Stepan Bandera is considered as a national hero in Ukraine, with many Ukrainians praising him and his deeds as a fighter for Ukraine’s independence and freedom before, during and after WW2. Yet his real history shows there is nothing praiseworthy about the man, or what he strove for.
As a young man who was a fervent Ukrainian nationalist he joined the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists OUN in 1929. The OUN was a ultra nationalist fascist organization that accepted violence as a political tool against foreign and domestic enemies of their cause. Bandera quickly rose in the OUN ranks and became one of its leaders. In its efforts to sow discord and hatred between Poles and Ukrainians, the OUN launched a large scale terror campaigns in 1930s Poland. The main targets of their terror and assassination attempts were Ukrainians and Poles who wished to work together for a common future. The OUN killed hundreds of innocent Poles and Ukrainians. The OUN traget was to destroy Polish – Ukrainian cooperation and to destabilize eastern Poland. According to Professor Antony Polonsky, the OUN, and many other Nationalist Ukrainian organizations at the time, were funded by Germany. In 1934 Bandera was arrested in Lwów and was sentenced for life in prison for his crimes.
Soon after the German invasion of Poland in 1939, Bandera was freed from jail, and directly started working for Nazi Germany and its Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, whom he shared many views about fascism, virulent hatred of Poles, Russians and especially about the Jews. Historian Karel Berkhoff, among others, has shown that Bandera, his deputies, and the Nazis shared a key obsession, namely the notion that the Jews in Ukraine were behind Communism and Stalinist imperialism and must be destroyed. “The Jews of the Soviet Union,” reads a Banderist statement,
“are the most loyal supporters of the Bolshevik Regime and the vanguard of Muscovite imperialism in the Ukraine.”
When Adolf Hitler invaded Poland, Bandera spotted an opportunity to push his cause. Professor Timothy Snyder wrote that Bandera’s OUN (which later became the “Ukrainian Insurgent Army” or UPA)
“…helped the Germans organize murderous pogroms of Jews, Poles and other minorities. In so doing, they were advancing a German policy, but one that was consistent with their own program of Ukrainian ethnic purity.” “Bandera aimed to make of Ukraine a one-party fascist dictatorship without national minorities.”
On June 30, 1941, Bandera and other Nationalist Ukrainian organizations and partisans declared an independent Ukrainian state. But to their surprise, their sponsor and patron, Hitler, decided that he didn’t want a separate Nazi Ukrainian country in what he viewed as the German people’s future Lebensraum. The Fuhrer had Bandera arrested and locked up, but placed in comfortable conditions back in Germany. Throughout his imprisonment he remained in constant communication with his old OUN colleagues. While in prison, his organization continued implementing his own brand of Nazi ideology of a “racially pure” Ukraine. The UPA which actively worked with Nazi Germany before, now embarked on its own “racial purification” campaign in western Ukraine through ethnic cleansing and genocides which were mainly aimed at the Polish population in those regions.
These mass murders were committed with incredible cruelty. Many people were simply burnt alive or thrown into wells. Axes, pitchforks, scythes, knives and other farming tools rather than guns were used in an attempt to make the massacres look like a spontaneous peasant uprising.
The Ukrainian UPA tortured their victims with unimaginable bestiality. Even the Germans were shocked at their level of sadism. Victims were scalped. They had their noses, lips and ears cut off. They had their eyes gouged out and hands cut off and they had their heads squashed in clamps. Woman had their breasts cut off and pregnant woman were stabbed in the belly. Men had their genitals sliced off with sickles.
Prof. Grzegorz Motyka, an expert on Polish-Ukrainian issues, had stated that
“although the anti-Polish action was an ethnic cleansing, it also meets the definition of genocide”.
The Polish Institute of National Remembrance estimates that 100,000 Poles were killed by the Ukrainian nationalists and an additional tens of thousands in other areas. Professor Norman Davies estimates the number of total victims of Bandera’s UPA genocides comes to 200,000 to half a million. Other estimates point to a minimum of 80,000 – 100,000 victims Although Polish families, as the most numerous ethnic minority and in some areas majority, were the main target of the killings, victims also included Jews, Russians, Czechs, Georgians, and any Ukrainians who were part of Polish families or opposed the UPA and sabotaged the genocide by hiding Polish escapees.
After the war, Bandera made a home in Munich, where the Soviet Union’s KGB found and murdered him in 1959. This was the height of the Cold War, so the Ukrainian diaspora in the West built a hero cult around Bandera, painting him as a freedom fighter while whitewashing his crimes. This attitude towards Bandera was carried into modern day Ukraine. In Ukraine he is often treated as a national hero, with many streets and squares named after him and statues of him and of the UPA adorning Ukrainian cities. Bandera’s UPA notorious red and black flag can be seen flown in many parts in Ukraine.
Modern day Ukrainian leaders, high ranking officials and politicians glorified and paid homage to Bandera and the UPA, often calling them “heroes” and minimizing if not airbrushing their heinous crimes and Nazi like ideology. In 2010, the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, awarded Bandera the posthumous title of “Hero of Ukraine”. In 2014, President Petro Poroshenko stated that
“UPA soldiers are an example of heroism and attitude to Ukraine.“
Originally published on 2022-10-11
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