Ukrainian nationalism

That there is a problem in Ukraine is now fairly well known, but that does not mean that the real nature of it is. One difficulty is that such political problems tend to depend not on what is, but rather what people think is. One of the real problems lies in the Ukrainian Nationalist Movement (OUN), and in Stepan Bandera in particular. Stepan Bandera was a Ukrainian nationalist, and his first prominent position was as head of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, in Galicia. Stepan was born in 1909, and therefore he and those around him were subject to the worst atrocity possible: the forced removal of food by Stalin following which so many Ukrainians died. His organization was exactly what Stalin did not need, so he was sentenced to death, but this was commuted to life imprisonment, and released at the start of World War II under unclear circumstances, but certainly not by Stalin. What happened next is also unclear. Bandera seems to have worked with the Nazis, and he carried out subversive actions against the USSR, however once Germany invaded and Bandera tried to set up an independent Ukraine, the Nazis were less than impressed and sent him to Sachsenhausen. From there on, Bandera would have had no further part to play, but his followers in the OUN did. The formal OUN probably died after WWII, but their thinking has continued, and groups still claim to follow their policy.

In an attempt to get rid of Stalin, the OUN assisted Germany by forming three divisions of the Waffen SS (Galician, Nichtengall and Roland) and Ukrainian genocide against Poles has been claimed to exceed that of German and Soviet genocide, and it has been asserted that Bandera’s followers murdered 500,000 people, many with extreme cruelty. The Nachtigall was allegedly one of the more predominant forces at Babi Yar. So, where does that leave us today? In a recent BBC program, a Ukrainian nationalist stated that Ukraine should be for the Ukrainians: Poles, Russians and Jews can go somewhere else. Worse than that, it appears that even in the West, people are forming militias, people are getting robbed and beaten, and police do nothing about OUN men. One immediate problem is that this legacy lives on. One point that the Eastern Ukrainians cannot forget is that the OUN formed Waffen SS divisions. Had the men joined the Wehrmacht, that may have been forgiven. That issue is not helped by the fact that the worst of the fighting was probably in eastern Ukraine, since it was only when the Wehrmacht got that far that the Russians started to get organized, and on the other end of the war, once the Wehrmacht lost the east, its retreat back to Germany was very fast and chaotic. The eastern Ukrainians, many of Russian descent, would have few fond memories of that time. To summarize one of the current problems, to the Western Ukrainians, Bandera and his followers are heroes trying to found the Ukrainian state for Ukrainians; to the Eastern Ukrainians, they are fascists and traitors. Bandera is actually little more than a myth, since he spent most of his life incarcerated, but it is what his followers did and are currently advocating that is a deep problem.

Why is this relevant now? First, because at least some of the followers of the OUN want to lose the use of the Russian language in Ukraine; second, they wear the Wolfsangel symbol, which was also worn by Das Reich in the battles near Kharkov; third, they are advocating the removal of Russians, Jews, etc; fourth, they are accused of killing the forty Russians by fire in a building in Odessa; fifth, after that fire, absolutely nothing was done by the authorities on the perpetrators. My guess is that a number of Russian speaking Ukrainians are less than happy with Kiev, which is why this dispute is not going to end easily without a major effort from Kiev.