On October 14, Ukraine commemorates the Ukrainian Insurgent Army — defenders of independence who fought both Nazi and Soviet regimes
On October 14, 2022, Ukraine marks not only Defender’s Day but also the 80th anniversary of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army creation. It was a military-political formation that sought to restore Ukrainian statehood in the times when the world was engulfed in World War II and two totalitarian regimes — the Communist and the Nazi — were committing mass crimes on the lands of Ukraine. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army was not a pawn of either German or Soviet troops — it fought with both of them.
80 years after the creation of the UPA, their struggle is still shrouded in myths, most of which were spread by Soviet and Russian propaganda. We disprove some of these myths in our article.
Myth: UPA served Nazi Germany and, during the occupation of Ukraine, didn’t resist the Nazis.
Truth: Anti-German struggle of the UPA lasted till the end of the Nazi occupation of Ukraine in 1944. Ukrainian fighters destroyed about 12,000 German soldiers and their allies at that time.
According to Ukrainian historian Volodymyr Viatrovych, the creation of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army was a logical continuation of the Ukrainian national liberation movement, which took place in Ukraine at the beginning of the 20th century and aimed to free Ukraine from all totalitarian regimes.
In June 1941, in the first days of the German occupation of Ukraine, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (social and political movement) — OUN — proclaimed the renewal of Ukrainian statehood. But the German occupying authority demanded to cancel the Act. The Nationalists’ refusal to do this led to widespread punitive measures by the Germans: hundreds of OUN members were imprisoned or executed.
In 1942, the OUN began forming different detachments to resist German occupying forces, which later united into a single structure, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (better known as UPA after their acronym in Ukrainian — Ukrainska Povstanska Armiya). UPA attacked German troops, blew up railways, and caused considerable difficulties for the Nazis.
The archival documents prove that the German occupation leaders, in particular Erich Koch, recognized the activities of the UPA as an anti-German movement. In general, during the anti-German struggle, Ukrainian fighters destroyed about 12,000 German soldiers and their allies.
Myth: Ukrainian Insurgent Army wanted to create a monoethnic state.
Truth: none of the program documents of the UPA stated that Ukraine should be a mono-national state. Moreover, Jews, Russians, and representatives of other nationalities served in the ranks of the UPA.
According to documents of Ukrainian independence fighters, their struggle was supposed to bring all the peoples enslaved by Moscow the freedom to create their own lives on their own land at their own discretion. Human dignity, freedom, freedom of religion, and beliefs were also proclaimed as their goals.
Moreover, the Ukrainian fighters carried out an informational campaign to involve representatives of various ethnic groups in the joint anti-Nazi or anti-Soviet struggle.
Myth: Nazis supplied UPA with weapons.
Truth: UPA mostly acted as partisans. Almost all their weapons were trophies obtained in battles. They had no arms supplier.
Myth: UPA fighters shot in the back of the Red Army, which “liberated” Ukraine from the German invaders.
Truth: Soviet regime was an enemy of Ukrainian fighters for independence because of decades of repression against the Ukrainian people. Though the Red Army wasn’t a target for the UPA, the representatives of the Soviet repressive system were.
According to historian Olesia Isayuk, just before the entry of the Red Army into Western Ukraine in December 1943, the UPA command issued instructions prohibiting fighters from engaging in battle with Red Army soldiers.
The most important purpose of such a decision was that the main target was not soldiers but the Communist Party leadership and representatives of the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, the repressive machine of the Soviet Union).
Also, the UPA understood that the Red Army had hundreds of times more forces, so in many cases, they deliberately did not engage in battle with it and hid.
Myth: Nuremberg Trials recognized the criminal actions of UPA.
Truth: neither UPA itself as a formation nor its leaders were convicted by the Nuremberg Trials. None of the 42 volumes of the trials materials have a conviction against them.
Text: Oksana Dumska
Design: Nadiia Firman
More about the history of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army is in the book “The Ukrainian Insurgent Army: A History of Ukraine’s Unvanquished Freedom Fighters” by Ukrainian historian Volodymyr Viatrovych and from information materials from the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory.