April 20, 2022

The Dark Legacy of Ukrainian Nationalism And The Long Shadow of WWII

Hitler wanted to use Ukrainians for slave labor, while Stalin tried to deport them to a man to Siberia. Putin is an angel compared to them.

An excerpt from, "The Historian Whitewashing Ukraine’s Past" By Josh Cohen, Foreign Policy, May 2, 2016:

In May 2015, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a law that mandated the transfer of the country’s complete set of archives, from the “Soviet organs of repression,” such as the KGB and its decedent, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), to a government organization called the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory. Run by the young scholar — and charged with “implementation of state policy in the field of restoration and preservation of national memory of the Ukrainian people” — the institute received millions of documents, including information on political dissidents, propaganda campaigns against religion, the activities of Ukrainian nationalist organizations, KGB espionage and counter-espionage activities, and criminal cases connected to the Stalinist purges. Under the archives law, one of four “memory laws” written by Viatrovych, the institute’s anodyne-sounding mandate is merely a cover to present a biased and one-sided view of modern Ukrainian history — and one that could shape the country’s path forward.

The controversy centers on a telling of World War II history that amplifies Soviet crimes and glorifies Ukrainian nationalist fighters while dismissing the vital part they played in ethnic cleansing of Poles and Jews from 1941 to 1945 after the Nazi invasion of the former Soviet Union. Viatrovych’s vision of history instead tells the story of partisan guerrillas who waged a brave battle for Ukrainian independence against overwhelming Soviet power. It also sends a message to those who do not identify with the country’s ethno-nationalist mythmakers — such as the many Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine who still celebrate the heroism of the Red Army during World War II — that they’re on the outside. And more pointedly, scholars now fear that they risk reprisal for not toeing the official line — or calling Viatrovych on his historical distortions. Under Viatrovych’s reign, the country could be headed for a new, and frightening, era of censorship.

Although events of 75 years ago may seem like settled history, they are very much a part of the information war raging between Russia and Ukraine.

Below is a long excerpt from Marvin Kalb's 2015 book called, "Imperial Gamble: Putin, Ukraine, and The New Cold War" that was published by The Brookings Institution. The excerpt is the entirety of chapter ten, titled, "World War II: A Ukrainian Horror.

Kalb "spent 30 years as an award-winning reporter for CBS News and NBC News. Kalb was the last newsman recruited by Edward R. Murrow to join CBS News, becoming part of the later generation of the "Murrow Boys." (Wikipedia).

Marvin Kalb - Imperial Gamble: Putin, Ukraine, and The New Cold War - Chapter Ten: World War II: A Ukrainian Horror:

WORLD WAR II STARTED, officially, on September 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland, but it was foreshadowed by a political upheaval in Transcarpathia in April involving Ukrainian nationalists, followed by a stunning announcement in August of a nonaggression pact between Germany and Russia.

At the Munich conference in September 1938, Great Britain's Neville Chamberlain had submissively agreed to the German seizure of the Sudetenland on the northwestern rim of Czechoslovakia-a shameful step later described, perhaps generously, as "appeasement." Adolf Hitler had argued that many Germans living there were unhappy, and he felt a responsibility to help them. Nothing more. "I am simply demanding," he pronounced, "that the oppression of the three-and-a-half million Germans cease and that the inalienable rights to self-determination take its place." Hitler could not know it, of course, but years later Putin was to use the same rationale for occupying Crimea and stirring up trouble in eastern Ukraine.

Once Hitler had Chamberlain's acquiescence, he marched into the Sudetenland; it was an easy first step to war. He then proceeded to dismember Czechoslovakia. On March 14, 1939, with Hitler's blessing, the eastern half of the country, Slovakia, declared its independence. On March 15, the Nazis moved into Prague, then quickly fanned out and dismembered the rest of what remained of Czechoslovakia. Also on March 15, Ukrainian nationalists living in Transcarpathia, taking advantage of the noisy Nazi blitzkrieg, decided to proclaim the establishment of the Republic of Carpatho Ukraine. For the first time since the revolutionary struggles of 1917 to 1921, a Ukrainian state was proclaimed, thanks to Nazi sponsorship. The "Republic" was not really a republic, nor was it independent. It was a province of Hungary, a Nazi ally, but for western Ukrainian nationalists it was good enough, a modest piece of the Ukrainian dream of national independence. For eastern Ukrainians, it earned little more than a passing thought, if that. They were not at the time thinking about national independence.

On August 23, 1939, during Europe's march to war, the sun stopped when Nazi Germany and Communist Russia announced the signing of a nonaggression pact. After years of nonstop propaganda warfare, each side accusing the other of duplicity and double dealing, Moscow and Berlin stunned the world. Their foreign ministers shook hands in public while in private they divided up Eastern Europe: for Germany, as a prelude to war; for Russia, as a bloodless way of acquiring still more territory. Poor Poland was to be partitioned yet again, all of its eastern lands to fall under Soviet control in an enlarged Ukraine. When Polish marshall Edward Rydz-Smigly was asked which was worse-German or Russian control? he reportedly answered with sad insight: "With the Germans, we run the risk of losing our liberty. With the Russians, we will lose our soul."

With Stalin's approval now in his hip pocket, Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, formally setting off World War II. Polish military resistance cracked within two weeks. As the Nazis moved east, the Russians moved west. Under Soviet general Semen Tymoshenko, a Ukrainian by birth, the Russians invaded western Ukraine, the general boasting along the way that his invasion was "the historic reunification of the great Ukrainian people."2 He then drove into eastern Galicia, which had been under Polish control since the early 1920s. Stalin announced that both western Ukraine and eastern Galicia would become provinces in Soviet Ukraine.

There was more to come. In June 1940 the Red Army slipped a khaki noose around Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, reminding the Russian people that Peter the Great had won much of the Baltic from Sweden in the early eighteenth century. Soviet propagandists pictured the acquisition as nothing more than the return of the Baltic to Russia.

With Germany's approval, the Red Army then took northern Bukovina and all of Bessarabia from Romania. For Moscow, the next step was consistent with an earlier step: incorporating Bukovina and southern Bessarabia, where many Ukrainians lived, into Soviet Ukraine. The rest of Bessarabia and a nearby Moldovan province were united into a new Moldovan Soviet republic. It was a confusing time of territorial claims, shifting borders, and cynical diplomacy.

But one key fact concerning Ukraine emerged that was to be of crucial importance in 1991. Never before in history had so many Ukrainians been brought together in a single national state, but it was a state within the USSR. It enjoyed no international recognition. Though Ukraine now had numerical strength (outside of Russia, it was the most heavily populated "republic" in the USSR), it lacked political authority. Like all of the other Soviet republics, it was subordinate to Russia, and both Ukraine and Russia knew it.

Although many Ukrainian nationalists, thinking they could profitably collaborate with the Nazis, fled to the German-occupied zone in Poland, those nationalists who remained were quickly swept up by the Russians and shipped off to labor camps deep in the USSR. For many in Moscow, these Ukrainians were "foreigners, in their view probably Nazi collaborators, and they were distrusted. According to reliable estimates, for the brief period from 1939 to 1940, about 312,000 families, or roughly 1,250,000 people, were deported from western Ukraine to Siberia, the Arctic Circle, and Soviet central Asia. Twenty percent of them were ethnic Ukrainians; many others were Poles and Jews.

Stalin, in a mad moment, also considered the wholesale deportation of all Ukrainians. But in February 1956, in his "secret" speech at the Twentieth Party Congress, Nikita Khrushchev, a surprise critic of the leader he had once revered, disclosed that Stalin could not give the order, "because there were too many of them and there was no place to which to deport them. Otherwise he would have deported them too." An official footnote said there was "laughter and animation in the hall."4 Chekhov's phrase "laughter through tears" would have been more appropriate, and perhaps was even recalled by some of the delegates attending the Congress.

Though Stalin refused to believe a steady flow of intelligence that unmistakably pointed to an impending Nazi betrayal, including an outright invasion of the Soviet Union, he was shocked, truly shocked, when on June 22, 1941, German panzer divisions smashed across the Soviet border. It was the start of what Moscow would call the "Great Patriotic War." The Germans moved swiftly through lands that only recently had been incorporated into the Soviet Union -western Ukraine, Byelorussia, the Baltic republics-and then they struck more deeply into Russia itself. The Red Army, forced into a hasty retreat, shot political prisoners, blew up buildings and bridges, burned crops and food reserves, and flooded mines. It was called a "scorched earth policy."

By the end of November, the Nazis had occupied most of Ukraine. But, in a fascinating turn of history, rather than being feared, they were welcomed by many Ukrainians, who believed that Germany was their liberator-their natural ally against Poland and Russia. Join up with the Germans, they seemed to feel, and together we can destroy the Soviets. 

Enter OUN, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, which, formed in 1929, provided the ideological backbone of Ukrainian nationalism for many years, especially during World War II. The OUN was founded on Johann Gottfried Herder's vision of volk, or "people," banded together in "social volunteerism" and led by a single vozhd, or "leader." Its chief ideologist was Dmytro Donstov, who, surveying the European landscape, saw a deep conflict developing between Europe and Russia, between "two civilizations, two political, social and cultural-religious ideals." Russia's leaders, he said, were "absolutist," determined to "destroy" Europe, and Ukraine's mission was to save Europe from Russia. But how?

Donstov believed fiercely in "the fire of fanatical commitment" and "the iron force of enthusiasm." His ideal was "the rule of one ethnic group over a territory"-the ethnic Ukrainians over historic Ukraine. He acknowledged mournfully that "Ukraine does not yet exist," but "the organization of a new violence" could create a nation "on the initiative of the minority" and driven by a "strong man.'

Donstov set the political and ideological tone for the OUN. At its Krakow congress in 1941, perhaps only as a hate-filled overture to the Nazis, it promised to "vanquish" the Jews from Ukraine, because, OUN said, they were "the most loyal prop of the ruling Bolshevik regime and the avant-garde of Muscovite imperialism in Ukraine." In this way, the OUN harbored many of the same views as the Ustashe in Croatia, the Fascist People's Party in Slovakia, the Legion of the Archangel Michael in Romania, and the Iron Wolves in Lithuania-all far-right political movements noted for their hyped nationalism and lamentable anti-Semitism.

The OUN clearly tied the Jews to Ukraine's traditional enemies, Poles and Russians, believing that, if necessary, they were all to be "exterminated" in the Ukrainian struggle for independence. Jews, especially, were to be "isolated" and "excluded from government positions."

Opportunities for the OUN opened in the early years of World War II. In the period from 1939 to 1941, the map of Eastern Europe was being radically redrawn. Holding aloft the banner of fascism, the Nazis struck. In the name of nationalism, the Ukrainians marched. It was a time for war.

Under the leadership of a dynamic vozhd, Stepan Bandera, a political leader from western Ukraine, the OUN urged tens of thousands of young Ukrainians to seize the moment to battle the Bolsheviks and fight for national independence. They raced excitedly to Lvov and, on June 30, 1941, proclaimed the founding of an independent Ukraine. They spoke primarily for western Ukrainians; the easterners had more immediate priorities, such as fighting the Germans. "The Ukrainian National Revolutionary Army," it declared, "will henceforth fight along with the Allied German Army against Muscovite occupation for a Sovereign United Ukrainian State and a new order in the whole world." It made no effort to conceal its pro-German sympathies.

Another such pro-German operation was called the Russian Liberation Movement, formed in 1942 by General Andrei Vlasov. He was a headline hero, decorated by Stalin himself for his courageous leadership of Russian army detachments defending Kiev and Moscow. But in June 1942 his army division was decisively defeated by the Germans, and they arrested him. During his time in prison, he bafflingly switched sides and agreed to join the Germans and set up a liberation army consisting of Russian prisoners of war -all in an effort to defeat Stalin. That never happened, of course, and Vlasov went down in Russian history as a "traitor" who "betrayed his Homeland."

Bandera, for his part, believed that a Ukrainian army, representing an independent Ukraine, could help the Nazis overthrow the Bolsheviks. In theory, he might have been right. A number of Nazi leaders, including Alfred Rosenberg, actually agreed with Bandera. But Hitler disagreed, and of course his racist policies prevailed. The Nazis decisively rejected both Bandera's offer and the warm Ukrainian welcome. Hitler considered the Ukrainians to be untermenschen, good for nothing more than slave labor. Two million Ukrainians were sent to Germany to work as slave laborers, or ostarbeiter. Hitler thought even less of Ukrainian Jews. During the war, his troops, aided by Ukrainians, killed an estimated 1.5 million Jews in Ukraine. One place for mass murder was the Kiev suburb of Baby Yar, in September 1941.

President George H. W. Bush, during a visit there fifty years later, "choked up" when describing the scene: "The Nazis had lined up their naked victims in front of a trench, their clothes saved for reuse by the SS for people back in Germany, and systematically shot more than thirty-three thousand over thirty-six hours," he later wrote. "The Germans had played dance music over loudspeakers to drown out the screams."

The Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, ashamed of his country's complicit anti-Semitism, condemned "the rabble of pogrom" in a memorial to the many whose blood soaked the soil of this Kiev suburb.

No monument stands over Baby Yar, A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.

I am afraid. 

Today I am as old as the entire Jewish race itself. 

For the remainder of the war, the OUN functioned underground, accomplishing little but surviving as an organization. Though Bandera was ready to sell his soul to the Nazis, they were not ready to buy it. In fact, the Germans arrested and imprisoned Bandera. His ideas and plans were put on hold.

Only in September 1944, when the Germans were thrown on the defensive by a hardened Red Army, was Bandera released, apparently on the assumption that only he could rally the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, formed the year before, to help the Nazis hold off the advancing Russians. Bandera did try. Working out of his Berlin headquarters, where he received arms and money from the Nazis, he did for a time lead his troops in battle against the Russians, but it was too late. Bandera's mission failed. The UPA, as it was called, had 90,000 men, a formidable force, but it functioned mostly in western Ukraine and could not help the Germans in the east, where they were in hasty retreat. An undeclared war between the Soviets and the OUN-UPA lasted until the early 1950s. It was a bloody one, fought most intensively in those parts of western Ukraine that Moscow had acquired in the wrap-up of the war. The United States and Britain, seizing a chance to help the UPA in order to hurt Stalin's Russia, began supplying arms and intelligence to the Ukrainian insurgents. When the Russians learned of these western supply operations in parts of Eastern Europe they considered to be theirs by international agreement, they angrily denounced the West. This proved to be yet another small step on the road to the cold war.

Western Ukraine was a chronic migraine for Moscow. While Stalin and Khrushchev were again pushing collectivization, this time forcing existing collectives into "agro-cities," they met with modest success only in the eastern half of Ukraine, the largely pro Russian half. In the western half, new to Soviet domination, Ukrainian nationalists resisted Russification. They stuck to the use of the Ukrainian language in schools and media and boasted of very low membership in the Ukrainian Communist Party. Historian Roman Szporluk said that western Ukraine was "the least Russian and least Russified" area in the entire Soviet Union. It was indigestible.

Bandera, in the Russian mind, represented western Ukraine, and Moscow distrusted him-indeed, hated him. The Russians had never forgotten, or forgiven, his anti-Soviet, Nazi-inspired activities. Khrushchev, reflecting the views of the communist aristocracy, bristled with anger when he described Bandera in his memoirs. Bandera was an "outright agent of German fascism," Khrushchev wrote, "a Ukrainian nationalist [with] a pathological hatred of the Soviet regime." A disillusioned nationalist at war's end, Bandera turned on the OUN, denouncing its flimsy efforts at accommodation with eastern Ukrainians. He left behind a controversial legacy of passionate Ukrainian nationalism polluted by a continuing association with fascist ideology, German aggression, and anti-Semi sm. In 1959 the KGB, which had a long list of enemies, assassinated Bandera in Munich, Germany. After Ukrainian independence in 1991, statues of Bandera began to appear in villages throughout the western half of the country. He was a hero, modern Ukraine's version of the seventeenth-century Cossack leader Bogdan Khmelnitsky. But in villages in the east, Bandera was nowhere to be seen. There, the statues were of Lenin, a Russian; they were omnipresent, constant reminders of the Soviet era. A pro-Russian activist told a visiting friend in Donetsk: "Lenin and Bandera would never meet in a Ukrainian park."

"Ukrainians gave us more trouble than anyone else," wrote Khrushchev, who, as head of the Ukrainian Communist Party for ten tumultuous years, from 1938 to 1947, should have known. He had "indisputable documentary proof," he said, that "they were receiving instructions and money from the Germans." He was apparently writing about the Ukrainians who collaborated with the Nazis.

In his memoirs, Khrushchev also wrote about Ukrainian nationalism and courage, especially during the Great Patriotic War, with a surprising degree of understanding, while at the same time emphasizing Stalin's cruelty and indifference to Ukrainian suffering. In this sense, Khrushchev agreed with many Ukrainian scholars, such as Ivan L. Rudnytsky, who bitterly criticized Stalin's wartime policy toward Ukraine. Rudnytsky labeled Stalin "the perpetrator of unspeakable crimes against the Ukrainian people." He was thinking about Stalin's policies of forced collectivization and industrialization, plus the Moscow-arranged famine of 1932.

From his early days in power, in the 1920s, Stalin had been absorbed with the problem of Russia's national minorities, hounded by the question of whether, as leader of the Soviet Union, he could. ever trust them. By war's end, he had his answer: no. Bandera's collaboration with the Nazis had persuaded him that Ukrainians. would never be loyal to Moscow. He did not draw a distinction between western or eastern Ukrainians.

Stalin the politician was often at war with Stalin the ideologue when the question arose about Ukraine and the other national minorities. On the one hand, as a Georgian Marxist and revolutionary, he seemed truly to believe that national minorities had to have the "right" of self-determination, including secession. In each Soviet republic, he built the framework of governance, meaning each had to have a president, a parliament, and a cabinet of ministers. It was nothing more than an empty framework. It enjoyed no independent standing. And yet it sparked and nourished the idea of national independence, even for such anti-Russian nationalist leaders as Mazepa and Bandera. On the other hand, as a brutal dictator, Stalin had no intention-ever-of allowing a Soviet republic to proclaim its independence from Russia. That was not an option. Stalin intended to exercise absolute control over the affairs of every Soviet republic, and he did.

The result was an obvious collision between theory and practice. By war's end, when Stalin looked out of his Kremlin window to survey his empire, two disturbing visions must have snapped into focus: Ukraine had grown into a large republic, larger than ever in its history, and Stalin had allowed theory to come close to trumping practice. He had underestimated the growth and potential of national institutions, a profound blunder. The idea of Ukrainian self determination was sprouting wings, though it was not yet flying. The western Ukrainians were marching to their own drummer, and Stalin and his henchmen chose to hear the wrong beat. Before their eyes, Ukrainian national independence had mushroomed into a major problem during the war, but they did not see it. More than any other Soviet leader, Stalin had breathed life into the shell of a Ukrainian state. He did not have to incorporate all the western Ukrainian lands he got from Germany into the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, in this way short-sightedly opening the eastern half of the country to the nationalist appeal and tumult agitating the west. Stalin was greedy, thinking of territory and glory, not long-term strategy.

Rudnytsky observed: "It was in the name of Ukraine, and not of Russia, that Stalin successfully claimed vast territories west of then pre-1939 frontier, thus extending the USSR into central Europe and the Danubian valley." This was a prized moment when almost all ethnic Ukrainians lived in one state. Unwittingly, Stalin had fulfilled a Ukrainian dream-all Ukrainians living in a land called Ukraine. In this way, the war defined Ukraine as a political and cultural entity, not yet truly a state, but an entity moving in the direction of statehood.

Harvard's Roman Szporluk put this result in a historical context. The year 1991, when Ukraine declared its independence from Russia, he wrote, "would have been impossible without 1939 - 1945."