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Warning from the past

The resurgence of Ukraine's sinister forces of the right makes for an uneasy political future, writes KENNY COYLE

In 1929, the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) was formed in Vienna. From the beginning, the OUN attracted a number of extreme right-wing and militarist groups such as the Ukrainian Military Organisation (UMO), consisting of Polish-Ukrainian war veterans, the Union of Ukrainian Nationalist Youth (UUNY) and tellingly the Union of Ukrainian Fascists (UUF).

Although pan-Ukrainian in outlook, the OUN was mostly based in Polish-ruled territory of what is today western Ukraine and its early armed actions were directed entirely against the Poles, such as the 1934 assassination of Bronislaw Pieracki, the Polish minister of internal affairs.

By 1940, the imprint of fascist ideology was becoming more apparent and the OUN split in two.

Its more radical wing proclaimed Stepan Bandera as its providnyk (equivalent to the German Führer or the Italian duce). This OUN-B (B for Bandera) adopted the red and black flag, symbolising red for blood, black for the earth, and a nazi-style salute with the call "Glory to Ukraine!" to which the response was "Glory to the Heroes!"

Discussions had already opened between the OUN-B and the German command before the attack on the Soviet Union. Two battalions totalling around 700 OUN-B members, including OUN-B leader Roman Shukhevych, were set up within the German army - several thousand received military training and comprised "task forces" to follow the nazi forces into the Soviet Union.

The OUN-B put its network of contacts within Soviet Ukraine at the service of the Abwehr, German military intelligence. OUN-B documents suggested that its activists should use slogans among the populations such as "Kill the enemies among you - Jews and informers."

The euphoria was such that Bandera's political representative Iaroslav Stetsko declared Ukrainian independence in Lviv on June 30 1941. In his address he paid tribute to: "National socialist great Germany that under the leadership of Adolf Hitler is creating a new order in Europe and the world and helping the Ukrainian nation liberate itself from Muscovite occupation."

This was of course a delusion. While the Ukrainian fascists saw themselves as Europeans, unlike the "semi-Asiatic Russians," to the nazis they were Slavs - an inferior race. In any case their expansive territory was needed for Aryan lebensraum, not for a Ukrainian state headed by a mini-Führer.

Bandera and a few other OUN-B leaders were placed under arrest and given the status of political prisoners.

This did not deter collaboration. The Wehrmacht battalions were dissolved and OUN-B activists volunteered for service in the Ukrainian Schutzmannschaften - an auxiliary police militia.

This militia enrolled approximately 105,000 Ukrainians by 1942 and was actively involved in arresting and killing Jews, communists and resistance fighters. OUN-B military leader Roman Shukhevych became a deputy commander of the 201st Schutzmannschaft Battalion, which extended its murderous duties into Byelorussia.

The OUN-B were enthusiastic anti-semites.

In July, the OUN-B's Stetsko wrote in his autobiography: ''Although I consider Moscow, which in fact held Ukraine in captivity, and not Jewry, to be the main and decisive enemy, I nonetheless fully appreciate the undeniably harmful and hostile role of the Jews, who are helping Moscow enslave Ukraine. I therefore support the destruction of the Jews and the expedience of bringing German methods of exterminating Jewry to Ukraine, barring their assimilation and the like.''

"German methods," the use of concentration camps, firing squads and industrial genocide, was to claim the lives of the overwhelming majority of Ukrainian Jews, but the time-honoured east European method, the pogrom, was also employed. In the major cities of western Ukraine, Lviv in particular, local anti-semitic mobs killed thousands of defenceless Jews in the early days of the German advance.

One of the largest massacres of Jews involving the use of the Ukrainian auxiliary police took place at the end of September 1941 near Kiev. Militia forces rounded up and marched 33,771 Jews to Babi Yar, a ravine outside the city, where German soldiers murdered them in wave after wave of gunfire. The slaughter was later immortalised in the famous poem by Yevgeni Yevtushenko, which was also a powerful denunciation of contemporary anti-semitism.

In a report presented on June 30 1943 by Fritz Katzmann, SS and police chief in eastern Galicia, 434,329 Jews had already been murdered by this date in his district alone. In total around 1.5 million Ukrainian Jews were exterminated by the nazis and their local helpers.

One academic expert on the ONU, Grzegorz Rossoli?ski-Liebe, put the matter quite simply: "The mass killing of Jews was the aim of both the OUN-B and the nazis, but it occurred not only in western Ukraine.

Pogroms also took place in other territories, including Lithuania and north-eastern Poland, that had been "released" by the Germans from Soviet occupation.

In western Ukraine, however, pogroms also occurred in cities, towns, and villages into which the nazis had never marched, but where the OUN-B was active. In some other places pogroms occurred before the nazis arrived. This indicates that the eagerness of the OUN-B to slaughter Jews during the "Ukrainian national revolution" was similar to that of the nazis."


Glorifying the memory of the OUN-B is not the preserve of the far-right. Former "pro-Western" president Victor Yuschenko posthumously decorated both Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych as Heroes of the Ukraine.

When Stetsko's widow, Slava, died in 2003, both Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko gave graveside eulogies to the former MP and "a military honour guard saluted one of the last Ukrainian nationalist heroes of the World War II era," according to one Ukrainian émigré newspaper.

Stetsko had been the founder and leader of the OUN-B's post-Soviet political wing, the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists (KUN), a party which was welcomed into Yushchenko's and Tymoshenko's government coalitions.

In the next article, we will see how these "nationalist heroes" reacted to the year 1943, a key turning point in the second world war and a milestone in the journey of the Ukrainian far right.


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