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The Shukhevych Cult in Ukraine: Myth Making with Complications

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Bandera himself remained a committed anti-democrat until his death at the hands of a Soviet assassin in 1959 while Dontsov’s concept of integral nationalism retained its position as a cornerstone of OUN ideology. Yet, the organization went through periods when its totalitarianism was toned down.94 Yet, at the same time as the OUN(b) moderated its political positions in the summer of 1943, the UPA carried out systematic massacres of the Polish minority of Volhynia, aiming at the ethnic cleansing of that province.95

Currently strong interests within the Ukrainian diaspora is actively lobbying Yushchenko to also designate Stepan Bandera as Hero of Ukraine. Bandera’s role in history is a similarly divisive issue, which splits Ukrainian opinion along the same lines as the Shuhevych cult. While the far right, such as the party Oleh Tiahnybok of the Svoboda party has been in vocal supporter in favor of such a move, Yanukovych’s Party of Regions has been outspoken in its opposition.96

Tzvetan Todorov has observed: “While no one wants to be a victim, many people nowadays want to have been a victim: they aspire to victim status.”97 Timothy Garton Ash refers to this phenomenon as “the nationalism of the victim.” Unfortunately, as Marco Carynnyk has pointed out, this focus on the suffering of one’s own group often comes at the expense of the interest taken in the suffering of others, and is linked to “a reluctance to acknowledge in just measure the sufferings of other peoples, an inability to admit that the victim can also victimize.”98

An obvious risk with adopting such a narrative at a state level is that this selective attitude makes it more difficult to address the past. It may also make national reconciliation, a stated objective of Yushchenko’s government, more difficult to achieve. The nationalist Ukrainian narratives tend to focus on what has been done to Ukrainians and not by them.99 In such a narrative of victimization it is easily forgotten that Ukrainians were found not only among the victims, but also among the perpetrators of the totalitarian regimes.100

The re-evaluation of Ukrainian history has been a difficult process. In order to accept the view, commonly held in the diaspora, of Soviet system as an alien system of government, imposed on Ukraine by Russia or other hostile outsiders, one have to overlook the very significant presence of Ukrainians in the top echelons of Soviet power. Thus, an explicitly anti-Soviet narrative risks alienating large sections of society – not only those who have internalized the Soviet narrative, but also the Ukrainians who fought in the Red Army and their families.

Turning a person like Shukhevych into a national hero, while remaining indifferent to his activities in 1941-1943 makes it harder to address other important issues, particularly before all aspects of his whereabouts during the L’viv pogrom, huis activities in the Schutzmannschaften and the massacres of Poles in Volhynia in 1943. A selective and quasi-mythical representation of the past not only makes the nationalists’ appeals about the need to address other tragedies, such as the 1932-33 famine, less effective, it also raises the question of double standards and the whether they are more interested in politics than an understanding of the past.

Shukhevych’s fight for Ukrainian independence, against the Stalinist dictatorship certainly contained aspects of bravery, heroism and self-sacrifice. The tale of Shukhevych’s selflessness in putting the nation above his own life can also be used to install “patriotism” in the young, as an example for soldiers to emulate.

Yet, while Shukhevych’s personal bravery cannot be denied, it is hard to see why this in itself would be a criterion for making him a hero. Certainly, self-sacrificing bravery could be observed within all sorts of military formations in Ukraine: within the UPA, the Red Army, the Wehrmacht, as well as the German and Ukrainian SS formations. In a divided country, which lacks a common collective memory of the war, the attempts to turn Shukhevych into a national hero may serve to polarize and further divide Ukraine.

Given Yushchenko’s objective to join western political institutions such as the European Union and NATO, the new national myths are also problematic in that they set him apart from the European mainstream. Ironically, the historical interpretations of Yanukovych and his pro-Russian electorate in the east are more in line with the rest of Europe then are Yushchenko’s.101

The case of Shukhevych is interesting: depending on perspective, Shukhevych can be seen as victim, perpetrator, and resistance fighter. Shukhevych’s controversial person represents many of the key aspects of the reevaluation of Ukrainian history. His fascinating and violent life is still not fully researched and understood. Several controversies have interfered with our understanding of his role, not at least manipulations of the historical record for political purposes. These distortions have a number of origins: Soviet and Russian propaganda, Polish nationalists, Israeli politicians the Ukrainian nationalists themselves, all of whom have had their own axes to grind, and exaggerated, manipulated, and omitted what they found politically expedient.

The Ukrainian situation has some similarities with the situation in other newly independent states, which in modern times lacked their own statehood, save for short periods as puppet states of Nazi Germany. The most obvious parallels are the cases of Croatia and Slovakia. There, similar attempts to rehabilitate the fascist or crypto-fascists, such as Jozef Tiso, Vojtech Tuka, and Ante Pavelić have caused discord and polarized opinions at home and among their neighbors.102 Günther Grass – of all people – has referred to the uneven and selective approach of dealing with the past as “disabled memory.”103 Similarly, the cults of Shukhevych, Stets’ko, and Bandera will be nearly impossible to market to popular opinions in the constituent states of those western organizations, which Yushchenko wants Ukraine to join.

The European Union has had a moderating influence on similar processes in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Romania. In Ukraine this moderating influence has been much weaker. Rather, the external threat of Russia, with its exaggerated accusations of a fascist resurgence in Ukraine may even have assisted Yushchenko promote his myths. This benefits no one but Russia, in whose interest it is to present the Ukrainian leadership as unreliable and politically immature. Europe needs to continue to support Ukraine in the process of democratization. One way of doing this could be to increase the cooperation with Ukrainian scholars.

A selective and heavily edited version of the past, dictated by political considerations means avoiding serious, unresolved issues and is unlikely to bring the reconciliation and healing needed for Ukrainian society to reach closure and move forward. What the emerging Ukrainian state needs is not nationalist myths but solid, critical history, no matter how painful that may be.


 Viktor Yushchenko, “Ukaz prezydenta Ukraїїny No. 965/2007 pro prysvoennia R. Shukhevvychu zvannia Heroi Ukraїny,” Oct. 12, 2007. (Accessed February 22, 2008)


 “Yushchenko doruchav Tymoshenko vyznaty UPA,” Ukraїns’ka Pravda, October 14, 2007. (Accessed November 18, 2007)


 Viktor Yushchenko, “Ukaz prezydenta Ukraїny No. 416/2007 Pro vshanuvannia pam’iati Iaroslava Stets’ka i Iaroslavy Stets’ko,” (Accessed April 10, 2008).


 Viktor Yushchenko, “Uchasnykam urochystoi akademii z nahody 100-richchia vid dnia narodzhennia Stepana Bandera,” cited by Shimon Briman, “Stepan Bandera: Ukrainskie nationalisty nesut otvetstvennost za genotsid evreev,” Izrus, March 2, 2009, (Accessed April 26, 2009). Thanks to Mykola Riabchuk for this reference.


 Among Yushchenko’s previous choices for the award can be mentioned Levko Luk’ianenko, former dissident, Ukrainian ambassador to Canada and anti-Semitic Verkhovna Rada deputy for Yulia Tymoshenko’s Bloc; the above mentioned Yuri Shukhevych leader of UNA-UNSO, the Ukrainian sister party of the German NPD; and Ivan Spodarenko, head of the paper Sils’ki Visti, known for its publication of anti-Semitic articles. Per A. Rudling, ”Organized Anti-Semitism in Contemporary Ukraine: Structure, Influence, and Ideology.” Canadian Slavonic Papers/Revue canadienne des slavistes, Vol. XLVIII, Nos. 1-2, (March – June 2006): 81-119; Aleksandr Burakovskiy, “Key Characteristics and Transformation of Jewish-Ukrainian Relations during the Period of Ukraine’s Independence: 1991-2007,” Paper presented at the 13th Annual ASN World Conference, Harriman Institute, Columbia University, New York, April 10, 2008.


 Pavel Korduban, “Leftist, Pro-Russian Extremists defy Yushchenko over History,” The Jamestown Foundation, Vol. 4, No. 197, October 24, 2007. (accessed January 17, 2008)


 Wadim Rabinowitsch, Jan Tabatschnik and Aleksandr Feldman, “Jüdischer Protest in der Ukraine,” Kontakte-Kontakty: Verein für Kontakte zu Ländern der ehemaligen Sowjetunion, Oct. 15, 2007. (Accessed April 10, 2008)


 “President speaks to URA veterans,” Press office of President Victor Yushchenko, October 14, 2007, (Accessed April 10, 2008)


 Wilfried Jilge, “Competing Victimhoods – Post-Soviet Ukrainian Narratives on World War II,” in Elazar Barkan, Elizabeth A. Cole and Kai Struve (eds.), Shared History – Divided Memory: Jews and Others in Soviet-Occupied Poland, 1939-1941 (Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag, 2008), 125, n98.


 Georgii Gerashchenko, “Koe-chto o “zabyvchivosti” v panegirikakh Romanu Shukhevych,” Vremia Regionov Kharkovshchiny No. 27 (74), July 7, 2007. (Accessed May 18, 2008)


 Zenon Zawada, “UWC president set to sue Communists over defamation of Roman Shukhevych,” The Ukrainian Weekly, No. 34, Vol. LXXV, August 26, 2007. (Accessed November 18, 2007)


 Korduban, “Leftist, Pro-Russian Extremists”


 Zawada. “UWC president set to sue Communists.” Like so many other myths surrounding Shukhevych’s person, these statements are incorrect. Yet, while Shukhevych did not himself earn an Iron Cross, some of his comrades did. For instance, Nachtigall soldier Iu. Lopatyns’kyi received the Iron Cross of the second class. Andrii Bolianovs’kyi, Ukraїns’ki viis’kovi formuvannia v zbroinykh sylakh Nimechchyny (1939-1945) (L’viv: L’vivs’kyi Natsional’nyi Universytet im. Ivana Franka and Canadian Institure of Ukrainian Studies, 2003), 71. Petro J. Potichnyj, personal correspondence, May 24, 2008.


 In Russia and Belarus new national historiographies are being developed, often based upon modified versions of Soviet myths. Stalin is now presented as “the most successful leader of the Soviet Union,” an “effective manager” and his name and portrait again decorate the Moscow metro. Soviet symbols, such as Alexandrov’s 1943 Soviet national anthem has been reintroduced as the new Russian national anthem. In Belarus, the cult of the Soviet past, and, in particular, the “Great Patriotic War” with its myths of heroic Soviet partisan resistance are even more important to the regime’s “national ideology.” Geir Seljeseth, “Hyllning till Stalin åter i Moskvas metro,” Dagens Nyheter, August 28, 2009. (accessed September 4, 2009); Svetlana Osadchuk, “Stalin makes a comeback with Russian teachers,” New York Times, August 31, 2008.a (accessed September 4, 2009); Natalia Leshchenko, “A Fine Instrument: two nation-building strategies in post-Soviet Belarus,” Nations and Nationalism” 10 (3), 2004, 333-352; Per A. Rudling, “The Great Patriotic War and National Identity in Belarus,” in Tomasz Kamusella and Krzysztof Jaksulowski (eds.), Nationalisms Across the Globe, volume I: Nationalisms Today (Bern: Peter Lang, 2009), 199-225.


 Johan Dietsch, Making Sense of Suffering: Holocaust and Holodomor in Ukrainian Historical Culture (Lund: Lund University 2006), 172; David R. Marples, Heroes and Villains: Creating National History in Contemporary Ukraine (Budapest and New York: Central European University Press, 2007), 132-141, 277-278; and Wilfred Jilge, “The Politics of History and the Second World war in Post-Communist Ukraine (1986/1991-2004/2005), Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 54 (2006): 62.


 Iryna Ehorova, “Volodymy V’’iatrovych: Holovnym sub’ektom istorychnoho protsesu v Ukraїni XX stolittia bula ne URSR, a ukraїns’kyi vyzvol’nyi rukh,” Den’, February 18, 2008. (Accessed March 16, 2008). See also Vladyslav Hrynevych, “Katastrofa 1941 roku: Ukraina skazala “ni” Stalinizmu,” Dzerkalo tyzhnia, No.24, 19-25 June 2004; Liudmila Hrynevych, “Tsina stalins’koï “revoliutsiï zhory”: ukraïns’ke selianstvo v ochikuvanni na viinu,” paper presented at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton, November 9, 2007.


 Peter Niedermüller, “Der Mythos der Gemeinschaft: Geschichte, Gedächtnis und Politik im heutigen Osteuropa,” in Andrea Corbea Hoise, Rudolf Jaworski and Monika Sommer (eds.), Umbruch im östlichen Europa: Die nationale Wende und das kollektive Gedächtnis (Innsbruck: Studien Verlag, 2004), 11-26. On the use of history in the period of the dissolution of the USSR, see also Klas-Göran Karlsson, Historia som vapen: Historiebruk och Sovjetunionens upplösning 1985-1995 (Stockholm: Natur och Kultur, 1999), 57-61.


 A recent account in a government paper in Belarus, even insinuated that Shukhevych could have been involved in the burning of the village of Khatyn’ outside Minsk. Viktor Chikin, 7 Dnei: Gazeta dlia vsei sem’i, No. 21, May 22, 2008.


 On Bandera’s youthful fascination with Lenin, see Paul Stepan Pirie, “Unraveling the Banner: a Biographical Study of Stepan Bandera,” MA Thesis, University of Alberta, 1993, 79; Mykhailo Sosnovskyi, Dmytro Dontsov, politychnii portret: z istorii rozvytku ideolohii ukrains’kohonatsionalizmu (New York and Toronto: Trident International, 1974)


 P. Sokhan and P. Potichnyi et al (eds.), Litopys’ UPA, Nova seriia, tom 10, Zhyttia i borot’ba henerala “Tarasa Chuprynky” (1907-1950): Dokumenty i materialy (Kyiv and Toronto: Litopys UPA, 2007), 16-17; Vasyl’ Kuk, Heneral-khorunzhyi Roman Shukhevych: Holovnyi komandyr Ukrainskoi povstans’koi armii, vydannia druhe, dopovnene (L’viv: Tsentr dolidzhen’ vyzvol’noho rukhu, 2007), 22.


 Yuri Shukhevych, “Komandyr bezimennykh,” Ukraїna moloda: shchodenna informatsiino-politychna hazeta, June 24, 2007. (accessed December 5, 2007)


 Alexandr Feldman, “Thirty Years After the Death of Roman Shukhevych,” Contact 2-3 (Jerusalem, 1980): 77; Posivnych, 28n, and Anatolii Kentii and Volodymyr Lozyts’kyi,”From UVO fighter to sumpreme commander of the UPA,” in Sokhan’ and Potichnyj (eds.), Litopys UPA, Nova seria, tom 10, 86.


 Karel C. Berkhoff, Harvest of Despair: Life and Death in Ukraine under Nazi Rule (Cambridge, MA and London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004), 289, 298.


 Bolianovs’kyi, Ukraїns’ki viis’kovi formuvannia, 66, 571. The Ukrainian nationalist historiography usually refers to Roland and Nachtigall as the Units of Ukrainian Nationalists, Druzhyny Ukraїns’kykh Natsionalistiv (DUN), to give the impression that they constituted autonomous units. Franziska Bruder, ’Den ukrainischen Staat erkämpfen oder sterben!’: Die Organisation der Ukrainischen Nationalisten (OUN) 1929-1948 (Berlin: Metropol, 2007), 130-132.


 Philipp-Christian Wachs, Der Fall Theodor Oberländer (1909-1998). Ein Lehrstück deutscher Geschichte (Frankfurt: Campus-Verlag 2000), 55-71.


 P. Duzhyi, Roman Shukhevych – polityk, voїn, hromadianyn (L’viv: Halyts’ka vydavnycha spilka, 1998), 57-60.

27 See, for instance, S. Kul’chyts’kyi et al (eds.), OUN v 1941 rotsi: Dokumenty. Chastyna 1 (Kyiv: NANA Ukrainy, Instytut istorii Ukrainy, 2006), 35-50.

28 Ivan Kazymyrovych Patryliak, Viis’kova diial’nist’ OUN(b) u 1940-1942 rokakh (Kyiv: NAN Ukraїny, 2004), 128, citing TsDAVO Ukraїny, f. 3833, op. 2, spr. 1; TsDAVO Ukraїny f. 3833, op. 1, spr. 9, ark. 1.


 Viktor Khar’kiv “Khmara,” a member of both Nachtigall and then Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 wrote in his diary that he participated in the shooting of Jews in two villages in the vicinity of Vinnytsia. Patryliak, Viis’kova diial’nist’, 361-362, citing TsDAVO Ukraїny, f. 3833, op. 1, spr. 57, ark. 18; On the L’viv pogroms, see Sergei Chuev, Ukrainskii Legion (Moscow, 2006), 180; Frank Golczewski “Die Kollaboration in der Ukraine,” in Christoph Dieckmann, Babette Quinkert, Tatjana Tönsmeyer (eds.), Kooperation und Verbrechen. Formen der Kollaboration“ im östlichen Europa 1939-1945 (Göttingen: Wallenstein, 2003), 162; Christoph Mick, “Ethnische Gewalt und Pogrome in Lemberg 1914 und 1941,” Osteuropa, 53 (2003): 1810-1811, 1824-1829; Hannes Heer: “Einübung in den Holocaust: Lemberg Juni/Juli 1941,“ in: Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft 49 (2001): 410, 424; Bruder, 140-150; Frank Grelka, Die ukrainische Nationalbewegung unter deutscher Besatzungsherrschaft 1918 und 1941/1942. (Wiesbaden: Harassowitz, 2005), 276-286; Dieter Pohl, Nationalsozialistische Judenverfolgung in Ostgalizien 1941-1944 Organisation und Durchführung eines staatlichen Massenverbrechens (München: Oldenbourg, 1997), 60-62; Wachs 2000, 71, 78-80; Eliyahu Yones, Die Straße nach Lemberg: Zwangsarbeit und Widerstand in Ostgalizien 1941-1944 (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag,1999), 18.


 Ievhen Pobihushchyi-Ren, Mozaїka moїkh spomyniv (Ivano-Frankiv’sk: “Lileia-HB,” 2002), 62.

31Pobihushchyi, the former commander of the Roland battalion, served as an officer in Schutzmannschaft battalion 201, and continued as an officer in the Waffen-SS Division Galizien in 1943. Bolianovs’kyi, 60, 143, 360. The commanders of the other three companies were Hauptsturmführer Bryhyder, who later continued as an officer in SS Galizien, Vasylyi Sydor and Volodymyr Pavliuk. DA SB Ukraїny: F. 5, spr. 67418, T. 1, ark. 208-241, in Volodymyr Serhiichuk (ed.) Roman Shukhevych u dokumentakh radians’kykh orhaniv derzhavnoї bezpeky (1940-1950) Tom I (Kyїv: PP Serhiichuk M.I., 2007), 529.
 Parmen Posokhov, ”Shukhevych. Beloe piatno v biografii,” FRAZA, August 15, 2007 (accessed November 18, 2007)


 Chuev, 180; Bolianovs’kyi, 143.


 Bolyanovs’kyi, 144, Stepan Kotelets’-Lisovyi, ”Mii spomnyn z legionu: U Krakovi i Komanchi,” in Myroslav Kal’ba, U lavkah druzhynnykiv: spohady uchasnykiv. Materialy zibrav i vporiadkuvav Myroslav Kal’ba. (Denver: Vyd-ia Druzhyny ukraїns’kykh natsionalistiv, 1982), 91.


 Posivnych in Potichnyj and Posivnych (eds.), 29, citing Myroslav Kal’ba, Druzhyny Ukraїns’kykh Natsionalistiv (Detroit: DUN, 1994), 45-53, 75-80.


 Bolianovs’kyi, 144, Chuev, 183.


 Golczewski, “Kollaboration in der Ukraine,” 176.


 Martin C. Dean, “The German Gendarmerie, the Ukrainian Schutzmannschaft and the ‘Second Wave’ of Jewish killings in Occupied Ukraine: German Policing at the Local Level in the Zhitomir Region, 1941-1944,” German History, Vol. 14, No. 2 (1996), 179.


 Posivnych in Potichnyj and Posivnych (eds.), 29, citing Myroslav Kal’ba, Druzhyny Ukraїns’kykh Natsionalistiv (Detroit: DUN, 1994), 45-53, 75-80.


 Pobihushchyi, in Myroslav Kal’ba (ed.), U lavkah druzhynnykiv; Druzhyny Ukraїns’kykh Nationalistiv v 1941-1942 rokakh (n.p: Vyd-ia Druzhyny ukraїnsks’kykh nationalistiv, 1953), 40; Ievhen Pobihushchyi-Ren, Mozaїka moїkh spomyniv (Ivano-Frankiv’sk: “Lileia-HB,” 2002), 85.


 Serhiichuk (ed.) Roman Shukhevych, 11. In 1944, as the Germans retreated from occupied Belarus,”a few dozen” men from Schutzmannschaft Battalion 118 joined the UPA in Volyn. Andrii Duda and Volodymyr Staryk, Bukovyns’kyi Kuren’ v boiakh za ukraїns’ku derzhavnist’: 1918-1941-1944 (Chernivtsi: Ukraїns’kyi Narodnyi Dim v Chernivtsiakh, 1995), 152.


 Timothy Snyder,
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