959 in Munich Germany. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the Soviet press periodically reported official executions of former OUN-UPA members. General Shukhevych's son, Yuriy, was first arrested in 1948 at the age of 15. The KGB showed him his father's corpse in 1950 and for 30 years tried unsuccessfully to break his will and officially denounce his father and the UPA. Yurij went blind during his long years of imprisonment but did not betray his father. In 1990, for the first time since General Shukhevych's death four decades earlier, 8,000 people (including Yuriy and his mother and sister) gathered at the site of his last battle for a memorial service conducted by clergy of the hereto outlawed Ukrainian Church. Yuriy became head of one of Ukraine's political parties.
In August of 1991 Ukraine proclaimed its independence, which was endorsed in December by the people with an overwhelming 90% vote. This allowed many UPA veterans to came forth with their memoirs. In August of 1992, 10,000 former UPA members proudly marched through the streets of Kyiv demanding official rehabilitation and military pensions. For half a century, Soviet history had labeled them as traitors and Nazi sympathizers. Now they are demanding the same treatment that their Red Army counterparts have been receiving. It appears that they are succeeding. In May of 1993, Lviv city authorities banned the traditional Victory Day celebration (commemorating the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany). They declared that the Red Army was an occupying force in Ukraine and that it was the UPA fighters who were the true liberators. Many of Ukraine's political leaders have stated that their country's independence was not really achieved bloodlessly (in 1991) but was paid for with the lives of countless nameless heroes who participated in UPA's liberation struggle.
Extensively throughout Western Ukraine, there is one prominent feature in almost very village and town in the region: a symbolic grave ("mohyla") with a simple cross and sign stating that it was dedicated to the fallen known and unknown "never-forgotten" fighters for the freedom of Ukraine. In addition, there are monuments and street names in honor of Konovalets, Shukhevych, Bandera and other heroes. Also, bookstores now carry material outlining the true history of 20th-century Ukraine. Despite decades of Soviet propaganda, the people remembered the truth about UPA and will not let it be forgotten.