Ukrainian Insurgent Army Commander Vasyl Kuk

Maria Aksyonova  -  Whats on Kiev

Ninety-three year old Vasyl Kuk is one of the last surviving members of the leadership of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) which fought both Nazis and Soviets during WWII and enjoyed particular infamy in the USSR. Last weekend saw the group organise a major demonstration in Kyiv to mark the anniversary of their foundation, provoking rival anti-UPA rallies and raising tensions among many Ukrainians. We asked this senior UPA man to share his thoughts on the historic events he has lived through and helped shape.

The Origins of UPA

“In fact the Ukrainian insurgent movement of the 20th century began much earlier than UPA itself – it started as soon as a national consciousness emerged and a strong desire to fight for Ukrainian independence appeared. The first formations appeared during WWI and up till 1929 there was a Ukrainian Military Organization which proclaimed Ukrainian independence 1 November 1918. In 1929 Ukrainian nationalists formed OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists). Here I would like to underline the difference between the notions of patriotism and true nationalism. Patriotism is simply an expression of love to one’s country, while nationalism is concrete action to defend the interests of this country. That’s why I don’t see anything negative in the term of ‘nationalist’ and am proud to be one. We don’t have pretensions to other nations’ lands, we just defend ours – that’s the essence. With the outbreak of WWII Ukrainian nationalists had to create their own military organization. Which is how UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) appeared in 1942.”

World War II

“We Ukrainian nationalists found ourselves caught between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s USSR, which I consider to be the last true empires in the world. We had to fight against both of them, but we also sought to use their confrontation to some extend. There was no outside support as Soviet Russia was supported by Great Britain and other European countries.    

Khruschev’s Amnesty

“I was arrested by KGB in 1954 and held without trial for six years. The KGB held me illegally as they hoped to use me to find and kill Bandera (legendary UPA leader), and when they managed to assassinate him without my assistance, they decided they needed me alive for propaganda purposes. KGB operatives tried to recruit me by all means, or at least use me as a source of information. They came to the conclusion that my murder would only compromise the Soviet authority in the eyes of Western society. During the famous ‘Khruschev thaw’ I was released for propaganda purproses. In other words they wanted to show that Stalin’s tyranny was past and that the Soviet UNI0N was finally on the way to a bright future. I never felt safe and always knew I could be liquidated immediately.”

Gorbachev’s Perestroika

“As soon as Gorbachev came to power he realized that it was impossible to keep such a huge nation in such total terror and isolation, and in order to preserve power he had to make some changes and contacts with the West. This compromise led to perestroika. So when Gorbachev started the so-called democratization process and made attempts to give people the chance to speak openly about anything, including the authorities, it was clear from the very beginning that it would lead to the collapse of the USSR. In my opinion the process was inevitable. Of course Gorbachev didn’t mean to ruin the Soviet UNI0N - he just wanted to a little reform to give people more rights. But having felt it people didn’t want to continue as slaves.”
Orange Revolution
‘With all respect to the people who stood up for their rights on Maidan I wouldn’t call the orange events a revolution, as we have more or less the same social system and state regime now as before. I do consider it a positive thing as competition between ruling groups always leads to the development of society. Even more importantly Ukrainians after decades of silence learned once more to say ‘no’. So although it didn’t change Ukraine so much, it changed Ukrainians.”

Veteran Politics
“Yuschenko’s attempts to reconcile both sides are absolutely useless, first of all because Red Army veterans are not ready to accept those who fought for an independent Ukraine. It is not simply a matter of forgiving each other and forgetting the past, it is much more complicated – we have too varied views of the world and, probably, we are too old to change or minds.”

Ukraine Today
“It is very important to understand that Ukrainian nationalists do not hate Russia or any other country, or want to occupy what belongs to them, we just want to protect our country and our interests and educate our youth. We don’t mind Russians living in Ukraine, but if they live here they have to respect the rules of this country and speak its language. But if they do not want to put up with it, they are free to go back to their own land. To form a truly Ukrainian government we need to wait at least one more generation, as the years of total Russification remain deeply rooted in all of us. Even Yuschenko, who is undoubtedly Ukrainian and wants only good for his country is not an exception, as he was brought up in the Soviet manner and it influences his political behavior more than he thinks.”