(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has finally signed a highly controversial law honoring as fighters for Ukrainian independence, among others, the notorious Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and its military wing the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). This law not only recognizes the OUN and UPA, it is also makes showing disrespect for them or publicly denying the lawfulness of their fight a criminal offence. Of course, we as Jews can’t agree with a law which honors anti-Semites and murderers. What I was surprised at was how little modern Ukrainians know about their heroes.
I would agree that many Ukrainians fought for independence – but at the beginning of the Nazi aggression against the Soviet Union one-and-a-half million Jews lived in the territory of modern Ukraine. More than a million of them were murdered. They were simply killed and thrown into pits that had been prepared in advance. All this happened under German control,with the direct and active participation of the Ukrainian police (members of whom later formed the UPA).
And it’s not just regarding pogroms in Lviv that it is claimed the UPA did not participate, which was “proven” by the Ukrainian security service (SBU).
This proof is of the same sort as a list of Soviet officials guilty of the Golodomor (Ukraine Great Famine of 1932-33). The list was prepared by SBU in 2008 and made up of almost exclusively Jewish names.
The truth is that the official policy of the OUN was openly anti-Semitic, including approval for Nazi-style Jewish extermination, and only at the end of the war when German defeat became imminent did this position change.
It is claimed that the OUN could not have fought because it was political, not a military organization. This is true – but as a political body it could produce statements, express opinions, etc. In front of and with the participation of many OUN members, a million Jews were murdered only for being Jews. You will not find a single document in which the OUN expressed its protest, outrage or disagreement with the annihilation of their fellow Jewish citizens.
Right after the Babi Yar massacre, the local wartime OUN newspaper “Ukrainian Word” wrote that it was the “duty of every Ukrainian patriot to split on remaining hiding Jews, to clean up the native land.” And yes, OUN and other Ukrainian nationalist organizations welcomed the Nazis and supported cooperation with Nazi Germany, although they paid a high price for it later.
I agree that the UPA did not fight alongside the Germans. But the UPA did fight the peaceful Polish population living in Western Ukraine, killing tens of thousands of them. This is where a major part of their military valor lies. There is a significant body of evidence regarding the UPA’s killing of Jews hiding in the forests, but this is where Red partisans also succeeded.
Ukrainian nationalist ideology was really very close to fascism and Nazism.
The history of Ukrainian independence is very complicated. Modern Ukrainians need to realize and comprehend this difficult and tragic history in order to become a truly European nation. Such laws as that recently signed by President Poroshenko can only harm the Ukrainian people.
The author is the director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee.