Young Ukrainians find inspiration in WW2 insurgents

It's 65 years since the Urkainian Insurgent Army, the UPA, was formed at the height of World War Two. And its role in fighting both Nazi and Soviet forces remains a contentious issue in Ukraine, where the group is regarded in some quarters as a nationali

Recently the UPA has begun to inspire new supporters among Ukraine's young.  

Dmitry Korchinsky, who was a founding member of Ukraine’s ultra radical party, UNA, and its military wing, UNSO, recalls:  

“We gathered anti-Soviet brigades to fight the communist groups. And we were very upset when they disappeared.  For any such company, there should be a war. One can only discover the true self in death. That’s why we took part in military conflicts”.

Dmitry Korchinsky,  UNA party
Dmitry Korchinsky, UNA party

According to Korchinski, they took part in various ethnic conflicts in Europe. His soldiers fought alongside militants in Chechnya and Serbs in Kosovo.  

Marko, who’s one of the young heirs to the radical UNSO groups, says that most of his friends at home are more interested in computers than shooting. So, he chose different company.  

“Our motto is ‘Glory to the nation, death to the enemies’. We must protect our nation in any way we can. I want to learn here how to protect myself and my family,” he says.

Like their predecessors, they train in the forest.  But the difference is they now have a license to do it.  Under a new leadership, they claim to have stopped hating Jews and burning Russian flags.  

The young nationalists say they want to be like the heroes of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Caught between German and Soviet Union forces, the UPA fought them both during the Second World War.  

Oles Yanchuk has produced several movies about them.  And while some call them traitors, or Nazi collaborators, he believes they were freedom fighters.

“They were not occupants; they were protecting their own land. And there were two major forces that wanted to put them down, even more to exterminate them. In 1935, when the Bolsheviks came to western Ukraine, 10 per cent of its population was wiped out. They were either killed or sent to Siberia in the course of one year,” Oles says.  

Oles Yanchuk, film producer
Oles Yanchuk, film producer

There have been numerous attempts by the government to reconcile Red Army and UPA veterans.  Both fought to liberate Ukraine from the Nazis.

When President Viktor Yushchenko attended the premier of a Yanchuk's film, he applauded the producer for revealing what he called ‘the truth about the UPA’.  

At the Victory Day parade this year, he suggested that Soviet veterans and Ukrainian partisans should be put on a par with each other.  

“It’s time to put an end to the cynical politics of the followers of class struggle who openly try to divide our nation. It’s time to say to each other that everyone who fought for Ukraine deserves eternal respect and gratitude,” the president said.

Red Army veterans, however, aren't happy with the thought.   

A daughter of a Soviet Army colonel, Alla Popova, recalls her parents’ stories with fear. Her family lived in western Ukraine where the UPA movement was strongest.  

“My dad fought in the first Ukrainian front. They came with peace, brought teachers with them from Russia to educate people in Ukrainian villages. He was telling me that UPA partisans were raping those teachers in the forest and hanging them by their hair,” she says.

As politicians are working out how to reconcile the veterans, half a century after the war ended, some people’s wounds show no signs of healing.  

To educate teenagers, the UPA created a series of comics about themselves. But some believe their history is too controversial to be turned into a Disney-like plot with global appeal. To date, the comics are only  available in libraries.