Of Perpetrators, Victims and Collaborators (II)

Ukraine honors Nazi-collaborators, who, 80 years ago today, participated in the invasion of the Soviet Union and carried out massacres of Jews.

BERLIN/KIEV (Own report) - Whereas the German invasion of the Soviet Union 80 years ago is being internationally commemorated today, collaborators, who participated in the war of annihilation on the side of the Germans, are receiving state honors in Ukraine, in particular the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and its leader Stepan Bandera as well as the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) which originated from that milieu. Together with the German Wehrmacht and troops from several collaborating states, OUN militias advanced onto Soviet territory, where they committed countless massacres of the Jewish population alongside German units. In Lviv (formerly Lemberg), 4000 Jews were assassinated within a very short period. The parliament in Kiev declared the OUN "combatants for Ukrainian independence." A government decree calls for honoring their "patriotism" and "high morals" in Ukrainian schools. The UPA's founding day has been a national holiday since 2015. The OUN salute adorns Ukraine's football League's jerseys.

Fascist International

From the outset, the German Reich had conducted its war of annihilation against the Soviet Union with the involvement of armed forces from collaborating states and movements. Already on June 22, 1941, around 600,000 soldiers, particularly from Finland and Romania, were ready to advance onto Soviet territory alongside around 150 Wehrmacht divisions with more than three million soldiers. Whereas three German army groups were marching toward Leningrad, Moscow and Kiev, collaborating troops were mainly operating on the flanks in the North (Finland) and South (Romania). Just a few weeks later, the first units from Berlin's fascist allies Hungary and Italy and from the Nazi puppet states Slovakia and Croatia joined in. Later, voluntary detachments from almost all European countries became involved, motivated by anti-Semitism, the desire to participate in the fight against communism and to influence the - basically welcomed - fascist reorganization of Europe under the leadership of the Nazi Reich.[1]

Tied to Berlin

Ukrainian Nazi collaborators had also participated in the invasion of the Soviet Union. They were recruited from the ranks of the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists), a fascist-oriented exile organization of Ukrainian nationalists. Following a preparatory meeting in Berlin in 1927, the OUN was officially founded in 1929 in Vienna, so as to conceal the German influence. However, German state authorities had always remained in close contact.[2]. In the 1930s, in its combat for a Ukrainian state, which it sought to carve out of Polish and Soviet territories, the OUN used terrorism. On June 15, 1934, OAU activists assassinated Polish Interior Minister Bronisław Pieracki. In the late 1930s, the Reichswehr trained militias from their ranks. Two exile-Ukrainian battalions took part in the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939.[3] At the time, however, they were denied a larger role to play. The plan to deploy them in eastern Galicia with its large Ukrainian speaking population fell through due to the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Treaty ("Hitler-Stalin Pact") of August 23, 1939, which assigned the territory to the Soviet Union.

Anti-Semitic Massacres

The OUN militias gained greater significance with the invasion of the Soviet Union, in which they participated with two battalions. One of them ("Battalion Roland") advanced alongside the Wehrmacht from Romanian territory into the Soviet Union; the other ("Battalion Nightingale") marched with the Nazi troops in the direction of Lviv. Local OUN militias fought their first battles with the Red Army before the arrival of the Wehrmacht and the Battalion Nightingale.[4] Members of that Battalion, local OUN militias and unorganized local Ukrainian nationalists played a key role in the murderous pogroms with which the Germans began to annihilate East Galicia's Jewish population. The Lviv pogrom on June 30, 1941, alone, presumably claimed the lives of around 4,000 Jews. A breach in official collaboration occurred, when, on June 30, 1941, the OUN, under the leadership of Stepan Bandera, proclaimed its own state against the will of the Germans. This also led to Bandera's and various other OUN functionaries being taken into German "honorary detention" and it led to the official dissolution of the two Ukrainian collaborationist battalions.

Ethnic Cleansing

Nevertheless, Ukrainian militiamen from the ranks of OUN continued to collaborate with the Germans. Quite a few supported the German occupation regime within the ranks of the Ukrainian auxiliary police. Many joined the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), officially founded on October 14, 1942. In addition to 90,000 non-Jewish Poles, it killed numerous Jews in the course of the "ethnic cleansing," thereby, informally participating in the Shoah.[5] Beginning in April 1943, a Ukrainian unit of the Waffen-SS was formed, the 14th infantry Division of the SS, with the nickname "Galician Nr. 1," and numbered 15,300 men by the end of 1943, growing even larger in 1944. Initially the Waffen-SS Division Galicia was deployed to fight the partisans in occupied Yugoslavia, then in the war against the Red Army. As late as March 17, 1945, a Ukrainian National Committee was presented to the public in Weimar, however, too late to turn the tide. According to an extensive study by the military historian Rolf-Dieter Müller, "altogether, Ukraine's armed contribution to the German warfare is estimated to have been at 250,000 men."[6]

State Honors

Today, Nazi collaborators from that period receive state honors in Ukraine. Already in 2007, OUN leader Stepan Bandera had been declared "Hero of Ukraine" by Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-western President at the time. Today, numerous monuments have been dedicated to him and streets and squares bear his name. In April 2015, the Ukrainian parliament officially designated OUN and UPA "combatants for Ukrainian independence." Since then, according to the parliamentary resolution, to dispute the "legitimacy" of their "struggle for the independence of Ukraine," is prohibited. In June 2015, the Ministry of Education handed down a directive calling on schools to accentuate "the patriotism and morality of the activists of the liberation movement," and revere the OUN Leader Stepan Bandera as an "outstanding representative" of the Ukrainian people.[7] Since 2015, the UPA's founding day on October 14, has been declared a national holiday. On April 28, 2021, the 78th anniversary of the founding of the Waffen-SS Division Galicia, hundreds of Ukrainians marched in Kiev to commemorate that criminal organization - under police protection.[8] On the occasion of the current European Soccer Championship, the jersey of the Ukrainian Team provoked protest. It adorned the slogan "Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!" - the traditional salute of the OUN. Its connotation is similar to the German "Sieg Heil." According to a compromise reached with the UEFA, the second part of the slogan had to be covered. For three years however, "Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!" has been the official salute of the Ukrainian armed forces and police.[9]


For more on this topic see: Of Perpetrators, Victims and Collaborators.


[1] Rolf-Dieter Müller: An der Seite der Wehrmacht. Hitlers ausländische Helfer beim "Kreuzzug gegen den Bolschewismus" 1941-1945. Frankfurt am Main 2010.

[2] See also Zwischen Moskau und Berlin (IV).

[3] Frank Golczewski: Deutsche und Ukrainer 1914-1939. Paderborn 2010. See also Rezension.

[4] Franziska Bruder: "Den ukrainischen Staat erkämpfen oder sterben!" Die Organisation Ukrainischer Nationalisten (OUN) 1929-1948. Berlin 2007.

[5] See also "Ein Sammelpunkt der OUN".

[6] Rolf-Dieter Müller: An der Seite der Wehrmacht. Hitlers ausländische Helfer beim "Kreuzzug gegen den Bolschewismus" 1941-1945. Frankfurt am Main 2010.

[7] See also The Era of Revisionism (I).

[8] Bernhard Clasen: Mit SS-Symbolen und Hitlergruß. taz.de 29.04.2021.

[9] Ukraine und UEFA finden Kompromiss. tagesschau.de 11.06.2021.