The recent Brown Revolution in Ukraine, which saw the overthrow of the legitimate (if corrupt and bumbling) Yanukovych government, is a triumph of Western Ukrainian nationalism—an ideology characterized by a violent Russophobia and antisemitism. The rabid neo-Nazis of Oleh Tyahnybok’s Svoboda (“Freedom”) party and Dmytro Yarosh’s militant Right Sector are just the latest manifestation of a noxious creed that caused millions of deaths and spilled rivers of blood all over present-day Ukraine and parts of Poland.
Ukrainian nationalism always had a genocidal streak, and not only in its Galician manifestation. Beginning with the Khmelnytsky Uprising of 1648-57, displays of nascent Ukrainian nationalism took on an extremely brutal tone. The dreadful massacres, mass rapes, and widespread devastation of the Ukrainian uprisings were not explained away or excused by latter-day nationalists. Instead, the bloody events were positively gloated over and mythologized as praiseworthy examples of Ukrainian patriotic heroism.
Take Taras Shevchenko, who is regarded as the founder of the modern Ukrainian language and literature—Ukraine’s equivalent of Shakespeare and Chaucer. The 200th anniversary of Shevchenko’s birth was exuberantly celebrated in the new Kiev, dominated by the brown revolutionaries. In his poems, Shevchenko celebrated the bloodthirsty deeds of the Ukrainian rebels with such charming lines as “Give me a lyakh [a derogatory Ukrainian word for Poles], give me a kike! Give me a lyakh, give me blood!” and “Give me the blood of Polish noblemen . . . with blood I want to quench my thirst.”
Shevchenko especially reveled in the massacre of 1768, in which Ukrainian rebels known as the Haydamaks killed tens of thousands of Poles, Jews, and Uniate (Greek Catholic) Ukrainians of all ages in the town of Uman. In today’s Ukraine, the instigators of the massacre are commemorated in street names and a monument erected in Uman itself. Former prime minister and longtime darling of the West Yulia Tymoshenko, recently released from prison, commemorated the fiendish poet’s jubilee in an emotional address: “We fulfilled your ‘Will’! We celebrate the liberation of our native Ukraine from vermin and filth.” In his “Will,” Taras Shevchenko exhorted Ukrainians to “Sprinkle evil enemy blood over your freedom.”
Modern Ukrainian nationalism emanates from the west Ukrainian region of Galicia, ruled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire from the first partition of Poland in 1772 to the end of World War I. Before its takeover by Poland, Galicia was part of Kievan Rus. Galicians differ religiously and, to a lesser degree, linguistically from other Ukrainians. Orthodox Christian Galicians joined Rome in the late 16th century when the Union of Brest established the Ukrainian Uniate (Greek Catholic) Church. Driven underground by Stalin, the Uniates (who in Ukraine today avoid describing themselves as Catholics) have been flourishing in Western Ukraine since the fall of communism. The modern heroes of Ukrainian nationalism Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych were Uniate Galicians born and reared under Habsburg rule.
The Galician dialect of Ukrainian (which was itself a dialect of Russian) was Polonized by hundreds of years of Polish dominance. In the late 19th century, the Habsburg authorities used the religious and linguistic differences between Galicia and Russian-held areas of present-day Ukraine as a weapon in the geopolitical struggle against Russia. Unlike the Poles, who squashed any inkling of Galician identity, the Habsburgs fostered it, giving it a distinctly anti-Russian flavor. Dozens of cultural and linguistic societies were established with the help of the authorities, who at the same time brutally persecuted Orthodox and Russophile Galicians.
The father of modern Ukrainian nationalism, Stepan Bandera, was born in Habsburg-ruled Galicia in the first decade of the 20th century. His father, Andrey, was a Uniate priest and an enthusiastic supporter of Galician Ukrainian nationalism. The elder Bandera later served as a chaplain in the armed forces of the short-lived West Ukrainian People’s Republic, which fought against Poland, the Bolsheviks, and Russian anti-Bolshevik forces (known as the Whites) alongside the armed bands of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, which was established in the central and eastern areas of present-day Ukraine. Both Ukrainian republics soon collapsed, and Galicia again became part of Poland until World War II.
From a relatively young age, Stepan Bandera exhibited the worst qualities of a psychopath. Even sympathetic biographers attest that the young Bandera enjoyed strangling cats with his bare hands, especially in front of his classmates. That was the future leader’s method of horrifying them into submission. The hero of the Maidan militants also drove nails under his own fingernails in order to toughen himself up.
Bandera quickly rose through the ranks of the Ukrainian Military Organization (UVO), an irredentist group founded by Galician officers who sought a violent rebellion against Polish rule and the eventual reunification of Polish-held and Soviet-held Ukraine. The UVO became the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) and embarked on a violent terrorist campaign against Polish rule in the 1920’s and 30’s. From the beginning of its existence, the OUN had an extremely close relationship with German military intelligence. Bandera even received training in the Abwehr school in Danzig in the early 1930’s.
The OUN’s ideology consisted of a noxious brew of Polonophobia, Russophobia, and antisemitism mixed with blatant national socialism. Like the Croatian Ustaša, the OUN radicals openly called for genocidal massacres. OUN leader Yaroslav Stetsko proclaimed in 1941, “I stand for the annihilation of the kikes and the advisability of bringing the German methods of extermination of the kikes to Ukraine, excluding the option of assimilating them.” Members of the OUN enthusiastically enlisted in the SS when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. SS battalions Nachtigall (“Nightingale”) and Roland were made up exclusively of Ukrainian nationalists and participated in numerous atrocities, including the massacre of tens of thousands of Lvov’s Jews and the summary execution of the city’s Polish intelligentsia in 1941.
Fellow Ukrainians who dared to oppose the OUN were exterminated as well. Roman Shukhevych, an SS officer and leader of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), crowed, “Let only half of the 40 million Ukrainians remain,” and called for the brutal annihilation of Ukrainian villages that were opposed to the UPA.
When the Nazi hold on Ukraine began to collapse, the newly founded UPA waged a genocidal campaign against Poles in the west-Ukrainian region of Volhynia. Hundreds of thousands of Poles of all ages and walks of life were massacred in the most brutal fashion imaginable, with whole families slaughtered with axes, pitchforks, knives, and hammers. The wrath of the UPA detachments was directed especially at Polish villages that harbored Jews and escaped Soviet prisoners of war.
After the reestablishment of Soviet rule, the UPA waged a lengthy and characteristically brutal guerilla campaign in the small villages of Western Ukraine. Shukhevych was eventually killed in combat with Soviet forces in 1950, and Bandera was assassinated by a KGB agent in Munich in 1959. With uncharacteristic lenience, the Soviets amnestied surviving UPA fighters soon after Stalin’s death. The surviving guerillas and their descendants enthusiastically reestablished the ugly legacy of Bandera and Shukhevych in post-Soviet Ukraine.
Oleh Tyahnybok, a former physician and leader of the Svoboda party, was one of the leaders of the anti-Yanukovych putsch. He proudly adopted the ideology of the OUN/UPA and proclaimed to his supporters, “[You are the ones] that the Muscovite-Kike mafia that rules Ukraine fears most.” He characterized Russians, Jews, and Germans as “vermin who wanted to take away our Ukrainian state.” This did not prevent Senators McCain, Durbin, Flake, and others from having a cordial meeting with Tyahnybok. According to some reports, McCain even embraced the neo-Nazi politician.
Dmytro Yarosh’s Right Sector is an even more radical group. Its armed militants were the dominant force behind the violent overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych. Masked members of Right Sector drove out Yanukovych’s forces from Kiev and established a reign of terror over wide swaths of Western and Central Ukraine, intimidating Russian speakers and everyone who dares to oppose the Brown Revolution. But the neo-Nazi ideology of Right Sector did not prevent the New York Times from fawning over them. The putschist prime minister of Ukraine and darling of the West Arseny Yatsenyuk has announced plans to draft Right Sector fighters into a paramilitary national guard.
Members of Right Sector fought alongside Chechen rebels against “satanic Moscow.” The Kalashnikov-wielding Oleksandr Muzychko, head of Right Sector in Western Ukraine, even served as the personal bodyguard to Chechen rebel leader Dudayev. Yarosh has declared that he considers areas of Southern Russia to be integral parts of Ukraine and has asked Chechen terrorist Dokka Umarov for help in fighting Russia.
The sinister legacy of Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych not only is alive and well in today’s Ukraine, but is the dominant force behind the Brown Revolution. Bandera and Shukhevych are venerated for fighting Poland and the Soviets for an independent Ukraine. As the events in Ukraine show, their visceral Russophobia and antisemitism have been inherited by the Maidan militants. Of course, Western governments and media howl in outrage at the smallest display of Russian or Serbian nationalism, but choose to ignore the violent neo-Nazi nature of the anti-Yanukovych forces.
[photo of Dmytro Yarosh by Pochuyev Mikhail © Corbis. All rights reserved]