Wednesday, June 29, 2016
75 Years ago Ukrainian Nation Re-established Statehood
Seventy-five years ago, on June 30, 1941, during World War II, when Ukraine was sandwiched between two likeminded, murderous invaders, Soviet Russia from the east and Nazi Germany from the west, the leadership of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), led by Stepan Bandera and Yaroslav Stetsko, gave the nation hope for a better, free, democratic future by bravely declaring independence and re-establishing a country called Ukraine.
“By the will of the Ukrainian people, the OUN (B) under the leadership of Stepan Bandera proclaims the formation of the Ukrainian State for which whole generations of the finest sons of Ukraine have laid down their lives…,” the declaration stated in part. The full text was read triumphantly that day in the town square in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv and broadcast to other towns and communities.
The declaration came just eight days after Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, allies until then, launched a war against each other. This heroic proclamation was immediately denounced by Moscow and Berlin and followed by bloody reprisals against the leadership of the OUN and the Ukrainian population.
The Nazis and Soviets were unwavering in their determination to annihilate everyone associated with the OUN. On July 12, 1941, the Nazis arrested Stetsko and demanded that Bandera immediately revoke the proclamation. When Bandera refused, he too was arrested and was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany where he remained until 1944. By December 1942, Hitler personally recommended the “most brutal means” to eliminate all, even women and children, supporters of the OUN. Within two years of the declaration, the Nazis had imprisoned or killed 80% of OUN-B leadership.
Opponents and other naysayers have been claiming since then that the Declaration Re-establishing Ukrainian Statehood was a minor event, initiated by a small group of desperate rabble rousers. If it was an insignificant declaration by insignificant individuals, would Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia have directed their massive killing machines to hunt and exterminate the OUN leadership, members, fighters and supporters? For Berlin and Moscow, defeating Ukrainian freedom fighters mobilized in the OUN’s Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) was a task equal to winning World War II.
“Clearly apparent is the German tendency to resolve all internal Ukrainian questions, including the Jewish question, by means of police methods, with violence and terror,” according to the monumental historical publication “Litopys UPA.” “The documents published here clearly show that for German police officials, enemy number one was the OUN (B), the members of which were subject to police surveillance, arrest and extermination, especially after the Act of June 30, 1941.”
Meanwhile, clandestine OUN members and UPA soldiers singlehandedly fought both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia and managed to inflict heavy causalities on their armies.
Yaroslav Stetsko was selected to serve as the provisional prime minister of a temporary government that included 27 Ukrainian political leaders of many political affiliations from both western and eastern regions of Ukraine. I point out “provisional” and “temporary” because the founding fathers of Ukrainian independent statehood 75 years ago understood that their historic task was not destined to exist forever. Once the war ended, they planned to establish a democratic Ukrainian state with the seat of government in Kyiv – the historical capital of Ukraine.
The creators also acknowledged that they are not beginning history from themselves and consequently chose to call the declaration a re-establishment or renewal of independent Ukrainian statehood in recognition of previous similar acts. On January 22, 1918, during World War I, Ukrainian political leaders in Kyiv declared an independent Ukrainian National Republic, and on November 1, 1918, Ukrainian political leaders in Lviv declared an independent Western Ukrainian National Republic. Both parts merged into one sovereign, indivisible, independent Ukrainian National Republic on January 22, 1919.
Still another Ukrainian re-affirmation of independence came on March 15, 1939, some six months before Nazi Germany invaded Poland and ignited World War II, when Transcarpathian Ukrainian patriots declared their independence from Hungary. The war that ensued against Nazi Germany’s Hungarian allies pre-dated World War II and was the first military engagement against Berlin by a European nation.
The Declaration Re-establishing Ukrainian Statehood was supported by the leaders of Ukrainian Churches, including Archbishop-Metropolitan Andrei Shepytsky of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Metropolitan Bishop Polikarp Sikorsky of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and Bishop Hryhoriy Khomyshyn Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
The declaration is generally a little known fact about Ukraine’s struggle for liberation, even among its supporters around the world. The act and the subsequent war against Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, which some cynics have ridiculed as a suicidal fight, proved that the Ukrainian nation, even when facing overwhelming enemies, will not kowtow to their demands and negotiate independence by collaboration. The momentous declaration substantiated the Ukrainian nation’s undying will to fight all aggressors for a better tomorrow for the people.
For Ukrainians, the declaration 75 years ago and the other three acts have served as a source of national inspiration, encouragement, motivation and hope right up to the latest declaration of independence on August 24, 1991. These acts have also motivated the brave men and women of the Revolution of Dignity two years ago and all of the fighters for Ukrainian independence against today’s Russian invaders.
The Declaration Re-establishing Ukrainian Statehood and the other proclamations will go on inspiring Ukrainians for generations to come.
Glory to Ukraine!
Glory to the Heroes!