Zbigniew Marcin Kowalewski


Published in International Viewpoint, No. 100, June 2, 1986, pp. 21-25.

We received the following article from Zbigniew M. Kowalewski. It was also sent to other left publications in Europe and North America. A former leader of Solidarność in Łódź, now living in exile in France, Kowalewski is the author of a book on the fight waged by the Polish free trade-union movement for workers’ self-management, Rendez-nous nos usines! (Give Us Back Our Factories), La Brèche, Paris, 1985.


Euromaidan, Mstyslav Chernov

Last summer, the Soviet publication Visti z Ukrayiny (News from the Ukraine) carried a sensational report. The son of Roman Shukhevych, who was better known under the pseudonym of “Taras Chuprynka”, has finally disavowed his father. What the Soviet periodical failed to report was that Yuriy Shukhevych, who is 52 years old, spent almost all his youth and adulthood – a total of 30 years – in prison because of his stubborn refusal to denounce his father. In any event, the message was clear – Great Russian imperialism had won a new victory over its mortal enemy, Ukrainian nationalism. Four months before, the top post in the totalitarian Kremlin bureaucracy was assumed by Mikhail Gorbachev, described from the outset as a “radical reformer” by the press of the “free world”.

Visti z Ukrayiny is published in Kiev exclusively for export. It is directed to the Ukrainian communities in the capitalist countries and known as one of the “news” organs directly in the service of the KGB. In its July 1985 edition, Oleksandr Savchuk proclaimed triumphantly: “I have on my desk a letter written by Yuriy Shukhevych addressed to the editors. In reading it, you sense the tragedy of a man who long followed a road leading to a precipice. He was held back, people tried to convince him, people warned him. And then finally, this man looked at his past, reflected on what he had experienced and became frightened. He felt grief and pain that he had long followed a wrong path.”

After this came the following excerpts from this letter: “I, Yuriy Shukhevych-Berezyns´kyi, son of Roman Shukhevych, who was the leader of the bourgeois nationalist underground in Ukraine, announce my definitive break with Ukrainian nationalism and condemn any kind of nationalist activity regardless of where and by whom it is conducted. (…) I often think of my father. Now I clearly see that he, as one of the leaders of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, carries responsibility for the bloodshed suffered in those years by thousands of innocent people. His death and the death of many others like him were, in essence, in vain. (…) Nationalist terror has totally collapsed in the face of the moral and political unity of the Ukrainian people, who are wholeheartedly devoted to the ideas of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. (…) My break with nationalism has been brought on by a profound evolution of my world view and my convictions, which had its beginnings a long time ago under the influence of Soviet reality and in connection with the failure of nationalist doctrines and the attempts to put them into practice, as well as under the influence of the overall hostility of the Soviet Ukrainian people to the ideas of nationalism.” [1]

Reminiscent of the Moscow trials

A confession reminiscent of the Moscow trials in the 1930s.

Who was Yuriy Shukhevych’s father? General “Taras Chuprynka” died on April 5, 1950, in a battle with the NKVD troops. (The NKVD was the successor of the GPU and the predecessor of the KGB [the Soviet state security forces] ). Near the city of Lvov, they had found the hideout of this most wanted man in the USSR. Since 1943, he had been the commander in chief of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and the chair of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). The UPA arose as a movement of armed resistance to German imperialism in the western territories of Ukraine, which up until 1939 belonged to the Polish state. At the start it had 40,000 fighters in its ranks. Once the Soviet army had driven out the Nazi occupation troops and the territories were annexed by the USSR, the Ukrainian national liberation movement continued its guerrilla war for an independent Ukraine against “Moscovite Red imperialism” and its “parasitic class of Stalinist magnates”, as the UPA commanders called their enemies. Its program provided for establishing a system of political democracy and a genuine socialization of the means of production through the participation of the workers in directing the production processes and in managing the economy.

The last basic document that “Taras Chuprynka” helped in drawing up, entitledClarifications by the OUN Leadership in the Ukrainian Lands of Some Ideological, Programmatic and Political Questions, states: “We call for genuinely free elections; freedom for political and social organizations; freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of religion and opinion; for independent courts and for respect for human rights. We hold that a sound democratic order would assure the conditions for a rounded development of the creative powers of the people and the individual, promote the acquisition by the people of a high political culture, prevent the formation of cliques and antipopular classes. (…) We call for building a classless society, by which we mean a society without exploiters and exploited, composed of free, non-exploited workers and farmers and a working intelligentsia. Experience teaches that exploiting classes can arise both on the basis of private property and on the basis of the collectivization of the instruments and means of production, unless the latter is accompanied by political democracy and power is exercised by the people, not a totalitarian party. For this reason, we are against the restoration of capitalism in Ukraine and for the complete destruction of the system of Bolshevik exploitation.” [2] (Ukrainian nationalists did not realize the major differences between Bolshevism and Stalinism).

Major Petro Poltava, one of the closes comrades in arms of “Taras Chuprynka”, explained: “We are convinced that our ideology is the one most suitable for an oppressed people fighting for genuine national and social liberation in this decisive age of national liberation revolutions and social revolutions, of emancipation of the peoples under the yoke of world imperialism and the liberation of the workers from the chains of capitalist exploitation and oppression.” [3]

It was not until 1954 that the troops and secret services of the KGB finally destroyed the UPA’s guerrilla base and the OUN’s underground networks.

Human beings can be exterminated. Exterminating ideas is a hundred times harder.

Yuriy Shukhevych was arrested in 1948. He was 14 years old. He had not participated in any political activity. He hardly knew his father. But he was his father’s son. A secret tribunal of the Ministry of State Security sentenced this boy to ten years in prison! In 1956, a wind of “de-Stalinization” was blowing, encouraged by the “radical reformer” Nikita Khrushchev (who in the late 1930s had been a bloody ruler and Russifier of Ukraine). The tribunal in the city of Vladimir ordered the release of the young Shukhevych on the grounds that he was a minor when sentenced. But the general prosecutor of Ukraine, a Stalinist gangster called Roman Rudenko, protested and ordered his rearrest before he was actually released. “The prosecutor’s office justified his protest by accusing me of trying to make contact with OUN centers abroad (without presenting any evidence) and by the fact that my father led the OUN underground (which I cannot deny).” [4]

In August 1958, when the prison doors were opening before him, he was rearrested before he could walk out. “The decision was justified by absolutely false reports that I had conducted anti-Soviet propaganda among my fellow prisoners in the Vladimir prison. The accusation was based on statements of two common-law prisoners who were agents of the KGB. (…) The charge was made against me (this was one of the main points in the indictment) that I had attempted to find out about the circumstances of my father’s death.” [5] He was sentenced again to ten years in prison.

A few weeks after the sentence was handed down, he was called to the office of the KGB officer Klymentiy Hals´kyi. “In the conversation, he acknowledged in an offhand way that I had been sentenced on the basis of false accusations and that the sentence was totally unjustified, but (and here I quote his words) ‘anyone who holds the sort of opinions and convictions you do cannot be allowed to go free’. Hals´kyi told me that I had to prove my loyalty by agreeing to appear at a press conference, write an article or a pamphlet, or go on the radio to condemn the OUN, my father, and so on.” [6]

Hals´kyi was not just any cop but one of the KGB’s main experts in the fight against Ukrainian nationalism. He had taken part in the hunt for Roman Shukhevych and his comrades since 1944. He gained notoriety by his repressive actions against the peasants who aided the guerrilla forces and by taking part personally in the torture of prisoners. Under the pseudonym of “Klym Dmytryk” he joined the Visti z Ukrayiny staff as a specialist in the history of the UPA and the OUN. [7] This is a small world, it seems.

From concentration camp to prison

In 1963, Yuriy Shukhevych was transferred from the concentration camp in Mordovia to the KGB prison in Kiev. The “workers” at this sinister institution took him from time to time to the theater, to museums and historical places, as well as to factories. Shukhevych quickly understood what lay behind such favors. “My suppositions were confirmed in June 1964. The KGB functionnaries Colonel Kalash, Captain Lytvyn and Captain Merkatanenko demanded that I write a text denouncing nationalist ideas that could be published in the Soviet press. I asked if I could limit myself to giving a pledge to abstain in the future from any form of anti-Soviet activity. They told me that this was not enough, because a statement signed by me had to include a condemnation of nationalism in general and the activity of the OUN in particular, facts that would discredit the Ukrainian nationalists and a condemnation of my father’s activities.” [8]

Once again, he said “no”. He served his second ten-year sentence to the end. He was freed in August 1968 but forbidden to return to his homeland, Ukraine, for five years. Far from Ukraine, in March 1972, he was arrested on the charge of “anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation”. He was sentenced to ten years in a “special-regime camp”, as well as to five years of internal exile. In 1979, from prison, he joined the Ukrainian Helsinki Watch Group. Four members of this group died in the concentration camps in 1984 and 1985.

In the prisons, Shukhevych waged an indefatigable political struggle. Some examples of this are the initiatives in which he took part in the Chistopol prison from July 23 to August 1, 1980. In that week, together with some other political prisoners, he organized protests against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and against the annexation of the Baltic states, as well as other protests against national discrimination in the prison (in particular the interception of letters written by relatives in non-Russian languages). He tried to send an appeal to the teams participating in the Olympic Games in Moscow to show solidarity with the oppressed nations of the USSR, and finally, he made a statement demanding that the USSR respect the commitments it made in the Helsinki accords. [9]

Shukhevych suffered from increasingly serious eye problems. A cataract developed in one of his eyes and the retinas in both became detached. At the beginning of 1982, shortly before he left the Gulag archipelago for internal exile, he was operated on. It was too late. First he lost the sight in one eye and then in the other as well. He was left totally blind. But as before he remained unbowed.

Thirty-six years after he was first jailed, the KGB members of the Visti z Uk rayiny editorial board claim that Yuriy Shukhevych has yielded. If this really had happened, it would in no way diminish the incredible example of human resistance that he had given. But everything indicates that his recantation is another falsification by the KGB, in which this institution – which has changed its name various times in its history without changing its essence – has so specialized. To back up its revelation, the Soviet periodocial published a photocopy of excerpts from the letter it claimed to have received from Shukhevych. Under Gorbachev, the bureaucrats remain as incompetent as they were in the days of his teacher, Stalin. They did not know that in the West there was a copy of a real letter from Shukhevych, written by his own hand in April 1984, when he was already blind, to the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of Ukraine. The two speciments of hand-writing were submitted for analysis to Katharina Stulmann-Kortin, an expert in graphology and the psychology of handwriting in Munich. Her conclusion was the following: “The graphic nature of both hand-writings is essentially different. Taking into account, in particular, the sharp difference in the shape of many letters (…) one can conclude with a probability close to 100 per cent that the authors of the two hand-writings are not identical.” [10]

Visti y Ukrayiny’s revelations have not been published by the press that circulates in the USSR. Both Shukhevych and his relatives living in the USSR report that they have not the slightest idea of what is contained in the article by Savchuk. Shukhevych is still serving his internal exile (in a home for invalids), while it would be expected that he would be released after recanting.

On two occasions, in July 1984 and January 1985, the US president, Ronald Reagan, declared his solidarity with Yuriy Shukhevych, describing him as a Ukrainian patriot and a symbol of the fight for freedom. Reagan and his predecessors have of course been well known as ardent defenders of human rights and freedom, but only as regards “communist” regimes, not in the areas dominated by US imperialism. They have supported even the bloodiest dictatorships, whenever the dictator has been their “son of a bitch”, in an expression made famous by one of Reagan’s predecessors. They have supported such dictators up to the last minute, up till they threatened to provoke popular revolutions, as in the case of Somoza in Nicaragua and more recently Duvalier in Haiti and Marcos in the Philippines. They have expressed “sympathy” for the Polish Solidarność while at the same time supporting the Turkish military dictatorship, which, like the Jaruzelski regime, has suppressed trade-union freedoms, as well as other elementary rights. They have claimed to be “friends” of the Ukrainian revolutionary nationalists, while at the same time being implacable enemies of revolutionary nationalists on their own territory, such as Pedro Albizu Campos, a fighter for Puerto Rican independence, or Malcolm X, a radical leader of the Black liberation movement.

If the rulers in the White House express concern today about the fate of Yuriy Shukhevych, it will be worth asking what their attitude was to the armed struggle of the Ukrainian liberation movement led by Roman Shukhevych. The US government was well informed about the existence and situation of this movement in post-war years. It had in its possession many reports by the American intelligence services, some of which have been declassified and can be studied today in the US National Archives. One of them, for example, dated March 1948, says: “The real significance of the Ukrainian nationalist bands lies (…) in the fact that they have already been able to operate for more than two years against the established governments of both Poland and the USSR. This could have happened only with the support of at least a part of the local population. These bands have had no normal sources of supply and have depended on what they could seize from their adversaries and what was obtained from civilian sympathizers. Their continued survival suggests that the local population furnished them at least with food despite near-famine conditions in 1946, and it is evident that only people who strongly hate the Soviet way of life would have supported what many of them undoubtedly realize is a lost cause.” [11] The popular support for the liberation movement was so great that in 1947 the Polish army, in a large-scale operation called Action Vistula, displaced the entire Ukrainian peasantry from Poland’s eastern territories in order to exterminate the UPA guerrilla forces.

Attempt to break out of isolation

Nonetheless, the US government did not lift a finger to keep this cause from being lost. In an attempt to break out of the isolation of the Ukrainian liberation movement from the outside world and get help from abroad, various units of the UPA came out of Poland through Czechoslovakia to the West. Once their mission of “armed propaganda” was accomplished, they were to try to return to Ukraine. A former UPA commander who participated in one of these breakouts to the West made the following commentary: “Do you think that they [the Americans] had no intelligence on the scope of our struggle? But they were not interested in the fate of our people. They did not send a single bullet to the UPA. Suddenly, in 1949 and 1950, they declared their readiness to help us. They offered planes and pilots to take our insurgents back to the country, dropping them in the Stryi and Ternopil regions. On that occasion, they did not hesitate to overfly the borders, nor did Moscow raise a protest against these flights. So, our well-known veteran commander Hromenko and many others went back, and immediately fell victim to ambushes. (…) In collaboration (…) with Soviet agents such as [Kim] Philby, the Americans helped Moscow destroy our revolutionary movement. Dozens of our fighters boarded these planes to go to their graves.” [12] In the framework of its sharp rivalry with the CIA, the British Intelligence Service organized similar flights, with the same result – the NKVD troops were waiting at the drop points.

These air operations were in progress when (in the spring of 1951) a Ukrainian Marxist living in exile in the United States, Vsevolod Holubnychy, informed his comrades of the Ukrainian revolutionary left in West Europe: “The State Department’s policy (…) is quite openly anti-Ukrainian. I have quite precise information on the attitudes in this regard. They see the UPA as a bluff that will lead to nothing. They recognize that the UPA exists, but they think that it has no perspectives, that it is very weak, that it does not have the support of the people and in general that its activities are of a semi-bandit character.” These opinions expressed by the US government contradict, as we have already seen, the confidential information it got from its intelligence services. “On the other hand”, Holubnychy continued, “they are afraid of the Ukrainian underground. They are treating Poltava’s letter to the Voice of America as ultrasecret material and therefore not publishing it anywhere. (But we will ‘help’ them a bit, because in a coming issue of Labor Action [13] more significant excerpts from this letter will be published). The ultra-secrecy they are keeping is owing to the anticapitalist statements it contains.” [14]

In the letter referred to, commander Poltava, one of the most authoritative spokespersons of the Ukrainian liberation movement, criticized the content of the Voice of America broadcasts directed at listeners in the USSR: “The Soviet masses hate the Bolshevik ‘socialism’. But that does not mean that the Soviet peoples are longing for capitalism, which was destroyed on the territory of the present USSR back in 1917-20. They are in their absolute majority clearly against the restoration of capitalism. This is the result of the revolution of 1917-20. (…) We, the participants in the liberation struggle in Ukraine, who are inside the Soviet Union and have connections with the broad masses, know only too well that they have no admiration for capitalism –neither the old European kind nor the modern American kind.” [15]

In another document, while analyzing the possibility of the outbreaks of the third world war, Poltava pointed out that the United States and Britain, together with the entire Western bloc, would act in such a war as the enemies of the liberation of the people and the workers. As regards the USSR, they would try to restore private property and rebuild a ‘White’ Great Russian imperialism. “The Ukrainian people, and, we hope, also the other oppressed non-Russian peoples of the USSR will in this situation see such a war as a new war by world imperialism, during which the national and social aspirations of the Soviet peoples can be achieved only if they are won by these peoples themselves, relying on their own strength.” [16]

It is clear that the rulers in the White House had no political interest in aiding the UPA. They knew that the interests that they represented were incompatible with the interests expressed by the Ukrainian liberation movement. But something more determined the attitude of the US government. An independent Ukraine that would carry out the political program of the UPA was as terrifying a perspective for the White House as it was for the Kremlin. This was all the more so because the Ukraine, which is the biggest country in Europe in area and one of the largest in population, would inevitably play a great role in the life of the continent and could destabilize all the “geopolitical moulds” and the spheres of domination established in the Yalta accords.

It was one thing to open up the fronts of the “Cold War”. It was something else again to permit a “historyless” but powerful people to take advantage of this, to take its destiny in its own hands and, by exercising an attraction on the masses of other countries, begin to dictate its own rules. Poltava wrote, and this was well known in 1950 in US ruling circles: “To achieve our objectives, we have taken the road that involves unleashing a people’s revolution for national and social revolution, both in Ukraine and among all the other peoples of the USSR. We call on all the oppressed Soviet peoples and on the toiling masses of all nationalities in the USSR to unite with us in the fight to overthrow the Bolshevik regime.” At the same time, Poltava defined the international dimensions of the Ukrainian national revolution as follows: We are fighting “for full realization of the idea of building free national states of all the peoples of the world by overthrowing every kind of imperialism” and “for the victory of the idea of building a classless society among all peoples.” [17]

The “Cold War” was combined with a Holy Alliance, at least tacitly. The Kremlin mercilessly exterminated the Ukrainian liberation movement and offered “irrefutable proofs” to the world of its “fascist character”. The White House from time to time sang the praises of the Ukrainian freedom fighters but refused any material aid, while the Voice of America and other stations broadcasting to the Soviet bloc maintained a total silence about their program. One American socialist observed at the time: “Responsible and intelligent capitalist policy, in today’s world, finds it dangerous to play with the fire of revolution behind the Iron Curtain” [18].

Reagan maintains silence on political program

Today, Reagan has protested against the fate reserved for a Ukrainian who is being pressed to deny his father. But the US president is continuing to maintain the silence about the program that the father of this Ukrainian and the movement he led fought for. This suits perfectly the Kremlin rulers who have striven for decades to erase from the people’s memory the program of the UPA, which called on the masses to fight to the death to overthrow the power of the capitalists. And the Kremlin has done this with such perseverance that it cannot even be known if Yuriy Shukhevych at any time in his life ever had the opportunity to get to know this program.

We should not be surprised if some day Reagan, or his successor, declares in front of the TV cameras to the entire “free world” that he swears by the ideas for which Yuriy Shukhevych’s father fell. He can afford that luxury. Only a few people still know what these ideas were. I read recently that Reagan has declared himself a supporter of Solidarność’s program. How could he say that he is a supporter of a program that calls for building a self-governed republic based on social ownership of the means of production and on workers’ self-management? Why not? If American workers and unionists do not know much more about it than American Blacks and Chicanos used to know about the program of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army?

We should realize the kind of world we are living in. The Kremlin satraps lay claim to the tradition of the Russian revolution and declare their support for the Third World liberation movements. The man who led the victorious revolution against American imperialism in Cuba goes to Moscow to proclaim there that “you can’t shut out the sun with a finger”. The sun in question is the USSR, which other revolutionists, the Ukrainians, have excoriated as a giant prison house of nations. Some leaders of the Polish revolution, crushed by the totalitarian bureaucracy, have sent the chiefs of US imperialism, which exploits the workers and oppresses the peoples of a good part of the planet, expressions of gratitude for the latters’ intransigent defence of democracy. We have to recognize the devastating consequences these paradoxes have for the consciousness of the workers and peoples throughout the world, in whatever camp they live, whatever immediate enemy they face. You could get the impression that we have set one foot into the Orwellian world in which “freedom is slavery and ignorance is power”. But we should not give way to impressions. We should assume our responsibilities.

In the West, the activists of socialist, radical and alternative currents that oppose both capitalism and bureaucratic despotism – or as some of them prefer to say, private and corporate capitalism on the one hand and state capitalism on the other – have to assume the tasks of building real solidarity with the victims of the Stalinist totalitarian regimes. Only such fighters can really solidarize with the superhuman resistance of a man such as Yuriy Shukhevych, throwing into the faces of his Stalinist torturers and his imperialist “defenders” at the same time the political ideas of Roman Shukhevych and his comrades who fell 35 years ago.

It is only those who are fighting for a democratic and international socialism, who aspire to build a self-managed and classless society, who can win such solidarity from growing sections of the workers’ movement, the peace movement and other social movements in the West, as well as from the national liberation movements in the Third World. Only they can sustain a strong ideological struggle against the effects of Reagan’s “solidarity” with militants such as Yuriy Shukhevych or with social movements such as Solidarność as pretexts to turn their backs on these individuals and movements and wash their hands of the crimes of Stalinism.

In the East, forces are beginning to arise ready to take on a similar task where they are and to act in unity with those who are assuming the same task in the West.

Translated by Gerry Foley

[1] Visti z Ukrayiny (Kiev), No. 28, 1985.

[2] Ukrayins´kyi Samostiinyk (Munich), No. 45, 1950.

[3] Vpered (Munich), No. 4 (13), 1950.

[4] I. Koszeliwec, ed., Ukraina 1956-1968, Instytut Literacki: Paris, 1969, p. 207.

[5] Ibid., p. 207.

[6] Ibid., p. 209.

[7] The Ukrainian Herald Issue: Dissent in Ukraine, An Underground Journal from Soviet Ukraine, Smoloskyp Publishers: Baltimore – Paris – Toronto, 1977, pp. 165-168.

[8] Koszeliwec, op. cit., p. 206.

[9] Herald of Repression in Ukraine, No. 12, 1980.

[10] USSR News Brief – Human Rights (Munich), No. 15/16, 1985.

[11] Nature and Extent of Disaffection in the Ukraine, Department of State OIR Report No. 4228-R. The National Archives of the United States.

[12] Y. Borets´-Chumak, Reyd bez zbroyi, Ukrainian Publishers: London, 1982, p. 211.

[13] Labor Action was the weekly newspaper of the Independent Socialist League, a North American left-wing party. Excerpts from Poltava’s letter mentioned above were published in its May 21, 1951, issue.

[14] V. Holubnychy, Zvit ch. 2 (April 16, 1951), in his archives held at the University of Alberta, Canada.

[15] P. Poltava, Zbirnyk pidpilnykh pysan´, Ukrayins´kyi Samostiinyk: Munich, 1959, pp. 213-214.

[16] Ibid., p. 236.

[17] Ibid., pp. 128, 130.

[18] H. Draper, “Washington and the New Russian Revolution”, Labor Action, June 11, 1951.

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