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Summer 2011

The Competing Historical Narratives of Ukraine


June 22nd, 2011 commemorated the 70th anniversary of the German attack on the Soviet Union, which included much of present-day Ukraine !hou"h the war ended in 1#$%, the su&se'uent decades of Soviet occupation and its associated political repression have o&scured the central actors and processes of a war which saw the territorial and ethnic consolidation of the Ukrainian state (hen Stalin sei)ed Ukraine in the immediate aftermath of the war, Ukrainian nationalists -- no stran"ers to acts of repression themselves -- were e*iled to (est Germany and the United States +n e*ile, this ,iaspora worked to construct and disseminate the narrative of a united Ukrainian resistance which had stru""led a"ainst fascism and communism in the name of independence -ollowin" formal independence in 1##1, this narrative was e*ported to Ukraine, where it came into conflict with &oth the entrenched Soviet narrative of the era and competin" claims of victim-hood &y Jews and .oles /iktor 0ushchenko made this ,iaspora Ukrainian nationalist narrative an ideolo"ical cornerstone of his 2001 2ran"e 3evolution electoral success, framin" his victory as the culmination of a heroic Ukrainian resistance ori"inatin" in the (orld (ar ++ era !he narrative proved divisive, however, and 0ushchenko4s main opposition candidate, /iktor 0anukovych, was a&le to parlay its polari)in" effects into a triumph that 5ettisoned 0ushchenko from office in 2010 !hese two competin" historical narratives remain at the forefront of the "eo"raphically divided nation4s consciousness6 the west4s "lorified version of an essential Ukrainian resistance is pitted a"ainst the east4s romantici)ed Soviet stru""le and pro-3ussian ties, while Jews and .oles stake a claim for their own di"nity and reco"nition within Ukraine4s cultures of remem&rance +n this hi"hly contested and political atmosphere, memorials, museums, and the disputed history of individual actors provides a "limpse into Ukraine4s ne"otiation of its national mytholo"y Ukraine &ecame a key &attle"round in Germany4s 2peration 7ar&arossa, and lar"e swathes of Ukraine were &rutali)ed &y the war and the &e"innin" of !he 8olocaust .rior to the war, Ukrainian am&ition for independence was em&odied &y the 2r"ani)ation of

Ukrainian nationalists 92U:;, who were ideolo"ically sympathetic to fascism 1 (hen war &roke out, the 2U: cooperated and colla&orated with the :a)i re"ime, hopin" their support would &e rewarded with independence, or at least puppet-state status, which they viewed as &etter than continued Soviet su&5u"ation 8undreds of thousands of .oles 9present-day (estern Ukraine was part of pre-war .oland;, Jews, Ukrainians, 3ed <rmy soldiers, amon" many other peoples, were murdered or killed in warfare &etween 1#$1 and 1#$% <n analysis of German and Soviet archives reveals e*tensive participation &y the 2U: in the coordinated campai"ns of =li'uidation= a"ainst .oles and Jews throu"hout Ukraine 2 !his participation is consistent with the e*plicitly fascist, nationalist, and anti-Semitic pronunciations of 2U: leadership, and their overtures of assistance to :a)i hi"h command +t was throu"h this support and direct 2U: participation that >0,000 Jews were massacred at 7a&i 0ar in ?iev over two-days > -urthermore, in 1#$> the 2U: participated in a campai"n of ethnic cleansin" in western Ukraine that resulted in the whole scale elimination of .olish populations from what was, at that time, still .olish territory $ +t was only toward the end of the war 9when Germany4s defeat &ecame more o&vious; that the 2U: reoriented their ideolo"y to one more compati&le with the allied powers !he hope for US and @uropean support of an independent Ukraine was dashed when it &ecame part of the USS3, however, and the leaders of the 2U: -- who had 5ust recently colla&orated and participated in the massacres of .oles and Jews -- were "ranted amnesty in (est Germany and the US so that they could serve as pawns a"ainst the USS3 in the Aold (ar +n e*ile 2U: leaders worked to manufacture the myth of the 2U: as an essential and virtuous Ukrainian resistance, censorin" documents re"ardin" participation in the .olishBJewish massacres, and effectively removin" their intense colla&oration with the :a)is &etween 1#$1 and 1#$2 from the records !he 2U: was reha&ilitated as an
1 SeeC 3udlin", !he 2U:, U.< and !he 8olocaustC < Study in the Danufacturin" of Dyths, Aarl 7eck .apers, -orthcomin", p" $ !he 2U: was a consolidation of several ri"ht-win", fascist paramilitary "roups in Ukraine 2 SeeC 7randon and Eower, !he Shoah in UkraineC 8istory, !estimony, Demoriali)ation, +ndiana University .ress, 2010 F until 1##1, scholars lacked access to the re"ional archives of the former Soviet Union +t was not until the successor states opened these repositories that the study of the 8olocaust could incorporate materials that had &een located &ehind the +ron Aurtain G > i&id 2U: complicity and participation is heavily detailed in this work $ i&id

or"ani)ation that from its inception was inclusive of all elements of Ukrainian society 2U: participation in the 7a&i 0ar massacre was denied, alon" with the countless other crimes a"ainst Jews and .oles its leaders encoura"ed or e*acted durin" their intense :a)i colla&oration in 1#$1 and 1#$2 2U: leaders instead went to "reat len"ths to emphasi)e Jewish participation in their or"ani)ation, hi"hli"htin" the role of Jewish physicians and nurses durin" the war % +n an on-"oin" effort to deflect claims of anti-Semitism and neutrali)e the testimony of survivors, the 2U: disseminated the for"ery of Stella ?rents&akh, a fictitious Jew whose memoir attri&uted her survival to 2U: protection +n an effort to conform ideolo"ically with the (est German, <merican, and Aanadians that housed the ,iaspora 9and therefore maintain their usefulness as an ally in the Aold (ar;, the 2U: censored their fascist war-time declarations, instead promotin" and circulatin" their &elated democratic platitudes that came toward the end of the war -urthermore, in an attempt to "arner world-wide support for the Ukrainian cause and appeal to a sense of profound tra"edy lar"e enou"h in scale to unite a people, the 2U: reframed the tra"ic famine of 1#>2-1#>> -- now known as -- Holodomor -- as an act of deli&erate "enocide committed a"ainst the Ukrainian people 7y "ivin" the famine a Ukrainian name, the 2U: made the famine distinctly Ukrainian, and this was used as a rallyin" cry for Ukrainian unity and nationalism !his narrative lay in contrast to the Soviet perspective, which viewed the 2U: as a su&versive element in the ultimate victory of a united Soviet people &ehind the heroics of the 3ed <rmy (hereas outside of Ukraine the 2U: was reha&ilitatin" the ima"e of its leadership and actively censorin" documents detailin" their trans"ressions, the Soviets framed 2U: activity &oth as colla&orators with the :a)is and as insur"ents a"ainst the "reat communist revolution !he 2U: as a political party within Ukraine was &anned, mem&ers were persecuted, and the historio"raphy of the Ukrainian independence movement repressed !he famine of 1#>2-1#>> was denied, and when sufficient evidence of famine mounted and such denial &ecame untena&le, the Soviets and those sympathetic
% SeeC 3udlin", !he 2U:, U.< and !he 8olocaustC < Study in the Danufacturin" of Dyths, Aarl 7eck .apers, -orthcomin", p" 21 !he num&er of Jews within the 2U: was still comparatively small -- a tiny fraction of the or"ani)ation, and a si"nificantly smaller percenta"e than there were Jews in Ukraine &efore the war <dditionally, only a few of these physicians and nurses survived -- most were e*ecuted when they outlived their usefulness

to the Soviet narrative sided with scholars who attri&uted the famine to failed communist policy, pointin" out that the famines affected people all across the USS3 territory and not only Ukrainians @ffectively, the Soviet narrative viewed Ukraine as part of the "reater communist revolution, and the 2U: was a su&versive force workin" a"ainst the united Soviet peoples (hile Ukraine "ained formal independence from the USS3 in 1##1, 3ussian influence remains pervasive in culture and politics +t is particularly prevalent in the eastern half of the country which &orders 3ussia and with whom it shares closer cultural ties !he western half of the country, meanwhile, is a hot&ed of Ukrainian nationalist sentiment, and is sympathetic to the ,iaspora narrative of the 2U: <dditionally, the various minority "roups within Ukraine -- Jews and .oles most visi&ly -- resist the homo"eni)in" narratives promoted &y the 2U: and Soviet sympathi)ers !here are, therefore, three distinct narratives present in Ukrainian society today !he Ukrainian nationalist narrative views the 2U: as the last line in a lon" heroic stru""le for Ukrainian independence !hey consider the post-war Soviet presence in Ukraine as 3ussian meddlin" in Ukrainian affairs !hey de-emphasi)e the si"nificance of the 3ed <rmy in the (orld (ar ++ victory, and similarly de-emphasi)e the claims of Jews, .oles, and other minority "roups, instead preferrin" the narrative of a sin"le Ukrainian people !he pro-3ussian soviet narrative, conversely, re"ards the 2U: as anti-Semitic fascists !hey emphasi)e the role of the 3ed <rmy in li&eratin" Ukrainian territory from the :a)is, and sympathi)e with the political platform of the USS3 !hey identify culturally with 3ussia, and support "reater ties with the 3ussian state Eastly, Jewish and .olish advocacy "roups point to their historical e*clusion from &oth Ukrainian and Soviet society, and contend that &oth the Ukrainian nationalist narrative and pro-3ussian Soviet narrative continue this trend throu"h their homo"eni)in" of the Ukrainian population and &y denyin" or mar"inali)in" the atrocities committed a"ainst them !hese "roups compete in an impassioned stru""le over Ukraine4s cultures of remem&rance and national mytholo"y, manifested in the popular memory of national heroes, and the production of memorials and museums

!he character of !aras Shevchenko is one such national hero whose memory is a &attle"round in this war of narratives !o Ukrainian nationalists, !aras Shevchenko was more than 5ust a poet and artist -or them, his involvement in Ukrainian proto-nationalist "roups represents an important historical articulation of the Ukrainian stru""le for independence !here is a museum for Shevchenko in Aherasky, located 1%0km southeast of ?iev (hereas this museum once contained detailed e*hi&itions of Shevchenko4s involvements in such movements, a recent overhaul of the museum -- funded and mandated &y the pro-3ussian and eastern politician /iktor 0anukovych -- removed all such references and instead focuses entirely on Shevchenko4s art and poetry !he process parallels that of the de&ate over the memory of Stepan 7andera 2ne of the foundin" mem&ers of the 2U:, 7andera was personally implicated in many of the 2U: atrocities and colla&orations a"ainst .oles and Jews 8is ima"e was reha&ilitated in the ,iaspora, and /iktor 0ushchenko4s nationalist 2ran"e 3evolution of 2001 hailed him as a national hero 0ushchenko himself desi"nated 7andera as a =8ero of Ukraine= in 2010, shortly &efore leavin" office 1 0uschenko4s successor, 0anukovych -- a"ain, pro-3ussia -su&se'uently stripped 7andera of this title, much to the cha"rin of the pro-nationalist western Ukraine < similar narrative stru""le can &e seen in memorials ,urin" Soviet occupation, Jews were consistently re&uffed in their efforts to construct a memorial at 7a&i 0ar, the site of the second lar"est two-day Jewish massacre in history Soviets denied &oth the event, and the uni'ueness of Jewish victim hood <fter independence in 1##1 Jews were allowed to construct a memorial, &ut followin" the 2ran"e 3evolution a monument to Ukrainian nationalists was erected, dwarfin" the Jewish monument, and, as the small Jewish community of ?iev ar"ues, appropriates the tra"edy of 7a&i 0ar for e*plicitly political purposes while simultaneously honorin" the 2U: colla&orators of the massacre !wo additional memorials -- one for the famine victims, and another for the 3ed <rmy -- further illustrate the sym&olic opposition of Ukraine4s narratives !he tom& of
1 SeeC .7?, 3ussian :ews onlineC httpCBBtop r&c ruBsocietyB02B0$B2010B>HH200 shtml, <pril 2nd, 2010 :ews of 7andera receivin" the award was hailed in western Ukraine and 5eered in eastern Ukraine, the opposite was true for him losin" the award 7andera himself was assassinated &y ?G7 forces in Dunich in 1#%#

the unknown soldier is e*plicitly dedicated to the 3ed <rmy4s war a"ainst the :a)i re"ime, &ut makes no reference to the 2U:4s military resistance in the latter half of the war, a fact which many Ukrainian nationalists resent Just a couple hundred meters away, however, is a memorial to the =Ukrainian "enocide,= 9the famine or 8olodomor monument; which is e*plicitly contested &y the pro-3ussian contin"ent as a fa&ricated and misleadin" history &y the Ukrainian nationalists, since the famine afflicted many people across Soviet territory, and thus could not have &een en"ineered a"ainst Ukrainians Similarly, Jewish "roups point out that the famine monument is adorned with 2rthodo* Ahristian ima"ery, despite the fact that many Jews were victims of the famine too Duseums in Ukraine play a similarly political role in promotin" the triumph of one narrative over another !he Duseum of the Great .atriotic (ar in downtown ?iev, presided over &y the imposin" Dotherland Donument 9adorned with the Soviet Union4s coat of arms; is filled with 3ed <rmy memora&ilia and e*hi&its, &ut makes scarce mention of any distinct Ukrainian resistance !he e*hi&itions themselves are pointedly 'uiet a&out Ukraine4s position in the war, focusin" primarily on the defense of Doscow and 3ed <rmy sacrifices Aonversely, the war museum in Aherasky presents a :ationalist-centric e*hi&ition, emphasi)in" the role of Ukrainians and diminishin" the Soviet prominence in their portrayal of Ukrainian history (hile these e*amples illustrate the sym&olic stru""le over the cultures of remem&rance, the simmerin" passions and overt politici)ation of the su&5ect is perhaps &est witnessed in the pu&lic discourse !o commemorate the 70th anniversary of the German attack, a pu&lic de&ate was held a the German em&assy where a panel of historians attempted to deconstruct the mytholo"ies of &oth the Soviet and nationalist narratives Ukrainian nationalists sparred with academics over the crimes of the 2U:, 3ussian visitors disputed the "enocidal claims of the famine memorial, and Jewish "roups ar"ued in support of 7a&i 0ar4s distinctly Jewish character <t one point the discussion &ecame so heated that the moderator was forced to intervene and end a line of in'uiry, while the translators were una&le to continue due to the o&scene nature of the comments !he cleava"es in Ukrainian society remain considera&le

7oth the Ukrainian nationalist and Soviet pro-3ussian narratives present a one sided oversimplification of history6 they view actors as ="ood= or =&ad= and events from a sin"ular perspective !hey &oth look at Ukraine as a homo"eni)ed entity, one consistin" of either =Ukrainians= or =Soviets,= and as such e*clude the claims of Jews, .oles, and the multitude of other ethnic "roups whose uni'ue histories have &een e*cluded from &oth narratives -urthermore, the pu&lic discourse of Ukraine4s cultures of remem&rance maintains an e*plicitly political nature 7oth 0uschenko and 0anukovych e*ploit their respective narratives for political "ains !his hei"htens tensions &y handcuffin" history to political success +t turns memory into a )ero-sum "ame, where&y the difficult task of cultural compromise is precluded &y the necessities of politicsC while memory and culture are nuanced constructs, elections have only winners and losers !o de-emphasi)e the political nature of the de&ate would allow each side to acknowled"e their respective crimes without concedin" capital in the political realm +f Ukraine is to make any pro"ress in &rin"in" the vast "aps &etween these two narratives -- and heal the painful wounds of a 70 year old war -- its politicians must work to create an environment where reco"nition of competin" claims to memory are not met with hostility and repression, and where &oth sides are afforded the freedom from political repercussions to critically ree*amine their own controversial histories