Ukrainian Insurgent Army - Ukra¿nska Povstanska Armiia [UPA]

       The  first  UPA  units  appeared  in  western  Volhynia  (now  Volhynska  oblast  and Rivne oblast). They were organized independently by Taras Borovets (in spring 1942), the OUN-B (Bandera faction) (from October 1942),  and the OUN-M (Melnyk faction) (in spring 1943).  As resistance to the Germans  intensified, the military forces of the Bandera faction grew rapidly and established their control over many districts of Volhynia. When talks on unification among the three groups failed, the most powerful group, the Bandera units, disarmed and absorbed the two other groups,  in July and August 1943.  Klym Savur,  the leader of the OUN-B for northwestern Ukraine,  became the commander in chief of the unified UPA.  German auxiliary police and guard units, composed not only of ethnic Ukrainians but also of other nationals who had served in the Red Army, defected to the UPA. The number of non-Ukrainian UPA soldiers grew rapidly, and peaked in the late fall of 1943. They were organized into separate national units, the largest of which were the Azerbaidzhani, Uzbek, Georgian, and Tatar. In the autumn of 1943  the UPA established a  secret armistice  with  Hungarian  units which guarded German communication lines in Volhynia.  Recognizing the importance of national aspirations, the UPA organized on 21–22 November 1943 the  Conference  of the  Oppressed Nations of Eastern Europe and Asia. It was attended by representatives of 13 nationalities,  who resolved to support each other's liberation struggles.

       The  fact  that  the  Ukrainian Insurgent Army emerged in the region of Volyn may be explained by a number of reasons. First, this region had a favorable terrain, including large tracts of impenetrable forests. Second, a special political situation existed in Volyn, whose population had a strongly developed  national  identity,  and whose underground OUN network numbered several thousand. Third,  the Soviets regarded Volyn as an important base for launching their own partisan operations.

       The  structure of  the  Ukrainian  underground army took shape during the winter of 1942–43. The ranks of the army were notably strengthened by the absorption of between 3,000 and 5,000 Ukrainian policemen who had been ordered by the OUN to abandon German service. The expansion of the UPA took place  against the background of perpetual confrontations with enemy forces on three fronts: anti-German  (fighting the agencies of the government of occupation),  anti-Soviet (fighting Red partisans and NKVD units),  and anti-Polish (fighting Polish  underground  units  that considered Western  Ukraine  part  of  the  Polish state).  Nonetheless,  the  Ukrainian  insurgents succeeded in liberating substantial territories from the various occupying forces, and Ukrainian governments were installed in these so-called insurgent republics. 

       At this time, another difficult problem was overcome — that of the disconnectedness of the various loci of the struggle for freedom — by uniting the diverse units under a single political leadership and military command. By the end of 1943, the armed insurgency of the  UPA  also  encompassed large territories in Galicia (Halychyna), and by 1944 the UPA’s combat actions  had  spread  to  the  Sian River  and  Kholm  (Chełm)  regions.  At the apogee of the UPA’s territorial  structure,  the freedom fighters had a presence in what today are  Volyn,  Rivne,  Zhytomyr,  Khmelnytsky,  Vinnytsia, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, and Transcarpathia oblasts, as well as the eastern parts of the Subcarpathia (Podkarpacie)  and  Lublin  voivodeships in Poland. In 1944, the Ukrainian insurgent movement covered an area of up to 150,000 sq. km, with a population of nearly  15  million  people.  This corresponds to roughly one-quarter of the territory of today’s Ukrainian state — an area larger than modern-day Greece with a  population  equal  to that of the Netherlands.

       From  the  outset,  the  UPA  considered  itself  to  be  an  offshoot  of  the  armed forces of the independent and sovereign Ukrainian state, and therefore modeled  its  structure on that of a regular army.  The  UPA’s organizational  structure  was simple and linear,  but at the same time it was flexible enough to allow for effective deployment of personnel and materiel while adapting to the  changeable  circumstances of war,  and to achieve important combat victories. Its leaders paid close attention to the need for control from  above  and  at  the  same  time  encouraged  initiative  from below. The military structure of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army was ultimately stabilized in November 1943,  when  Roman  Shukhevych  became  UPA Supreme Commander and the Supreme  Military  Headquarters  (HVSh)  was  created.  The UPA’s field of operations was then subdivided into three General Military Districts (HVO): UPA-North (the original UPA, based in the northwestern Ukrainian regions Polissia and Volyn),  UPA-South (insurgent units in Podillia), and UPA-West (the former Ukrainian People’s Self-Defence [UNS] in Galicia). Each  General  Military  District  had  its  own  regional commander with a Regional Military Headquarters (KVSh), and was divided into smaller territorial units called  Military  Districts  (VO).  The Supreme Military Headquarters and the Regional Military Headquarters were strategic coordinating centres, but  direct  control  over  combat  operations  took place at the level of the Military Districts.

       In trained combat companies,  a squad usually numbered between ten and twelve soldiers,  each armed with a light machine gun,  two or three submachine guns, and rifles. The UPA had a functional  system of  command  designations  (Squad Leader,  Platoon Leader,  Company Commander, Battalion Commander, Brigade (or Tactical Sector-TV) Commander, Division-VO Commander, Corps Commander, Supreme Army Commander). This system arose because of the critical lack of qualified and politically reliable officers during the initial stage of forming combat units and headquarters, and it remained in place thereafter, with formal approval passed in January 1944.  From the outset, the UPA made  use  of  traditional  military ranks (rank-and file soldiers: Private, Private First Class; NCOs:  Sergeant,  Staff Sergeant,  Sergeant First Class,  Master Sergeant;  and officers:  Second Lieutenant,  First  Lieutenant,  Captain,  Major,  Lieutenant Colonel,  Colonel,  Brigadier  General).  A  high  percentage  of  promotions  in  rank were posthumous; to illustrate, seven out of nine promoted generals were awarded this title posthumously.

       One of the  most  difficult problems faced by leaders of the UPA during its early stages was the shortage of senior (officer) cadres. The absence of a Ukrainian state in the prewar period resulted in  a  shortage  of  experienced  Ukrainian  army  commanders. Thus,  among  UPA  officers  were soldiers who had acquired this experience in foreign armies (Polish, German, and Soviet), and older officers who had served in the army  of the UNR in 1917–20. However, there were  not  enough  such  officer  ranks  to  satisfy  the  insurgent  army’s  growing  needs.  Therefore,  the  UPA  began establishing  its  own  schools  for  NCOs and officers, clandestinely training command personnel for the army. The four officer training academies — Druzhynnyky (Legionnaires),  Lisovi Chorty  (Forest Devils), Hrehit (name of a Carpathian mountain), and Oleni (Stags) — graduated several hundred officers.

       Although  the  UPA  was  not  a regular army, it sought to outfit its soldiers in military uniforms with a characteristic cut, gear, and distinguishing marks. A special design for an insurgent uniform was developed in 1943, but production was impossible owing to the extreme conditions. Therefore, the Ukrainian freedom fighters dressed in  civilian  or  pseudo-military  clothing,  captured  military  uniforms,  or  home-made  uniforms,  and  wore distinguishing  marks  germane  to  the  UPA. Captured uniforms came from the German, Czech, Polish, Hungarian, Slovak, or Soviet armies. Civilian clothing was often worn under  the  uniform.  UPA  soldiers  commonly  wore  a  combination  uniform  consisting  of  a  German  jacket  and  Soviet riding-breeches, etc. Trousers were of various cuts, and footwear styles also varied. For the most part,  UPA soldiers  wore  Soviet  tarpaulin  boots, German boots  with  horseshoe  heel  irons,  and—rarely—dress  shoes.  In winter they wore greatcoats,  sheepskin coats,  and jackets;  and during combat assignments they wore white camouflage cloaks.

       The  insurgent  uniform  included  various  types  of  headgear:  side caps,  field kepis  (caps with a flat circular top and a  visor),  forage  caps, protective steel helmets (rarely), Petliura caps, triangular caps known as mazepynky (after the style worn by Hetman Ivan Mazepa), and civilian caps with cockades in various shapes of the trident (Ukraine’s state emblem). The uniform also included belts with buckles on which  tridents  occasionally figured; one or two shoulder-belts; and a  map-case.  Buckles  were  introduced  early,  in  the  first  months  of  the  army’s  existence.  They  were distinguished by their shape, insignia, and manufacture. Some were remodeled German, Polish, or Soviet  buckles  from  which  the  enemy  symbol, e.g., the star or the swastika, was removed and replaced by the  trident.  The  most  common  buckles  were  those  fashioned  from  spent  cannon cartridges.  They  were  practically  identical,  with  only  small differences in size and detail. Some soldiers custom-designed their buckles, produced moulds,  and  cast  them  in  metal.  The  Ukrainian  Insurgent  Army  had  its  own  particular  system of military decorations and awards that were  introduced  in  early  1944  as  a means of recognizing service and achievement. These included Gold (two classes), Silver (two classes), and Bronze Crosses  of  Combat  Merit, while Gold, Silver, and Bronze Crosses of Merit were awarded to UPA soldiers as well as civilians. The actual decorations were  manufactured  at  a significantly later date (in 1951), based on designs created by the well-known insurgent artist Nil Khasevych. In addition to these decorations, which were considered orders of the UPA, the army introduced its Medal for Combat under Circumstances of  Extreme Difficulty in 1948. Four years later, in 1952, a medal to mark the 10th anniversary of the UPA was designed.

       Raids  were  one  of  the best-known elements of the UPA’s insurgency tactics. Thanks to their constant maneuvering and billeting changes, UPA soldiers were able to carry out surprise and harassing attacks while not allowing the enemy the opportunity to  strike  them  with  force.  Besides the broad use of raids as guerrilla tactics, the insurgents also used them to disseminate their ideas. With this goal in mind, they developed a special type of  military  propaganda  raid.  During  such  raids,  the  insurgents  did  not  restrict  themselves  to  armed  actions, but also distributed leaflets and clandestine  literature,  talked  to  local  civilians,  and  organized  clandestine  meetings.  After  the Second World War ended, the USSR was able to marshal all its forces in order to crush the Ukrainian national liberation movement. One of the methods of this struggle was to  erect  an  information blockade around the bloody confrontation between the Soviet regime and the freedom fighters, as well as a concerted  effort  to  discredit  Ukrainian nationalists as collaborators and “remnants of German lackeys.” In order to smash this blockade and expand its own anti-Soviet front,  the  Ukrainian Supreme  Liberation  Council—after  recruiting  representatives  of  the  Central  and Eastern  European nations that had just been subjugated by the Soviet Union—issued an order to carry out military-propaganda raids into the countries bordering Ukraine. 

       Between  1945  and  1950,  Ukrainian  insurgents  carried  out  a  number  of  such  operations  on the territory of the Belorussian SSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. In 1950,  UPA soldiers made an unsuccessful bid to carry out a raid into Lithuania in order to join their efforts with the Lithuanian insurgents, who were known as  “forest brothers.”  One of the UPA’s most famous  exploits was the 1947  Great Raid to the West.  Led by Mykhailo  Duda  (“Hromenko”),   Volodymyr  Shchyhelsky  (“Burlaka”),   and  Roman  Hrobelsky (“Brodych”),  UPA  companies  marched  through  the Zakerzonnia region (eastern sections of the Western Ukrainian ethnographic lands, “beyond the Curzon Line,” that were annexed by  Poland pursuant to the Soviet-Polish border agreements of 1944–45)  and  Czechoslovakia  in  order  to  reach  Bavaria  in  Western  Germany.  Hromenko’s company reached its destination without dispersing, while the other  companies  advanced  by  splitting  into  small  groups.  Covering a distance of more than 1,500 km, the freedom fighters made their way from behind the Iron Curtain to the West,  bringing the truth about the Ukrainians’ liberation struggle to light in the West. Their arrival prompted an  international  sensation,  and  Western  European and American newspapers began writing about the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. The UPA’s last successful raid into a neighboring country, as an  insurgent action  in Romania.  During a two-week period, an insurgent group succeeded in carrying out important propagandistic work among  the  Romanians  by  circulating  appeals  in  leaflet  form.  After completing  their  assignment,  the  UPA  soldiers  managed  to return home without any losses by maneuvering around the specially deployed Soviet forces.  Although  the  UPA’s  raids  did  not  lead  to  the  creation  of  a  coherent  anti-Soviet front, to a significant degree they fostered local anti - Communist movements and helped inform the free world about the Ukrainians’  valiant struggle for liberation  against  Stalinist  totalitarianism.

       The Ukrainian insurgents fired off their last shots in the early 1960s, when their unequal armed struggle,  which  had lasted  for  more  than  15 years, came to an end. However, the Ukrainians’ constant drive for freedom was not extinguished. Most notably, the insurgents were replaced by the Shistdesiatnyky (Sixtiers), a generation of young Ukrainian dissident poets and prose writers, who began publishing during Khrushchev’s “Thaw,” and through different means pursued the cause of their predecessors. Finally, in the 1980s, the winds of change began blowing in  Eastern  Europe,  and they did not bypass Ukraine. A powerful national-democratic movement arose like a Phoenix and united hundreds of thousands of  Ukrainians around the slogans and ideals of freedom and independence.  Under this pressure,  the Soviet-Russian  Empire  tottered and ultimately fell,  and on its ruins was resurrected the  long-awaited  independent  Ukrainian state.

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