Stepan Bandera and the Rise of Ukrainian Fascism

Source: Ideological Fightback, volume 2, issue 2. Summer/fall 2015

By Gregory Rose, PhD.

While the origins of Ukrainian fascism are to be found as much in rightwing White Army politics in the Russian civil war and even earlier in the Tsarist Black Hundreds pogroms against Jews and other ethnic minorities in the Ukraine, most observers locate the emergence of an active, anti-Soviet, fascist movement with the emergence of Stepan Bandera as the leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (in Ukrainian, OUN) in 1933. Born in 1909 in then Austro-Hungarian Gallicia to an ethnic Ukrainian family in what became part of Poland after World War I, Bandera was quickly attracted to Ukrainian nationalist politics both in Poland and the newly emerged Soviet Ukraine. Bandera rapidly rose in the OUN leadership before his arrest and imprisonment in 1934 for the attempted assassination of the Polish Interior Minister. Bandera was freed from prison by the arrival of German troops invading Poland in 1939 and made his base in the German-occupied Government General of Poland.

Already well-experienced in underground operations in the Soviet Ukraine, he had been heavily involved in encouraging Ukrainian peasants to rebel against collectivization of agriculture. He was involved in promoting the myth of the Holodomor the claim later put forward by Nazi propaganda and Ukrainian nationalists that the Soviet government intentionally starved millions of Ukrainian peasants to death. The truth is far more complex. Beginning in 1930, an extensive drought was experienced in Ukraine and southern Russia. This came immediately on the heels of the heightened class struggle associated with collectivization of agriculture. Rightwing peasants, resisting the Soviet government, destroyed crops and livestock, while conditions akin to civil war obtained in areas of the Ukraine. The Soviet government prioritized distribution of seed grain to areas which

participated in collectivization and provided grain for the urban working class. Certainly a humanitarian tragedy resulted, but the archives reveal no evidence of any Soviet government plot to starve the Ukraine.

With the German invasion of the Soviet Union in September 1941, the OUN seized power in Lviv and conducted a pogom against Jews, Poles, and Russians in the city. While there is little evidence that Bandera was personally anti-Semitic, he indulged freely the political anti-Semitism of the OUN rank-and-file. Extensive cooperation was given to the German Abwehr and SS units in the invasion of the USSR. Making a bid for Ukrainian independence, Bandera quickly ran afoul of the German occupation authorities who regarded Ukrainians as Slavic subhumans who were not to be encouraged to indulge their nationalism. Bandera and his would-be government soon found themselves interned in the special Zellenbau barracks for high-profile prisoners.

In April 1944 the Nazi leadership came to an agreement with Bandera and released him to conduct anti-Soviet operations on the eastern front with extensive German backing. Even before Bandera’s release elements of the OUN had served as German auxiliaries, including in the Einsatzgruppen, which served as mobile murder units killing a million Soviet Jews and Communists. Bandera helped organize the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division, primarily from Ukrainian volunteers.

With the defeat of Germany in World War II, Bandera was quickly taken under the patronage of British intelligence and the CIA, continuing to launch a guerrilla campaign against Soviet authorities attempting to reconstruct the war-torn Ukraine. In 1959 Bandera was brought to justice by a KGB operation in which KGB officer Bogdan Stashynsky killed him on a Munich street. However, this was unfortunately not the end of Bandera’s influence.

With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 the rightwing emerged from the fringes of Ukrainian society. OUN activists organized the Social-National Party in 1995, which shortly thereafter became Svoboda, whose leaders were prominent in the Maidan provocations in Kiev in 2014 which led to rightwing government in Ukraine. A split between OUN activists occasioned the creation of the UNA out of which grew the neo-Nazi Praviy Sektor which was also prominent in the Maidan. Thus the poison of Stepan Bandera continues to fester in the heart of the Ukraine.