Some trivia about Ukraine by George V.Pinchuk. History of Ukraine: The birth of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). Part 11.
The Ukrainian people living west of the river Zbruch, i.e. in the lands governed by Poland, were spared from the horrors of Stalinist totalitarianism. However, their life was not exactly what they aspired after. Ukrainian farmers were allowed to buy, sell, and own land. They were not driven to “collective farms,” and were not subject to harassment or persecution unless they openly incited riots against the Polish administration. Some of them, like my wife’s grandfather Arsen Hahalovsky, became quite well-of and owned their own “khutirs” (hamlets) with large square footage of fertile land, livestock, ponds teaming with fish etc. However, to be educated, a Ukrainian peasant had to speak fluent Polish and to belong to the Catholic Church, while most families in the “Polish” part of Ukraine were Eastern Orthodox or Eastern Rite (“Greek”) Catholics. Because of this problem, relatively few Ukrainians could work as teachers, doctors, scientists, engineers, laywers etc. They tended to concentrate in agricultural areas and work the land, while urban intelligentsia was overwhelmingly Polish. That was not the healthiest of situations, causing mutual distrust and sometimes hostilities.
In 1918-1922, General Józef-Clemens Piłsudski, the hero of the war of 1918-1920 with Bolsheviks, one time an ally of Petlyura’s who helped the Ukrainian army to take Kyiv, served as the head of the Polish state. However, he refused to run for President in 1923 and returned to the Polish government in 1926 only as a secretary of defense under the President Ignacy Moscicki. The new Polish government was much more authoritarian and hostile to Ukrainians. All schoolteachers, even those who taught at village schools where all students were ethnic Ukrainians, were forbidden to use the terms “Ukraine” and “Ukrainian.” Instead, the part of Ukraine that was under Soviets was referred to as Russia, and the part of Ukraine under the Polish rule was called Kresy Wschodnie, i.e. the Eastern Borderlands (of Poland). Instead of saying or writing, “the Ukrainian language,” all teachers were instructed to say and write, “język rusinski,” i.e. the language of Rusyns, even though the Carpatho-Rusyn dialect of the Ukrainian language was never spoken in such parts of the “Polish” Ukraine as Volyn, Kholmshchyna, Pidlyashshya and most of the Halychyna. If a student referred to him- or herself as Ukrainian, the student could be expelled, and the teacher fired. Police were ordered to raid Ukrainian villages and hamlets and check whether there is any “separatism” there. Needless to say, quite often these raids were accompanied by wild revelry on the Ukrainian farmers’ expense, and even open money extortion. The Ukrainians began to form their self-defense units and to meet the Polish raiders with gunfire.
In 1930, the Polish Minister of Interior B. Pieracki ordered the series of infamous “pacifications” of the rural areas populated largely by ethnic Ukrainians. In September and October 1930, about 750 villages and hamlets were stormed by Polish cavalry troops. Of these, 250 were completely or almost completely demolished. The soldiers went from house to house and arrested every family that had books in Ukrainian, portraits of Taras Shevchenko, the yellow-and-blue flag of the former Ukrainian People’s Republic etc. These “separatists” were escorted to a barn or a warehouse and savagely beaten with clubs or whips. As the victims and the witnesses recalled, striking a person with a heavy stick or a buggy whip between 100 and 200 times was a “norm.” (Yet, the troops were warned not to beat people to death and not to use lethal weapons, because fatalities could create an impression of some “serious” conflict, which was not desired.) As one part of the raiding troops was busy beating people, another went from house to house and systematically destroyed furniture, fireplaces, chimneys, windows, and even bedroom linen. All food found in a house would be taken out, thrown on the ground and sprayed with gasoline. Public libraries and Ukrainian cooperative stores were demolished with a particular cruelty. In parallel, people were subjected to moral humiliation. For example, the soldiers made the Ukrainian peasants kiss the soil 100 times, each time shouting, “I kiss you, my Polish land!” – or spit on a yellow-and-blue Petlurite flag, shouting, “I spit on you, Ukraine, the mother of dogs!” Women, teenagers, the elderly, and the clergy were not exempt from this brutal physical and moral abuse.
The Ukrainian activists in the Polish Sejm (parliament) filed a complaint that 35 people were dead as a result of these “pacifications.” Reluctantly, the Poles confirmed the violent death of four Ukrainians, including one urban high school student who had the misfortune to be in one of the villages subjected to “pacification,” and the rape of one 16-year old girl. Yet, the overall response of the Polish authorities was far from adequate. Of the ~7,000 soldiers and police officers who were involved in the “pacifications,” only 40 were found guilty in excessive brutality and sent to prison. Three of them remained in prison for 3-4 months and 37 were released in exactly one week. As yet another insult, the members of the Polish government refused to meet with one of the most revered clerics of the Ukrainian Eastern Rite Catholic Church, Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky. Instead of listening to the Metropolitan’s plan of peaceful coexistence between ethnic Poles and ethnic Ukrainians, the Moscicki government ordered to just close down all legal Ukrainian civic and cultural organizations.
Of course, the Ukrainian underground continued to work. In 1920, to a large extent due to a titanic work of Colonel Yevhen Konovalets, a powerful Ukrainian Military Organization (UVO) was chartered in Prague, Czechoslovakia. It consisted of several thousand Ukrainian military officers, including the Sichovi Striltsi under the command of Colonel Konovalets, and the officers of the UGA (see pt. 8 of these series). Their task was to train patriotically-minded youth for their future fight against Polish and Russian authorities for the liberation of the Ukrainian people. In February 1929, the UVO representatives secretly met in Vienna with representatives of five Ukrainian youth organizations and merged into the Organization of the Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN).
Colonel Konovalets, 1918
The OUN was a movement, not a political party. It did not aim at seizing political power or forming a government. Its goal from the very beginning was to fight for the hearts and minds of Ukrainians living in what was, back then, Poland, the USSR, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, or any other country for that matter, filling these hearts and minds with the ideas of the “Integral Nationalism” outlined by D. Dontsov (see pt. 5 of these series). In this regard, the OUN considered all legal political parties as enemies of Ukraine, even if representatives of those parties struggled for the Ukrainian cause in their countries’ parliaments. The “integral Nationalists” dismissed the mere idea of ethnic Ukrainians collaborating with foreign states, foreign political forces. Their ideal was a state where Ukrainians would live and be responsible for their own destiny with the help of only their own Ukrainian government. When this basic condition is met, the OUN will consider its mission accomplished. However, unless, and until, it is met, the OUN will struggle for it, using methods characteristic of armed resistance in a hostile environment.
The history of OUN is best understood through the biographies of its three principal leaders, Konovalets, Melnyk, and Bandera.
Yevhen Mykhaylovych Konovalets was born in 1891 (same year as Makhno) in the village of Zashkiv, in Halychyna (back then, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). He was a son of a local schoolteacher and a grandson of a well-respected village Greek Catholic priest. His mother, Maria Vengrynovska-Konovalets, was also from a priestly line. Young Yevhen finished four classes of local parochial schools and then went on to study in a Lviv “gymnasia,” a private school for boys. In 1909, he became a student of law at the Lviv University. There, he joined the “Prosvita” movement, a civic organization that worked legally, campaigning for a better education of ethnic Ukrainians in their own language and based on the traditions of the great Ukrainian literature beginning from Kotlyarevsky and Shevchenko. As a “Prosvita” activist, in 1910 Konovalets took part in a street rally, when the Austrian police clashed with the the rallying crowd and killed one of his friends (A. Kotsko). This tragedy, as well as personal friendship with Dmytro Dontsov, profoundly influenced on Konovalets, making him disappointed in legal means of struggle for his nation and prompting him that only an underground military organization can bring freedom and independence to Ukraine.
When WW1 began in 1914, Konovalets was drafted into the Austrian army. In June 1915, he was captured by the Russians and sent to a POW camp near the city of Tsaritsyn on the Volga river. There, Konovalets met his future brothers-in-arms A. Melnyk, R. Sushko and other captives from Ukraine. In February 1917, when the Romanov dynasty fell and the POW camp inmates were released, this group of Ukrainian soldiers traveled to Kyiv with the idea to form an independent Ukrainian military unit. They now called themselves Sichovi Striltsi (from Sich – the main fortress of the Zaporizhzhya Cossacks, see pt. 2, and “strilets” – a man who shoots a rifle). In Kyiv, Konovalets and his close friend Roman Dashkevych became the commander and the deputy commander of what they called the Halychyna-Bukovyna Kurin (Regiment) of the Sichovi Striltsi. The regiment became a part of the Legion of the Sichovi Striltsi, which had been formed in 1914 in Austria from soldiers and officers of the Ukrainian ethnicity who fought in the ranks of the army of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was recognized by the Central Rada, armed, equipped, put on food rations and given accommodations in Kyiv, Boyarka, and Bila Tserkva. In January 1918, they became instrumental in putting down the attempt of the Bolsheviks to seize power by inciting a riot of the Arsenal plant workers. Later in the year, the Striltsi together with Petlyura’s Haydamaky cavalry fought, quite successfully, with the Bolshevik army of Muravyov and with the troops loyal to Hetman Skoropadsky. In 1919, they bravely and often successfully resisted the advancement of Gen. Denikin’s White army on the Ukrainian People’s Republic.
In spring 1920, however, Konovalets and Petlyura parted company. It was impossible for a Dontsovite “integral Nationalist” Konovalets to accept Petlyura’s idea about the military alliance with the Poles. Konovalets settled in Prague, where he took the most active part in organizing the UVO (see above). In 1927, living in Austria, Konovalets came up with the idea to organize a broader union of both military and civilian people devoted to the ideals of the “integral Nationalism,” and offered the name for this union, the OUN. From the time of its conception, the OUN had to separate itself from both leftist and rightist ideologues. The latter, represented by the Ukrainian Fascists (L. Kostariv, P. Kozhevnykiv), thought about future Ukrainian state as one operating under the “Corporatist” formula of Mussolini, “everything for the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” Konovalets, however, was against this rough “etatism,” even though he was also against the leftist ideas of the “class struggle.” In the 1930s, both Kostariv and Kozhevnykiv were expelled from the OUN for their extremist views and, importantly, for their connection with the Soviet secret police. Konovalets now obtained the opportunity to concentrate on what he knew the best: organizing circles of young people of the Ukrainian ethnicity living in all parts of the world. He spent his time traveling and meeting with young enthusiasts, urging them to live for the Ukrainian cause.
The young OUN members taught by Konovalets and his closest associates (A. Melnyk, M. Stsiborsky, D. Dymchuk, Ryko Yaryy, A. Fedyna et al.) had to remember their Ukrainianness and value it more than everything else in the world. They took an oath, which began with the words, “I will make independent Ukrainian nation-state exist, or I will die fighting for it.” Each OUN member had to live by a “Decalogue,” a set of rules that included reading the Ukrainian classic and modern writers, maintaining physical fitness, and learning the basics of the military practice (sharp-shooting, camping, hand-to-had combat etc.). The young Nationalists were taught loyalty, honor, military discipline, and tolerance to physical pain. They also vowed to abstain from alcohol and smoking, and to be sexually pure (celibate or monogamous).
The results of this huge work of Konovalets and his associates were very impressive. The OUN grew in numbers and in strength. This was a serious problem for the Soviets, and Stalin ordered his special operations people to liquidate Konovalets. In 1938, the OUN leader moved to the city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. There, he met with a young Ukrainian who called himself Pavlus Valyukh. Actually, this man, who pretended to be a Ukrainian Nationalist representing the Soviet underground, was an agent of the Bolshevik secret intelligence service. His real name was Pavel Sudoplatov. Konovalets and “Valyukh”-Sudoplatov met in a café at the Atlanta hotel in Rotterdam. The agent told Konovalets exciting stories about the growth of the Ukrainian Nationalist underground in the USSR, showing some forged letters and meeting protocols. The OUN leader became interested and asked for another meeting at the same place. “Valyukh” did not come to this next meeting but sent Konovalets a “souvenir,” a box of chocolates wrapped in a sheet with beautiful Ukrainian ornament on it. It was a booby trap. When Konovalets took it from the waiter and made it lie horizontally, it went off and killed him instantly.
The leadership of the OUN went to Konovalets’s successor, A. Melnyk. Andriy Atanasovych Melnyk was born in 1890 in the village of Volya Yakubova near the city of Drohobych, in Halychyna, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1914, he went as a volunteer to fight in the Austro-Hungarian Army, where he joined the Legion of Sichovi Striltsi. In 1916, he was captured by the Russians and was sent to the same POW camp as Konovalets before him. From that time and till the death of Colonel Konovalets, Melnyk was his closest friend and associate. He distinguished himself fighting the Bolsheviks and the Whites in 1918-1920 and was promoted to the rank of Otaman and given the position of the Inspector of the UPR’s Military Mission in Prague. In 1922, Melnyk returned to Halychyna, went underground, and worked as an active member of the UVO. Two years later, he was arrested by the Polish police and imprisoned for 4 years. After the release, Melnyk decided to try to live as a civilian. He was admitted to the University of Vienna and graduated with a degree in forestry. His plan was to work as a ranger-forester. He also became a leader of the Ukrainian Eastern Rite Catholic youth group called “The Young Eagles,” and was noticed by Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky. The highly revered cleric made Melnyk a forester in his estates. However, in 1934 Melnyk, under the influence of Konovalets, became a member of the OUN and soon was elected member of the organization’s Senate. After the assassination of Konovalets in 1938, Andriy Melnyk took his responsibilities of the OUN head. Next year, he was confirmed as the OUN head by a unanimous vote at a Second Global Congress of the OUN held in Rome, Italy.
In February 1940 the OUN experienced a serious crisis. A number of younger members living in German-occupied part of Poland, with their leader Stepan Bandera, sharply criticized Melnyk, Stsiborsky, Fedyna and other older OUN activists in Rome for being too slow and inadequately adapted to the changing realities. Unlike this “old guard,” the Banderites were not professional military men; they were skeptical about creating large military-style regiments of future fighters and advocated forming small, dynamic, mobile groups who would do acts of terror against the anti-Ukrainian authorities “right then and there.” Many Banderites, including their leader, had bitter, traumatic personal experiences of being inmates in Polish prisons and concentration camps. They were aggressive and wanted to act fast. Unfortunately, the understanding between the “canonical” OUN of Melnyk (OUN-m) and the “revolutionary” OUN of Bandera (OUN-b) was not reached. The two organizations became completely separate and hostile to each other. Between early 1940 and 1944, several hundred members of OUN-m were killed by members of OUN-b, and vice versa.
Stepan Andriyovych Bandera was born January 1, 1909, in the village of Staryy Uhryniv near the city of Stanislaviv (today Ivano-Frankivsk). His father Andriy was his village’s parish Greek Catholic priest, and his mother, Myroslava Glodzinska-Bandera, was a daughter of a Greek Catholic priest who had served at the Staryy Uhryniv before Fr. Andriy Bandera. Young Stepan had three sisters and three brothers. The family was one of patriotic tradition. Fr. Andriy Bandera became a delegate to the convention of the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic in 1918, and a chaplain of the UGA in 1919. To his children, including Stepan and his two brothers, Fr. Andriy was a hero and a role model. Stepan got his education at a “gymnasium” for boys in the nearby city of Stryy. There, he also became an active member of the Ukrainian Scouts (“Plast”).
In 1928, Bandera enrolled in the Lviv Polytechnical University with a plan to become an agronomist. He studied diligently, but also became heavily involved in civic and political activities. He worked with Prosvita, like Konovalets before him, and also, not being athletically built, decided to strengthen himself physically by running, swimming, skiing, and hiking. Bandera also became a leader of a Plast paramilitary training battalion called Chervona Kalyna (“The Red Viburnum”). His enthusiasm about youth leadership and his connection with two Ukrainian sports clubs became suspicious to the Polish administration of the Polytechnical University, and Bandera was not allowed to take his final exams and graduate. Instead, in 1933 he was arrested and imprisoned on suspicion of terrorism. Indeed, as it turned out, in 1932 Bandera had joined the OUN, and the Polish police got some materials implicating him in the planning of assassination of Bronislaw Pieracki, the Minister of Interior directly responsible for the above-described “pacifications.” Bandera was sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison. He was released from prison in September 1939 because of the impossibility to guard the prisoners as the German armies rolled over Poland from the west, and the Soviet armies from the east.
The OUN continued to play a very significant role in the events that followed after the beginning of WW2 in September 1939. We will describe its activities and the biographies of its two main leaders and their associates in the next part of this series.