The cult of Bandera – the problematic side of Ukrainian nationalism

The end came suddenly, but not unexpectedly. On October 15, 1959, the Ukrainian Soviet agent KGB killed the leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, Stepan Bandera. A poisoned rifle in front of his apartment in Munich was the destruction of Bandera. Ukrainian Bandera went into exile in Munich after World War II.

In Munich, he campaigned primarily against the enslavement of Ukraine by the Soviet Union. He found support from various Western news services. The Soviets had sentenced Bandera to death in absentia.

To this day, Stepan Bandera is revered as a hero in parts of Ukraine, mainly due to his battle against Soviet rule in his homeland. But this was only part of his political agenda.

“You could call him both a radical nationalist and a fascist.” Historian Grzegorz Rosolinsky Lippi, who lives in Berlin, wrote a biography of Bandera. The book is already available in English, Polish and Ukrainian, but not German:

It was shaped by European fascist discourses. Officially, Ukrainian nationalists did not use the term fascism. But internal letters, as well as communications with Mussolini and Hitler’s Germany, make it clear that the United Nations received a transnational fascism, first from Italy, then from Germany and then invented its own Ukrainian fascism.

Stepan Bandera was born in 1909 to the son of a Greek Catholic priest in Stry Hrynev, south of Limburg. Before World War I, the western part of today’s Ukraine belonged to the Habsburg monarchy. Then he came to Poland. In 1939 the Soviets occupied western Ukraine. After three years of German occupation, they permanently ceded the territory to Soviet Ukraine.

Bandera rose in 30 years to the inner circle of leaders of the OUN, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. In 1934 a Polish court sentenced him to death for his role in the attempted assassination of the Polish Interior Minister. The sentence was commuted to prison.

After the outbreak of World War II, Bandera was released. In 1940 the OUN split. Bandera was now at the helm of the radical nationalist and anti-Semitic OUN-B – B like the Bandera people. Its lower ranks were involved in the murder of up to 800,000 Jews by the Germans in western Ukraine. To this day, his fans deny that Bandera was politically responsible.

“It is difficult to prove his involvement in the massacres of Jews because he was not directly involved in them, but only as the creator of the ideology that led to it,” says Frank Golchevsky, a Hamburg historian and Ukraine specialist.

A few days after Germany attacked the Soviet Union, Banderas declared OUN-B an independent Ukrainian state alongside Hitler’s Germany on June 30, 1941 in Limberg. But the Nazis didn’t like it. They preferred their garrison regiment. So they took Bandera to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin in an “honorable arrest”. Meanwhile, the two wings of the United Nations and other Ukrainian groups continued to fight for an ethnically pure Ukrainian state in the multi-ethnic region of western Ukraine.

In part, they wanted to expel the three groups: the Jews, the Poles, and the Russians. These were the main enemies of the United Nations,” says Grzegorz Rosolinsky Libby.

Bandera’s fighters massacred the Polish population of western Ukraine, eastern Galicia and neighboring Volhynia to the northeast. In 1943/44 they killed up to 100 thousand civilians. Increasingly, they took action against the Germans. Since the end of the war they have focused on resisting Soviet rule.

When the people noticed that Germany was not going to win the war and when they wanted a change, they said goodbye to fascism abroad. That was the desire to work with the United States, with the allies – against the Soviet Union.”

After the war, when Bandera lived in West Germany, his supporters fought for an independent Ukraine until the 50s of the last century. On the other hand, the Soviet Army and KGB agents used brutal force. 150,000 Western Ukrainians fell victim to this terrorism, and more than 200,000 were deported into the Soviet Union. Soviet crimes contributed to a secret cult of heroes and victims around Bandera.

After Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the leader of the United Nations was publicly worshiped in Western Ukraine. There are now four Bandera museums, many monuments, and countless Bandera streets. During the 2013/14 Maidan, cult also spread in Kyiv. Vladimir Putin used it for propaganda purposes in his aggressive war against Ukraine.

In doing so, he distorted the facts, says Frank Golchevsky: “The cult of Bandera, including the entire nationalist orientation, has been marginalized in recent years. It was relatively well represented in Parliament around 2013/2014. Meanwhile, it is no longer represented in Parliament” .

There are still notable friends of this sect – for example, the Ambassador of Ukraine to Germany, Andrei Melnik.

“It is safe to say that Mr. Melnik also adopted and implemented some elements of the OKI’s ideology. This includes absolute hatred of Russia. In perspective, the Russians are seen as the main and hereditary enemies of the Ukrainians.”

Melnyk became known for representing Ukrainian interests in Germany with great determination. He recently drew attention because he declined the invitation of the Federal President to attend a solidarity concert for Ukraine. On the basis that artists of Russian origin will perform there. But those who attended, belonged to those who condemned the Russian war of aggression.

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