Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists

Image - OUN leaders at the grave of Yevhen Konovalets, inluding Yaroslav Stetsko, Stepan Bandera, and Andrii Melnyk.

Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists [Організація українських націоналістів; Orhanizatsiia ukrainskykh natsionalistiv, or ОУН (OUN)]. A Ukrainian political movement dedicated to the establishment of an independent Ukrainian state. The OUN arose from the merger of the Ukrainian Military Organization (UVO) and several nationalist student associations—the Group of Ukrainian National Youth, the League of Ukrainian Nationalists, and the Union of Ukrainian Nationalist Youth. Two conferences of Ukrainian Nationalists—one on 3–7 November 1927 in Berlin and the other on 8–9 April 1928 in Prague—paved the way for the founding congress, which was held in Vienna from 28 January to 3 February 1929. It elected a nine-man Leadership of Ukrainian Nationalists (PUN) headed by Yevhen Konovalets and including Mykola Stsiborsky, Volodymyr Martynets, Dmytro Andriievsky, Mykola Kapustiansky, and Yuliian Vassyian; adopted a statute; and set forth its basic policy. According to its initial declaration the OUN's goal was to establish an independent, united national state on Ukrainian ethnic territory. This goal was to be achieved by a national revolution led by a dictatorship that would drive out the occupying powers and set up a government representing all regions and social groups. The economy was to be a mixture of private ownership, nationalization, and co-operation. The OUN rejected all party and class divisions and presented itself as the dominant force in Ukrainian life at home and abroad. Defining itself as a movement, not a party, it condemned the legal Ukrainian parties in Galicia as collaborationist. Blaming the socialist and liberal camps for the failure of the Ukrainian struggle for independence (1917–20), the OUN stressed the importance of a strong political elite, national solidarity, and reliance on ‘our own forces.’ It was attracted to B. Mussolini's fascist regime, which appeared to have saved Italy from anarchy. By the 1930s differences in outlook had appeared in the OUN: Ye. Konovalets and most of the PUN were pragmatic realists who thought in terms of traditional militaristic authoritarianism, whereas the younger members were integral nationalists who espoused a romantic, irrational devotion to the nation. These ideological differences contributed ultimately to the split in the organization.

The OUN accepted violence as a political tool against foreign and home enemies of the cause. Most of its activity was directed against the Polish regime. Under the command of the Western Ukrainian Territorial Executive (est February 1929) the OUN carried out in Galicia and Volhynia hundreds of acts of sabotage, including an incendiary campaign against Polish landowners (which helped provoke the Pacification of 1930), boycotts of state schools and of Polish tobacco and liquor monopolies, dozens of expropriation attacks on government institutions to obtain funds for its activities, and some 60 assassinations. Its most prominent victims included the Polish officials Tadeusz Hołówko and Bronisław Pieracki, the Soviet consular official A. Mailov (killed in retaliation for the Famine-Genocide of 1932–3 in Soviet Ukraine), and Ivan Babii, the director of the Academic Gymnasium of Lviv (a Ukrainian accused of collaboration with the Polish police).

The OUN's membership consisted overwhelmingly of students and young people. There are no reliable figures, but estimates range as high as 20,000 (1939). Yet the OUN's influence greatly exceeded its size. Its spirit of selfless, even fanatical dedication to the national cause proved tremendously attractive to young people. The OUN can be said to have shaped the political outlook of an entire generation of Western Ukrainians.

The OUN's major publications were the journal Rozbudova natsiï and the underground Biuleten’ Kraiovoï ekzekutyvy OUN na ZUZ, Surma (1927–34), Iunak, Natsionalist, and Ukraïns’kyi natsionalist. A number of legal newspapers in Western Ukraine were under strong nationalist influence.

Many Galician and Volhynian OUN activists were sentenced by Polish courts in the 1930s, and there were two trials in Bukovyna in 1937. In 1934 the Polish police arrested the OUN's leading activists, including Stepan Bandera, the head of the Western Ukrainian Territorial Executive, and kept them in prison until the outbreak of the Second World War. In spite of these setbacks, the OUN rebuilt its organizational network. It did not succeed in penetrating Soviet Ukraine, but Joseph Stalin's regime was concerned enough about the OUN's potential to order the assassination of Yevhen Konovalets in Rotterdam in 1938.

Yevhen Konovalets's death led to a succession crisis, which revealed fundamental differences between the OUN members in Western Ukraine and members of the Leadership of Ukrainian Nationalists (PUN), who lived abroad. Underlying the power struggle were generational and ideological divisions. The home cadres, who bore the brunt of the underground struggle, were younger men with an aspiration to leadership and an uncritical acceptance of fascist ideas and methods. Their outlook was influenced strongly by Dmytro Dontsov, who propounded a cult of will and power and indiscriminately praised fascist and Nazi leaders. The older OUN leaders tended to be more conservative; Yevhen Onatsky and Mykola Stsiborsky, for example, stressed the positive features of Italian fascism but condemned Nazism.

The Second Grand Assembly of the OUN, held in Rome on 27 August 1939, elected Andrii Melnyk to head the organization and adopted the title vozhd (equivalent to Führer) for its leader, declaring him responsible only to ‘God, the Nation, and his own conscience.’ By this abrupt departure from its conservative orientation PUN tried to head off any challenge to Melnyk's authority from the home cadres. The measure backfired: Stepan Bandera and his followers, who had emerged from prison after Poland's collapse in 1939, formed the Revolutionary Leadership on 10 February 1940 and claimed the right of succession. Melnyk tried in vain to resolve the crisis by negotiation. In April 1941 the Bandera faction held its own Second Extraordinary Congress in Cracow, which declared the Rome assembly illegal, elected Bandera leader, and adopted a program that reaffirmed the basic resolutions of 1929. Most of the home members accepted Bandera's authority, and the rift soon became irreversible. The two factions became known as the OUN(B), ‘Banderites,’ and OUN(M), ‘Melnykites,’ after their leaders. During the war the OUN(B) adopted the name Revolutionary OUN (OUN[R]).

Both factions expected that in the impending conflict between Germany and the USSR they would establish an independent Ukrainian state. Hence, each sought a tactical alliance with the Germans. Adolf Hitler's abandonment of Carpatho-Ukraine (where younger OUN members had helped create a defense force) to the Hungarians in 1939 aroused misgivings about the German alliance but did not discourage either faction. With German approval the OUN(B) formed two battalions of about 600 men, Nachtigall and Roland, which were intended as the nucleus of a future army (see Legion of Ukrainian Nationalists). Following the German invasion of the USSR the OUN(B) proclaimed Ukrainian independence in Lviv on 30 June 1941, with Yaroslav Stetsko as premier (see Proclamation of Ukrainian statehood, 1941). The Germans, needing Ukrainian assistance against Russia, were expected to acquiesce in the fait accompli. Although elements of the German military were inclined to do so, they were overruled by Hitler, whose racial prejudice against Ukrainians precluded co-operation. Stepan Bandera and some of his associates were arrested and imprisoned by the Gestapo. Many OUN(B) members were killed outright, or perished in jails and concentration camps. Mykola Lebed assumed control of the organization and in May 1943 transferred his powers to Roman Shukhevych. Determined to build an independent state, both factions sent clandestine OUN expeditionary groups into Ukraine to set up local administrations with nationally conscious Ukrainians. Estimated at 2,000 men (mostly OUN(B) members), the groups were active in the larger cities. An OUN(M) group, which reached Kyiv in September 1941, published the newspaper Ukraïns’ke slovo and formed the Ukrainian National Council (Kyiv), consisting mostly of eastern Ukrainians and headed by Mykola Velychkivsky. Its members were arrested in December 1941, and over 40 of them, including Olena Teliha and their leader, Oleh Olzhych, were killed immediately or later, some of them in Babyn Yar. Andrii Melnyk was kept under house arrest in Berlin until January 1944, when he and other principal OUN(M) figures were arrested and taken to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

Anti-German resistance began with the formation of the Polisian Sich led by Taras Borovets, who co-operated with the OUN(M). In the autumn of 1942 both OUN factions organized armed detachments in Volhynia and Polisia to fight the Germans and Soviet partisans (see Soviet partisans in Ukraine, 1941–5). The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) under the control of the Bandera faction disarmed the Polisian Sich and the Melnyk detachments in 1943 and absorbed many of their members. Relations between the two nationalist factions were extremely hostile. Although the UPA was controlled by the OUN(B), it included people of various political and ideological convictions. Furthermore, it needed the support of the broad masses against both the Germans and the Soviets. Much of the nationalist ideology, including the concept of dictatorship, did not appeal to former Soviet citizens who had experienced the dictatorship of the Communist Party. Hence, a revision of the OUN(B) ideology and political program was imperative. At its Third Extraordinary Grand Assembly on 21–25 August 1943, the OUN(B) condemned ‘internationalist and fascist national-socialist programs and political concepts’ as well as ‘Russian-Bolshevik communism’ and proposed a ‘system of free peoples and independent states [as] the single best solution to the problem of world order.’ Its social program did not differ essentially from earlier ones, but it emphasized a wide range of social services, worker participation in management, a mixed economy, choice of profession and workplace, and free trade unions. The OUN(B) affirmed that it was fighting for freedom of the press, speech, and thought. Its earlier nationality policy, encapsuled in the slogan ‘Ukraine for Ukrainians,’ was dropped in favor of the rights of national minorities. The OUN's command structure was modified: one-man rule was replaced by collegial leadership. A three-man Leadership Bureau consisting of Roman Shukhevych, Zynovii Matla, and Dmytro Maivsky was elected. After the congress an all-Ukrainian representative body, the Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council (UHVR), was formed, in July 1944. Most of its members were Banderites, and its General Secretariat was headed by R. Shukhevych. The OUN(M) conducted a similar policy and set up the All-Ukrainian National Council in Lviv in the spring of 1944.

In the autumn of 1944 the Germans released Stepan Bandera, Andrii Melnyk, and other nationalist leaders in a belated attempt to win support for their war effort. At the end of the war Melnyk resumed his leadership of the OUN(M); Bandera and Yaroslav Stetsko were elected to the leadership in Ukraine. In February 1946 the External Units of the OUN (ZCh OUN) were formed in Munich under Bandera's leadership, and in April the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations was set up by Stetsko to unify non-Russian nationalities opposed to the Soviet regime. A conflict over the ideological revisions of 1943 arose between a group of OUN(B) emissaries from Ukraine (Mykola Lebed et al) and Bandera's organization abroad. The latter was accused of resisting the changes and their necessary consequences—the democratization of the OUN(B), the autonomous status of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and the Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council, and the renunciation of dogmatism and elitism. The emissaries voiced their criticism in Ukraïns’ka trybuna. In their principal organ, Vyzvol’na polityka, Bandera and his group argued that the revision brought the OUN too close to socialism and communism. The controversy culminated in the expulsion of the opposition at the ZCh OUN conference in Mittenwald on 28–31 August 1948. In 1953–4 the OUN(B) leadership in Ukraine reaffirmed the ideological revisions and instructed Bandera, Zynovii Matla, and Lev Rebet to form a new ZCh OUN leadership. Negotiations proved fruitless, and in 1956 two of the triumvirate leadership, Matla and Rebet, set up a new organization known as the OUN (Abroad), or dviikari (‘twosome’ for the two leaders). Its activists established the Prolog Research Corporation, published Ukraïns’kyi samostiinyk, and sponsored the monthly Suchasnist’. After Rebet's assassination in 1957, the organization was led by Bohdan Kordiuk and, later, by Rebet's widow, Dariia Rebet.

The OUN(M) after the war developed a conservative corporatist ideology purged of fascist trappings. At its Third Grand Assembly on 30 August 1947, it limited the leader's power by making him responsible to a congress that had to be convoked every three years, and introduced into its program the principles of equality before the law, judicial independence, and freedom of conscience, speech, the press, and political opposition. Osyp Boidunyk's Natsional’nyi solidaryzm (National Solidarism, 1945), which updated the organization's ideology, advocated a Ukrainian nation-state based on the solidarity of corporate social groups.

Strife between the two OUN factions continued in Germany immediately after the war: they fought for dominance in the displaced persons camps and in the Ukrainian National Council. The OUN(M) and its allies won control of the council, and the External Units of the OUN withdrew from it. The OUN factions have had a decisive impact on the Ukrainian émigré community. The community's identity and public image have been shaped largely by the nationalist commitment to Ukraine's liberation. Soviet propaganda aimed at discrediting the OUN as a Nazi collaborator and a hireling of Western intelligence agencies. Claiming to be the vanguard of the struggle against Russian imperialism, the OUN(B) has tried to dominate émigré life. Its umbrella organization, the Ukrainian Liberation Front (est 1973), includes the Organization for the Defense of Four Freedoms for Ukraine (United States), the Canadian League for Ukraine's Liberation, the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, the Union of Ukrainians of France, Prosvita (Argentina), the League for the Liberation of Ukraine in Australia and New Zealand, and their affiliated organizations. Its major publications are Shliakh peremohy (Munich), Vyzvol’nyi shliakh, The Ukrainian Review, and Ukraïns’ka dumka (London), Natsional’na trybuna and Visnyk (New York), and Homin Ukraïny (Toronto). Stepan Bandera led the OUN(B) until his assassination in 1959; he was succeeded by Stepan Lenkavsky, Yaroslav Stetsko (1968–86), Vasyl Oleskiv (1987–91), Slava Stetsko (Ya. Stetsko's widow; 1991–2000), and A. Haidamakha (2000–).

Nationalist émigré organizations founded in the 1930s, such as the Organization for the Rebirth of Ukraine (United States), the Ukrainian National Federation (Canada), and the Ukrainian National Alliance in France, sided with the OUN(M) after 1940. The Federation of Ukrainians in Great Britain was established in 1949 as a rival to the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain. All these organizations belong to a co-ordinating body known as Ideologically Related Nationalist Organizations. The major OUN(M) publications have been Ukraïns’ke slovo (Paris), Samostiina Ukraïna (Chicago), Novyi shliakh (Toronto), Nash klych (Buenos Aires), and Khliborob (Curitiba). Since Andrii Melnyk's death in 1964 the OUN(M) has been led by Oleh Shtul, Denys Kvitkovsky (1977–9), and Mykola Plaviuk (since 1981). In the last two decades political groupings opposed to the OUN(B) have tended toward closer co-operation and consolidation and have formed broader associations, such as the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance (1976) and the Conference of Ukrainian Political Parties and Organizations (1979).

Rivalry among the OUN factions has long divided and sapped the strength of émigré umbrella organizations. To accommodate the nationalist factions the World Congress of Free Ukrainians has had to sacrifice the principle of majority vote and an efficient decision procedure. In 1980 the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America was taken over by the OUN(B) and thus ceased to represent the Ukrainian community as a whole. The power and influence of the OUN factions have been declining steadily, because of assimilatory pressures, ideological incompatibility with the Western liberal-democratic ethos, and the increasing tendency of political groups in Ukraine to move away from integral nationalism.

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Myroslav Yurkevich

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]

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