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Ukrainian Insurrection Army: myth, truth and reconciliation

 

60 years after the capitulation of Germany in the Second World War and the end of war in Europe, the role of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and of the Ukrainian Insurrection Army (UIA) has not yet been clearly defined, and the whole issue remains to a large extent controversial in Ukrainian society. The Soviet Army veterans en masse refuse to recognize the status of UIA veterans as being equal to theirs and thus entitled to the same privileges and social benefits. Will reconciliation which is encouraged by President Yushchenko be finally achieved? Will truth and justice be established and mutual forgiveness reached?

 

Ukrainian historians, members of a governmental commission that had been set up to study the activities of the OUN-UIA during and after the war, held a press conference in Kyiv on April 14 2005. The commission, led by Professor Stanislav Kulchytsky, Ph. D., worked within the Institute of History of Ukraine of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. Between 1998 and 2004 the members of the commission published 28 studies, documents and reminiscences dealing with, and devoted to the OUN-UIA. In the 1990s, results and conclusions of the commission were made available to the then president of Ukraine, Verkhovna Rada, Cabinet of Ministers and Ministry of Justice.

According to the members of the commission, it was high time the full truth about the OUN-UIA struggle for Ukraines independence and against the Nazi occupation was made widely and publicly known. In the soviet times, the facts about the OUN-UIA and its role were misrepresented, twisted or kept secret altogether. Banderivets (OUN-UIA member and supporter of Stepan Bandera, one of the OUN leaders) was an abusive label and in some parts of Ukraine is still used in pejorative connotations. Surviving OUN-UIA members were hunted down, persecuted, arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned or executed. Any association with, any support of, or even mere speaking in favour of the OUN-UIA or its activities were branded as anti-soviet and could easily result in arrest and a term in a concentration camp. Massive soviet propaganda slandered, maligned and vilified the OUN-UIA, and the KGB secret service was on the lookout for those who either had been OUN-UIA members or supported the OUN-UIA in any manner, even verbally. The results of such soviet policies are still felt today.

Describing the repressive policies conducted by Moscow in Ukraine against the OUN-UIA, Yury Shapoval, a prominent historian, said, Dozens of thousands of people, then thousands of people, then hundreds of people, then dozens of people and finally separate individuals on this side of the Iron Curtain [in Ukraine] fought in the period of 1945 to 1955 against the [soviet] occupiers, heroically fighting for independence of Ukraine. But, as an old adage has it, history is made in blood and written in ink. The soviet official historiography, replacing scholarly approach to study of history with the approved communist party line, created a lot of myths about the Second World War, suppressing many facts which did not fit the soviet political line, or presenting wishful thinking as facts.

Ukraine, an independent country for fifteen years now, should encourage unbiased and scholarly studies, freed from politicizing and dispelling myths, which would truthfully reveal the phenomenon of the OUN-UIA and its role in the history of Europe and of Ukraine in the period between the two world wars, during the Second World War and after it. There are enough documents and other evidence to create a comprehensive picture. The history of the OUN-UIA is not free from dark pages and even crimes but they were blown out of all proportion by soviet propaganda whose slanderous campaigns and lingering aftereffects have not been properly assessed; on the other hand, dozens of thousands of cases of persecution, arrests and execution of the OUN-UIA members and their families and other crimes of the soviet regime were glossed over. According to the information which was suppressed for many years in the soviet archives, in the period from February 1944 to May 1946 about 111,000 UIA fighters were killed, 250,000 were arrested and imprisoned, and 203,000 were deported from Ukraine and placed in concentration camps. Within the same period of time, about 14,000 soviet troops and members of punitive detachments engaged in operations against the OUN-UIA, died in battle. These figures which reflect only one period of several months in the history of the OUN-UIA, clearly show which side suffered more casualties.

The road to reconciliation, forgiveness and understanding is a long one but it should be followed for the sake of truth and mutual understanding. Though the desirability of such reconciliation and understanding is clearly perceived by the new government, president and in large sections of Ukrainian society, to achieve this goal will not be an easy task. The surviving UIA fighters have not been officially recognized as war veterans; they are not protected by laws, and are not supported by social benefits.

This year when this country celebrates the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, homage should be paid to all those who fought against the Nazis, who died fighting and who survived, with due respect and homage paid both to the Red Army and UIA veterans. No one seeks to belittle the role and courage of the Red Army in overpowering Nazism  the other way round, with the passage of time the heroism and stamina of the Red Army soldiers become even more extolled and appreciated. At the same time, respect and homage is due to the UIA veterans who, as participants of the national-liberation struggle, fought for independence of Ukraine.

A book, Problemy OUN-UPA. Zvit robochoyi hrupy istorykiv pry Uryadoviy komisiyi z vyvchennya diyalnosti OUN-UPA (OUN-UIA Issues. Report of the working group of historians from the governmental commission studying OUN-UIA activities), published in Kyiv in 2004, presents a detailed account of the commissions findings.

 

The photos have been provided by Head of the National

Association of Photo Artists of Ukraine, Honored Art Worker,

Mykola SELYUCHENKO and taken from the book

of Mykhailo ANDRUSYAK Braty hromu

(Thunder Brothers), published in 2001, by Vik, Kolomiya.

 

Khreshchatyk, the central street of Kyiv in 1944.

 

War has come to the Land of Sumshchyna
in July 1941; photograph by Semen Koroshko.

 

French, English and Soviet soldiers
at the Command centre in Berlin in 1945.

 

Red Army troops preparing to cross
the Dnipro River in the fall of 1943.

 

At the OUN sergeants training centre in the town of Kolomiya, 1941.

 

Resistance fighters in the village of Korny, Kolomyishchyna.

 

Ivan Pavlyuk (19241946), a UIA fighter,
died in battle in the village of Bystrets.

 

Kosak Oleksa, a OUN member, was executed by the Gestapo
firing squad in the village of Stara Yaholnytsya on November 27 1942.

 

Young partisans, members of the Kovpak resistance detachment.

 

Evacuation of the civilian population from the Land
of Zhytormyrshchyna in the face of the German invasion;
photo by Mykhailo Melnyk.

 

Lamenting the dead. Kerch, the Crimea;
photograph by Dmytro Baltermants, a war photographer.

 

To survive, resistance fighters had to know not only how
to handle guns but also how to milk cows.

 

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