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13 November, 2012  ▪  Ivan Patryliak

A Collective Portrait of UPA Fighters

4 myths about UPA Fighters

The myth about the UPA as “a miserable handful of German-Ukrainian bourgeois nationalists” who fled from Ukraine in 1919 and returned in 1942 on the “German train”, bringing along “priests’ sons, urban bourgeoisie and non-working elements”, was spread by Communist propaganda for a long time and largely persists even today among a certain segment of the Ukrainian population. Now that secret archives have been opened and numerous historical studies completed, the above statements can be thoroughly debunked. We will use the most complete corpus of insurgent statistics from the Bohun military district under the command of the UPA-North (southern Rivne, northern Ternopil and Khmelnytsky regions) to reconstruct the true state of affairs.

MYTH NO. 1: “SURVIVORS FROM PETLIURA’S ARMY”

This claim in the propaganda would have to mean that people aged at least 40-50 would have had to predominate in the UPA in the 1940s. However, statistics point to the contrary. In 1944, the UPA was 75.15 per cent comprised of young people aged 17-28,22.38 per cent aged up to 40 and a mere 2.17 per cent over 40.

The UPA did not in any way integrate a significant number of participants in the 1917-21 liberation struggle and was somewhat younger than the Soviet partisans, because the latter included a large number of professional military men, instructors and party functionaries.

UPA personnel in 1943-46

December 1943-February 1944   14,000-17,000

June-August 1944   21,900-23,200

June-August 1945   14,000-16,000

March-April 1946   9,000-9,500

MYTH NO. 2: “BOURGEOIS HENCHMEN”

Statistics also disproves the completely lame claim that the UPA was a “bourgeois” force. The bourgeoisie is mainly urban residents, but the UPA was a predominantly peasant army which was, according to available sources, 78.8 per cent peasants, 16.47 per cent workers and 4.36 per cent government employees (professional servicemen, officials, intellectuals, etc.). The OUN underground in Volyn was 78.3 per cent peasants, 16.3 per cent intellectuals and 5.4 per cent workers. In other words, peasants and workers made up over 95 per cent of the UPA and over 83 per cent of the OUN underground. The UPA comes across as even less “bourgeois” if the birthplace of its fighters is considered. Statistically, 90.8 per cent of the insurgents were born in the countryside and 9.13 per cent in towns and cities, while some 60 per cent of Soviet partisans were of peasant origin.

MYTH NO. 3: “DECEIVED AND ILLITERATE”

Soviet propaganda also claimed that, in addition to “bourgeois” elements, the UPA included “benighted and illiterate” peasants who had been “duped by nationalistic führers”. However, statistical sources show that the educational level of UPA insurgents was on par with that of Soviet partisans, even though the USSR was greatly proud of the success it had made in fighting illiteracy and making secondary and higher education “universally accessible”.

The illiterate accounted for a mere 1.73 per cent of UPA insurgents and 2.9 per cent of Soviet partisans. Fighters with little education (1-3 classes of school) comprised 25.96 per cent of the UPA and 21.7 per cent of the partisans, those with incomplete secondary education 65.87 and 58.7 per cent and with complete or incomplete higher education 0.69 and 3.5 per cent, respectively. This means that the two guerilla formations had an almost equal share of fighters who were illiterate or could barely read: 27.68 per cent in the UPA and 24.6 per cent among the Red partisans. The majority of their personnel was educated at the level of secondary school and further.

MYTH NO. 4: “UKRAINIAN-GERMAN NATIONALISTS”

Statistics are silent on “Ukrainian-German” nationalists. There was not one German among all the insurgents accounted for in 1944, while 98.3 per cent were registered as Ukrainians, 0.83 per cent as Russians, 0.35 per cent as Uzbeks, 0.28 per cent as Belarusians, 0.14 per cent as Don Cossacks, 0.07 per cent as Kazakhs and 0.07 per cent as Czechs. Territorially, 97.4 per cent were born on the territory of contemporary Ukraine and 2.6 per cent outside its borders. Clearly, the UPA was nearly a mono-ethnic guerilla army, while the Ukrainian Red partisans were Ukrainian largely in terms of the territory they operated in.

Comparative data about the ethnicity and origin of UPA insurgents and Soviet partisans who were active in Ukraine during the Second World War suggests that the latter were more a product of the Kremlin than a popular initiative of Ukrainians. The Red partisans were merely 54.4 per cent Ukrainian, including 60.1 per cent who were born in the Ukrainian SSR, 25.5 per cent in the Russian SFSR and 13 per cent in other Soviet republics. Ukrainians were in minority in 7 of the 16 largest partisan units operating in Ukraine: 758 out of 1,587 under Mikhail Naumov; 1,506 out of 3,675 under Aleksandr Saburov; 1,068 out of 3,373 under Oleksiy Fedorov; 565 out of 1,854 under Sydir Kovpak; 802 out of 2,117 in the Lenin unit and so on.


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