This book should have appeared at least fifteen years ago. There is no need to dwell on the reasons behind the delay in the release of this volume or to discuss the “blank spots” of Ukrainian history and culture that still need to be uncovered. What is important is that the book has finally been published, and readers in Ukraine can now acquaint themselves with the “secret of the PPU.”
The general Ukrainian public is completely unfamiliar with this abbreviation. Perhaps only a handful of individuals, who may have heard of it, know what these initials stand for. Among them are philatelists—some based in Ukraine but mostly in the diaspora—who are especially interested in this topic. The initials PPU stand for Pidpil’na Poshta Ukrainy—the Ukrainian Underground Post. A number of questions immediately arise: why “underground,” what “Ukraine”, and where, when, and how did it function?
The PPU, founded by Ukrainian émigrés in West Germany after the Second World War, operated under the aegis of the External Units of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists—the ZCh OUN(B)—from 1949 to 1983. Although its headquarters was based in Munich, many stamps were issued in other German cities, such as Regensburg and Neu-Ulm. In the early 1960s the PPU’s postal issues began appearing in Chicago (USA). During all the years of the PPU’s existence its chief promoter and indefatigable activist was Stepan Liubomyr Rychtyckyj, whose death in 1983 marked the end of the Ukrainian Underground Post. The history of the PPU and its main enthusiast is discussed in greater detail in the following articles by Alexander Malycky and Stefan Golash.
Postal issues fulfill two main functions. First and foremost, a postage stamp—or a postage stamp block—is evidence of a fee paid for postal services. In keeping with the second function, which in the history of the PPU was no less important than the first, through these small scraps of adhesive paper the issuing country promotes, within its own state and in the international community, its achievements, history, culture, and important sites, i.e., its contribution to the global civilizing process. These functions are carried out only by official state postal services of independent states. It is a paradox, then, that for three and a half decades the Ukrainian Underground Post, a non-state postal service, sought to realize both these important tasks. Next to official state-issued stamps of the country from which their mail was being sent Ukrainians in the free world also affixed stamps released by the PPU. Even though its stamps did not signify that a fee had been paid for the postal services of a given country, for émigré Ukrainians this was precisely the case. In the eyes of the Ukrainian diaspora, the act of affixing stamps issued by the PPU seemed to indicate that the Ukrainian Underground Post was “leasing” the postal services of countries in the free world. At the same time, all those who circulated the PPU’s stamps were clearly aware that he or she was giving financial assistance to the OUN underground and the armed liberation struggle that was being waged on the territory of Ukraine. It has been determined that some of the underground postal issues were successfully smuggled by couriers into Ukraine, where the underground network used them on letters sent within the borders of Soviet Ukraine, as well as on correspondence designated for the External Units of the OUN and the External Representation of the Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council (ZP UHVR).
In the eyes of PPU and OUN activists, these underground postal issues had great ideological and propagandistic value. The enduring ideological impact of the PPU’s stamps was manifested in various spheres; this is the subject of a separate scholarly study. Here, we shall mention only the two most important spheres in which the PPU operated most effectively: the Ukrainian diaspora and the international community.
When the Ukrainians’ expectations of a revived Ukrainian State were not realized during the period of the two global conflicts, a sense of disillusionment and, in some quarters, even loss of faith, began emerging within the émigré milieu. Furthermore, in view of the fact that the communist system had notably expanded its sphere of control, and the world was destabilized by the existence of the atomic bomb in both the democratic West and the totalitarian Soviet Union, the impossibility of a just resolution of the Ukrainian cause seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Therefore, the fact that the members of the Ukrainian diaspora succeeded, in those uncertain times, in overcoming their involuntary doubts, maintaining their ranks, and organizing themselves in various ways is directly attributable to the important activities of the many Ukrainian organizations and institutions, among which the Ukrainian Underground Post occupies a place of honor. Through its postal issues the PPU reinforced the Ukrainians’ conviction that their country had not been vanquished but was continuing to struggle; and that this struggle, part of the Ukrainian nation’s centuries-long strivings for freedom, was merely a stage in a process that, sooner or later, would lead to the ultimate, total liberation of their native country. This is precisely how Ukrainians in the diaspora understood the PPU’s brief digressions into the history and culture of Ukraine, the crowning point of which was the latter-day liberation struggle, in which its generation was a direct participant.
The stamps issued by the PPU performed a somewhat different role with respect to the international community. As mentioned earlier, countries promote their achievements on the international level through postal issues. When Soviet Ukraine was under the communist yoke, it had nothing to promote. All of Ukraine’s achievements and discoveries, accumulated wisdom and work, and even the people themselves were co-opted by Moscow. According to the official terminology of the USSR, all discoveries and inventions, innovative designs, and accumulated intellectual efforts in various spheres of human activity were made by “Soviet people”: scientists, engineers, artists, or athletes. Of course, at the time (and still today) the international community associated the term “Soviet” with “Russian,” and the PPU sought with all its might and capabilities to protest against this blatant injustice. Realizing that high-quality and professional philatelic issues receive considerable resonance in the civilized world, the Ukrainian Underground Post never overlooked any opportunity to remind the world of the enslaved status of the Ukrainian nation, Moscow’s total exploitation of Ukraine, and the horrific crimes that were committed against Ukrainians and against civilization on the whole—crimes that Moscow is committing to this very day.
The founders of the PPU also faced another crucial task that had no direct connection to philately or postal services: wherever possible, to try and live a full-fledged state life despite the statelessness of the Ukrainian nation. Even though there was a Soviet Ukrainian republic, the Ukrainian SSR was mere show designed to mask Moscow’s colonial policies. This is eloquently illustrated by the fact that Soviet Ukraine, which was a member of the Universal Postal Union, never issued a single stamp of its own during its entire membership in the UPU. In this regard, the PPU’s activity was also exceptionally important because, on the one hand, it attested to the Ukrainians’ indestructibility and their strivings to achieve state independence, and, on the other, it filled the immense philatelic lacuna that lay between the existence of the stamp-issuing Ukrainian National Republic (UNR) of 1918-1921 and the revived Ukrainian State in the early 1990s.
The fact that the PPU was not an official state postal service in no way detracts from its importance because, according to its fundamental nature, it represented the Ukrainian nation and functioned dynamically as a genuine state postal service. For the record, it must be acknowledged that a mere handful of devoted Ukrainian philatelists and other activists were easily the exact counterparts of the huge numbers of personnel that are usually employed by state postal agencies. It is equally true that the PPU was the only underground postal service in the world to function on such a high level.
The PPU’s large-scale activity was multifaceted. It is therefore unrealistic to expect that a single book can do justice to the history of the Ukrainian underground postal service. The present volume is in no way a scholarly work or catalog, although it contains certain important information about the PPU’s issues. The goal of this book is to acquaint the Ukrainian public with the existence and legacy of the Ukrainian Underground Post, which was an epochal phenomenon in Ukrainian history and culture, as well as a unique occurrence in world philately. We hope this book will encourage specialists from various disciplines to begin examining the history and role of the PPU and publish articles and monographs on this truly remarkable subject.
In addition to all the above-mentioned tasks in which the PPU acquitted itself well, there was another preoccupation that was not so much a goal as an expectation that one day, in free Ukraine, its postal issues and publications would serve as an excellent reference work as well as encouragement for Ukrainians to learn the suppressed history of their native land and about its most distinguished sons and daughters. The creators and publishers of the stamps issued by the Ukrainian Underground Post were eminently aware that the results of philately, the study of stamps and related items, are achieved not just in the present but in the long perspective; that this small scrap of paper can speak for all time. They realized that, sooner or later, the totalitarian empires would topple from the sheer weight of their own prison walls, and they believed that the time would come when the PPU’s postage stamps would make their way into a free Ukraine. Mindful of the immense educational role of postage stamps, particularly among the younger generation, as far back as 1952 the PPU appealed to Ukrainians in the emigration: “Your children will be learning the history of Ukraine and its struggle from the stamps of the Ukrainian Underground Post!” These words are entirely applicable to contemporary youth in Ukraine.
We trust that this book will also provide a good opportunity for the citizens of Ukraine, especially young people, once again to reflect on the difficult but glorious past of our nation. In perusing the pages of this book, readers should recall the words of Ukraine’s national poet, Taras Shevchenko, which will help them to arrive at the truth: “I would advise you so to read/That you may see, in very deed…”
The scope of this small book did not permit us to list detailed descriptions of the historical events or biographical sketches of the individuals depicted on the PPU’s postal releases. These brief notes are meant to provide a general understanding of why the Ukrainian Underground Post focused on a particular subject. Now that there are enough newly opened sources for locating information and knowledge unsullied by past ideological clichés, readers can now discover the truth by themselves.
Unfortunately, the small scope of this publication did not permit us to record all our thoughts, convey all the facts, and cite the many distinguished figures of Ukrainian history and culture, all of whom are truly deserving of mention. Both the creators of the Ukrainian Underground Post and we, the publishers of this volume, sincerely hope that readers of this volume will find much to contemplate as they acquaint themselves with the ideas of Hetman Ivan Mazepa, Taras Shevchenko and Ivan Franko, Olena Teliha and Mykola Mikhnovsky, and the many other distinguished figures that were commemorated by the PPU. Many important personalities were not honored for the simple reason that the history of Ukraine and its culture is an immense field for philately, which, it is hoped, the Postal Service of Ukraine will be cultivating for many years.