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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 19

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 21

 p167  Chapter Twenty

The German Attack on the Soviets

During the period from 1939 to 1941, the German policy toward those Ukrainians who had escaped from the Soviet occupation into the Polish Government General was not too severe. It was possible for the Ukrainians in Krakow and elsewhere to carry on a considerable amount of educational work, to form themselves into relief organizations and, in general, to work for the establishment of normal relations.

When the breach between the two totalitarian states came on June 22, 1941, the Germans pushed ahead rapidly not only in the Baltic area but also in Ukraine. By June 30, they had occupied Lviv with the aid of some Ukrainian units, both from Carpatho-Ukraine and from Galicia.

During these days the Ukrainians had high hoped that the Germans would seriously liberate them from Bolshevik tyranny and wherever they had the slightest possibility, they endeavored to seize the cities so as to put a stop to the massacres which the Communists were perpetrating before they fell back. In some places they were success­ful but in Lviv, the Communists killed over 10,000 prisoners, before their bloody regime could be brought to an end.

In the first days of the war, although there were no clear promises made to the Ukrainians, the impression grew that there would be established some form of a Ukrainian administration. The political leaders set up a Ukrainian government and appointed Yaroslav Stetsko as the first head of the state on June 30, 1941. A short time later this was broadened by the appointment of a Committee of Seniors under the leader­ship of Dr. Kost Levytsky, who had been the Prime Minister of the Republic of Western  p168 Ukraine in 1918. These developments had the support of Metropolitan Sheptytsky, although he knew that they did not yet rest on organized public sentiment.

It was well recognized by the influential Ukrainians that the situation was very different from what it had been at the end of the Hapsburg monarchy, but they went through the motions of setting up a government on the possibility that the Germans would allow them some real concessions and that it would be mutually advantageous to be already prepared for all eventualities.

It is perhaps possible that a part of the German armed forces looked with a certain toleration at these developments, for at least a part of the officer class realized that the task of the German government would be greatly facilitated, it they were able to normalize the situation and win some support from the population, as they had in the Polish Government General. This did not suit the Nazi element who believed that the advance of the German forces was only to secure more Lebensraum for Germany. This faction struck and struck hard at the new regime and secured the arrest of Stetsko, Levytsky, Bandera and Melnyk, all of whom were taken to prison in Germany where they were kept for nearly four years.

The arrest of the leaders, while it was a crushing blow, still was not completely fatal. The advance of the German troops was so rapid on the way to Kiev that the Ukrainian leaders continued for some months to inspire the population not to resist the Germans, the more so as the western regiments of the Red Army surrendered in large masses. Thus when Kiev fell, some 675,000 of the Red Army surrendered with scarcely a blow.

On the other hand, the Soviets attempted to devastate the country before they withdrew, shooting the Ukrainian intelligentsia indiscriminately and trying to seize as many as they could for evacuation beyond the Urals. They demolished factories, tried to remove finished articles and mined the cities before they abandoned them. Then, when they exploited the mines, they spread the story that the total work of demolition had been carried on by the Germans.

 p169  On August 1, the Germans made a new division of the country and assigned the whole of Galicia to the Polish Government General. At the same time they returned Bukovyna and Bessarabia to Rumania and then set up a new section around Odesa under the name of Transdnistria which they likewise placed under Rumania. It was in vain that the Ukrainians who tried to organize their own national rada in Kiev protested against such actions, for their protests were not received and the Nazis went on with their policy of ignoring all the wishes of the population.

Later in the month, the Germans established the Reichskommissariat of Ukraine and placed it under the control of a fanatical Nazi, Erich Koch, who set himself during the next years to crush anything and everything that was done to aid the Ukrainians and to win for himself the detested title of the butcher of Ukraine.

In the early months of the German occupation and especially during the period of rapid military movements, much was done for the rebuilding of the country after the ravages of the Bolsheviks. Nearly 115 Ukrainian newspapers were established, plans were made for the opening of schools and during the transition from the military rule to the rule of Koch, the Ukrainian agents were in the front ranks of the German army, spreading their propaganda and trying to rouse the population against the Bolsheviks.

Yet this work did not please the Germans. Everywhere in eastern Europe the old governments that had been suppressed by the Bolsheviks tried to recreate themselves but everywhere there came the arrests of these leaders and their deportation, so that it was not many months before the sober thought of the liberated peoples turned against the new occupants and the people realized that their hopes were going to be in vain. By the end of 1941, it had been made clear to them that there would be no relaxation of the pressure exerted upon them.

In the Reichskommissariat which, in fact, represented little more than the right bank of the Dnieper area, for the army retained the control over the regions to the east of the river, it speedily became impossible for the Ukrainians to improve their own condition. The Germans were guided by a strictly logical program.  p170 Inasmuch as all the land was organized in collective farms and the title to those rested in the Soviet government, they as conquerors merely took over the land of their defeated rivals. They continued the same kind of collectivized agriculture, since it brought them the greatest advantages and they had no intention of doing anything for the Ukrainian population. Koch made it clear that the Ukrainians had no rights that the Germans were bound to respect. Their property was not theirs but it was reserved for Germans and once the system was in the saddle, as shown by Koch's Twelve Commandments for the regulation of the relations of the two peoples, he did everything to destroy completely the Ukrainian intellectual life.

By the winter of 1941‑2, the Germans in Kiev were executing Ukrainian writers as O. Teliha and Dr. Oleh Kandyba-Olzhych, who were accused of plotting against the new masters. Soon there began extensive deportations of Ukrainians into Germany for slave labor and the number of victims from the ranks of the cooperatives rapidly grew.

These German actions naturally roused the Ukrainians to a more vigorous opposition and resulted in the formation of numerous armed bands which, from secure hiding places in the forests and swamps, raided German convoys and at times extended their open control over large areas of the country. Among the first of these bands to appear was that of the Polyssian Sich under the command of Taras Bulba-Borovets which operated in Polissya and Volynia. Other significant and important movements were started by the followers of Bandera (the so‑called Banderivtsy) and of Melnyk. Yet these groups were not alone for almost spontaneously there sprang up many other local units, all interested in the same goal of Ukrainian independence. Some of these units were organized primarily to fight against Soviet irregulars. Others had seen from the beginning their most dangerous foe as the Germans but whatever their origin, the overbearing brutality of the Germans swung these groups to a determined warfare against them.

This process continued during most of 1942 with the Ukrainian forces taking over more and more control from the Germans,  p171 mena­cing their lines of communication and rescuing young Ukrainians who were being deported for labor service in Germany. It was during this year that the leaders came to feel the need for closer cooperation and a unification of their efforts. This was hard to achieve and there were even clashes between different groups of Ukrainian patriots. Yet, toward the beginning of 1943 the more important groups had effected a rough union in the U. P. A., the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which took on the characteristics of an organized military force.

By the middle of 1943 this army had acquired considerable strength and it was able to deal shattering blows to isolated German detachments and to drive out both the local German administration and any Red partisans that tried to operate in the area around the Pripet marshes. In May, 1943, they were even strong enough to ambush and kill the head of the Nazi S. A., Viktor Lutze, in the neighborhood of Kowel-Brest Litovsk.

The policy of the U. P. A. was to destroy the local German administrations which were scattered in the smaller communities and to avoid battle with the greater concentration of forces in some of the leading centres. In this way the Ukrainians were able to take over the practical administration of large parts of Ukraine and to restore a considerable amount of normal life, while they checked the deportation of thousands or released them from the slave trains. The U. P. A. during these years had its own training schools, it set up on a small scale its own factories for arms and some of the most necessary manufactures, and it governed with the approval of the Ukrainian population.

At this period it had its own printing presses and put out a large number of journals and books of various kinds. These were not only in Ukrainian but, as the U. P. A. grew in size and strength, it attracted the attention and won the sympathies of all the other nations oppressed by the Russians. It formed units of Byelorussians, Azerbaijanians, Uzbeks, etc. and finally on November 21, 1944, it called the First Conference of the Oppressed Peoples of Eastern Europe and Asia, which was attend by some thirty-nine delegates representing thirteen peoples. The Germans  p172 tried to break this up but they were unsuccess­ful and the police battalion which was assigned to the operation was destroyed. Out of this Conference developed the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations which adopted as its program, "Freedom to peoples, freedom to the individual."

It would take too long to describe the actual nature of the military operations which the U. P. A. carried on. At the height of its power it controlled more than 200,000 square miles of Ukrainian territory and numbered some 220,000 soldiers divided into four main bands: the U. P. A.-North, operating in Polissya and northern Volynia; the U. P. A.‑West in Eastern Galicia and Kholm­shchyna; the U. P. A.‑South in northern Bukovyna and the provinces of Kamyanets Podilsky and Vinnytsya; and the U. P. A.‑East north of Kiev and Zhytomyr. There were separate detachments in most of the cities and important towns.

To oppose its operations, the Germans resorted to mass executions and on more than one occasion detached forces of one or two divisions to try to destroy its centres. These attempts failed and the U. P. A. by its constant efforts played an important part in isolating the German forces, upsetting their communications and sapping their strength. All this was very costly, for after every major blow the Germans executed large numbers of innocent Ukrainians as their one weapon against the movement.

At first there was relative peace in Galicia, but in the summer of 1943 a Soviet partisan detachment entered the province. The Germans took little action and the U. P. A. came to the support of the population and soon had established strong centres in the Carpathian Mountains, where the difficult terrain facilitated their maintenance of strong positions.

The Germans in the beginning did not want to admit that their policy toward the Ukrainians had evoked such a strong response. Koch and his associates were only too willing to believe that the Ukrainians were an inferior race, undeserving of education or of consideration and they went out of their way to label the U. P. A. the product of Communist intrigue and a movement of support for the Jews, etc.

 p173  In general, the military unification of the armed groups proceeded more rapidly and favorably than did the political concentration. Here the followers of Bandera established in March, 1944, a temporary committee and at a general assembly in June appointed a Supreme Council of Ukrainian Liberation (the UHVR) which assumed the functions of a government. At the same time, through the agreement of the representatives of the Ukrainian National Council in Kiev, the Ukrainian National Council in Lviv and the National Council of Carpatho-Ukraine, there was formed in September in Kiev the All‑Ukrainian National Council (rada) which appointed as its president Prof. Mykola Velychkivsky, the Rector of the Kiev Polytechnic. This was rather under the control of the Melnykivtsy, and was opposed to the UHVR. Yet these differences tended to become academic, in view of the strengthened position of General Taras Chuprynka,​a the commander of the U. P. A.

The opposition of the U. P. A. to the German forces was therefore in a sense an opposition behind the lines. It had been facilitated by the German tendency to base their hold on the country through various strong points, while their main forces were advancing to the east and fighting against the Red Army. With the German defeat at Stalingrad in the RSFSR, they began a new retreat and this brought the Soviet forces back into the picture and placed new burdens upon the U. P. A.

In Galicia there had been formed with German toleration a regular Ukrainian division, the Galician Division, on the condition that it would only be employed against the Bolsheviks and would be maintained as a distinct unit. Yet the Germans had no intention of allowing this division to gather strength. They soon replaced the higher officers with Germans and officially called it the 14 Waffen Grenadier Division der Waffen SS., even though in no other case were Slavs of any kind assigned to the SS. This division took part in some battles with the Bolsheviks in the Carpathians. With the breaking of the German front, the German military men made renewed efforts to enroll this division and to create other units in a regular Ukrainian army under General Shandruk but  p174 it was already too late. There had been too much bad blood created during the earlier years when the Nazi commanders expressed their contempt for everything Ukrainian to accomplish anything in the hour of German defeat. Germany had lost her chance and in the last days of the war, the Galician Division made its way to the west, surrendered, and was interned in Italy.

The development of the U. P. A., with its constant warfare against the Germans, was a clear result of the German fantasticº attitude, with all of its arrogance. Had they been willing to cooperate in the first days of 1941, they might easily have secured considerable resources in men and supplies from these people who had been suffering under the Bolsheviks. They avoided any such action and it was their own stubbornness that kept them from receiving the help which they might have had. For years they did not want any assistance from the Slavs and by the time that they had learned their lesson the war was so nearly over that they could not profit.

Yet the German defeat did not produce peace. No one of the Ukrainians doubted that the receding of the German wave would produce a new Soviet invasion and as the Germans retired to the west, the U. P. A. and its associated organs prepared for a new struggle.

Thayer's Note:

a Taras Chuprynka was the nom de guerre of General Roman Shukhevych.

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