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Name: Through the laughter of iron. Chronicles
Volume: 30
Editor in Chief: P.J. Potichnyj
Author: S. Stebels'ky ('Khrin')
O. Konopads'kyi ('Ostroverkh')
Editor(s): P.J. Potichnyj
Sponsors: Editorial Fund of Bohdan Stebelsky
Publication Year: 2000
ISBN (Canada): 0-920092-42-X
ISBN (Ukraine): 966-95674-2-4
Pages Count: 552

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This volume of the "Litopys UPA" contains memoirs of two UPA soldiers, Stepan Stebelskyi ("Khrin"), and Oleksa Konopadskyi ("Ostroverkh"). These memoirs are connected through authors, who spent large portions of their underground life together, in the same UPA units and on the same territory, at approximately the same time. In addition to their own experiences, both authors pay greatest attention to military activities of "Khrin".

Stepan Stebelsky authored two memoirs, "Through the Laughter of Iron" ("Kriz smikh zaliza"), and "Winter in the Bunker" ("Zymoiu v bunkri"). He was the sole author of these memoirs, and in them we sense a fighting spirit of an active and aggressive guerrilla leader, but also a sensitive father and committed patriot. His memoirs are marked by an interesting style. His descriptions of battles are lively and in them one finds also personal feelings that are enhanced by sight and sound. His descriptions of nature are very poetic and his ability to convey to the reader interesting observations and characteristics of individual persons makes for a very good reading.

"The Memoir of Platoon Leader 'Ostroverkh': Chronicle of the UPA Tactical Sectors 'Lemko' and 'Makivka' 1944-1948" ("Spomyny chotovoho 'Ostroverkha: Khronika Taktychnykh Vidtynkiv UPA 'Lemko' i 'Makivka', 1944-1948"), on the other hand are a narrative by Oleksa Konopadskyi, which were jotted furtively and later transcribed by Anna Chereshniovska (corporal "Tetiana"), the typist of the UPA Tactical Sector "Makivka". "Ostroverkh", according to "Tetiana", was not only an experienced guerrilla fighter, (already in March 1944 as "Topolia", he joined the UPA company "Bulava" and later was Sergeant and Platoon leader of the company led by "Khrin"), but was also an excellent story-teller. He skillfully imitated the voices and mannerisms of persons about whom he spoke, a talent that is impossible to relate on paper.

Very little is known about Oleksa Konopadskyi. He hailed from the nationally conscious village Hludno near Dyniv (Dynow) in Lemkivshchyna, where he was born in 1920 in a poor family. From the time of his youth he was very active in cultural-educational work, both in the "Prosvita" society and in church, for which he was later persecuted by the Polish authorities and the Germans. Twice he escaped from slave-labor in Germany, and finally in order to loose his pursuers, he joined the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police, and later the UPA under an assumed name "Topolia", serving in the company "Bulava". Later he became a Platoon leader in the company led by "Khrin", and finally Commander of the security unit of the Headquarters of the UPA Tactical Sector "Makivka".

It is impossible not to mention the role played by "Tetiana" in the appearance of the memoirs presented here. She not only typed them in an underground bunker, but insisted that they be written, and helped the authors in various ways. Very little is known about her. She was born in the village of Stezhnytsia in Lemkivshchyna to a poor family and lost her mother when she was four years old. Educated as a teacher she dedicated herself fully to the liberation struggle. Under pseudonyms of "Halia" and "Tetiana", she worked as an UPA scout, Raion leader of the Ukrainian Red Cross (UChKh), and Social Aid (SO), in Lemkivshchyna. Finally, she worked as a typist at the UPA Tactical Sector Command "Makivka".

The title page for this volume of Litopys UPA is borrowed from "Khrin's" memoir, "Through the Laughter of Iron" ("Kriz smikh zaliza"), because it best reflects the times and circumstances in which both authors and corporal "Tetiana" lived and fought. It was because of this laughter and their full dedication to their cause that all three of them lost their lives.

This trilogy, which mutually supplements itself, has great documentary value, because it describes not only very complex political situations during 1944-1949 in the westernmost Ukrainian ethnographic territories, but also the struggle waged in defense of these lands and its population. Both authors experienced many personal persecutions at the hands of Polish, German and Russian occupiers and decided to fully dedicate themselves to the struggle for a better future of their people. Both fell in this struggle, "Ostroverkh" in Sambir region, in a battle with the MVD troops on 18 August 1948, when he was 28, and "Khrin" on 9 November 1949, in Czecho-Slovakia when he was 35 years old. "Tetiana" died on 21 September, 1948 near the village of Bylych in Sambir region, after she accidentally wounded herself mortally with her own pistol.

The memoirs do not relate all the activities of the UPA units on these territories, nor even the battles which they waged with the enemy. It is clear from "Khrin's" memoirs that his notes from Lemkivshchyna were lost ("Zymoiu v bunkri", p. 73-74). However, his military activities as a Commander of Lemko company ("U-5", "95a"), and as a Commander of Tactical Sector -24 "Makivka", are amply recorded in the reports of TS "Lemko" and TS "Makivka". Much information has also been published in various volumes of the "Litopys UPA", in the book "Povstans'ki mohyly", and in numerous newspaper and journal articles both in Ukraine and in diaspora.

Short Biography

Stepan -Taras Stebelskyi was born 18 October, 1914 in the village of Holyn', raion Kalush, Ivano - Frankivs'k Oblast to the large family of Illia and Eleonora Stebelskyi. Stepan had three brothers Roman, Bohdan and Volodymyr, and three sisters, Maria, Natalka, and Anna-Irena.

The Stebelskyi family hails from the village Voloshcha, formerly in Sambir County, now Drohobych raion of Lviv Oblast. Stepan went to grade school in village Bolokhiv where his father was teaching and completed it in village Tatary. Afterwards he was sent to Sambir Teacher's Seminary which he completed in 1935.

Conspiratory Activities

The Stebelskyi family was always dedicated to the cause of Ukraine's liberation…

Stepan, still a student in his sixth grade of highschool, became a member of the 37 kurin of Plast (The Ukrainian Scouting Association) in Sambir region, named after Col. Dmytro Vitovskyi. When Plast was dissolved by the Polish government in 1930 its members continued their work in an illegal organization. These were the first steps in Stepan's revolutionary activity. He speaks about this in the following way: "I came to love revolutionary activity already during my school years…When the kurin of the secondary school youth ceased to exist… a thought occurred to me to create a secret group among the pupils of my school. There were eight of us who belonged to the group…

In the early 1930's, Stepan became a member of the Iunatstvo OUN (Youth Branch of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists), and shortly thereafter became responsible for propaganda in the raion or a povit executive of the organization. At the same time he joined the "Sokil" society in which he was very active in the Bicycle Section, and also became an "instructor in physical education". In the summer, while travelling in the villages of Boikivshchyna, he became acquainted with the terrain and the people. His knowledge of this area grew dramatically in 1935 when he became a representative of the Ukrainian publishers and helped distribute Ukrainian publications in the region.

At the same time (1934-1935) Stepan, now 21 years old, joined the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists). In the night of 4 September, 1939 he was arrested in connection with the activities related to events in Carpatho-Ukraine and sent to a concentration camp, Bereza Kartuzska, where he remained until the middle of September, or the beginning of the German-Polish war. His brother, Bohdan, who was arrested in Krakow, was being punished in Sambir jail. His pseudonym, "Khrin", also has origins in his activities in "Sokil" when he called himself Panko Khrin.

With the arrival of the Soviet power, Stepan and his brother Volodymyr, with the help of Stepan Krenta, a teacher from the village of Lishchava Dolishna who was Inspector of Schools, assumed teaching positions in a Public School in the village Kuzmyna in Bircha region. At the same time, Stepan continued his conspiratorial activities as a Sub-raion leader.

It was here that he married Maria Pysh (15 September, 1921-7 September, 1963), a village girl (married by Rev. Fedukevych in Krenta's house in Lishchava Dolishna). On 13 January, 1941 , a daughter was born, who was named Eleonora in honour of Stepan's mother , but called Lila, after her godmother Iryna Shumovska, who was called Lila by all. She is referred to in this way by her father, as well, in his very warm recollections about her. To this day she continues to live with this name.

Maria Pysh was of high stature, well built and beautiful, whose pride was her long, golden hair. She did not enjoy matrimonial life for very long because her husband's revolutionary activities did not allow for normality in married life. She loved him without bounds and brought into this world two children Eleonora (Lila), who married Overko and now lives in Chicago , and Volodomyra (Vladyslava, Slavka), who married Pich and now lives in Poland. "Khrin" did not have a chance to see his second daughter, but according to Eleonora-Lila Overko, requested that the newborn child be named Volodymyr or Volodymyra if it were a girl. Maria carried out her husband's wish.

He did not forget Maria either, remembering her and his beloved daughter, Lila, through secret messages from Dobromyl jail , in his memoirs. Also, when separated from his family, he tried to help them through their difficult circumstances by asking medical orderly "Bohdanna" to take care of them. "Marichka", in her memoirs, claims that "Khrin" was "not happily married, but that he loved the child tenderly and worried about her fate". There are no doubts that "Bohdanna" was in love with him, as was Corporal "Tetiana", because "Khrin" hints at this in his memoirs. It is, of course, much more difficult to answer the question, if and to what extent he reciprocated their love. In his memoirs, "Khrin", more than anyone else among the insurgents, highly valued the contribution of women to the liberation struggle, praised their accomplishments, and honored their sacrifices. This reverence for women probably came from his great love for his mother, who brought up her children as fervent patriots. His memory of her resembled a prayer.

Meanwhile, his wife lived in very difficult circumstances. She was arrested and exposed to physical and mental torture. Her hair was shaved off, she was tarred, and threatened by death, simply because she was "Khrin's" wife. Her children were forcibly resettled to Western Poland during "Akcja Wisla" in June 1947 with her younger sister, Genia, who took care of them during the time of Maria's incarceration. Maria did not know what happened to Stepan. She even believed that that he made it to the West and that he lives in Canada. Only later did she learn about his fate from his family in Canada, although for a very long time she did not know any details about his life in the underground or about his death on the way to the West. "Khrin's" mother, to the very end of her toiling life, regarded her daughter-in-law with love and respect, she understood her unenviable fate and pitied her.

German-Russian War

When the war between the Third Reich and the USSR began Stepan was very active in the events connected with the Act of proclamation of the Ukrainian State on 30 June in Lviv. The arrest of his brother, Bohdan, in September, were also connected with these events. Stepan, who became a magistrate in the village of Kuzmyna, continued his underground activities by collecting and storing weapons. In March 1942 he was also arrested by the Gestapo, but after seven months of incarceration in the jails of Dobromyl and Peremyshl, and with the help of Ivan Stebelskyi (not a relative), who had connections in the German administration, he was allowed to go free.

Stepan then decided to devote himself full time to the liberation struggle. With impaired health, he was forced to undergo a long period of medical treatment, in order to garner strength for the underground struggle. It was not until June 1944 that he became very active in the OUN once again. From that time on he was fully engaged in organizing the armed underground groups in Peremyshl region, and in collecting weapons and equipment for the UPA units.

In July-September 1944, together with Volodymyr Shchyhelskyi ("Burlaka"), he organized a small, armed unit. After the return of the Soviets he became very active in opposing the mobilization of Ukrainians into the Red Army, who without proper training, were being used at the front simply as cannon fodder. At approximately the same time, the organized Polish underground, along with various chauvinistic groupings, began a broad campaign of terror against the Ukrainian population, with the intent to quickly deport them to the USSR. To counteract this terror, Stepan organized village self-defense groups, and a counter-intelligence unit for neutralizing the enemy agents. By the end of September 1944 he commanded a group of 75 armed and trained men, which, as a separate platoon he transferred to an UPA company commanded by "Khoma". With that company "Khrin", as a Platoon leader with a rank of Private First Class, took part in various battles and on 20 September was wounded by a granade.

In a big battle with the Soviets in Lishchava Horishna, on 24 October, "Khrin" received heavy wounds to both of his hands from phosphorus bullets, after he personally destroyed a Soviet tank, one of two lost in that battle. The wounds were so severe that there was a danger that his hands would have to be amputated. However, women insurgents did not allow this to happen. The UChKh Povit leader for Peremyshl region, "Sofia", (Stafa Stan'ko from village of Korovnyky) and the UPA medical orderly, "Bohdanna", (Lesia Haidukevych, a daughter of the local priest from the village Rybotychi, who in April 1947 committed suicide in order not to be captured alive by the enemy), provided very good care for him and succeeded in saving one of his hands completely and healing the second partially. Helping him in battle was "Stepova" (Maria Kitkishko, who hailed from Poltava region and who later fell in Western Lemkivshchyna). When "Khrin" was transferred to Lemkivshchyna, "Bohdanna" also took care of his daughter Lila. After the battle, a large part of "Khoma's" company was demobilized.

At the end of November, having regained some health, "Khrin" helped to train the Selfdefense Kushch Units (SKV-Samooboronni Kushchovi Viddily) in Peremyshl region (Nadraion "Kholodnyi Iar"). In December 1944 there were some 23 such groups in this terrain. This organizational work was carried out, primarily, by Mykhailo Duda ("Hromenko"), Iaroslav Kotsiolok ("Krylach"), and others. At the beginning of December, on the basis of a personal request, "Khrin" was given command of a special unit for the purpose of ridding the terrain of enemy secret agents.

From the beginning, "Khrin" had assumed a very mobile tactic, as he himself indicates in his memoirs, and was a very active defender of the population. In the middle of March, Commander "Konyk" ordered him to liquidate the village "Borivnytsia", an enemy nest in the territory, which he accomplished on 21 April, 1945 with help from "Hromenko" and "Zrub" units.

At the meeting of the commanders of the SB (Security Service) of the Nadraion "Kholodnyi Iar" that took place on 9-12 May, 1945, "Khrin" was appointed Third Deputy of the SB for the Nadraion. The Chief of the SB was Vasyl Tsap`iak ("Potap").

In a skirmish with the Polish plundering unit in June 1945, near the village of Dobra Shliakhetska, "Khrin" was again wounded, this time in his face, or as he put it, "this was my 5th scar".

As a result of the passionate character of "Khrin", his aggressive tactics often created conflicting situations in the underground leadership of Peremyshl region, and also later on in Lemkivshchyna, where the Commander of the UPA Tactical Sector "Ren" tried to limit the activities of this restless soldier. In June, as a result of various misunderstandings, and alleged insubordination, "Khrin" was placed before the Organizational Tribunal, but was cleared of all accusations and punishment.

In September, "Khrin" was reassigned to Nadraion "Beskyd" in Lemkivshchyna with the task of strengthening the UPA units on that territory. In travelling to Lemkivshchyna he again received a hand wound.

Nadraion leader "Zorych" appointed him responsible for military affairs in the 3d Raion in Sianik (Sanok) region with the task of organizing the local people into a military unit. He accomplished his task successfully and in a short time organized a unit of 306 men, a cavalry platoon of 45 horses, a squad of Military Police, and one cannon. This company, which was part of the kurin (Battalion), commanded by "Ren", had a code U-5, and later 95a. In the late fall of 1945, Gen. Dmytro Hrytsai ("Perebyinis"), who inspected military units in that terrain, acknowledged these accomplishments of "Khrin" very positively.

In 1945-47 the UPA units very intensively opposed the deportation of the Ukrainian population. In that action "Khrin's" company was one of the most active. On 28 March, 1947 in an ambush near the village of Tisna, one platoon of his company commanded by "Hran'" killed the Polish Vice-Minister of Defense, Gen. Karol Swierczewski. "Khrin" became a legend with songs written about him and his famous company which was composed entirely of the local Lemkos.

After the forcible removal of the Ukrainian population, on 29 June, 1947, near the village Sianky, "Khrin" along with 3 UPA companies crossed over the Polish-Soviet border into Drohobych region, where he was joyfully greeted by the local guerrillas.

The successful crossing of the border disturbed the Kremlin authorities. The Chief of the Internal Forces of the MGB USSR, Gen. Lt. Burmak, immediately sent the Chief of the Operational Division of Internal Forces of the MGB of the Ukrainian Okrug, Col. Liubitov, to Drobych region for a special investigation and for interrogation of two soldiers from "Bir" company, Petro M. Tkhoryk ("Vorobets'") and Andrii M. Senchyshyn ("Klym"), who were captured by the MGB. Under interrogation, the two prisoners revealed that the unit that crossed the border numbered 120 men and three commanders, "Bir", "Khrin", and "Stakh". As a special task, and on the specific order of Gen. Maj Rossiiskii, Chief of the MGB for Drohobych oblast, Col. Lubitov was to determine if any of the captured soldiers were participants in the killing of Polish Gen. Col. K. Swierczewski. After interrogating a soldier of "Khrin's" company, Mykhailo A. Moskal ("Dunai"), who was captured in an ambush on 9 July, 1947, Lubitov found out, incorrectly, that the entire unit took part in an ambush on Swierczewski. A day later, two UPA soldiers Dmytro Kostiatskyi ("Visk") and Fedir V. Klys ("Slabyi") surrendered and were interrogated in Turka. This information did not prevent "Khrin" and the newly arrived insurgents, albeit with some losses, to loose the pursuing MGB units that were thrown against them.

Not long after, on 15 August, 1947, near the village od Stara Sil', "Khrin" transferred command of his Company to "Stakh", and took over Command of the UPA Tactical Sector -24, "Makivka". This appointment was made personally by Maj. Mykola Tverdokhlib ("Hrim"), Commander of the Military District (Voienna Okruha) "Hoverlia".

In September, at the meeting of the Okruha leadership of Drohobych region, "Khrin" was decorated by the Gold Cross for Military Valor First Class. He also received a distinguished mention in an Order of Gen. T. Chuprynka, Commander-in-Chief of the UPA.

In 1948-49, while in command of the Tactical Sector he continued to direct the struggle in Drohobych region. However, in 1948 he was already forced to demobilize active Companies; Company 90 on 24 July, and Company 95a, the unit that acompanied him into Ukraine, on 10 September. This fact, as well as heavy losses in his own group, on 21 September, 1948 at which time "Tetiana" and some of his other co-workers were killed must have been a severe blow to him. In September 1949, by Order No. 2, of Gen. Chuprynka, all existing UPA formations were demobilized. It was with a group of the demobilized Company "Basein" that "Khrin" began his ride to the West.

From 1 October, 1949, the time of his last report as Commander of Tactical Sector to Commander of Military District "Hoverlia", onwards there was no news of "Khrin". His recommendations for promotion of the entire group of NCOs and officers, many of whom were no longer alive, should be viewed as his desire to honour those who remained at their posts to the end. Almost a month later, far from Ukraine, the land that he loved so dearly, his military and revolutionary path came to an end.

"Khrin's" Guerrilla Tactics

"Khrin" was known as one of the most active UPA commanders. He never stayed in one place too long and his units were always pursuing aggressive and offensive goals. In his book "Zymoiu v bunkri" he makes some interesting points about this guerrilla tactic. He also describes there how he organized his Company under very complex conditions.

"From the fall of 1945 to May, 1947, my two Companies had approximately 100 battles, skirmishes and ambushes. During that time 41 soldiers were killed, among them 2 Platoon leaders and 6 Noncoms - 3 have died, and 4 wounded who were captured by the enemy. Other Companies had less than half of the operational activities of our group but nearly the same number of casualties. However, in May and June, 1947, during relentless fighting, we lost nearly the same number of soldiers."

"Khrin" also mentioned that each of his actions was meticulously planned so that it would have not only a military, but also a political and propaganda significance. However, as he puts it, "it is not possible to fight without sacrifice and blood. But I tried to make sure that the enemy had bigger casualties, because for him the most persuasive argument is power. The enemy had 20 times more killed, wounded and captured than us. To sum up our battles and our casualties, we had one soldier killed for each action. This shows, that our casualties were relatively small."

In his opinion, "the most important element which contributes to victory is to take initiative into one's hands. The most successful approach is to check enemy battle plans ahead of time by going into attack. Once a soldier learns to run away from the field of battle, it is difficult to raise his morale. He must be convinced that an attack is the best defense.

"The result of the battle is determined by terrain, one's position, who shoots first and how precisely, so that there are killed and wounded soldiers in the enemy's ranks immediately. The battle alone depends in large measure on the abilities of the Noncoms. The battle is greatly aided by shouts of "Glory", singing and derisive comments directed at the enemy. It is necessary to use the best units to initiate the battle and the weaker units for creating "cull de sac" situations, when they appear to be retreating, allowing the stronger units to destroy the enemy from the flanks. Good units give power, tempo and resilience to the entire battle group whether in the attack or in the breakthrough".

"In our unit the commander was always in the first line together with soldiers. He should usually be near the weakest platoon. In a case when the battle is complex, either in the forest or in a village, the commander should choose a position from which he can best maintain contact with the operating units and either by ear or sight orient himself to the progress of the battle."

"The commander is an orchestra director, and units are the instruments. He directs each instrument, the military unit, when it should begin, when to fall silent, when to start again, or only to provide accompaniment, and which of the musicians should rest. He should not forget about the kings of the battle, the machine guns or the rocket launchers. A well-placed machine gun can stop an infantry attack by its flank and cross-fire. A well camouflaged machine gun protected by boulders and rocks would never allow an infantryman to reach it's position. In order to destroy a machine gun the enemy must bring his machine guns and rocket launchers closer, which for him usually means big losses, the result of which causes the tempo of battle to slow."

"During the battle, the commander should not show any sign of anxiety. He must be cold blooded, not overeager and should maneuver continuously, taking stock of the changing situation of the battle. He must be decisive, innovative and assume risks, avoiding any kind of commonplace pattern. The commander who does not have the total faith of his soldiers should not be commanding them."

"Unlike some other UPA Company commanders, "Khrin", for various tactical reasons, liked to operate with smaller units. Such tactics developed the feeling of independence and self confidence in Platoon leaders. Likewise, smaller groups had a better ability to feed themselves. "Khrin" states that he "also divided the Company into smaller groups because during pursuit by an enemy, smaller units can maneuver more easily, hide themselves and break out from encirclement, and also…for mutual relief, by drawing the enemy off."

"In Lemkivshchyna, we had three tactics: raid and attack - my own tactic, defensive - a tactic of Lt. "Bir", and defense-attack - a tactic of Lt. "Didyk" and Lt. "Brodych". …All three tactics were necessary as they complemented each other."

"In Lemkivshchyna the enemy could not move around rapidly, relocate his forces or use fully mechanized elements. It was difficult for him to bring in the artillery, rocket launchers or use aviation. He was forced to use a rifle, automatic rifle or a machine gun. Whenever we hit his advancing column from well-chosen positions, he was forced to take up battle positions. At that time we moved to a different location and covered our path with infantry mines. Sometimes, in one night we were able to cross such a large distance that the enemy pursuing us was forced to give up half-way because of frostbite…We were able to hit the enemy in good form, while his soldiers coming from the barracks felt helpless. There were many instances that the enemy soldiers were frostbitten and simply refused to pursue us."

"Khrin" understood very well the need to receive support from the population, because good relations with local inhabitants guaranteed success. "I always endeavored to maintain contact with the masses. For this, the population liked me and supported us morally and materially, with food, medicine, bandages, underwear, clothing, ammunitions, and most importantly, by providing intelligence. The population's trust in us, and also popularity among the Lemkos, had a positive influence on soldiers, and brought success in battles. During the battle, the population would bring milk to the wounded, bandages, ammunition, which provided strong encouragement for the soldiers. For myself, I tried to help the population in any way I could. I distributed recaptured cows, horses, and clothing to them, and tried to ease the results of the plundering of the enemy."

"It was very difficult to recruit Lemkos. The Lemko was tied to his village, and was distrustful. But once he knows somebody, begins to love him, he will follow him even into fire. At first I went to Lemko villages, called meetings, made them nationally conscious by telling them that they were a famous princely tribe, that the enemy wanted to throw them out from their native land and that they should defend themselves with weapons. I attended Lemko festivities, funerals, weddings. I listened to their griefs, complaints, desires and requests. Then, I brought it all to one point, the need to take up arms and use them in self-defense…I began recruiting only when I felt that the population was on my side…In order to bring Lemkos to my side my slogan was, 'we will defend our villages!'…Only after several months did I begin to talk about defending the entire territory of Lemkivshchyna. Afterwards, I broadened their political horizon to Ukraine as a whole, stating as the main goal of our struggle, the statehood and unity of our lands."

"I awoke in the Lemkos the pride that they were the first Lemko Company and that we would help safeguard the traditions of the Komancha Republic. With my Lemko soldiers I made a visit to the former leader of the Komancha Republic, whose name I do not recall. The old man, with tears in his eyes, thanked us for the visit and with a trembling hand blessed the Lemko soldiers, calling upon them to fight for Ukraine.

Promotions and Decorations

This long excerpt from his memoirs was necessary in order to show that his actions were not simply reflexive or individualistic, aimed at personal satisfaction or fame, but a well thought out tactic of a good guerrilla leader. It is not surprising, therefore, that having entered the UPA as a Private he, in a relatively short time, became a Company commander, and later assumed Command of the UPA Tactical Sector. Moreover, these were battle promotions and not praise or a reward for some staff duties in headquarters. He was being promoted despite all kinds of conflicts with higher command, because as "Marichka" puts it, he was "a brilliant commander, full of surprises, an interesting person - a blend of soldier and poet."

Based on documents from "Zamok" and Orders of UPA-West, "Khrin" was nominated to the rank of Starshyi Bulavnyi (Master Sergeant) on 1 March, 1946 with 1 January, 1946 as the date of promotion. This nomination was confirmed by the HVSh and promulgated in the Military District "Sian". It is interesting to note, that until this time, as can be seen from the Order of UPA-Zakhid, "Sian", No. 5/46, "Khrin", even though already in command of a Company, continued to have the rank of a Private. Some four months later, in June, 1946 he was nominated to the rank of Khorunzhyi (Second Lieutenant) with the same date of promotion as previously . This time he was promoted to Lieutenant with the date of promotion 22 January, 1946, which was promulgated in January, 1947. In September, 1947 he was still in the rank of Lieutenant. It is not known when he was promoted to Captain, but this rank is given by Maj. Petro Sodol, Editor of the volume about the UPA Military District "Hoverlia", to which was subordinated Military Sector - 24, "Makivka", which by then was commanded by "Khrin." There is no doubt that in the years 1947-1949, as a Commander of the UPA Tactical Sector, he was promoted to the rank of Captain because his reports and orders are all signed Captain "Khrin" . Some, however, like Ivan Kryvutskyi, even claim that "Khrin" was promoted to the rank of Major at the time when he was decorated by the Golden Cross of Military Valour First Class, but this is unlikely because "Khrin" does not mention it in his memoirs. There is also an editorial mention in the Litopys UPA, vol. 14, that "Khrin" held the rank of Major, but no source is given for this statement. It is entirely possible that he was promoted to the rank of Major posthumously, but in the absence of reliable documents this question must remain open.

After he moved to Ukraine on 29 June, 1947, and in line with the Order of HVSh of 15 August, 1947, in the forest near the village Stara Sil, "Khrin" transferred command of the Company to "Stakh", and assumed command of the UPA Tactical Sector - 24, "Makivka". This Order unfortunately could not be located.

For "Khrin" this was a joyful moment. He relates it in the following manner: "The meeting with the leader N.V. was taking place in a friendly atmosphere. At that time I experienced one of the nicest moments in my life. During the meeting leader N. read to me an Order of the HVSh about the Decree of the UHVR which stated: 'For courage, heroism and bravery in commanding UPA units Lieutenant "Khrin" is decorated by the Golden Cross of Military Valour First Class. In addition, in a Special Order of the UPA Supreme Commander , "Khrin" was mentioned among distinguished UPA commanders. This should also be regarded as an important reward for "Khrin".


The Commander of the UPA Tactical Sector -24, "Makivka", Captain Stepan Stebelskyi ("Khrin"), the recipient of the highest UPA decoration, the Gold Cross of Military Valour First Class, died on 9 November, 1949 between 2 and 3 p.m. in a skirmish, in Czecho-Slovakia near the village of Pogorzelice near Napajedlo, some 65 km. east of Brno. Dying he said "men, the mails!" His last command was carried out, and together with the documents for the ZP UHVR (Foreign Representation of Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council), which were being carried from the Revolutionary Leadership in Ukraine, the couriers brought with them also the typescript copies of the three memoirs which are being published in this volume. He is buried in grave No. 5, at the cemetery near the village church.


We are grateful to the Stebelsky Family, and especially to Bohdan Stebelsky Foundation for financing this volume. Mrs. Iryna Kovalchuk and the late Mr. Volodymyr Stebelsky were active in the work of the Foundation. Iryna Kovalchuk deserves gratitude for having preserved Stepan's letters from German prison, and for supplying family photographs. Special thanks go to Mrs. Ariadna Stebelsky who provided help with information and materials about Captain "Khrin". She also helped to prepare a resume to one book of memoirs and served as a general consultant for the entire volume. Dr. Modest Ripeckyj ("Horyslav"), Mr. Stepan Golash ("Mar"), and Mr. Osyp Zyhar, all of whom served in the Nadraion "Beskyd", knew "Khrin" personally, and were able to supply important details about his activities in Lemkivshchyna, warrant our thanks. The Introduction and English summaries were prepared by the editor of this volume and he alone is responsible for all errors. Mr. M. Kulyk and the Administration of the Litopys UPA also helped in the compilation of this book of memoirs. They all merit sincere thanks.

Petro J. Potichnyj


Pages 202. Kriz smikh zaliza

This is the first volume of the trilogy about the UPA military actions which are directly or indirectly connected with the person known as "Khrin".

The activities described here take place in the region of Bircha which lies between the cities of Peremyshl (Przemysl) and Sianik (Sanok) on the Ukrainian ethnic territory of present day Poland. Between the two World Wars this territory, populated mainly by Ukrainians was experiencing tremendous assimilationist pressures from the Polish government and colonists. It was here, in the fall of 1939, after his release from special political prison, Bereza Kartuzska, that Stepan Stebelskyi ("Khrin") lived in the village of Lishchava Horishnia, and later on as a teacher and the village mayor in village of Kuzmyna.

The narrative begins in June 1944 when the German Army was in full retreat and the Soviet were moving in. For Ukrainians it was a particularly difficult time. Exposed not only to the vicissitudes of war but also to marauding Soviet and Polish guerrillas, the population understood implicitly "Khrin's" message which called for widespread self-defense measures. It was largely under his guidance that weapons and uniforms were collected, mostly from the retreating Germans, self-defense units were organized and military training began. It was also a very important time for him to learn partisan tactics, which later on stood him in such a good stead.

By the end of September "Khrin" commanded a platoon of 30 men, which were largely trained by him in both military tactics and political ideas. He continued to command the platoon as a part of the company commanded by "Khoma". It was with this unit that he and his men participated in one of the largest encounters with the Soviet troops on 28 October, 1944 at the village of Lishchava Horishnia . The battle lasted some 15 hours and involved some 500 UPA men against 2,500 well equipped Soviet troops. The UPA which lost some 30 men (17 killed, 8 wounded, of which 3 died of serious injury, and 3 who burned alive), inflicted heavy casualties on the Soviets ( by official account 207 killed, including a general and several senior officers), and destroyed two tanks and several army trucks. "Khrin" describes the battle in some detail, especially his frustration when after destroying one of the tanks and having been wounded in both hands he was unable to commit suicide, a practice accepted by UPA soldiers so as not to fall into Soviet hands alive.

In danger of loosing his hands to amputation, he describes, with great feeling, the commitment and dedication of women of the underground medical service who nursed him back to reasonable health, saving his hands so that he could continue to fight for his cherished ideal, the freedom of Ukraine. In his memoirs he remembers with tender love not only his mother and his small daughter who had to suffer persecution and alienation at the hand of the enemy, largely because of his political and military activities, but also those idealistic, heroic and dedicated women without whose help the revolutionary struggle would have been nigh impossible.

"Khrin" relates in some detail the efforts and ability of the Ukrainian self-defense units to clear large tracts of the territory of enemy troops and in this way to make the life of the local Ukrainian population relatively normal in this "Partisan Republic". Large portion of the memoir describe his own activities in this regard when after recognizing his abilities as a guerrilla leader the higher UPA echelons entrusted him with ever larger units to train and command. Although he was known as a strict disciplinarian, his men were full of admiration for their commander and willingly followed him into many difficult battles. So legendary was the company in "Khrin's" command that songs were composed describing its heroic deeds.

"Khrin" was a keen observer of life around him and in his memoirs he provides excellent sketches of various underground leaders that he had the opportunity to live and to work with.

The memoirs, which were written in 1948 in Soviet Ukraine, end in the fall of 1945, with his transfer to another region of Lemkivshchyna, where for two more years, he successfully led his company in battles against the Polish Communist army and police units, and became known as one of the most active UPA commanders in Poland.

Pages 368. Spomyny Chotovoho UPA 'Ostroverkha'. Khronika Taktychnykh vidtynkiv UPA, 'Lemko' i 'M

The author of the memoirs is Oleksa Konopadskyi nome de guerre "Ostroverkh", who was born in 1920 in the Ukrainian village of Hludno, near Dyniv (Dynow), presently in Poland. After conflict with the German occupation authorities and having escaped twice from Germany where he was sent to slave labor, he joined the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in 1944, and served in "Bulava" Company until February, 1945, under nome de guerre "Topolia". Later on he was assigned to a unit commanded by "Khrin", in a Battalion commanded by "Ren", in the Tactical Sector "Lemko", Military Region Nr. 6 "Sian", in Poland. Later, he was transferred to Ukraine together with "Khrin", in 1947, in the Tactical Sector "Makivka", where he was known by his underground name "Ostroverkh".

The memoirs were narrated by the author over a period of time and typed by Sgt. "Tetiana", a typist at the 24 Tactical Sector "Makivka", where "Ostroverkh" was in charge of security of the Tactical Sector Command. These memoirs although authored by a different individual, naturally belong with the memoirs of "Khrin".

"Ostroverkh" died in battle with the Soviet MVD troops on August 18, 1948. He was seriously wounded in the chest and in order not to be captured alive killed himself with his automatic rifle.

The memoirs were completed on September 14, 1948 by "Tetiana" and, together with the memoirs by "Khrin", were sent by couriers to Western Europe and published in Munich, Germany in 1953.

Oleksa Konopadskyi begins his narration on March 14, 1944 when he was transferred to the station of the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police in Liutovyska, Lemko region. From here, he was able to eventually join the Ukrainian underground. He describes battles with the Germans, and the Azerbaidzhanis, Uzbeks and Kazakhs who served as guard companies, and the Soviet parachutists who were operating behind the German lines. "Ostroverkh" makes an interesting mention of successful underground efforts among the German allies such as Italians and Azerbaidzhanis to neutralize and even to recruit them for anti-German struggles. He also describes a meeting with American aviators who parachuted from a disabled plane.

In addition to describing various battles and skirmishes with the Soviet and Polish Communist troops, such as an ambush in which Gen. Karol Swierczewski the Polish Vice-Minister of Defense was killed, "Ostroverkh" describes the horrible conditions of life suffered by the Ukrainian population, which found itself exposed to ethnic cleansing by the Polish Communist authorities and the Soviets, especially as result of their policy of forcible resettlement of Ukrainians from their ancestral lands at first to the USSR and later to North-Western Poland (Akcja "Wisla" in 1947), and the lands acquired from Germany. He shows how Ukrainians resisted this resettlement and how the UPA, as it turned out, unsuccessfully, tried to disrupt this inhuman policy.

In connection with this, the author describes various tactics used by the Ukrainian underground in their struggle against the occupiers, both Soviet and Polish.

Of some interest to historians of the Ukrainian liberation movement are his descriptions of underground activities in late 1947 and 1948 on the Soviet side of the border, and especially descriptions of the very difficult life which, during the winter months, was endured in the bunkers and hideouts dug deep in the fields and forests.

Through the narrative comes a powerful commitment and dedication of "Ostroverkh" and his comrades to the struggle for liberty and independence, patriotism, the love for the oppressed Ukrainian people, and willingness to sacrifice one's life in order to bring for them a better future. The republication of his memoirs is the best memorial not only for "Ostroverkh" but for all who died in the struggle for liberty of the Ukrainian people.

Pages 488. Zymoiu v Bunkeri: Spohady-khronika 1947-1948

The memoirs presented here were carried from Ukraine to the West in the fall of 1949, probably by the author himself. When on November 9, 1949, he and a group of couriers under his command, walked into an ambush in Czechoslovakia not far from the American Occupation Zone of Germany, and fell mortally wounded, his last words were "men, take care of the mail". His order was obeyed and thus together with important political documents destined for the Foreign Representation of the Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council (ZP UHVR), his memoirs also made it to freedom.

Written in an underground bunker during the winter of 1947-1948 and retyped in similar conditions by Sgt. "Tetiana" (Anna Chereshniovska) during the winter of 1948-1949, the volume, which was published in 1950 in Munich under the title "Zymoiu v Bunkri" ("Winter in the Bunker"), offers a rare glimpse of the harsh life that was led by men and women of the Ukrainian underground in the long years of desperate struggle against Germany and the Soviet Union.

The story begins on June 29, 1947 when "Khrin" was a famous Company Commander, who earlier in that year had killed Gen. Karol Swierczewski, Polish Vice-Minister of Defence in an ambush, was reassigned with his men from Poland to Ukraine. Two months later, on September 8, 1947, he was promoted to Commander of the 24 Tactical Sector "Makivka" of the UPA West and was decorated by a Golden Cross of Military Valor First Class, the highest military honor in the UPA.

The life in the bunker required psychological readjustment, especially for "Khrin" who was not used to such conditions. He felt strange, trapped and thought that death in such conditions would be less heroic than in open battle. "The bunker makes a man timid and fearful while life in the open air makes one more fit and a much better fighter". He acknowledged, however, that a good guerrilla must be able to find his place in any prevailing conditions.

The routine of life in the bunker, relations among the people in cramped quarters, constant struggle to maintain supplies and hygiene, the use of time for political education and training, preparation for future struggle, daily dangers of being discovered by special Soviet forces, are all described here in some detail.

A touching almost wistful moment occurs when the author remembers his mother and his small daughter Lilia. He devotes an entire chapter to his mother, which reads like a prayer. He also describes similar feelings and even dreams of other denizens of the bunker. Retelling and interpretation of dreams, even of intimate nature, was routinely practiced for recreational purposes, and probably to bind the group closely together. Observance of religious and national holidays with all the traditional rituals was another device to keep the morale of the insurgents high.

Of special interest is the presence in the bunker of "Tetiana", the only woman in this exclusive male company. The author has the highest praise for this courageous, exceptional and patriotic former teacher who devoted her life to the struggle for freedom and independence of her people. Treated as an equal, she was able, to exert a very large, positive and calming effect on her male companions primarily because of her high intelligence, foresight and self-discipline. Her real name was Anna Chereshniovska from the village Stezhnytsia in Lemkivshchyna. She died in unfortunate circumstances in late 1948, when her pistol accidentally discharged wounding her mortally.

There were many more such women in the underground who hailed from various regions of Ukraine. "Khrin" makes a special mention of them and their sacrifices in the struggle for independence of their country. He specifically writes about seventeen such women, that he knew personally, who met their death while performing various important functions in the underground.

Of special interest are those sections of the memoirs where "Khrin" discusses his use of guerrilla tactics in Lemkivshchyna then under Polish rule, and contrasts them with those used in Ukraine which was under Soviet control.

The memoirs end on March 23, 1948, when the bunker is being attacked by the Soviet troops and the entire group is forced to abandon it and to seek another shelter. Remarkably, there was no loss of personnel during the attack.

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