Strasti za Banderoju (‘Bandera Passion’)


B O O K S  /  O P I N I O N

by Franziska Bruder

The 2010 anthology Strasti za Banderoju (Bandera  Passion, alternate translations include Bandera Ecstasy or Bandera-mania), edited by Tarik Syril Amar, Ihor Balyns’kyi and Iaroslav Hrytsak, assembles key contributions to three debates conducted in the years 2009-2010 around the person of Stepan Bandera, leader of the main wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN).

The first debate, staged on an Internet platform in L’viv in 2009, was occasioned by Bandera’s 100th birthday and the 50th anniversary of his assassination. It was followed in 2010 by another round triggered by then-Ukrainian president Viktor Iushchenko’s decision to convey upon Bandera the title Hero of Ukraine.  The editors divided that second round into two parts: the debate conducted in Ukraine and the debate conducted in North America.

Who/what was the OUN under Stepan Bandera’s leadership?

In Western Ukraine, which was part of Poland after World War I, the Polish government pursued a nationalist and colonialist two-tier policy that polarized society along ethnic lines and roused large parts of the Ukrainian population against “the Poles”. At the same time, due to events in the Soviet part of Ukraine (keyword: famine), communist resistance wasn’t an option for the majority of radical Ukrainian youth in Western Ukraine. Most joined extreme nationalist groups, including fascist organizations, which combined in 1929 to form the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. In the 1930s, OUN militants targeted Poles, Jews and moderate Ukrainians. One of the organization’s slogans was: “Attain a Ukrainian state or die in battle for it.”

As early as 1923, predecessors of the OUN had been building contacts with the German Reichswehr, especially the Abwehr. From these contacts, the OUN gained opportunities for military training of its cadres. Shortly after the Nazi assault on the Soviet Union in June 1941, OUN-B representative Volodymyr Stakhiv formulated a common perspective, focused on a mutual nationalist, or völkisch, stance.

“His Excellency, the German Reich Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, Berlin, Chancellery of the Reich. […]

Stepan Bandera, leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists — OUN — has charged me with the honor to submit to your Excellency, leader of the German nation victoriously struggling for the reshaping of Europe, a memorandum of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists pertaining to the solution of the Ukrainian question.

The OUN, which leads the Ukrainian masses in their revolutionary struggle to establish a Ukrainian state, holds the deep belief that the current armed struggle against Moscow will annihilate the corrosive Jewish-Bolshevist influence in Europe and break Russian imperialism once and for all.

The re-establishment of the independent national Ukrainian state in the spirit of the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk will strengthen the völkisch reshaping of Eastern Europe and contribute to the peaceful and beneficial development of this area.

Confident that your Excellency, as the champion of the völkisch principle, will support our völkisch struggle, I remain

With the expression of my most deeply felt respect […]

Volodymyr Stakhiv, departmental head in the political office of the OUN, Berlin-Wilmersdorf, June 23, 1941”[1]

What did this common “völkisch principle” mean in practical terms, looking at its bloody consequences for the “corrosive Jewish-Bolshevist” influence?

In June 1941, the Ukrainian Nachtigall battalion invaded Western Ukraine, marching with the German Wehrmacht toward L’viv. Conclusive evidence shows that individual Nachtigall soldiers participated in massacres against Jews in L’viv, as well as in the murder of Jews, on their march on to Kiev (research on this subject is ongoing). More on this in a moment.

Western Ukraine became a regional hub of the Holocaust: It is here that the task forces perpetrated their murderous actions; that German police units committed mass shootings; that murderous forced labor took place in countless ghettos and work camps. Nazi extermination camps such as Bełżec and Sobibór were located close to today’s Polish-Ukrainian border. But there were also local pogroms instigated by Ukrainian nationalists. Ukrainian nationalists pursued and murdered Jews who were hiding in the woods.

In the summer/autumn of 1941, the alliance between the Nazis and OUN-B(andera), led by Stepan Bandera, fractured, at least for the moment: The faction’s attempt to proclaim an independent Ukraine contradicted national socialist goals in the “East”. Leaders and rank-and-file members of the OUN were arrested, deported to prisons and concentration camps such as Auschwitz, and in some cases murdered. The OUN-B was outlawed, went underground and concentrated on building broad military structures.

In the fall of 1942, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), the military wing of OUN-B, made its first appearance in Volhynia. While at first, the UPA mainly fought against the German civil administration, it transitioned in the spring of 1943 to a deliberate policy of massacres against the Polish population, in addition to fighting against advancing Soviet partisan units. From summer 1943 onwards, such massacres were also committed in Eastern Galicia. Overall, about 100,000 Poles and ― in the course of (retribution) actions by Polish nationalists ― thousands of Ukrainians lost their lives. These reciprocal massacres continued on eastern Polish territory until approximately 1946; conflicts between Poles and Ukrainians had been stoked and exploited by the Nazis in the years before.

Starting in winter of 1943/44, imprisoned OUN-UPA members were released, and the OUN/UPA resumed cooperation with the Wehrmacht and SS units, the unifying factor being the fight against the Red Army and Soviet partisans.

Regarding the anthology:

The editors stress that they don’t want to judge the widely diverging positions regarding Bandera (p. 6). Rather, they declare being interested in showcasing the positions represented within and outside of Ukraine. That, they say, will make apparent that there is no clear-cut “pro” or “con”. After all, they say, there are Ukrainian nationalists who criticize Bandera, and Russian-language authors who sympathize with him. To determine who was “right” should be left to the reader, they claim — while saying that it is also important to acknowledge positions one finds diverging from one’s own or worthy of criticism. (p. 7)

The first part of the volume contains, under the title, “Deconstruction of a myth” with ten contributions to the debate; the second part is comprised, under the title, “Bandera: Hero of Ukraine?” of debates two and three, with 22 contributions (incidentally, all 32 contributions were written by men[2]).

I base my commentary on three principles:

1. It is imperative to adhere to academic standards, in the public and historical debate surrounding OUN-UPA and the person of Stepan Bandera as well as in any other instance. Arbitrary dealings with historical facts must be identified and criticized, clearly distinguishing them from legitimate points of view that fall within the scope of free speech.

2. In the debate about OUN-UPA/Bandera, some actors obviously have a political agenda, as expressed by certain concepts of “nation”.

3. Politically motivated attempts to legitimize nationalist positions and their historical representatives must be qualified as pure ideology. Historians cannot accept such attempts, which subordinate academic interpretation of sources to political agendas.

Public and historical debates are not conducted in a vacuum. Of course, there will be diverging positions, varying foci, different emphases on sources — but historical researchers follow recognized standards in dealing with sources, which no historian can ignore without tarnishing his or her reputation. In addition, when evaluating sources and historical situations, historians must adhere to certain values, as they are, for instance, held by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Society as a whole, its journalists and scientists, need to take these values into account when evaluating historical events. Otherwise, they open the door to positions and practices that violate human rights. The rise of the populist right in Europe, including openly fascist movements, forbids us to look too optimistically into the future. Every time there is a historical-political debate, what needs to be made transparent to participants and the public are the scientific standards ― and value systems ― a discussant adheres to. (To put it more bluntly: A forger of documents or a self-declared racist should not be considered a potential discussant.) Clearly, a historical anthology needs to follow these principles as well. And yet, in the volume at hand, individuals are given a voice whose arguments are based on the negation and twisting of historical facts.

Example 1: Murdering of Jews

Those negations and twists are particularly apparent in the second part of the anthology. The controversy departs from a summary of the history of Bandera and the OUN-UPA provided by Professor David Marples, who teaches at Alberta University in Edmonton/Canada. Overall, Marples chooses his words rather cautiously. He identifies the OUN as a typical fascist movement not dissimilar to the Italian version. About the pogroms of 1941, he writes that “doubtlessly some members of the OUN-B” (p. 133) participated in the pogroms in L’viv in 1941. He writes about the OUN-UPA: “John-Paul Himka concludes that some UPA units conducted actions against Jews. But the UPA had many units, and one cannot hold them all responsible for all actions.” (p. 134).

Those sentences suffice to produce angry reactions. Marko Levytskyi, of the Ukrainian News published in Edmonton, prefaces his negation of facts with defamation, placing David Marples in the tradition of Putin- or KGB-style forgeries (p. 140). Volodymir V’iatrovych, former director of the SBU archives, also takes recourse to the long tradition of Soviet propaganda, which he says identified Bandera by clichés like “terrorist”, “collaborationist”, etc. (p. 50) No one doubts the existence of Soviet disinformation. But here, it is referenced for the sole purpose of discrediting as disinformation any criticism of Stepan Bandera and OUN-UPA.

Here are a few literal citations to clarify the historical facts beyond disinformation and propaganda:

1) “We are raising a militia that will help remove the Jews and protect the population.”

Report by Iaroslaw Stets’ko, 25.6.1941, TsDAVOV, 3833-1-12, p. 10. Stets’ko was Bandera’s prime minister designate in the future Ukrainian government.

2) “Our militia has been carrying out multiple arrests of Jews, in conjunction with the German authorities. Prior to liquidation, the Jews defended themselves with all methods (…)” Report by the central propaganda office, OUN-B, L’viv 28.7.1941, TsDAVOV, 3833-1-23, p. 51.

3) “During our march, we saw with our own eyes the victims of Jewish-Bolshevist terror, which reinforced our hate against the Jews, and we thus shot in two villages all the Jews we met there.” Report by a Nachtigall soldier, TsDAVOV, 3833-1-57, p. 16[3].

4) “I am thus of the opinion that the Jews must be destroyed and that German methods of extermination of the Jews shall be purposefully introduced in Ukraine.”

Report and resume of Iaroslav Stets’ko, TsDAVOV, 3833-3-7, p. 1-6, here p. 6[4].

It is of little importance whether Bandera was physically present in L’viv in June/July of 1941: As head of an organization based on the leader principle (and that’s what OUN-Bandera was), he must be held responsible for the public utterances and orders given by his prime minister designate Stets’ko, as well as for the establishment of a Ukrainian militia as propagated by the OUN-B and also of Nachtigall battalion, though the latter somewhat attenuated by the fact that it was under German command. Historians such as John-Paul Himka[5], Marco Carynnyk[6], Karel C. Berkhoff and Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe[7] have published on this, to only name a few.

Levytskyi claims that documents exist, which prove “objectively” that the OUN had nothing to do with the June 1941 crimes against the peaceful population, meaning the Jews (p. 140). Yet the “objective documents” he refers to were discovered by none other than the previously mentioned head of the SBU archives, V’iatrovych, who presented a selection to the public. John-Paul Himka has convincingly revealed the character of these documents: They represented texts deliberately produced by the OUN-UPA, to whitewash the organization, after the war, of the charge of having participated in the Holocaust.[8] The OUN-UPA pursued this strategy of whitewashing early on: In an order issued in October of 1943, OUN-UPA units were instructed to “compile lists that are intended to prove that the Germans alone conducted the anti-Jewish pogroms and liquidations […] collect material that might confirm the instigation by and participation of Poles [!, F.B.] in the anti-Jewish pogroms, as well as their cozying-up to the Germans in the fight against the Ukrainians.”[9]

Example 2: Bandera — a terrorist

V’iatrovych polemicizes against the “Soviet cliché” according to which Bandera was a terrorist. To refute it, he uses a long Bandera citation, in which the OUN leader declares that he and his followers weren’t terrorists: that they valued the lives of their members, that they were using various types of action, but that the ultimate goal was worth sacrificing one’s own life and, if necessary, the lives of millions of others. What does this citation prove? Nothing, except for the determination to do all one considers necessary to further one’s own goals. (p. 51-52)

V’iatrovych continues by pointing out that the Polish government itself used terror in the interwar period ― an uncontested fact ― and that it discredited those who reacted to that terror. Yet the OUN, including and especially under Bandera, reacted to that terror not solely with attacks on Polish institutions and functionaries. Based on its ethnic definition of the Ukrainian nation, it also identified Poles, Jews, and Russians as necessary targets. They were literally declared fair game: They were beaten, their stores boycotted, their windows smashed. Weddings with them were ostracized.

In its papers, the OUN itself uses the word “terror”.

“1. Sabotage. 2. Terror: Those are actions which pursue similar goals, are harder to carry out, but are also more painful for the enemy, which is why they are more effective. The targets are usually smaller, individual, and accessible to members. […] All these actions are considered ‘destructive’, they are directed in the first instance against the Polish occupier / against the government and Polish society at the same time […] Anti-Polish actions have the goal to exacerbate the conflict and provoke massive repression, they needn’t just be directed against the Polish government, but first and foremost against Polish society.”[10]

The slogan, “Ukraine for the Ukrainians” wasn’t mere propaganda; indeed, it was a practical narrative, as demonstrated by the so-called anti-monopoly-and school-campaign in the interwar period. Especially Poles, but also Jews, were attacked, the purpose being expulsion. During the war, the OUN-UPA carried out its slogan with pogroms and massacres. But as early as the interwar period, the OUN attacked Ukrainians who had a different idea of nation. They were singled out and executed, as for instance in 1934 Ivan Babii, director of the Ukrainian high school in L’viv. That was terror, by the classical definition.

Those who advocate ethnically pure nations, and corresponding actions against civilians, never become internationally celebrated “freedom fighters” as V’iatrovych claims. Nelson Mandela was certainly considered a terrorist by the racist Boer government ― and a freedom fighter by the black population and internationally. But he and the ANC never advocated the violent expulsion or extermination of all non-blacks.

As mentioned previously, the editors write in their preface that there can’t be a simple pro or con, given that members of OUN-UPA had criticized Bandera, and Russian-language historians had sympathized with him. But it is ridiculous to think that “Russians” or Russian or Polish or Israeli or German historians could be forced to condemn Bandera by virtue of their ethnicity.

This type of categorization corresponds to the nationalist perspective of the OUN-B, which, first and foremost, considered an individual’s ethnicity. It is generally known that there were different currents within the OUN-UPA, which escalated to mutual liquidations; but this should not count as evidence for freedom of speech and democratic, anti-terrorist convictions within the OUN-B any more than dissenting Russian voices should.

In the presence of politically motivated manipulation of facts and an antisemitic/racist worldview that extends all the way to the legitimization of massacres, no pluralistic pro-contra debate can exist. This certainly applies to the debate around Bandera and the OUN-B/UPA. Those who strive to deny or justify murders committed against Jews and Poles based on nationalist interests are bound to “discover” a purportedly contradictory document for every “incriminating” document, in order to avoid having to admit to the historical-scientific obvious.[11]

The current growth of a radical right in the Ukraine that specializes in attacks on migrants and uses the OUN/UPA (as well as the SS Galicia, which was raised in April 1943 mainly from Ukrainians of Galicia) as a historical role model, shows why today’s debate cannot be contained within the innocuous framework of research conferences or anthologies.[12] The subversion of the historical sciences in the Ukraine by ethnic-racist and antisemitic thought also needs to be noted.

Anthologies like Strasti provide a forum for the described practices and thus give the impression that opinions expressed by such nationalist historians as V’iatrovych or activists of the ideology of Ukrainian nationalism like Levytskyi are as worthy of being heard as those expressed by historians who investigated the OUN-UPA.

This, in turn, leads to popularization of undemocratic opinions. Moreover it establishes individuals who disseminate nationalist propaganda and commit deliberate manipulation as “reliable historians”. In the process, they broaden their citation list, get invited to conferences, and are quoted in the press which radicalizes the society and marginalizes historians who investigate the OUN-UPA.

The opposite should be the case: Individuals who position themselves outside a system of universal values and openly demonstrate this through their actions should be denied a platform in academic and other circumscribed forums where minimal standards prevail and are agreed to be requisite. If their articles are published in anthologies, they should be accompanied by unambiguous commentary that brands them as nationalist ideologues eager to broaden their position with the help of articles written in an academic format.

Anything less will open the door even further to nationalist subversion of the study of history.

[1] Barch Lichterfelde, R 43 II 1500 F 2, p. 61.

[2] Wendy Lower or Tanja Penter are just a few female authors that could have been included.

[3] These and more examples in: Franziska Bruder: „Den ukrainischen Staat erkämpfen oder sterben!“ in Die Organisation Ukrainischer Nationalisten (OUN) 1929-1948, Berlin 2007.

[4] Also see: Karel C. Berkhoff, Marco Carynnyk: “The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and Its Attitude toward Germans and Jews: Iaroslav Stets’ko’s 1941 Zhyttiepys” in  Harvard Ukrainian Studies XXIII (3/4) 1999, p. 149-184.

[5], retrieved 11.4.2011.

[6] See in particular his latest article: Marco Carynnyk (2011): “Foes of our rebirth: Ukrainian nationalist discussions about Jews, 1929-1947” in  Nationalities Papers, 39: 3, p. 315 — 352.

[7] Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe: “The ‘Ukrainian National Revolution’ of Summer 1941” in Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 12, no.1 (2011), p. 83-114;  Ray Brandon, Wendy Lower (eds.): The Shoah in Ukraine. History, Testimony, Memoralization, Bloomington 2008.

[8] John-Paul Himka: Falsifying World War Ii History in Ukraine, Kyjiv Post, 9.5.2011,, retrieved 11.4.2011 and, retrieved 11.4. 2011.

[9] Order of 10.27.1943, TsDAVOV, 3833-1-43, p. 9. (Translation F. B.).

[10] Bulletin OUN 3-4 of March/April 1932, TsDIAUL, 205-1-1020, p. 18 back and p. 22 back.

[11] Another critical contribution to this type of discussion came from Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe, Per Anders Rutling: Krytyka (Hrsg.): Krytyka. Hefte 3-4; 7-8; 9-10. Kiev 2010, in: H-Soz-u-Kult, 15.06.2011.

[12] See multiple contributions on, the website of Ukraine’s Autonomous Nationalists, for example, retrieved 11.4.2011.

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