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Roman Shukhevych — the death of a hero
Mariya VLAD relates a story of Roman Shukhevych, a pivotal figure in the Ukrainian national movement in Western Ukraine in the 1940s.
There are still many poorly or not sufficiently explored stretches of Ukraine’s history. There are several reasons for such a state of things in the study of history in Ukraine. One of them is the legacy of the soviet past when historical facts were suppressed, twisted around or ignored. The history of the Ukrainian nationalist movement, in western Ukraine in particular, was taboo. It is only in recent years that facts and personalities in Ukraine’s history began to be revealed. One of such personalities is Roman Shukhevych, Commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UIP), head of the Provid (Ruling Body) of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, head of the General Secretariat of the Ukrainian Chief Liberation Council (UChLC). For seven years Shukhevych was the spearhead of the national liberation struggle in Western Ukraine against the soviets and the Nazis.
In the history of every nation we find figures who embody and epitomize the strivings of the people they come from. They absorb the energy of the people and become leaders. Roman Shukhevych is one of such heroes.
Early years and war
He was born into the family of Ukrainian intellectuals in Lviv on July 7 1907. His father was a much sought-after defense lawyer, and his grandfather was a prominent ethnographer. Even in his early years, Shukhevych was exposed to the ideas of Ukrainian national liberation movement. Of a particular importance were his talks with Colonel Yevhen Konovalts, a champion of Ukrainian independence, in the early 1920s. When a chance to join a nationalist organization presented itself, the young Shukhevych grabbed it. In his teens, he became a member of the clandestine Ukrainian Military Organization (UMO), and in 1929 he joined the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). His involvement in these organizations did not prevent him from continuing his studies and in 1932 he graduated from the Lviv Polytechnic Institute. In the 1930s, he, as an OUN member, clandestinely worked in the local executive branch of the OUN which at that time was headed by Stepan Bandera.
Shukhevych was a man of action, violent if need be. In 1926, he, following a decision of a Ukrainian nationalist organization, killed a Polish school supervisor in Lviv for his attempts to “Polonize” (that is, to impose the Polish language and Polish studies and do away with Ukrainian studies) Ukrainian schools in Lviv. In 1930 he organized the first OUN terrorist attack in the town of Horodok, and in 1933 he led an attack on the Soviet Consulate in Lviv.
For his anti-Polish activities Shukhevych was arrested in 1934 but released in 1938 when he was granted an amnesty. The prison years did not dampen his nationalist ardor and he joined the Karpatska Sich nationalist organization, of which he soon became actual head.
In 1939–1941 Shukhevych was in charge of organizing underground Ukrainian nationalist activities in Western Ukraine, and in 1941 he became leader of the Ukrainian Legion in Lviv.
In the fall of 1939 Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union partitioned Poland, and Lviv together with the whole of Western Ukraine came under the soviet control. In June 1941, Nazi Germany, abrogating the Soviet-Nazi friendship pact, invaded the Soviet Union and within months not only Western Ukraine but its eastern regions were occupied by the Nazi troops.
The OUN rose up in arms both against the Nazi invaders and the soviets. In 1943 Shukhevych was elected head of the OUN Central Provid, and in the fall of the same year he headed the UIA. In July 1944 Shukheych was elected head of the UChLC General Secretariat at the First Grand Convention of the UChLC which was secretly convened and held underground.
Roman Shukhevych proved to be ideally fitting his role of a military commander and nationalist leader — in addition to being physically fit (before the war he had done a lot of sports, including boxing, running and football). He was an ardent nationalist fighter with pronounced anti-totalitarian leanings.
Shukhevych’s relatives, wife and children were in constant danger of being arrested either by the German or soviet authorities. Shukhevych’s father, an elderly and frail man, was arrested and dispatched to a concentration camp in the east of Russia where he died.
In 1944, Shukhevych divorced his wife Natalya Berezynska in order to protect her from prosecution for being the spouse of a “notorious” Ukrainian nationalist fighter, but it did not save her from prison — eventually she was arrested by the soviet authorities and imprisoned for ten years. His son and daughter were placed in an orphanage. His son Yury ran away from the orphanage some time later and in 1948 he made an attempt to take his sister away from that orphanage where conditions were truly awful, but he was apprehended and sentenced for fourteen years in a concentration camp. He spent much longer time in prisons and camps and was released only in 1989 — by that time he had gone completely blind.
Yury Shukhevych recalled that his father, during one of the rare meetings they had, said, “We are not seeking revenge for all the wrongs done to our families, we are fighting to do away, once and forever, with that terrible communist regime which oppresses our nation.”
In 1945, when, after the defeat of Nazi Germany, there was only one enemy left to fight — the soviets — Roman Shukhevych and the OUN Central Provid worked out new tactics of armed struggle. Special measures were to be taken to preserve the fighting units in combat readiness, to tighten up security, to conduct clandestine operations in great secrecy, to educate a new generation of fighters in the spirit of Ukraine’s independence and nationalist ideas, and to recruit nationalist fighters in Eastern Ukraine.
At the same time, Shukhevych tried to contact the soviet authorities and conduct negotiations in order to gain some respite from fighting. No compromise was reached though, and the fighting went on.
The soviet secret service tried hard to find and apprehend Shukhevych (who was codenamed Vovk that is Wolf) but he seemed to be impossible to catch. Shukhevych was a master of clandestinity. There was even a special KGB department (2-N at the Ministry for Internal Affairs of USSR) created with a specific task of capturing Shukhevych, with about 800 specially trained secret agents looking for him. He was reported killed three times but the reports eventually proved to be false. A great sum of money was promised for information that would lead to his arrest but nobody came forward with such information.
Shukhevych had several trusted people, some of whom helped him set up hiding places and others who acted as messengers and liaison officers. Halyna Didyk (byname — Anna), a woman close to him, played a particularly important role in providing him with safe hiding places — over a dozen altogether — and being responsible for security alert. She also supplied Shukhevych with forged documents.
Years of privations, hiding, fighting, being on constant alert and nervous tension eventually began to tell — Shukhevych suffered from rheumatism, myocarditis and blood hypertension, and had to see doctors from time to time. Hanna Didyk set up a secret place behind a large stove in a room in one of the old houses in Lviv, from which he could pay visits to doctors. Shukhevych did not stay long though at one and the same place — he moved from place to place in the Land of Halychyna, always ahead of the secret service who were closing in on him. A couple of times, in 1948 and 1949, he was bold enough to travel to Odesa to a Black Sea resort, accompanied by Halyna. They carried with them guns and poison capsules which they would swallow in case they were traced down and were in danger of imminent arrest. But they escaped the secret service ubiquitous eyes and ears and Shukhevych did improve his health.
From the KGB secret archives to which access was granted only recently, it became clear, that there were some other people who were close associates of Shukhevych and who helped him avoid being captured. One of such people was Kateryna Zaretska, also known as Moneta (Coin). Gradually she graduated from an associate to a lover. She coordinated the work of messengers and liaison people, and kept contact with people who organized hiding places for Shukhevych. In 1947 Zaretska was arrested but soon released as there was no solid incriminating evidence against her. It did not mean though that the secret service stopped maintaining close surveillance and she was arrested again in 1948. She resisted the arrest and in a shoot-out with secret agents killed one of them. Zaretska was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment.
Another person who played a considerable role in Shukhevych’s life was Darka Husyak, aka Nusya — and this role, according to the materials discovered in the KGB archives, was a fateful one.
Even with new materials obtained from the archives the exact details of Roman Shukhevych’s death have not been fully established. The account that follows is based on the materials published in the book Roman Shukhevych u dokumentakh radyanskykh organiv derzhavnoyi bezpeky 1944– 1950 (Roman Shukhevych in Documents of Soviet Organs of State Security 1944–1950) published by the State Archive of the Security Service of Ukraine, the State National Institute in 2007, and on some articles which deal with Shukhevych and the UIA and which were recently published in newspapers and magazines. Some information can also be gleaned from the reminiscences of Yury Shukhevych, Roman Shukhevych’s son.
Darka Husyak often carried messages from Shukhevych to individuals and organizations. Once she even went to Moscow in order to establish contacts with the US Embassy there. She was under constant security service surveillance and was finally arrested as she was walking along a street in Lviv. Her capture was so sudden and unexpected for her that she did not have time to use either her gun or the poison capsule to kill herself. It happened on March 2 1950. She was tortured but she refused to reveal the whereabouts of Shukhevych. Her mother was also arrested and was tortured in front of Darka. But even this did not make her reveal what was wanted of her. Tortures did not break her spirit but they did ruin her health.
Darka was put into a prison hospital ward. Soon she was joined by a woman who called herself Roza. The woman bore evident signs of beatings and torture. Roza claimed she was a Ukrainian nationalist activist and said that Moneta — that is Kateryna Zarytska — was held in the cell next door. Some time later Roza told Darka that she was being released as no evidence of her UIP connections had been found. Roza offered Darka to write a note which she, Roza, would pass on to whoever she might want to outside the prison. Darka leapt at the chance of informing her friends of the circumstances of her capture — she wrote that she had been pounced upon by six people at the same time and thus failed to use either the gun or poison; she also wrote that she was still holding on under torture but was not sure for how long she’d able to do it, thus warning her comrades-in-arms to change the address of hiding. The note was to be passed to Natalya Khrobak in the village of Bilohorshcha in the Land of Lvivshchyna; Darka also described in detail how the building where Khrobak lived could be found.
Roza turned out to be a KGB decoy — the signs of torture and beating on her face and body were the work of a skilful make-up artist.
Darka passed her note to Roza on March 4 1950. The soviet secret service thought that the place the address of which was described by Darka, was actually the place where Shukhevych was hiding. A plan of s special operation to capture “Vovk” was worked out, and the next day the operation began. It involved KGB secret agents in Lviv, special troops of the Ministry for Home Affairs, border guards troops and police troops of Lviv. Altogether about 600 troops were to take part in the operation. They would surround the entire vicinity of the village, including the nearby forest.
The special operational headquarters was set up, with General Major Drozdov, deputy Minister of State Security of the Ukrainian SSR, General Lieutenant Pavel Sudoplatov from Moscow, General Major Fadeyev, head of an internal security department and Colonel Maystryk, head of the Lviv KGB Department (in fact, at that time KGB — Committee for State Security, was called Ministry for State Security, abbreviated, in Russian, as MGB — tr).
The operation developed according to plan. The village was cordoned off, the neighborhood with the house indicated in Darka’s note was surrounded. When a boy was seen leaving that house he was stopped and interrogated. The boy, Danylo, who turned out to be Natalya Khrobak’s son, said that there was someone hiding in the house of his elder sister Hanna Konyushek which was situated in the center of the village. Special agents and soldiers surrounded the building indicated by Danylo at about 8 o’clock in the morning. A woman who was found in the building called herself Stefaniya Kulyk but she looked very much like Halyna Didyk and the arresting party were convinced it was Didyk. She was promised certain guarantees if she revealed the place where Shukhevych was hiding. The woman kept denying she was Didyk and insisted she was innocent of any wrongdoing. The search of the house began. When a handgun was found, the woman managed to swallow a poison capsule. She was rushed to hospital where she was resuscitated (later, she was tortured, found to be Halyna Didyk, accused of “crimes against the Soviet Union,” found guilty and sentenced to 21 years of imprisonment in a concentration camp; after her release she returned to Ukraine where she lived in the village of Khrystynivka in the Land of Cherkashchyna; she died in 1979).
Shukhevych was indeed hiding in that house — in a secret room built especially for this purpose between the two floors of the house. The door to the adjoining landing on the staircase was concealed by a rug on the wall. One of the reports dealing with the operation to arrest Shukhevych or kill him if he resisted, describes the scene in this way: “During the search of the house, several shots were fired from behind a wooden partition on the landing. At that moment Major Revenko, head of a special department of the MGB of the Ukrainian SSR and Colonel Fokin, deputy head of a department of the MGB in Lviv were coming up the steps. In a shoot-out Comrade Revenko was shot and killed. The bandit burst onto the landing from his hiding place holding a grenade in one hand and a pistol in the other hand. He started running down the stairs and encountered Colonel Fokin. At that moment Sergeant P-k who was posted in the yard of the house, rushed in and killed the bandit with a burst of automatic fire.”
This official report does not mention a detail that can be found in the forensic reports which indicate that in addition to the three bullet wounds to the chest, there was an entrance bullet wound to the right temple and a blood streak from the left ear; it was highly unlikely that this wound could have been inflicted by the same burst of automatic fire that hit Shukhevych’s chest; in all likelihood, Shukhevych who was morally wounded, shot himself in the head with his gun.
Official reports also mention that Shukhevych’s body was shown to his son Yury who was held in a MGB prison in Lviv Oblast and some other persons who identified the dead person as Shukhevych. “The operation ended at 8:30 am on March 5 1950,” says one of the reports.
In March 2000 one of the newspapers in Lviv published excerpts of Yury Shukhevych’s reminiscences in which he says, in part, that the inspector Huzev brought him to the garage of the Lviv Department of the Ministry for State Security (MGB) where he (Yury) saw the body of his father who “was lying on the floor covered with straw; Father was still wearing an embroidered shirt; there was a wound on the right side of his head and three more wounds below his chest; the hair near the wound on the head was singed. From this I concluded that he shot himself.” In one of the photographs of Shukhevych’s body, this wound to the head can be clearly seen. Evidently he could not have sustained that wound from the same burst of automatic fire that pierced his breast. Shukhevych, realizing that he did not have a chance to escape, must have shot himself before he was shot from an automatic weapon. Shukhevych simply could not let himself be captured alive as obviously the intention was to do.
It is still not known where his body was buried but one should hope that his burial place will eventually be discovered as so many other secrets from the Ukrainian recent history have come to light.
It may seem to be of not a particular importance to find out the exact circumstances of Shukhevych’s death but I believe it does matter whether he died by his own hand to prevent his foes from capturing him alive, or whether he was shot in a skirmish by an anonymous secret service soldier.
There are many more things that we want to find out about the UIA and OUN struggle in the 1940s in Western Ukraine because they fought for Ukrainian independence.
On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Roman Shukhevych’s birth and of the 65th anniversary of the creation of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, Roman Shukhevych, chief commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in 1942–1950, was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine by the presidential decree (decree # 965/2007 of October 12 2007). The citation read in part, that the award was given for “Outstanding personal contribution to the national liberation struggle for freedom and independence of Ukraine.”
Photos by Ivan Dudkin
and from archive of Vasyl Vasylenko, the artist
Roman Shukhevych in the Land of Volyn
Natalya Berezynska, Shukhevych’s wife.
Halyna Didyk, one of Shukhevych’s close
From left to right: Roman Shukhevych
Roman Shukhevych, after getting badly
Volodymyr Serhiychuk, professor,
Vasyl Herasymyuk and Yevhen Sverstyuk,
At the meeting in Kyiv devoted
Vasyl Vasylenko with his portrait