Despite its image as an entrenched military-political entity, the UPA included a number of intellectuals and talented artists who remain little known today
Even though many articles stereotypically depict the UPA “forest army” as being primarily concerned with military activity, this was not exactly the case. The UPA paid a lot of attention to educating the population, especially the youth, and raising a new generation of Ukrainian independence fighters to continue the struggle for liberation. This is one reason a large number of OUN and UPA members engaged in covert propaganda activity (intellectual resistance) against the Soviets. The approach was similar to tactics used in post-war Poland, Czechoslovakia and other socialist countries.
OVERCOMING A BLOCKADE
In the second half of the 1940s, both OUN informers and MGB operatives noted the increased interest the Ukrainian population was taking in underground printed articles and leaflets. One UPA reports reads: “Our underground literature is in great demand among the population. There is even a sort of thirst for it, especially among the youth, students and intellectuals. They are all amazed that such a high level of political writing, magazine articles on various issues and even articles on complex, purely scholarly topics can be published in difficult underground conditions.”
The UPA then emphasized publication activity and was highly successful, especially in light of the fact that the Soviet government exercised total control over the media in the country. There was simply no other alternative to communist propaganda in the Soviet Union. Underground activists gathered fonts, typewriters and copiers wherever and whenever they could. They set up special underground printing facilities for printing periodicals. According to Cheka data, at least 88 such facilities, over 1,000 typewriters and several tonnes of type were confiscated in 1944-45. OUN regional leader Vasyl “Orlan” Halas wrote in his report that the local underground made over 300,000 copies of various books, brochures, appeals, leaflets and other publications from 1948 to 1953. Not every printshop can boast such figures even today.
This surge in publishing and creative activity in the Ukrainian underground was not surprising – a number of highly educated people (scholars, painters, writers and journalists) joined the ranks of the UPA and intellectually enriched the resistance. All of them would have been arrested by the Soviet special services if they had maintained any legal status in their activities. So they went underground and spent all of their energy fighting for an independent Ukraine: some using their pens, others their brushes or chisels.
Furthermore, the OUN and the UPA formed several underground artistic centres and even underground schools sat the same time as their military struggle was underway above.
THE FORGE OF PROPAGANDA
The OUN’s Chief Propaganda Centre involved arguably the most talented underground authors of the era. Two leaders, Petro “Arkadiy” Duzhy and Petro Fedun (“Poltava”), stood out – they wrote several dozen newspaper articles, edited the OUN’s official magazine Ideia i Chyn (Idea and Action) and also set the tone for such periodicals as Za ukrainsku derzhavu (For the Ukrainian State), Povstanets (The Insurgent), etc.
Other highly active authors who contributed to underground manuals, books, brochures, magazines and leaflets included Yaroslav “Syniy” Starukh, Mykola “Vyrovy” Duzhy (editor of the Povstanets magazine), Bohdana Svitlyk (“Maria Dmytrenko”, author of stories for young people), Kateryna Zarytska (“Uliana Kuzhil”, author of burning philosophical and political issues), Yakiv “Kyivsky” Busel, Osyp “Hornovy” Diakiv (author of dozens of articles on a variety of topics) and others. The exploitative nature of the Soviet collective farm system was exposed in works penned by Vasyl “Lemish” Kuk and Vasyl “Ulas” Bei, members of the OUN’s leadership who were in general more concerned with purely organizational activity. Kuk’s wife Uliana Kriuchenko (who used the pen-name Uliana Dnipropetrovska) also wrote several stories for young readers. Vasyl “Orlan” Halas authored over 25 articles.
The Propaganda Sections in all regions of Ukraine where the OUN and the UPA were active, involved gifted painters, littérateurs and political writers. Unfortunately, many of these people sank into oblivion. Soviet authorities erased all memory of their creative work and they remain mostly little known in Ukraine.
Nil Khasevych (1905-1952) was the best known artist in the insurgent underground. He became crippled at a young age – his mother was killed and he lost a leg in a railway accident. He exhibited a remarkable artistic talent in his childhood, and after school he managed to save enough money to study in the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. There he was taught by the best Polish masters and joined the Spokiy (Calm) artistic group. In the 1930s, his works were displayed at numerous domestic and foreign exhibitions and were warmly received in Europe.
In the late 1930s, Khasevych returned to Volhynia where he worked as a graphic artist for Ukrainian newspapers, creating illustrations and covers for magazines and books. He went underground in 1943 when he joined the UPA. There he headed the political-propaganda section of the UPA-North headquarters and received the nickname Zot. He produced 240 graphical works in harsh conditions in underground shelters and without proper tools or materials. The best known of these is the Volhynia Fighting series of woodcuts. Khasevych also supplied illustrations to propaganda leaflets, posters, bofons (coupons) and UPA publications, painted logos and caricatures, produced memorial portraits of deceased commanders and leaders and made stamps, seals and clichés.
On commission from the UPA leadership, Khasevych made draft versions of UPA decorations – crosses, medals, etc. Later these drafts found their way abroad, and the decorations were produced by the Ukrainian diaspora.
Importantly, he taught others, primarily artistically talented young underground activists giving them training in fine arts, painting and wood carving. He essentially created his own artistic school, and his followers worked in different departments of the underground, including its secret print shops. Their graphical works can be found in a large number of UPA publications in the late 1940s and early 1950s. They were often secretly transported abroad and given to Western diplomats and even to members of delegations to the UN General Assembly in New York. Soviet authorities learned of this and ordered the Cheka to step up its efforts and find the artist.
Khasevych’s life ended on 4 March 1952 in an underground shelter in a village in Rivne Oblast. The shelter was surrounded by Cheka men who told the insurgents to surrender. They refused. A grenade was thrown into the shelter and Khasevych and his last two students died together.
CARPATHIAN POLITICAL WRITERS
One of the most powerful underground creative centres which could be considered a school of literary and journalistic writing emerged in the Propaganda Department in the OUN’s Carpathian Krai Military Headquarters. It included poet Mykhailo Diachenko (“Marko Boieslav”), political writer Yaroslav Bohdan (“Vsevolod Ramzenko”), the propaganda writers Omelian “Levko” Kochiy and Stepan “Klym” Slobodian, and some unknown underground writers.
In 1944-52, this centre published multiple issues of the magazines Chorny lis (Black Forest), Ukrainsky robitnyk (The Ukrainian Worker), Shliakh peremohy (Path of Victory), Propagandist, the youth periodical Na zminu (The Young Generation), etc. They also penned numerous works: Bohdan wrote over 40 political articles, and Diachenko wrote around the same number of pieces on various topics as well as a dozen or so collections of poetry.
All these talented writers were later killed in skirmishes with the NKVD. But their works, published in large print runs, have survived to our day and regional ethnographers and scholars are now beginning to study their lives and activities.
At a campaign rally in Iowa, President Donald Trump cited an unsubstantiated news report to revive a widely debunked false narrative about Joe Biden’s work in Ukraine on behalf of the Obama administration