Roman Shukhevych, Stepan Bandera, Nachtigall and Roland
Disinformation: Stepan Bandera, Roman Shukhevych and all members of OUN(b) (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) were agents of Gestapo, SS, SD (intelligence agency of the SS and of the Nazi party) or Abwehr (military intelligence organization). They were carrying out the orders of these services. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) was established by the special services of the Third Reich and was fighting alongside Hitler supporters.
In the 1930s the OUN started cooperating with Germany for geopolitical reasons – as Germany was a strategic opponent of Poland and Russia. Back in the 1920s the Ukrainian Military Organization (UVO, a predecessor to the OUN) was in touch with intelligence services of the democratic Weimar Republic. After the Nazis came to power, Germany actively pursued its intention to change the Versailles system. This coincided with the position of the OUN, as countries that were the winners of World War I failed to consider Ukrainian independence. It was the Paris Peace Conference that in fact legitimized the Polish state and its occupation of western Ukraine. Germany thus became a logical situational “ally”.
Relations between OUN and Germany were never smooth. After the German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact was signed in 1934, OUN leader Yevhen Konovalets relocated from Berlin to Switzerland. That same year Germany extradited to Poland the OUN activist Mykola Lebid who was in hiding after the assassination of the Polish Interior Minister Bronisław Pieracki. Finally, Hitler agreed to the Hungarian occupation of the nascent independent Transcarpathian Ukrainian Republic in March 1939 and on Aug. 23, 1939 to the proposed Soviet occupation of western Ukraine (Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact). OUN’s relations with Lithuania, who was also Poland’s enemy, were much better (large swaths of Lithuania including the capital Vilnius were then part of the Polish state as well).
However, Germany remained the only real power capable of ever challenging Poland and the USSR. Even after the split of the OUN (into OUN(b) headed by Stepan Bandera and OUN(m) headed by Andriy Melnyk), both factions continued their contacts with the Germans.
OUN(b) managed to set up military training for members of its organization using its contacts with German intelligence, the Abwehr, and with certain German army generals who sympathized with the Ukrainian Resistance Movement.
Moreover, the OUN always had an underground military training program of its own for its members, which functioned independently from any external agencies.
In February 1941 Bandera reached an agreement with the chief of the Abwehr, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, and the commander of Wermacht’s ground forces, Walther von Brauchitsch, as to the creation of a Ukrainian legion. Two battalions subordinated to Wehrmacht command – Nachtigall and Roland were formed from OUN members. Pointedly they did not swear loyalty to Germany or Hitler, but swore loyalty only to Ukraine. Nachtigall’s Ukrainian commander was Roman Shukhevych. The Nachtigall battalion was subordinated to the Wehrmacht command.
On the night of June 29, 1941, the Nachtigall battalion entered Lviv along with other Wehrmacht units. On June 30, Bandera’s associates, headed by Yaroslav Stetsko, proclaimed the “Act of Restoration of Ukrainian Statehood”. The newly formed Ukrainian government declared its readiness to cooperate with Germany in the common struggle against Moscow – but only if Ukrainian independence was recognized. The Nazis were taken by surprise and were forced to reveal their true intentions towards Ukraine.
Members of the OUN(b) were rounded up and Bandera was arrested in Krakow on July 5, 1941 and Stetsko in Lviv on July 12. Both refused to retract the declaration and were imprisoned in the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen, spending more than three years in its high security block.
In August 1941 the Nachtigall soldiers learned about the arrest of the government headed by Yaroslav Stetsko, in which their commander Roman Shukhevych had the post of the deputy defense minister. The soldiers of the Nachtigallbattalion put forward a demand to release Ukrainian state officials. On August 13, the rebellious battalions were removed from the front and sent to the rear – to the Neuhammer base. They then issued a written memorandum from Neuhammer calling to release the arrested OUN(b) members and members of the Ukrainian government as well as to return the battalion back to the Eastern front. These demands were not met and the battalions were dissolved and reorganized into one unit – 201st police battalion that was contract-based. The battalion was sent to Belarus for security duties.
On December 1, 1942, at the end of their contract, the police battalion members refused to continue their service. Germans dissolved the unit and arrested the officers. Shukhevych succeeded in escaping. He became the head of the military section of OUN(b) and later the head of the organization itself.
The relationship of the OUN(b) with the Germans was transactional, pragmatic and ad-hoc, with both sides pursuing their own aims. As early as April 1941 Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller said to his colleague from SD Walter Schellenberg that “Ukrainian nationalistic leaders are moving to their goals in an uncontrolled way.” A day after the German offensive against the USSR began on June 22, 1941, the OUN(b) sent the Reich Chancellery a memorandum (written on June 15) on how the Ukrainian issue should be handled after the dissolution of the USSR. The document stated: “Even if German troops, after they enter Ukraine, are greeted as liberators, the situation might change quickly if Germany does not come to Ukraine with the aim of restoring Ukrainian statehood … A new European order without a Ukrainian independent state is unthinkable …”
The OUN(b) already foresaw the possibility of anti-German armed resistance should Germany adopt an unfriendly position towards Ukraine’s independence.
Between September 15, 1941 and the end of that year the Germans arrested about 1,500 OUN (b) members. On November 25, 1941, the German security police even issued an order to arrest and execute the activists of the “Bandera group” who “were about to stage an uprising in the Reich Commissariat Ukraine aiming at establishing an independent Ukrainian state.”
The highly trained veterans of Nachtigall and Roland joined the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army formed by the OUN(b) in 1942) as instructors and commanders taking part in its combat operations against German forces during their occupation of Ukraine. Large areas of Ukraine were liberated and held by the UPA. Such “insurgent republics” functioned in many respects as small “underground states.” One of the best known was the “Kolky Republic,” which covered an area of 2,500 square kilometers, located in the UPA-North military district, in the Volyn region. The “Kolky Republic” remained under UPA control until November 1943, when it was overrun by German troops using tanks, artillery, and aircraft.
At the height of the German occupaton of Ukraine (1942-1944) the UPA conducted 2,526 armed engagements against the Nazi forces. Nazi losses: 12,427 – KIA; 2047 – WIA; and 2448 – taken prisoner.
Disinformation: The UPA, the Nachtigall Battalion (and the Roland Battalion), and the Galicia Division are organizations that were created by the Germans out of so-called “traitors of the Soviet fatherland.”
As a result of long-term Russian disinformation, the names and affiliations of different Ukrainian political and military organizations have been mixed together.
A common misconception is that the Nachtigall Battalion belonged to the SS – it didn’t. This formation was created as a result of the agreement between the OUN and Abwehr, the German military intelligence service. Nachtigall’s officers and soldiers would not swear their loyalty to Germany and when the battalion was disbanded in December 1, 1942, many of them escaped from German arrest, including its leader Roman Shukhevych, and joined the ranks of the UPA to fight against Nazi Germany.
The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) fought against both the Germans and the Soviets. The UPA’s initial goal was to resist German occupation in order to protect the population from Nazi terror. As the invader of Ukraine, Germany was considered to be the enemy. Throughout 1943 the UPA staged successful combat operations against the Germans and was able to establish its control in the Volynian region countryside, leaving only towns in German hands. One of the UPA’s major military confrontations with the Germans lasted from July to September 1943. The Germans, commanded by SS General Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, who in 1944 would command the suppression of the Warsaw Uprising, committed a massive amount of manpower and materiel to the effort. At his disposal General von dem Bach-Zelewski had the following units: 10 battalions of motorized SS troops with heavy weapons and artillery; 10,000 German and Polish police; 2 regiments of the Hungarian Army; 3 battalions of Cossacks, organized from among the Soviet prisoners of war; 50 tanks, 27 planes, and 5 armored trains. Despite this commitment of resources, the operation was largely a failure for the Germans. The UPA lost 1,237 combatants, dead or wounded, in the fighting, while the losses inflicted on German forces by the UPA were significant. The Germans suffered more than 3,000 casualties. Bach-Zelewski’s brutal campaign was also responsible for the murder of more than 5,000 civilians. The UPA fought against the Germans until November 1944, when the last Nazi forces left Ukrainian territory.
The motivation behind forming a Ukrainian military unit – the Galicia Division – within Germany’s armed forces was greatly influenced by the experience of WW1. At the beginning of WW1 Ukrainians living in Galicia (province of western Ukraine) under the Habsburg Empire formed their own regiment, the Sich Riflemen, within the Austro-Hungarian armed forces. The war in the east ended with the front lines in Ukraine, and soldiers and officers of the regiment soon formed the core of the nascent army of the newly declared Ukrainian National Republic. These experienced and disciplined soldiers allowed the UNR to fight off Soviet Russian and Polish opposing armies for three years (1918-1920) despite a total lack of support from the West. It was therefore calculated that if WW2 ended with front lines in Ukraine, or if Allied forces of the west were to invade the Soviet Union, then a highly trained, well equipped fighting force would be an effective argument for an independent Ukrainian state. Sadly, neither scenario came true, but while stationed in Slovakia, the Galicia Division saved the lives of thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Soviet onslaught. It is important to note that prior to the end of WW2, the Division was renamed the First Division of the Ukrainian National Army, and surrendered to the British and Americans as such. In Canada the Deschesne Commission found that this elite fighting unit committed no war crimes. (The Waffen SS, the SS and the Impala SS were three different organizations.)
It is important to note, that during and after the Battle of Brody (July 13-22, 1944 in western Ukraine) against the advancing Soviet Army, an estimated 3 to 4 thousand soldiers of the Galicia Division (attached at the time to the 13thGerman Army Corps) joined the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) still battling the Nazi forces occupying western parts of Ukraine.
Disinformation: The Commander-in-Chief of the UPA Roman Shukhevych had a military rank of an SS-Hauptsturmführer and was decorated by Hitler with one or even two Iron Crosses (German military award) for taking part in the massacre of civilians.
The Nachtigall and Roland battalions (Legions of Ukrainian Nationalists – DUN) resulted from the agreement between OUN and German military intelligence (Abwehr); they were seen by Ukrainian nationalists as a core for the future independent armed forces. They were not related to the SS structure and were operationally subordinate to the Wehrmacht.
It was clear for OUN(b) that they were negotiating with a totalitarian state following its own interests. In order not to become an instrument in their hands, the leaders of OUN(b) put forward their conditions: Ukrainian military units would be under their political guidance, while being subordinated to the German command in terms of military tactics and training. Ukrainian soldiers were not swearing loyalty to Germany. OUN(b) also preserved the right to grant military ranks to the soldiers and to define the unit’s internal structure. Both battalions were trained to fight on the Eastern front and could not be used against the Western allies under any circumstances. OUN negotiated the right to have its own military chaplains in the two battalions. At the same time, there would be no Nazi propaganda in the DUN units.
In spring 1941 Roland and Nachtigall were trained in military camps Neuhammer and Seibersdorf (in Poland and Austria respectively). From the very first hours of the Soviet-German war on June 22, 1941 Nachtigall was taking part in combat operations. The Roland commander from the Ukrainian side was Major Yevhen Pobihushchyi, the Nachtigallcommander was Captain Roman Shukhevych.
On June 30, 1941, Nachtigall reached Lviv. All the battalion’s soldiers were given week-long leaves. At the same time, a group of OUN(b) members headed by Yaroslav Stetsko reached Lviv, where they were tasked to proclaim the restoration of Ukrainian statehood. The event took place in the evening on the same day – on June 30, 1941.
In August 1941 the Nachtigall soldiers learned about the arrest of the government headed by Yaroslav Stetsko, in which Roman Shukhevych took the post of the deputy defense minister. Soldiers of the Nachtigall battalion put forward a demand to release Ukrainian state officials. On August 13, the rebellious battalions were removed from the front and sent to the rear – in Neuhammer.
They issued a written memorandum from Neuhammer calling to release the arrested OUN(b) members and members of the Ukrainian government as well as to return the battalion back to the Eastern front. Their demands were not met and the battalions were dissolved.
In autumn 1941 both battalions were reorganized into one unit – 201st battalion that was contract-based. After additional training, the battalion was sent to Belarus for security duties.
On December 1, 1942, the contract expired, and battalion members refused to swear loyalty to Adolf Hitler. The battalion was taken to Lviv where the officers got arrested. Roman Shukhevych succeeded to escape and in November 1943 became the UPA’s Commander-in-Chief.
Roman Shukhevych did not serve in any of the SS units. The Nachtigall battalion was subordinated to the Wehrmacht command. Nachtigall was not mentioned at the Nuremberg trial of Nazi war criminals after WWII (1945-1946).
The story about Shukhevych allegedly receiving an Iron Cross from Hitler is an outright provocation. It was spread in 2007 by the leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine Pyotr Symonenko during a parliamentary session. In 2010 a Ukrainian court made Symonenko withdraw the false accusation. Nevertheless, the myth of “Shukhevych’s Iron Crosses” is still being actively used by anti-Ukrainian provocateurs.
What actually happened is Shukhevych was awarded military service crosses not by Hitler but by the clandestine Ukrainian parliament – the Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council. These were Ukrainian not German awards: the 1st class Golden Cross for combat achievements and the 1st class Golden Cross for achievements that was awarded posthumously to the UPA commander in 1950.
Disinformation: UPA General Roman Shukhevych received the Iron Cross from Hitler.
This is total fiction. This disinformation was spread in 2007 by the leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine, Pyotr Symonenko, during a parliamentary session. In 2010 Symonenko admitted in court that the allegation was false. There is an official registry of people who received this medal, and Roman Shukhevych is not on the list. Shukhevych had never met Hitler and did not serve in the Galicia Division or any other SS formation.
Roman Shukhevych received two awards from the Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council – the 1st Class Golden Cross for combat achievements and the 1st Class Golden Cross for overall achievements, awarded posthumously to the UPA commander in 1950.