One of the methods used by the totalitarian Soviet regime to assimilate Ukrainians was to deprive them of their own history. The entire past of the Ukrainian people was regarded as just an element of the “glorious” history of the “older brother” – the Russians. Anything that did not fit into this conceptual framework or contradicted it was declared taboo. As a result of this policy, a great number of our historical events have remained unexamined. It may appear at first glance curious that the largest number of these “blank spots” fall in the 20th century, the period closest to the present time. These were the years when independentist tendencies in Ukraine had their strongest development, both in theoretical terms, that is, in ideology, and in practical terms, through the national liberation struggles of 1917-1920 and the 1940s-1950s. For this reason, the punitive organs of the Soviet regime closely controlled any research done on this subject. Now, for the present generation of historians, this period presents a fertile field of study, making it possible to open unacknowledged pages of our past and recreate its true picture.
It is important that the history of the Ukrainian national liberation movement of the 1940s and 1950s be researched, not only because of the pressing need to fill in the “blank spots”, but also because this subject has major social resonance in our present reality. The failure by the state to take a clear position towards this movement is preventing the consolidation of the Ukrainian nation and the creation of a healthy and constructive climate in our country. This situation is perpetuated by certain stereotypes, which although far from the truth, have been entrenched by Soviet propaganda in the consciousness of an entire generation. Even today, a significant portion, not only of the general public, but of historians, is unable to objectively assess the events that occurred more than 50 years ago and give the merited recognition to the heroes who died in insurgent ranks for the freedom of the entire nation. This mindset can be overcome only if extensive research is conducted on all aspects of the formation and development of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). Such research will have value not only in historical terms, but equally important, in social terms.
The subject of the present monograph is the series of raids conducted by the UPA through Czechoslovakia. Considering the large number of UPA activities that remain unexamined, why did the author decide to focus on this particular question? His aim was to counter one of the stereotypes that is frequently applied to the OUN and UPA liberation movement. Even among present-day historians, there is a tendency to portray this movement as an exclusively Western Ukrainian phenomenon, and its activities, as primitive partisan action directed against one or another occupational power. This portrayal of UPA insurgency is very similar to that promoted during the Soviet era, when the insurgents were invariably called bandits and their activities depicted as forms of terrorism. However, OUN and UPA activities need to be examined in the wider context of world events. This, in fact, is the point of view from which the participants and leaders of the movement regarded their struggle. We see this clearly in OUN and UPA program documents, the materials produced by the movement’s ideologists, Petro Fedun “Poltava” and Osyp Diakiv “Hornovyi”, and its practical attempts to influence world events, such as the UPA raids beyond the borders of Ukraine.
The inherent logic of the struggle in Ukraine obliged its representatives to react to events in the world and try to influence them. This became particularly important after the end of the Second World War, when the Ukrainian national liberation movement found itself operating in an entirely new international situation. The fact that one occupying power had left Ukrainian territory did not ease the struggle for an independent united Ukrainian state. In the place of the brown hordes came the red ones; in the place of the battle-weary and morally broken German troops arrived the fresh forces of the Red Army, glowing with the triumph of victory; in the place of the discredited enemy, against whom many countries had united, came another, more deceitful one – Bolshevism, which, in the guise of liberator was rapidly managing to conquer the world. The general international situation was very unconducive to a positive resolution of the Ukrainian problem. Stalin’s allies in the anti-Hitler coalition not only silently accepted the occupation of Ukraine, but agreed to hand over to the “leader of nations” Central and Eastern European countries in which the Soviet Union had not had any influence before the war.
In spite of this fact, the leaders of the Ukrainian national liberation movement decided to continue their struggle; they did not wait for favourable external conditions, but rather, strove to create them. Thus, the primary goals they set themselves were to unite other nations into a common anti-Soviet and to manifest their struggle to the world, so as to open the eyes of the people of the West to the true imperialistic character of the USSR.
The “Declaration Issued by the Ukrainian Nationalist Leadership following the End of the Second World War in Europe” stated that the basic principle of the Ukrainian people’s struggle for independence in the new political situation would remain, as before, “independent policy and reliance on our own powers”. But it also emphasized the essential need to work jointly with the anti-Soviet forces of other nations: “A common front of enslaved nations against Russian-Bolshevik imperialism is the only real international factor and ally in the Ukrainian people’s struggle for liberation”. Somewhat later, the document presented arguments in support of this thesis: “[…] 10. Joining the front of the enslaved nations of the USSR is a new front of threatened nations in Central and Southern Europe recently “liberated” from German occupation by the Red Army. These people are now faced with the question of waging armed revolutionary against Stalin’s attempt to incorporate them into the USSR. With the union of these two fronts will arise a bloc of enslaved and threatened nations that will bring about, through revolutionary actions, the collapse of the Soviet prison of nations, and establish a free existence on the ruins of Stalinist tyranny. 11. The enslaved and threatened nations and their revolutionary struggle for liberation are one of the most important elements in the present international situation. Tomorrow and in the future, their significance will grow even more until, at last, they turn the world system in their favour”.
On the question of manifesting the insurgent struggle, the eminent American expert on partisan tactics, Lewis Hann, identified the ability to present one’s struggle to the world as an indicator of the ultimate success of an insurgent movement. As an example supporting his thesis, he referred to the Irish uprising of 1919. Since the Irish were unable to attain their goal through military means, they attained it by political means, he writes. On a larger scale, the Irish war took place only in the press, which depicted every small event (the killing of a person on the street or elsewhere) as evidence of the fact that the entire country was aflame, or drowning in blood. The Irish were able to maintain this relationship with the press, even organizing special train trips for foreign correspondents to ensure that the writings continued. As a result, the idea of their struggle achieved wide acceptance in Europe and America.
The great importance of manifesting one’s struggle to the world was understood by the leaders of the Ukrainian national liberation movement even during the war years. For this reason, they established an underground radio station “Vilna Ukrayina” [Free Ukraine], which operated from 1943 to 1945 in the village of Yamelnytsia, in the Skolie district. Until its destruction by the NKVD, it reported the truth about the OUN and UPA to the world. Manifesting the Ukrainian struggle was also a mission of the OUN Leadership abroad and the Foreign Representation of the Supreme Ukrainian Liberation Council. However, their efforts in this regard proved insufficient. As noted by Stepan Bandera in his article “Systematic Planning of Our Country’s Revolutionary Struggle”, “The Western nations and the entire outside world have only limited and sporadic information about events in the USSR. Their information about the liberation struggle in Ukraine and other countries comes mainly from our sources. Such information coming from people who are themselves involved in the struggle is naturally treated as a tendentious depiction of reality and accepted with skepticism. Much greater weight is given by these countries to information coming from their own sources, based on the observations of their own people, such as diplomatic representatives, journalists, members of various missions, travelers, intelligence personnel, etc. In Ukraine, there are few such visitors, and those who manage to get in have no opportunity to see what the Soviets want to keep secret. However, in areas along the Polish border, in Poland, in the Czechoslovak Republic, etc., there are more possibilities, and information from these places reaching the world is regarded with greater trust and interest. Here, foreign representatives see the Ukrainian revolutionary struggle directly or from very close by […] and they pass on this information to their countries. The recognition of this small portion of our struggle increases the credence of the entire Ukrainian cause”.
In this volume, the UPA raids through Czechoslovakia are examined from the perspective of the creation of a common anti-Soviet front of nations and the manifestation of the Ukrainian struggle to the world, issues of strategic importance to the Ukrainian national liberation movement.
Why did the Ukrainian leadership choose Czechoslovakia as the site for the UPA actions? The reason was that in 1945-47, the political situation there was somewhat different from that in other Eastern European countries. While by this time, satellite communist regimes had been established in all the countries of the region, this process was not as rapid in Czechoslovakia, where the official Communist party faced some real competition from very active democratic political parties. This was particularly true in the Slovak part of the republic, where, after the end of the Second World War, the Democratic Party of Slovakia became a dominant political force. This party was supported by the rural population and, as noted by Volodymyr Yarovyi, it “traditionally controlled the Slovak village”. In Slovakia, which had very little urbanization, the rural population comprised the majority. Thus, it was not surprising that here, Communist ideas found less acceptance than in the neighbouring Czech region. Although both parties, the Democratic and the Communist, were part of the ruling coalition government, relations between them were deteriorating.
Another reason that Slovakia was attractive to the Ukrainian insurgents was that certain elements of the Slovak population were unhappy with the loss of their country’s independence and its inclusion in the united Czechoslovak Republic. In the eyes of some political organizations, this was a new occupation of their country, which impelled them to underground struggle.
The author of this volume chose his subject for a reason. He believes that by examining the UPA raids through Czechoslovakia, it will be possible to show the breadth of the Ukrainian national liberation struggle and its influence on events in post-war Europe and the world. This, in turn, will allow for a correct and objective interpretation of the social processes of that era.