|The Battle against the Underground in Western Ukraine: 1944-1959
From its outset, the battle waged by the Soviet regime against the Ukrainian liberation movement had a political, a military–police and an intelligence aspect.
This wide-scale political/police campaign, which made ready use of force, terror, intimidation, bribery and mass propaganda, was intended to rapidly entrench Soviet rule in right-bank Ukraine, particularly in the seven oblasti of Western Ukraine: Rivne, Volyn, Lviv, Drohobych, Stanyslaviv (Ivano-Frankivsk), Ternopil, and Chernivtsi. Of course, anti-underground operations were also taking place in other oblasti, such as Vynnytsia, Zhytomyr, Zakarpattia, Kyiv, Kirovohrad and others, but to a lesser extent. The methods used in this campaign are still favoured today by the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation, which recommend their application in the battle against Chechen insurgents.
The Soviet government benefited greatly from the fact that after the end of the war, the western world, concerned with its own problems, paid very little attention to internal Soviet affairs and therefore had very little influence, even morally, on the brutal approach being used to combat the Ukrainian liberation movement. Moreover, the Ukrainian movement, although relatively well organized and ideologically grounded, was completely isolated from the world and had no hope for outside assistance.
This situation was fully understood by the Soviet leaders, who took some important political actions to ensure that control remained in their hands.
For example, in my view, it was because of the establishment of the UHVR in July 1944 that the decision was made to let Ukraine and Belarus sit as founding members of the UN. At this time, Soviet propaganda referred to members of the Ukrainian liberation movement as a small group of Nazi sympathizers and collaborators who were enemies of civilized humanity. In some circles, even in Ukraine, these epithets are still used to characterize the Ukrainian underground. For example, the Supreme Council (Verkhovna Rada) has still proved unable to recognize the UPA as a participant of the war because the UPA fought not only against the Germans, but also against the Soviets.
In this article, we will examine only the three aspects of the anti-underground battle that were mentioned above, that is: the military, political and intelligence aspects. In should be borne in mind that the Soviets’ anti-underground campaign lasted for well over a decade, from the time of the second occupation of Ukraine by the Red Army, in 1944, until 1959. These fifteen years could be subdivided into several periods, during which different methods and tactics were applied against the underground, but that would require a more exhaustive analysis.
The information used in this article was obtained from several sources, including the Archive of the UPA Mission at the Foreign Representation of the UHVR (AMUPA), the Archive of the Polish Security Service, the Archive of “Litopys UPA”, the former Central Party Archive, now the Central State Archive of Non-governmental Organizations of Ukraine (TsDAHOU), the former Archive of the October Revolution, now the Central State Archive of the Executive Organs of Ukraine and the Rivne Oblast State Archive. One of the largest systematized collections of documents relating to the anti-underground battle, consisting of several hundred volumes, is the Archive of the Upravlenie Vnutrennikh Voisk NKVD-MVD-MGB Ukrainskogo Okruga, February 1943-April 1953, and the Archive of Upravlenie Vnutrennei Okhrany MGB Ukrainskogo Okruga, June 1951-April 1953, found in the Peter J. Potichnyj Collection on Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Ukraine at the University of Toronto. This collection of documents is very important and without it, further research into the battle against the Ukrainian liberation movement would be almost impossible. The diagrams of underground hideouts reproduced in this volume are taken from this collection of documents.
Even prior to 1944, the Soviet government made efforts to establish its own underground operations behind the German lines. These efforts had a two-fold objective: a) to wage a partisan war and b) to create a network of Soviet agents. A great deal has been written on this subject in Soviet publications. I will not waste time on it except to say that both objectives were aimed not only against the Germans, but also against the potential opponents of Soviet rule in Ukraine, the Ukrainian nationalists. “he latter, in the course of their struggle against the Germans, had grown into quite a significant force.
As the Germans no longer controlled large territories, the Hungarians and Romanians considered it necessary to seek a truce with the UPA, and the HIWIs (Hilfswilligen) were neutralized or even switched over to the UPA side.
Therefore, Kovpak’s raid should be regarded not only as an anti-German action, but also as an intelligence raid intended to test the strength of the Ukrainian underground.
Despite Ivan Kurys’ and Anatoliy Kentiy’s dithyramb about Kovpak’s force as the “headquarters of the unconquered”, Kovpak was obliged to retreat from the Carpathians and this partly owing to UPA actions.
After the failures of the Kovpak raid, the idea was circulated that the UPA in Volyn and the UNS in Halychyna were created by the Germans to combat the Soviet regime. Comrade Dmytro Manuilskyi invented an epithet for the Ukrainian underground that is still current in certain circles: “Ukrainian-German nationalists.” At this time efforts were made to build up the agent network and to introduce Soviet agents into Ukrainian underground structures.
Ridding Ukraine of the German military presence brought the Soviet authorities new problems, but also new possibilities. Militarily, they no longer had a competitor and they took immediate advantage of this fact in their battle against the underground.
Nevertheless, Red Army soldiers were not very willing to enter into combat with the UPA, partly because of the underground’s efforts to influence them with its propaganda. For this reason, the Soviets applied the tactic of using the Red Army to blockade villages and throwing special NKVD units against the UPA.
This approach proved to be generally successful. In 1944 and 1945, the underground suffered enormous losses and was obliged to change the tactics of its struggle. At this time, the underground prepared many hideouts and stores for its personnel, as well as materiel and provisions. In autumn 1944, the UPA began to operate in small units; only on ethnic Ukrainian territories in Poland (Zakerzonnia) were larger UPA groups still in operation.
The main Soviet tactical orientations were well known to the underground, because instructions from the center to the First Secretaries of Oblast party committees, including I.I. Profalitov, First Secretary of the Volyn Oblast Committee, fell into insurgent hands. For this, Profilatov was severely reprimanded by Nikita Khrushchev himself. This instruction emphasized the creation of so-called Extermination Battalions, which were popularly known as “strybky.” Other similar instructions and directives made the same point. Khrushchev also personally visited Western Ukraine and provided verbal instructions and directives during meetings with Oblast committee workers, NKVD members and others.
In 1945, especially once the war had ended, large forces were thrown into battle against the underground:
1. Regular army units, which quartered in villages;
2. NKVD internal troops;
3. NKVD special groups;
4. NKGB operational agents;
5. GRU operational agents;
6. SMERSH agents;
8. Various guards;
10. Village “self-defense” groups;
11. Subversive bands (formed out of former UPA and OUN members).
Between 1946 and 1950, this tactic changed only in the sense that the Soviet troops were somewhat less numerous than before. Also, responsibility for the battle against the underground was put entirely onto the shoulders of the MVD-MGB and various paramilitary groups.
The Soviet regime, possessing good information and having total political control then began to use smaller groups to search out and destroy specific targets or people, while still controlling the villages with paramilitary groups helped by MVD troops. Its actions were characterized by extreme brutality, not only against the underground, but also against the population of the entire western Ukrainian region.
The Soviets faced a difficult situation on the territories they captured from the Germans, where they found a well-organized underground and a hostile population. It was not easy to organize an administration, and the economy lay in total ruin throughout Ukraine, not only in the western oblasti.
The situation is apparent in various instructions and directives of the Central Committee of the CPSU and its branches in Ukraine, and in reports by Raion and Oblast committees. The approach taken to deal with these matters was quite exhaustive:
1. The secretaries of Raion committees were ordered to immediately establish village councils and choose politically reliable people.
2. They were also ordered to organize Komsomol and recruit into its ranks those born in 1928 or later.
3. For better control over villages, the practice of appointing “ten house monitors” was established (each monitor being responsible for ten houses), using reliable people who had been given the appropriate instructions.
4. Every village was ordered to establish a “self-defense group”, having a minimum of 15 members and a reliable person as the commander.
5. Extermination groups, the so-called “strybky”, were to be formed rapidly in all populated centers and their personnel, especially the commanders, were to be approved by the Raion NKVD unit. The groups were to undergo practical training for battle against the “Ukrainian-German nationalists” under the command of the Raion NKVD chief, and take training courses on the topic: “Soviet rule is the true rule of the people.”
6. A political/educational campaign was to be launched among the population in order to explain the evil nature of Ukrainian nationalism.
In this, special attention was to be given women and children, with special programs being organized for them. The programs focused on such subjects as: “The task of youth in the battle against Ukrainian-German nationalists and in strengthening Soviet government organizations,” “The Ukrainian-German nationalists – sworn enemies of the Ukrainian people” and “The Soviet government is working for the good of women and children.”
7. Every village council was to select an attractive house from which the owners had been deported to serve as the village clubhouse and decorate it with party slogans and portraits of leaders.
Complementing these political actions were the following organizational ones:
a) a census and registration of the entire population were to be carried out and completed by March 5, 1945. The census was to be conducted by the village council with the help of the “ten house monitors” and other selected people and verified by the Raion Party committee;
b) the Raion Party committee was also mandated to register all the people who had been ordered to come out of hiding and turn themselves in and to deport all families whose members did not turn themselves in;
c) the Raion Party committees, with the help of the village councils, were also ordered to track down every member of a family whose absence could not be explained through documents or witnesses;
d) the registration documents were to be submitted to specially-designated militia members, who would be accountable for information about every individual not listed on the registration document.
The instructions also emphasized the need for positive actions which would help build support for the Soviet regime among the population, such as opening schools, clinics and hospitals, instituting health measures, supplying needed articles, such as salt and matches, etc. Of course, refusing to provide such positive medical services in areas where typhoid fever and typhus were present, as happened in some raiony, was regarded as a form of punishment of people who were viewed as hostile to the Soviet regime.
At this same time, a policy was implemented of political, social and economic differentiation among villagers, in other words, a class war.
All families who had “suffered at the hands of the Ukrainian-German nationalists or the Germans” were, upon registration, given assistance in building up their farms. They were provided with houses and equipment that had been confiscated from those forcibly deported, and were also given seed and even land that had been taken away from “kulaks.”
At the same time, the instructions demanded that villagers be informed about the “possibility of organizing collective farms” and conditions be prepared “for future collectivization and if possible, one or two collective farms should be organized in every raion.”
Finally, the Raion Party committees were required to take full responsibility for planned deliveries of grain and wood. This last directive gave local authorities the right to confiscate, under the guise of voluntary deliveries, large quantities of grain from peasants who were considered politically unreliable. Terror and brutality accompanied these actions.
From 1945-50, wide-scale political actions were conducted that were directly related to the battle against the underground. These include: the enforced population exchange with Poland, and deportation of Ukrainians to the eastern regions of the USSR, the campaign against Ukrainian churches and destruction of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the elections to the Supreme Council (Soviet) of the USSR in February 1946 and the Supreme Council of the Ukrainian SSR in 1947, the recruitment of youth into Soviet organizations, and lastly, the collectivization of agriculture.
Major changes and transfers of population were nothing unusual, either in the old Russian empire, or in the new version, the USSR; we need only mention the famine in 1932-33, the arrests and deportations in 1939-40 (Baltic countries, Western Ukraine) and the deportation of entire nations in 1944.
In 1945-46, this policy was continued in the “voluntary” resettlement of Ukrainians and Poles, deportation of western Ukrainians to eastern Ukraine or Siberia, return of thousands of Ukrainians from Germany, not always to their native regions, and so on.
At this time, instructions from the center demanded the deportation to the eastern parts of the USSR of all families having members who were active in the underground. They were collectively referred to as “band accomplices”. Between 1944 and 1949, about 120,000 people in this category were forcibly deported. (If we add to this the members of the underground who were killed or caught and deported, we are speaking of over half a million people).
To replace those who were deported, people from various parts of the USSR were brought in, especially Russians, with whose help it was easier to control the local situation.
The destruction of the Ukrainian churches, and especially the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, was intended to weaken resistance to Soviet rule. Driven into the underground, the church could not effectively defend the interests of its faithful. The arrests of the hierarchy, under the pretext of their collaboration with the Germans, deprived Western Ukraine of leadership, which until this time had been in the hands of the church.
The 1946/47 elections were very important to the Soviet regime as a way of demonstrating its popular support. The results, as always, were predictable (99.9%), but to obtain these results, the officials themselves had to stuff ballots into the boxes. In some localities, as can be seen from detailed underground reports, more than 75% of voters boycotted the election. This is why at the time of the elections, Western Ukraine was under siege.
In 1949, children and youth were drawn into Soviet organizations, the “October Children”, Pioneers and Komsomol.
The final step was the complete collectivization of agriculture in Western Ukraine, which was achieved in 1950.
Information about the Ukrainian liberation movement was always a high priority for the Soviet authorities. From the early 1940s, when they were preparing the partisan movement, we find in Soviet documents references to collection of information about Ukrainian nationalists, establishment of an agent network and infiltration of the Ukrainian underground.
In the “Order of the People’s Commissar of Defense: Regarding the Tasks of the Partisan Movement,” number 00189 dated September 5, 1942, the tasks of the partisans are set out in detail. Stalin was systematically informed about all events related to the battle against the Ukrainian underground.
Red partisan actions in Volyn and Kovpak’s Carpathian raid should be considered, to some extent, as efforts to gauge the strength of the Ukrainian liberation movement. For this reason, it is not surprising that after capturing Western Ukraine, the Soviets increased their intelligence efforts and attempts to penetrate the underground.
Secret instructions from the center were disseminated by the First Secretaries of Oblast Party committees. In them, we see strong pressure to organize a “special network”, as well as detailed instructions for actions aimed at “destroying armed bands and the OUN administrative network”. Recruitment and control of agents were placed exclusively in the hands of Oblast Party committee secretaries. At lower levels, only the First Secretaries of the Raion Party committees had complete information about these actions.
The Oblast Party committees were also responsible for paying the agents, their bonuses, etc. The Oblast Party committee officials were responsible for verifying and evaluating information and for the “actions” (arrests, deportations, other punitive measures) that resulted from the information.
In addition to this secret network of informers and agents, a few groups were created which operated openly; they were under the command of NKGB/MGB and NKVD/MVD “operational specialists.”
As of January 1945, attempts were made, many of them successful, to recruit for the battle against the underground members of the movement who had been captured or had turned themselves in. These groups operated under UPA guise and treated the population shamefully, which contributed to the demise of the underground movement. Following is some information about these groups:
|Oblast||No. of groups||No. of members||Date|
In 1945, there were 156 such agent groups with a general membership of 1,783, as well as one group with 25 members, giving a total membership of 1,808. The use of these groups for brutal and illegal operations over a period of several years, as well as similar actions by the NKVD and NKGB, are quite well documented.
To assist the “strybky,” Raion NKVD/NKGB detachment combat groups were formed, consisting of six to 10 people. There were three or four such groups in each raion. It was highly recommended that “bandits who had left the underground” be recruited for these groups.
Also in operation were raiding groups made up of internal NKVD troops, and in border raiony, groups of border guards, who were supplemented with “better operational agents.”
Thus, although general control of the situation lay in the hands of the party, NKGB/NKVD functionaries controlled the operational aspects. We see this most clearly in the documents of the Internal Troops of the Ukrainian Military Region.
It is interesting to note that the underground was quite well informed about the actions of the Soviet organs. Several detailed instructions were issued, intended to warn the underground administration and UPA units about these actions. In addition, various underground officials wrote very objective studies of the Soviet anti-underground actions.
One of the methods used by the authorities was repeated arrest of as many people as possible. During their hearings, the people were brutally treated; attempts were made to recruit them as agents and they were forced to sign documents of collaboration before being released.
Clearly, not everyone who signed such a document became an active agent, but they made themselves open to blackmail, even to the underground. This tactic immediately caused very serious problems for underground security, because it was not possible to investigate every case. This also enabled the regime to keep in contact with its agents, while imprudent action on the part of the underground could result in internal rifts and conflicts.
Yet another method for penetrating the underground was to stage “escapes” of KGB agents. These escapes always took place in the presence of witnesses and often, the accompanying guards (usually prisoners dressed up as KGB officers) were killed by the “escapees.” The agents, usually Ukrainians from eastern Ukraine, then entered the ranks of the UPA to do their work. Subsequently, they returned to the Soviet side, and this, in turn, provoked general suspicion in the underground of “easterners,” who, by the end of the war, were present at all levels of the underground administration.
As mentioned earlier, many a provocation against the demoralized populations were conducted with the help of former UPA soldiers and underground members.
Other opportunities for infiltrating the underground included amnesties, of which there were 18, the last one being in 1956, deportations, resettlements, etc. Some of the agents entering the underground through these means became active only after a certain period, once they had gained the trust of resistance movement leaders. And even then, the information was transmitted through “managers”, or agents who themselves never gathered information. These “managers” were recruited among people whose activities gave them maximum opportunities for contact with people, such as postal workers, doctors and even priests.
It is worth noting that this affair had an international dimension, which, so far, has not been the subject of scholarly study. But some interesting details have become known about the information provided by “moles” in western intelligence organizations to their Soviet masters. For example, Kim Philby appears to have played a fairly important role in combating the Ukrainian resistance movement both in Ukraine and outside Ukraine. Polish documents in security archives indicate that the courier channels between Ukraine and Ukrainian centers in the West, especially those established with the help of such western powers as the USA and Great Britain, were penetrated by Soviet security.
After the death of the head of the UHVR General Secretariat and Supreme Commander of the UPA, Gen. Roman Shukhevych, on March 5, 1950, underground activity began to die down and in the mid-1950s, apart from some individuals, the underground ceased to exist as an organized movement.
After a long, drawn-out battle against the Nazis and Communists, many underground members, some on orders from their superiors, left the underground and resumed their legalized existence. Some became traitors, but most were either killed in combat or, after capture, spent years in Soviet prisons and concentration camps, not surrendering even there. We now know that former members of the Ukrainian liberation movement led most of the strikes that were organized in the Gulag.
As of 1943, the Ukrainian underground began to prepare for battle with a new enemy, Soviet Russia. An order was issued in Volyn to build secret hideouts and stores. Similar instructions had been issued in other areas during the period of German occupation, but because the Germans never succeeded in penetrating the large forests and mountainous localities where the UPA were operating, the construction of hideouts was restricted to populated points where there were technical facilities, most particularly, printing shops. At first, these hideouts were quite primitive, but with time, the structures became better fitted out for various purposes, as required by the underground network and its leaders in their difficult battle against the occupying powers. The fact that some of these hideouts were used until the mid-1950s, and some even survived until the collapse of the Soviet Union, demonstrates the care and effort that were put into their construction.
In contrast to the Germans, the Soviet regime focused a great deal of attention, right from the outset, to destroying the bases of the Ukrainian underground, in particular, its hideouts and bunkers. The archives of the Internal Troops of the Ukrainian Military Region, who were in the front ranks of the battle against the underground, contain many diagrams of different hideouts and bunkers, which they used for training purposes. Of about 700 such diagrams, we selected just a few for this volume, to illustrate the different types of hideouts built to serve different purposes. One of the most interesting is the hideout used by the UPA Supreme Commander, General Roman Shukevych – Taras Chuprynka, in the village of Bilohorshcha near Lviv.
In order to preserve these documents’ authenticity, we decided to reproduce the diagrams in their original form, with Russian texts. In the Ukrainian and English texts, corrections are made so that where in Russian insurgents are called “bandits”, here the word used is “insurgents.” Everything else remains unchanged. Therefore, except for the Introduction, which is given only in Ukrainian and English, this volume is trilingual.
We extend our sincere thanks to all the members of the editorial board, who not only read the manuscript, but offered their comments and corrections. We particularly wish to thank Ms. Zinaida Levchenko for translations from Russian and Mr. Mykola Kulyk, who provided administrative assistance for the publication of this volume.
Petro J. Potichnyj