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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 17

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

Ukraine under the Soviets
by Clarence Manning

published by
Bookman Associates
New York,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 19

 p159  Chapter Eighteen

The Western Ukrainian Reaction

To appreciate the next step in the relations between the Western Ukrainians and the Soviets, it is necessary to go back and look briefly at the conditions that existed under Polish rule. The two peoples were distinctly hostile but their relations were very different from those between the Eastern Ukrainians and the Russians.

The old Austro-Hungarian Empire, unlike the Russian, had not denied the existence of a Ukrainian people, even though it had not favored their development save as a counterbalance to the Poles in Eastern Galicia. Yet there was a considerable number of Western Ukrainians who had been trained to fill the lower offices in old Hapsburg system. They had the right of voting for the provincial diets and when the Hapsburg Empire disintegrated, they immediately voted for the establishment of a Western Ukrainian Republic. When this failed to establish itself and to win recognition by the Western powers and the League of Nations, the vast majority of the Western Ukrainians under the leader­ship of the UNDO voted for representatives to the Polish Parliament and continued the struggle in a legal and parliamentary manner to win rights for themselves.

A minority which was finally organized into the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists under Col. Evhen Konovalets continued the illegal and revolutionary struggle through sabotage and terroristic attacks on outstanding anti-Ukrainian Poles. It was in vain that the Polish government endeavored to suppress this group by the forced pacification of Eastern Galicia and by other violent tactics and, after the murder of Colonel Konovalets, his place was taken by Colonel Melnyk.

 p160  In 1932, in connection with the suppression of the Ukrainians in the UkSSR, the claim was advanced that the OUN had commenced work in eastern Ukrainian territory. However that might be, the small group continued to operate in Poland. It trained young men in secret military organizations, in operating without detection, and in undercover political education. In this work it was opposed and imitated by some of the legal political bodies, usually of a more leftist but still anti-Communist type, which likewise prepared their own cadres of semi-trained men who would be ready to act, if need arose.

The events of 1939, with the rise and fall of the independent Republic of Carpatho-Ukraine, won many adherents to these groups and organizations, and after the outbreak of the war and the occupation of Western Ukraine by the Communists, the latter advertised their existence by their talk of an active Ukrainian under­ground.

With the first months of the occupation the network of these groups spread throughout the country but even under these conditions there was little or no cooperation between them and similar Polish groups which persisted in maintaining the Polish supremacy and waited only for the Soviet defeat to reassert their hegemony in the area. Some of the leaders went abroad and there was considerable confusion aroused in their ranks but, by the spring of 1940, when the full weight of the Soviet changes was beginning to be felt by the population, the attitude changed toward these groups and they began to be looked upon as the leaders of the Ukrainians who objected to the introduction of the Communist regime.

The general turmoil that existed with anti-Nazis fleeing to the east, the outstanding Ukrainians trying to get to the west, the sending of members of the Ukrainian intelligentsia to the villages as teachers and the general disorganization, gave them relatively good conditions for developing and making their principles and knowledge available to the villagers. These were made aware of the fact that any opposition to the new regime would be instantly punished and as their normal pre‑war life was now converted into  p161 a criminal existence, they showed themselves more ready to cooperate.

Unfortunately, during this preliminary period discord broke out in the OUN. One faction under Stepan Bandera objected to the leader­ship of Colonel Melnyk and demanded the change of several prominent leaders. When this was refused, a split came in the organization with Melnyk at the head of one faction and Bandera in control of the other. It is very possible that this split was the result of German intrigue to prevent the formation of a strong Ukrainian movement but it had the result of weakening it, even though both Bandera and Melnyk fell into German hands and were imprisoned during the rest of the war. Their followers continued and intensified the feud and even came to armed clashes.

Both factions of the OUN and similar groups strengthened themselves first along the borders and commenced to smuggle arms and ammunition from the west, so as to be prepared to act in case there came an armed clash between Germany and the USSR. Then, as the months passed, the network extended further into the country and the OUN became organized on a territorial basis under a Country Executive and the Country Leader, who were assisted by expert advisers on military affairs and propaganda.

While the two imperialistic powers were still friends, there was little possibility for open sabotage. The chief work of the Ukrainian patriotic under­ground was the spreading of the national spirit, the encouraging of the spirits of the oppressed and the secret education of the masses in the hope of later action. They sought to counterbalance the Soviet propaganda and their efforts to enlist the young people in the Komsomols and train them as Communists. They worked upon some of the eastern Ukrainians who were moved by the Soviet regime to the west and they brought it about that some of these remained behind and joined their ranks when the break finally came in 1941.

Despite the efforts of the leaders to hold their followers in check, they were not always success­ful for some of the younger members were so enraged by the Bolshevik tactics that they could not be restrained from attempting individual acts of reprisal. These  p162 usually failed and involved not only the punishment of numbers of the innocent but also called the attention of the Communist leaders to the existence of the organizations and made them more vigilant in tracking down suspects.

Some of the members, to secure more adequate military training, even enlisted in the Red Army, sometimes with the approval of the heads of the under­ground but this proved an expensive process, for the alerted Communists usually moved these candidates for training well to the east where they would be harmless in case of a general conflict. Numbers of them were sent to the Bashkir ASSR and to the central Russian areas.

By the spring of 1941 there were many members of these under­ground associations hiding in the forests of Eastern Galicia and Volynia and the Soviets sent out armed detachments to pursue them and to locate the caches of arms which they had not only smuggled in but had taken from the Poles during the last days of the Polish opposition and which they had seized from small and often unsuspecting Soviet detachments. These searches often resulted in armed clashes in which the Red forces often emerged victorious, thanks to the ever greater numbers of soldiers who were assigned to them.

The work of the courriers between the different units and sections became more arduous and dangerous as the Soviets tightened their control over the population and strengthened the border guards on one pretext or another. What had once been a relatively open border, the area between Sokal and Turka, was now guarded by barbed wire and the Ukrainian population, which was suspected of complicity with the under­ground, was removed.

In the same way, the Soviets prepared one device after another to attack the Executive of this under­ground movement. They succeeded three times in capturing and trying many of the leading members and in the spring of 1941 they were starting a fourth trial in which they hoped to assert their power and to crush the movement finally. Yet, their plans for this were finally upset by the opening of hostilities between Germany and the USSR.

It was no easy task to organize this movement under the very  p163 eyes of a ruthless invader. Many of the agents who were engaged in it fell into the enemy hands and were executed ruthlessly. It was still harder to bring together the groups that were working for the various Ukrainian parties and to arouse them to a realization that, in the face of the threat from the east, those differences which had seemed so important during the parliamentary struggle against the Poles were to be forgotten in the face of the common danger to all those things which the various parties had in common. Yet they persevered despite heavy losses and by the spring of 1941, while their position still seemed hopeless, they had succeeded in creating a nucleus of organized opposition to Soviet rule which was really widespread and had some repercussions in the ranks of the Red Army, especially among the eastern Ukrainians and some of the other non‑Russians who had been mobilized and sent for service in the area.

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