In this “Vortex of History” series, I mostly try to explain the present through the prism of the past. But now, I will try to do the opposite – to use current events to better understand history.
Imagine watching such a scene: two men enter a café. They wait a few minutes until a third joins them. He sits down at their table. The conversation between the three continues for several minutes until another approaches the table and suddenly shoots the three interlocutors and runs away.
What is your assessment of what you have seen?
The fourth is a murderer, who should be immediately arrested and convicted for killing innocent people!
Now, let’s add a bit of sharpness to this picture, that is – add some context to this description.
This was the summer of 2022, in Kherson, Ukraine – in the temporarily occupied region. At the table were Russian soldiers, who were approached by an informant, a local collaborator who was supposed to tell them the names of Ukrainian activists organizing anti-Russian events. The fourth turned out to be a special operative of the Special Operations Forces disguised as a civilian.
Do you now want to catch this vile killer of innocent café patrons?
And now, let’s go back 80 years to some western Ukrainian town, where a similar meeting of a local collaborator took place with the NKVD(Soviet Special Service) and was interrupted by an UPA soldier.
Is there a difference?
I will not cite a situation that could have happened, but a real event that took place on Aug. 31, 2018. An explosion, but not in a café, but in a restaurant (because we are talking about “respectable people”).
The “Separ” restaurant in central Donetsk. As a result, the leader of the DNR terrorist group, Aleksandr Zakharchenko and his bodyguard were killed, and three more terrorists were wounded.
The “respectable people” gathered in the restaurant to mourn the death of the Russian singer Iosif Kobzon. It was certainly loudly celebrated thanks to the Ukrainian underground, who operates in the occupied territories today.
Are you ready to unequivocally condemn the terrorist methods used in the struggles of the past?
We too often try to evaluate the actions of our predecessors based on our own vision of the world and our own experiences.
Often, these are very limited and not quite adequate for such situations.
Not long ago, the word “terror” meant, of course, September 11, 2001 – the attack on the New York Twin Towers, explosions in subways of European cities or trucks being driven into a crowd during a holiday.
Our ideas were formed under the influence of information about these terrible and senseless crimes.
And since both they and the actions of the Ukrainian underground are defined by that single term, “terror”, we equally sharply condemned the murderers who tried to intimidate everyone with their actions and those who killed the occupiers, trying to stop their criminal policies.
The current war with Russia gave us a unique and terrible opportunity to evaluate the actions of the Ukrainian underground in the 1920s-1950s in a different way.
Russia plunged us into the past with their aggression, where the concepts of the occupier, collaborator, and the underground have become a reality again. Where in the territory controlled by the enemy, manifestations of resistance can only be through the underground, and the struggle is often through terror.
Where killing an occupier or a collaborator is not a crime, but deserved revenge and perhaps the salvation of thousands of others. So, maybe, if we don’t know how to evaluate the past in its proper context, then let’s do it from the perspective of the present and dare to look at the actions of those whom we are still afraid to call heroes differently and whom we still sometimes label as terrorists.
For example, the 19-year-old militant of the Ukrainian Military Organization, who took part in the assassination of Stanislav Sobinski, a Polish official who was involved in the liquidation of Ukrainian schools.
Who believed that “there are no Ukrainians, so why use their language in schools.” The attempt was successful. The militant was never caught. Subsequently, he created one of the most powerful insurgent armies in Eastern Europe – the UPA, which resisted the Nazis and communists. His name was Roman Shukhevych.
Or perhaps, if we evaluate the murder of Yaroslav Halan in a different way, we will see him not as an unfortunate victim, hacked to death by killers in his own apartment, but a staunch collaborator who slandered the struggle of Ukrainians for freedom and praised the murderers of his people, inciting them to further repressions. For which he received a great apartment in central Lviv, where he met his death at the hands of the OUN underground.
After all, if the murder of Halan is bad, then why are we disappointed to read that the former member of the Verkhovna Rada, and now an active Russian collaborator in Kherson, Oleksiy Kovalev survived the assassination attempt?
Why are you upset by the failed attempt on 15 June 2022, in that same Kherson, to blow up Yevhen Sobolev, the chief jailer of the occupiers? Why do we welcome the successful assassination of another collaborator (again in Kherson), Dmytro Savluchenko?
Satisfied with the successful use of a mine at a road crossing near Khartsyzk on 3 July 2016, which resulted in the loss of one colonel of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation – the commander of the 7th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, Alexandr Bushuyev “Zarya” who was killed.
If, for example, the self-proclaimed mayor of Enerhodar, Shevchyk, had died after an assassination attempt like Halan, would we suddenly start calling him an innocent victim of terrorists?
Why do the successful liquidations of all kinds of “Motorola’s” (on 16 October 2016) or “Hiwi’s” (on 8 February 2017) fill us with a sense of pride for our special forces and underground members, but we are still not ready to evaluate those same actions by their predecessors from the UVO, OUN, UPA as appropriate and heroic?
We deservedly consider Volodymyr Zhemchuhov a hero, who in ten months during 2014-2015 conducted 30 operations to destroy the Russian occupiers and enemy objective, until he was seriously wounded and taken prisoner. He even received the title of Hero of Ukraine after his release.
But we lack the courage to call heroes those same brave underground members who destroyed the occupiers and their accomplices in the last century.
How would we treat a teacher in the occupied territory now, who would hand over his students to the FSB for participating in pro-Ukrainian activities?
Probably like a traitor worthy of punishment. This is how OUN members interpreted the activities of Ivan Babii, a school director, who was warned several times to stop working with the occupier, but in the end, was shot dead on the streets of Lviv.
Fighters for Ukrainian independence used terror.
Moreover, unlike many current terrorists, they did not try to turn it into an instrument of intimidation of the entire society, mindlessly killing innocents who were in the wrong place and wrong time.
“Assassinations” – that’s what the Ukrainian underground called killing their enemies, related to specific representatives of the occupational authorities or local collaborators who were often warned with demands to stop their anti-Ukrainian activities.
Similar methods were used by fighters for Irish, Israeli and Polish independence and members of the French and Czech resistance movements.
This is why – sometimes – Polish officials, who not so long ago were in the underground themselves, arranging terrorist attacks against the Russian occupiers, reduced the punishments of detained Ukrainian militants.
After all, Bandera, Shukhevych and other OUN members often repeated the activities of those Polish heroes they read about in Polish textbooks which they were forced to study.
The British journal “The Economist” recently wrote about the unfortunate hungry soldiers who ate their fill of pies filled with nails. Eight died.
Eight Russian soldiers ate their fill of Ukrainian pies in Izyum.
So who are the victims? Is the “friendly” hostess who brought these terrorists those pies a terrorist?
History is a complex matter and does not like simple answers to complex questions.
But for our perspective on this matter, the questions and answers are obvious: the Russian soldiers are enemies and occupiers because they came to kill us, and the Ukrainian woman is a hero because she killed them, risking her own life. Saving the lives of others.
Exactly as was done by the men and women of the 1920s-1950s.
That is why we should honor both those heroes of the past and those of today.
And also study the experience of the first because history is a very practical science.