All About Guns Soldiering War

Ukrayins’ka Povstans’ka Armiya: The Ukrainian Insurgent Army, Part 1: The History (1942−1949) The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army By Paul Scarlata

The Ukrainian Insurgent Army: Part 1 (Page 1 of 6)
A squad of UPA armed with a mixture of Soviet, Hungarian and German weapons.


Українська повстанська армія

The Ukrainian Insurgent Army: Part 1 (Page 1 of 6)

The Ukrainian Insurgent Army: Part 1 (Page 1 of 6)

Above photo: Man and wife members of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA).

The region of Eastern Europe known as Ukraine, first came upon the world scene in the late 9th century. Vikings from Sweden, known as the Varangians, traveled down the Dnipro river to the Black Sea in order to trade with the Byzantine Empire. They established settlements along the river which eventually grew into trading centers, assimilated with the local Slavic tribes and became known as the “Rus.” They eventually became the ruling class of what was known as the Kyivan Rus, after their capital Kyiv (“Kiev” in Russian), and extended their control over the lucrative trade routes of the region resulting in Kyivan Rus becoming one of the largest and most powerful states in Eastern Europe. Under the Varangian Grand Duke Rurik, they extended their operations east and south as far as the Caspian Sea and in 998 Grand Duke Volodymyr the Great made Christianity the official state religion.

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
A monument to the Varangian prince Rurik.

The Mongol invasions of the 13th century destroyed the Kyivan Rus state which broke up into small, competing principalities. [EDITOR’S NOTE: It is important to note that there was no Russia at this time, and it was not until 1277 that Moscow was created for the purpose of being a vassal region to Khan Mengu-Timur of the Golden Horde. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, that area was inhabited by a collective people known as the Muscovites. After Grand Prince of Muscovy Ivan III, aka Ivan the Great, conquered the Mongols who also had control over Kyiv, he declared himself to be the Grand Prince of all Rus. The county’s name Muscovy eventually evolved into The Tsardom of Russia in 1547, and then into the Russian Empire in 1721 by Perter the Great. The Kyivan Rus people eventually changed their people’s name to Ukrainian in order to differentiate themselves from the newly-named Russian people. One of the “competing principalities” mentioned previously was the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia (pronounced Halytsko-Volynske in Ukrainian) which was never conquered by Muscovy, and although it retained Kyivan Rus/Ukrainian customs, ethnicity and identity, it was conquered and absorbed into Poland in 1349 when it was known as the Kingdom of the Rus/ Kingdom of Ruthenia. Ukrainians, decedents of the Kyivan Rus people, are not the “Little Brother” of Russians and have a distinctly different ethnicity, culture, language, and history than that of modern-day Russians.]

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
Illya Repin’s famous painting “Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.”

The 14th century saw Ukraine divided up between the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Deprived of native protectors from the Rus nobility, the commoners began turning for protection to the Zaporozhian Kozaks (Cossacks) who were devoutly Orthodox and saw the Catholic Lithuanians and Poles and Muslim Crimean Tatars as enemies. They created a Cossack state, the Hetmanate, and established a vassal relationship with Moscow in 1654 in which they received money and arms in return for guarding the borders against Crimean Tatar and Ottoman raids.

For the next two centuries Ukrainians, Cossacks, Poles, Lithuanians, Turks, Tatars, Swedes and Muscovites fought over control of Ukraine. After the Partitions of Poland (1772–1795) and the Russian conquest of the Crimean Khanate, Russia and Austria-Hungary were in control of all the territories that constitute present day Ukraine for a hundred years.

Moscow accepted the Ukrainian elite into the Russian nobility and Church and there were periodic attempts to “Russify” the region by outlawing the use of the Ukrainian language in schools, newspapers and government while Ukrainian peasants were drafted into the Tsar’s army.

In the 19th century, Ukraine was a rural area whose rich black soil and farmlands made it the “breadbasket of Europe.” With growing urbanization and modernization, a Ukrainian intelligentsia committed to national rebirth and social justice led to a growing nationalist movement.

The outbreak of WWI in 1914 had immediate repercussions for the Ukrainian subjects of both Russia and Austria-Hungary. In Russia, Ukrainian organizations were suppressed and prominent figures arrested or exiled. As Russian forces advanced into Austrian Galicia (a.k.a. Western Ukraine) the retreating Austrians executed thousands of Ukrainians for suspected pro-Russian sympathies.

After occupying Galicia, tsarist authorities took steps to incorporate it into the Russian Empire. They prohibited the Ukrainian language, as well as some Ukrainian customs, and closed down institutions, but the Russification campaign, which was comprised of replacing Ukrainian culture and history with Russian culture and history, was cut short by the Austrian re-conquest in spring 1915. Western Ukraine, however, continued to be a theatre of military operations and suffered greatly.

The Russian Revolution of February 1917 brought into power the Provisional Government, which introduced freedom of speech and assembly and lifted the tsarist restrictions on minorities. National life in Ukraine quickened with the revival of a Ukrainian press and the formation of cultural and professional associations, as well as political parties.

In March, the Central Rada (“Council”) was formed in Kyiv as a Ukrainian representative body and the following month the Central Rada was declared the highest national authority with the stated goal of territorial autonomy for Ukraine within a federal Russian republic.

Disputes over territorial jurisdiction and political prerogatives soon arose. In the Russified cities of eastern Ukraine, the Rada had to compete with the increasingly radical workers’ and soldiers’ soviets.

Ukrainian-Russian relations deteriorated rapidly following the Bolshevik coup in St. Petersburg on November 7, 1917. The Central Rada refused to accept the new regime’s authority over Ukraine and on November 20th proclaimed the creation of the Ukrainian National Republic. The Bolsheviks declared Ukraine to be a Soviet republic and formed a rival government.

The Central Rada began peace negotiations with Germany from whom it hoped for military assistance and proclaimed the total independence of Ukraine on January 22, 1918 resulting in Soviet troops occupying Kyiv. On February 9th, Ukraine and the Central Powers signed the Peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. A German-Austrian offensive drove the Bolsheviks from Kyiv in early March, and the Rada government returned to the capital.

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
General Pavlo Skoropadsky, the short-lived “Hetman of Ukraine”, conferring with Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.

The socialist policies of the Rada conflicted with the interest of the Germans who wanted to maximize the production of foodstuffs for its own war effort. On April 29, 1918, the Rada was overthrown in a German-supported coup led by Gen. Pavlo Skoropadsky who declared himself “Hetman of Ukraine.” With the defeat and withdrawal of the Central Powers the Hetman quickly decided to “abdicate.”

The Ukrainian Insurgent Army: Part 1 (Page 2 of 6)

Above photo: (Left) Nestor Makhno the leader of the anarchist Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine. (Right) 1919. Polish soldiers during the Polish-Ukrainian War.

Post-war Ukraine was divided between competing governments in Kyiv and Stanyslaviv who unified as the Directory. Territorial disputes with Poland resulted in the short-lived Polish-Ukrainian War (1918 – 1919). The continuing Russian Civil War saw Ukraine become a chaotic battleground between White and Red Russian armies, competing Ukrainian forces, Allied troops, the anarchist Nestor Makhno’s Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army and otamany (guerillas led by local chieftains).

At the Paris Peace Conference (1919 – 1920) the territory of Ukraine was divided between four countries: the USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania. Both Poland and Romania attempted to destroy Ukrainian society by outlawing the use of the language, newspapers and by closing schools. These “ethnic cleansing” programs were often carried out by the Polish and Romanian police/militia with great brutality including confiscating private property, burning villages, killing civilians and clergy. While the Ukrainians under Czech rule were generally treated better they still remained an impoverished minority.

The Ukrainians and Poles had long been at odds and in the post-WWI period, they accused the Poles of treating them as an inferior people, denying them cultural autonomy, curtailing their chances for professional advancements, persecuting the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and for opposing in any way the complete Polonization of ethnically Ukrainian territory. Many Poles erroneously believed that the Galician Ukrainians represented a disloyal Soviet fifth column in their midst when in actual fact they were violently opposed to communism and wanted to be part of a non-Russian Ukrainian state.

By 1922, the Bolsheviks had pacified “their” region and established the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The Soviets originally allowed the use of the Ukrainian language in schools and government and encouraged Ukrainian culture. But in the 1930s, under Stalin’s regime, a policy of Russification was begun.

The collectivization of farms was instituted in 1929–30, peasants were forced to transfer land and livestock to state-owned farms, on which they would work as day-laborers. It was unpopular among the peasantry and led to numerous, local revolts which resulted in the Soviets sending in troops to enforce their dictates. The government instituted a program of food confiscation with the stated purpose of feeding the workers of the growing urban industrial centers.

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
Soviet troops confiscating grain from a Ukrainian farm.

Farmers were not only deprived of their properties but tens of thousands were exiled to Siberia with no means of survival. Those who were left behind and attempted to escape the zones of famine were executed. Farmers began to resist by hiding food and even burning their crops rather than let the Bolsheviks take them.

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
(Left) Starving Ukrainian children during the Holodomor. Between 1932 and 1933 starvation, disease and “punitive” actions resulted in the deaths of between seven and twelve million Ukrainians.
(Right) Harvest of Despair is an excellent documentary on Stalin’s attempt to destroy Ukrainian culture and ethnicity in what resulted in the largest genocide by famine in world history. It can be viewed via and

Combined with an ongoing famine plaguing several parts of the Soviet Union, this led to the Holodomor (“Death by Hunger”) and growing resistance, especially in Ukraine. Many sources claim that the Holodomor was a purposeful policy of Stalin’s regime to erase Ukrainian nationalism and confiscate the best agricultural lands. Soviet propaganda campaigns were instituted showing the Ukrainians as well fed and prosperous while most Russians were barely surviving on sparse rations. (Note: They were often identified as “kulaks” or rich peasants who took advantage of their less fortunate neighbors.) Between 1932 and 1933 starvation, disease and “punitive” actions resulted in the deaths of between seven and twelve million Ukrainians.

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
Ukrainians welcoming soldiers of the Wehrmacht.
Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
Early in the war some Ukrainians cooperated with the German invaders mainly to fight Soviet partisans.

When the Germans invaded the USSR in June 1941, they were initially greeted as liberators by some of the Ukrainian populace. In Galicia especially, there had long been a widespread belief that Germany, as the avowed enemy of Poland and the USSR, was the Ukrainians’ natural ally for the attainment of their independence. The illusion was quickly shattered.

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
(Left) Stefan Bandera was the head of the OUN-B.
(Right) Andrii Melnyk as the leader of the OUN-M.

The OUN (Orhanizatsiya Ukrayins’kykh Natsionalistiv) had been founded in 1929 as an organization committed to obtaining Ukrainian independence. For some time the OUN was composed of two factions, both claiming the name. The larger faction OUN-B was headed by Stefan Bandera and the smaller faction OUN-M was headed by Andrii Melnyk. In early summer 1940, the OUN split and Bandera became the overall chief of the greater part of the organization.

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
Germans entering Lviv.

The Germans were accompanied on their entry into Lviv on June 30, 1941 by members of the OUN-B and Bandera proclaimed the restoration of Ukrainian statehood and the formation of a provisional state administration. Within days the Germans arrested the organizers, including Bandera, and interned them into concentration camps.

Far from supporting Ukrainian political aspirations, the Nazis attached Galicia administratively to Poland, returned Bukovina to Romania, and gave the Romanians control over the area between the Dniester and Southern Buh rivers as the province of Transnistria with its capital at Odessa. The remainder was organized as the Reichskommissariat Ukraine.

The Nazis slated the Ukrainians for servitude and considered them an “inferior people”. The collective farms, whose dissolution was the hope of the peasantry, were left intact, industry was allowed to deteriorate, and the cities were deprived of foodstuffs as all available resources were directed to support the German war effort. Some 2.2 million people were sent as slave laborers to Germany, cultural activities were repressed, and education, when allowed was limited to the elementary level.

In eastern and central Ukraine, secret Communist Party cells maintained an underground existence, and a Soviet partisan movement developed in the northern forests. Early 1942 saw the formation of nationalist partisan units in Volhynia, and later in Galicia, which coalesced into the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (Ukrainska Povstanska Armiia – UPA) who began conducting guerilla warfare against the Germans, Soviet partisans and the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa). (Note: The centuries-long Polish/Ukrainian animosities led the Armia Krajowa to attack both German forces and the UPA.)

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
Besides fighting Germans, the UPA engaged Soviet partisans like these men.
Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
(Left) This UPA poster depicts a UPA soldier bayoneting effigies of not only Stalin but Hitler as well.
(Right) Polish partisans fought the UPA in an attempt to reclaim “lost” Polish territory.
Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
Dmytro Klyachkivsky was commander of the UPA from 1943 to 1944, and subsequently served as head of the UPA-North regional sector.
Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
Roman Shukhevych was the commander of the UPA from 1944 until 1950. His brother was executed by the Soviet NKVD on June 26, 1941.

The UPA’s leaders were: Vasyl Ivakhiv (Spring 1943), Dmytro Klyachkivsky (1943 – 1944), Roman Shukhevych (1944 – 1950), and finally Vasyl Kuk.

The UPA’s command structure overlapped with that of the underground OUN, in a sophisticated centralized network. The UPA was responsible for military operations while the OUN was in charge of administrative duties; each had its own chain of command. The six main departments were military, political, security service, mobilization, supply, and the Ukrainian Red Cross. Despite the division between the UPA and the OUN, there was overlap between their posts and the local OUN and UPA leaders were frequently the same person.

The Ukrainian Insurgent Army: Part 1 (Page 3 of 6)

Above photo: (Left) Vasyl Kuk was the last commander of the UPA. (Right) An OUN operative armed with a captured German MP40 submachine gun.

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
Nattily attired UPA officers.
Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
Most UPA fighters wore uniforms to differentiate themselves from Soviet and Polish partisans.

Organizational methods were borrowed and adapted from the German, Polish and Soviet military, while UPA units based their training on a modified Red Army field unit manual. Unlike many of the WWII partisan groups, UPA personnel often wore uniforms to distinguish them from the Soviet partisans and criminal gangs that often operated in the same territory. In addition, numbers of women served with the UPA in administrative, medical, communications and combat roles.

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
Winter 1946/47. Maria Rovenchuk-Labunka, who was the leader of the UPA Woman’s Network, 2nd District, is armed with a PPS-43 in the Syniava Woods of the Yaroslav Region (present-day Poland).

Former policemen constituted a large proportion of the UPA leadership, and they comprised about half of the UPA membership in 1943. In terms of UPA soldiers’ social background, 60% were peasants of low to moderate means, 20 to 25% were from the working class (primarily from the rural lumber and food industries), and 15% members of the intelligentsia (students, urban professionals). The latter group provided a large portion of the UPA’s military trainers and officer corps. With respect to the origins of the UPA’s members, 60% were from Galicia and 30% percent from Volhynia and Polisia and included personnel from the Caucasus and Central Asia who had deserted from the Red Army and joined the Ukrainians.

The UPA’s anti-German actions were limited to situations where the Germans attacked the Ukrainian population or UPA units. Indeed, according to German General Ernst Kostring, UPA fighters “fought almost exclusively against German administrative agencies, the German police and the SS in their quest to establish an independent Ukraine controlled by neither Moscow nor Germany.” Because the UPA was also fighting Soviet and Polish partisans it has been reported that Wehrmacht units often declined to support Nazi police and SS anti-partisan campaigns.

The UPA conducted hundreds of raids on police stations and military convoys. In the region of Zhytomyr, insurgents were estimated by the Germans to be in control of 80% of the forests and 60% of the farmland. From July through September 1943, there were over seventy clashes between German forces and the UPA during which the Nazis lost more than 3,000 men killed or wounded.

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
The Germans organized Ukrainian Auxiliary Police units from Ukrainian volunteers. Most deserted and joined the UPA in 1943 which fought the Germans.

In 1941, the Germans created the Ukrainische Hilfspolizei (Ukrainian Auxiliary Police) from Ukrainian volunteers to maintain order in occupied areas of the Eastern Front, especially against Polish partisans.

For many who joined the police force, enlistment served as an opportunity to receive military training and access to weapons.

The OUN-B leadership on March 1943 issued secret instructions ordering their members who had joined the Nazi auxiliary police to desert with their weapons and join with the military detachment of OUN (SD) units. In the Spring of 1943, approximately 10,000 police deserted and joined the ranks of the future UPA. In some places this involved engaging in armed conflict with German forces who tried to prevent desertion.

The leaders of UPA saw the German-Soviet war as a favorable time for a revolution that would lead to the liberation of Ukraine. On the political level, Germany was considered to be an enemy, as it was an invader and the UPA fought the Germans until they left in 1944. The losses inflicted upon German forces by UPA came close to those inflicted by Soviet partisans.

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
The UPA fought Soviet partisans right through the end of WWII.

As the Germans withdrew ahead of the advancing Soviets, the UPA, who saw the Soviets as just as bad, if not a worse threat than the Nazis, began attacking Red Army units. UPA commanders avoided outright confrontation with the vanguard of the Red Army, choosing instead to lie in wait to attack rear-echelon authorities as they attempted to reestablish political control over newly “liberated” Ukraine.

The centuries of Ukrainian/Polish animosities and conflicts came to a head in 1943 when Ukrainians, including some UPA units, began a campaign of what is today known as “ethnic cleansing” against the Polish minority residing in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia. It has been reported that up to 100,000 Poles were killed or forced to flee the region by 1944.

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
Taras Bulba-Borovets was the commander of the Ukrainian Peoples’ Revolutionary Army and a sometime ally of the UPA.

Taras Bulba-Borovets, the commander of the Ukrainian Peoples’ Revolutionary Army, which sometimes cooperated with the UPA, condemned the anti-Polish campaign and did not let his members take part in them.

Retaliation was hardly less fierce. Warnings to Ukrainians made in 1943 stated that every Polish village burned would result in two Ukrainian villages being razed, and for every Pole killed, two Ukrainians would be killed. Orders issued in February of 1944 by the Polish Home Army said only children would be spared; however, a month later a massacre by Polish partisans occurred in Kholm killing 1,500 most of whom were women and children.

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
Two of these UPA fighters are wearing traditional Ukrainian peasant clothing.

UPA forces targeted state police and paramilitary units along with any Ukrainians they considered pro-Soviet. Moscow’s propaganda painted the faction as fanatical Nazi-friendly holdouts and hunted them without mercy.

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
The Soviets used large numbers of elite NKVD troops to fight the UPA.

In the summer of 1944, the Soviets detached a force of 30,000 NKVD troops to Volhynia to quell a large-scale UPA uprising there. Some estimates peg Soviet losses at 2,000.

By the end of the summer, the UPA had driven the enemy out of large areas of western Ukraine. The movement was at the height of its power, controlling an area roughly the size of Greece with a population of 10 million citizens and UPA forces enjoyed virtual freedom of movement over the area. But this independence would be short lived.

There has been much controversy as to whether or not the UPA took part in the Holocaust. Historically there was a strong strain of anti-Semitism in most Eastern European societies and the SS took advantage of this by using Russian, Baltic and Belarussian “volunteers” to help them massacre Jews.

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
UPA Captain Medic “Kyvai” extracting the tooth of UPA Liaison Officer “Slavko”.

There were numerous cases of Jewish participation within the ranks of the UPA, some of whom held high positions. According to journalist and former fighter Leo Heiman, some Jews fought for the UPA, while many were included among the UPA’s medical personnel. These included Dr. Hawrysh, who headed UPA-West’s medical service, Dr. Maksymovich, who was the Chief Physician of the UPA’s officer school, and Dr. Abraham Kum, the director of an underground hospital in the Carpathians. The latter individual was the recipient of the UPA’s Golden Cross of Merit.

According to Phillip Friedman many Jews, particularly those whose skills were useful to the UPA, were sheltered by them. It has been claimed that the UPA sometimes executed its Jewish personnel, but Friedman evaluated such claims as either uncorroborated or mistaken. (Source: Tys-Krokhmaliuk, Yuriy. UPA Warfare in Ukraine. Society of Veterans of the UPA. New York. 1972. Pages 94 – 95)

It now appears that many of the accusations of anti-Semitism and collaboration with the Nazis leveled against the UPA are the result of Soviet propaganda aimed at destroying the UPA’s reputation both during and after WWII.

The Ukrainian Insurgent Army: Part 1 (Page 4 of 6)

Above photo: Hungarian occupation troops in Ukraine.

In 1944, the Hungarians, even though they were technically German “allies”, fearing the Soviet advances towards Hungary, reached a secret agreement with the UPA, “The Treaty of Nonaggression and Mutual Assistance.” Both sides agreed to cease hostile activities against each other and the Hungarians agreed to supply the UPA with weapons and other supplies. In 1945, the UPA concluded a similar agreement with the Armia Krajowa to jointly fight the Red Army and the new communist government of Poland. (Source: Trys-Krokhmaliuk, Yuriy. Pages 42 – 43.)

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
UPA fighters armed with a mixture of Soviet and German submachine guns.

In late 1944, the Soviets mounted a second, considerably larger offensive consisting of twenty infantry divisions supported by tanks and artillery. By the spring of 1945, despite fierce resistance, the UPA had been effectively crushed, an estimated 90,000 UPA fighters were killed and a comparable number had been captured. While the Soviets claimed (?) they lost “only” 12,000 troops in the campaign they were again in control of western Ukraine. To further pacify the region, Moscow arrested and deported as many as a half a million Ukrainians to the gulag camps in Siberia between 1944 and 1946.

During, and after WWII, the Soviets began a propaganda campaign, which continues to the present day, against the UPA claiming they collaborated with the Nazis. While some collaboration against Soviet partisans occurred, it was rare and short term and during the German occupation the UPA directed most of their energies against the police and Waffen SS units.

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
A group of UPA fighters listen to a radio broadcast in the forest hideout.

The UPA responded to the Soviet methods by unleashing their own terror against Soviet activists, suspected collaborators and their families. This work was particularly attributed to the Sluzhba Bezbeky (SB), the anti-espionage wing of the UPA. The UPA also proved to be especially adept at assassinating key Soviet administrative officials. According to KNVD records, between February 1944 and December 1946, 11,725 Soviet officers, agents and collaborators were assassinated and 2,401 were “missing” or were presumed kidnapped, in western Ukraine.

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
The UPA operated out of networks of cleverly disguised bunkers.
Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
Easter Sunday, 1946. A company of UPA fighters celebrate Easter with a sparse meal in their forest hideout.

After the end of WWII, the UPA continued to fight against the communist Polish Peoples’ Army (Ludowe Wojsko Polskie) and Soviets until 1949. It was particularly strong in the Carpathian mountains, Galicia and Volhynia, all in western Ukraine. UPA fighters constructed extensive networks of underground bunkers including storage, communication and hospital facilities, which were skillfully camouflaged and very difficult for Soviet forces to recognize.

In April of 1947, a combined Soviet, Polish and Czech campaign, Operation Vistula (Polish: Akcja Wisla) resulted in the deaths and forced resettlement of more than 100,000 members of the Ukrainian minority from the southeastern provinces of post-war Poland to lands on the East German border in the west of the country. The action was carried out with the aim of removing material support and assistance to the UPA.

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
UPA fighters armed with a mixture of Soviet, German and Hungarian small arms.

By the late 1940s, the mortality rate for Soviet troops fighting Ukrainian insurgents in all western Ukraine was higher than the mortality rate of Soviet troops during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Between February 1943 and May 1945, unlike most resistance movements, the UPA had no significant foreign support. Its growth and strength were a reflection of the popularity it enjoyed among the people of western Ukraine. Outside of western Ukraine, support was not significant, and the majority of the Eastern Ukrainian population considered the OUN/UPA to have collaborated with the Germans, a viewpoint that the Soviets encouraged.

In 1951, CIA covert operations chief Frank Wisner estimated that some 35,000 Soviet police troops and Communist party cadres had been eliminated by guerrillas affiliated with the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in the period after the end of World War II.

Soviet authorities tried to win over the local population by making significant economic investment in western Ukraine, and by setting up rapid reaction groups in many regions to combat the UPA. NKVD agents infiltrated UPA units while others, disguised as UPA fighters, committed atrocities against the civilian population in order to discredit the UPA. According to the Soviets, “By 1948 ideologically we had the support of most of the population.”

The UPA’s leader, Roman Shukhevych was killed by NKVD troops on March 5, 1950. Although sporadic UPA activity continued until the mid-1950s, after Shukhevych’s death the UPA rapidly lost its fighting capability. (Note: According to some sources members of the UPA underground continued to be active into the early 1960s.)

The UPA’s Sian Division, which operated in Ukrainian ethnic territories that were annexed by Poland after 1944, defended the Ukrainian population from forced deportations to the USSR in 1945 and 1946. After reaching an understanding with the Armia Krajowa the two conducted several joint operations against communist Polish security forces.

An assessment of UPA manpower by Soviet authorities in April 1952 claimed that UPA/OUN had only 84 fighting units consisting of 252 persons. The UPA’s last commander, Vasyl Kuk was captured in May 1954. Despite the existence of some insurgent groups, according to a report by the Ukrainian SSR, the “…liquidation of armed units and OUN underground was accomplished by the beginning of 1956.”

Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
Lithuanian miško broliai (Forest Brothers) continued to fight the Soviets well into the 1950s.
Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya - The History and Small Arms of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
1947. UPA fighters engaging Soviet troops.

In continuing their struggle in western Ukraine after the war, the UPA were not alone in fighting the Soviets in Central and Eastern Europe. Remnants of the Armia Krajowa were active until 1947, refusing to accept the communist government established by Moscow while Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian anti-communist “forest brothers” guerillas – Estonian: metsavennad; Latvian: mežabrali; Lithuanian: miško broliai – were active in the Baltic states until the 1950s.

In the post-WWII years, in the USSR, the UPA was mentioned only as a terrorist organization, although there were still some small units reported to have been active until as late as the early 1960s. Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, there was heated debates about the official recognition to former UPA members as legitimate combatants, with the accompanying pensions and benefits due to war veterans. This led to opposition from Red Army veterans and some Ukrainian politicians.

In March 2019, former members of the UPA and other living former members of Ukrainian irregular nationalist armed groups that were active during World War II and the first decade after the war were officially granted the status of veterans and would receive the same benefits as former Ukrainian soldiers who served in the Red Army.

The Ukrainian Insurgent Army: Part 1 (Page 5 of 6)

Bio of Maria Rovenchuk – Labunka (aka “Iryna” and “Virna”) of the UPA

From the book Pechenizhyn by Mykhailo Dovirak, Kolomyia Publishing, 2005, page 61 (translated by Maria’s son Illya Labunka)

Maria Rovenchuk, the daughter of Illya, was born on February 12, 1924 in the village of Pechenizhyn, of the Kolomyia district, Stanislaviv Voivodeship [present day Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast] as the first child into a family of peasants-homesteaders. The following year, Maria’s brother Matiy was born and then Andriy. Maria’s father served in World War I as cavalryman in the Austrian Army. Afterwards, he served in the “UHA” [Ukrainian Galician Army] and ultimately in the army of the “UNR” [Ukrainian People’s Republic].

After completing 6th grade of elementary school in Pechenizhyn, in 1938 Maria registered at the Ukrainian-language, private gymnasium in Kolomyia. During the first Soviet occupation, Maria continued her education at the local, Soviet 10-grade school, and subsequently – during the German occupation – at the Kolomyia state gymnasium with instruction in the Ukrainian language.

In 1942, as a 6th-grade gymnasium student, Maria became a member of the banned Ukrainian scouting organization “PLAST” as well as a member of the OUN’s youth network. Shortly afterwards, she joined the insurgent movement. Initially, Maria served as a political educator in “Spartan’s” company (unit 59, Tactical Sector 21), mainly focusing on teaching “The History of Ukraine” according to Ukraine’s pre-eminent historian, Mykhailo Hrushevsky.

In the autumn of 1943, the OUN dispatched Maria Rovenchuk to Peremyshl [present-day Poland], where, once her gymnasium studies there were to be completed, Maria Rovenchuk had instructions to engage in the Ukrainian resistance against the German occupation. Thus, after receiving her high school-level diploma (division A) in March 1944, Maria Rovenchuk underwent appropriate organizational training in the form of theoretical and practical workshops. Now, as a full-fledged OUN member, Maria was dispatched to the Yaroslav region [present-day Poland] and charged with organizing the women’s network of the OUN. The territory of her activity was structured as an organizational unit under the title: The 2nd OUN Region “Baturyn” of the so-called “Zakerzonnia” land. From this moment on Maria Rovenchuk − now known under her nom de guerre “Iryna” – became a member of the Regional Command as leader of the women’s network of the above-mentioned OUN region. “Iryna” diligently fulfilled this responsibility until the Ukrainian underground in the Zakerzonnia region was liquidated as a result of the Polish-implemented forced resettlement policy known as “Operation Vistula.”

For the remainder of 1944, − as regional head of the women’s network of the OUN for the Yaroslav Region – “Iryna” supervised the network’s expansion of cooperation with the medical centers of the Ukrainian Red Cross.

1944 also saw the deportation to northern Russia of “Iryna’s” patriotic, unwavering parents, who were sentenced to serve in a forced labor camp in Arkhangelsk Oblast; “Iryna’s” father, Illya Rovenchuk, perished there in 1958, while “Iryna’s” mother returned to her native village after 14 years in exile, albeit an invalid, following a lumbering accident.

“Iryna’s” younger brother Andriy managed to flee during the deportation process and found refuge thanks to his older brother Matiy, who was also serving in the ranks of the UPA at this time. In 1948, Andriy was captured, arrested and deported to a concentration camp in northern Russia where we worked in the gold mines as a slave laborer for 10 years.

In the autumn of 1945, following orders from the OUN’s Supreme Command, “Iryna” went into deep hiding into the Syniava forest [present-day Poland]. There she became an operative of a clandestine, underground publishing operation, which produced official reports of the terrain’s activity, transcriptions of local short-wave radio broadcasts, etc.

The winter of 1946-47 was particularly difficult, as evidenced by the unceasing round-ups instigated by the Polish Communist military forces throughout the countryside. During the winter of 1946-1947, “Iryna” spent the entire time hidden deep in a forest inside an underground bunker alone with only a typewriter and a stack of various documents slated for editing. For a period of 4 months, “Iryna” did not see any live person; due to the intense snowfalls that season, none of her fellow insurgents were able to visit her. Very often, “Iryna” could hear the sound of a scuttling animal or the thumping sound of the enemy’s boots on the ground above the bunker…all the while counting the seconds of her life as it flashed before her eyes, with her loaded pistol at her side….

In 1947, “Iryna” received orders to take a train, for organizational reconnaissance purposes, to the northwestern coast of Poland of the so-called “Regained Territories” − an area to which a significant portion of the Ukrainian population of the Lemko region had been forcibly resettled. During her clandestine activity in the city of Koszalin, “Iryna” was arrested by the Polish Military Police. While being transported by train from Koszalin to Yaroslav, “Iryna” managed to escape from the hands of the Polish soldier who was escorting her. For almost a year, “Iryna” lived in various locations throughout Poland with no legal status.

In December 1948, “Iryna’s” brother Matiy (nom de guerre “Loza”) died a heroic death as a soldier of the UPA. In the summer of 1948, “Iryna” − along with a group of 4 other UPA insurgents and members of the Ukrainian underground − embarked on a trek heading West. After overcoming incredible challenges, and following a long, perilous journey, “Iryna” and her fellow insurgents crossed the Czech-German border and finally reached the American Zone of Occupation in Germany on August 18, 1948. Already in the autumn of that same year, “Iryna” matriculated as a student of the Ukrainian Free University in Munich under the pseudonym Iryna Surmach. On August 2, 1952, “Iryna” married Miroslav Labunka (one of the future rectors of the Ukrainian Free University).

In 1955, the Labunka family sailed to the shores of the United States. As a devoted wife and mother of three children, Maria Labunka found the time to engage in community affairs. Over the course of 17 years she taught at the Ukrainian Heritage Saturday School (“Ridna Shkola”) in Philadelphia, PA; served as a counselor in the local branch of the Ukrainian scouting organization “PLAST”, as well as a camp counselor for the organization’s summer program in the Catskill Mountains of New York State; and was an active member of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America.

During Maria’s years in the insurgency, in addition to her nom de guerre “Iryna”, Maria also had the nom de guerre “Virna” [“Faithful”], a moniker which suited her well. When the opportunity finally arose (in 1991) to freely travel to and throughout Ukraine, Maria Rovenchuk-Labunka, with great joy and satisfaction, often visited the Hutsul region of the Carpathian Mountains and her native village of Pechenizhyn, situated in the foothills of the Carpathians.

On October 17, 1996, following a grave illness, Maria Rovenchuk-Labunka passed away. Maria is buried in the UPA veterans’ section at the Ukrainian Cemetery of St. Andrew the First-Called in the American city of South Bound Brook, New Jersey.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *