Stepan Bandera - Ukrainian Revolutionary Politician
Stepan Andriyovych Bandera. If you know Ukrainian history, you’ll know that this is perhaps one of the most controversial figures in the history of the country. He rose from humble beginnings as the son of a cleric to the leader of the main Ukrainian nationalist movement, and arguably the most successful one.
Today, with the current troubles with Russia invading the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, Bandera’s name has been dredged up from the annals of history again.
In this blog, we’re going to take a look at the life, the career, and the legacy of Stepan Bandera.
Where it All Started
To properly explore Bandera, we have to take a look at where he came from. On January 1, 1909, Bandera was born into what was originally the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This was Galicia in the village of Uhryniv Starvi. Ukraine never existed at this point.
His father was a Greek-Catholic parish priest and his mother was also the daughter of a priest. During much of his childhood, he spent his time within the confines of his village.
Bandera’s life completely changed when his mother died from tuberculosis in 1922.
Even when he was born, he was essentially living under occupation. His village is now in present-day western Ukraine.
This fact wasn’t lost on a young Bandera. During his time in school and University, he was a member of a number of nationalist groups. Perhaps the most active of them all was the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN).
Rising Through the Ranks
During the time Bandera was active (the interwar years), nationalism was rising up all around Europe. It happened in Germany, Italy, Romania, and Bulgaria. Dictatorships were rampant and democracy was almost irrelevant in this part of the world. Democracy was little more than a tool used by dictators like Adolf Hitler to gain power.
Bandera has a lot of similarities to these same nationalists. He was charismatic, determined, and driven by a single goal to see a free Ukrainian state.
As a consequence, it didn’t take long for Bandera to rise through the OUN ranks. He became its chief propaganda officer in 1931, the deputy commander of the OUN in Galicia, and the head of the OUN National Executive in 1933.
These were highly important positions and gave him real power for the first time. And Ukrainian people responded across the entire class spectrum.
He developed nationalist groups in both West and East Ukraine. At this time, he was fighting against both Poland and the Soviet Union, who owned parts of what he saw as the free Ukrainian states.
At War with Poland
Bandera quickly turned his attentions to the expropriations going on all over Ukraine. He paid special attention to the Polish officials who had originally voted in the anti-Ukrainian policies.
Most of his actions weren’t violent at this point. His most famous campaigns were mass demonstrations and boycotts against Polish tobacco and alcohol monopolies. He also directed the OUN to disrupt efforts to denationalise the youth of the country.
The Polish authorities eventually saw him as a major threat to stability in the region. He was arrested in 1934 whilst travelling through Lviv. Many doubt that there were any real charges because he was tried twice on two different elaborate cases. The first was to do with a plot to assassinate Bronislaw Pieracki, the Minister of Internal, and the second of terrorism.
They convicted him on terrorism charges and sentenced him to death.
Out of the Picture
Bandera disappeared from the nationalist scene for a while. Although his death sentence was changed to life imprisonment, the nationalists continued to fight his cause. In 1938, they even tried to break him out of Wronki Prison.
Sources differ on who freed Bandera in September 1939. Some say it was ethnic Ukrainians after the Polish authorities abandoned the prison. Some say it was dissident Poles. Others still say that the Germans helped to free him so he could be used to fight against Soviet domination in the rest of Ukraine.
Eastern Poland had fallen to the Soviets, with Germany taking Western Poland. This was Bandera’s big chance to move up the ranks. He moved to Krakow and met with Andriy Melnyk, the leader of the OUN.
This would soon turn violent as the OUN split into OUN-M and OUN-B. The followers of Bandera preferred revolution to create an independent Ukrainian state.
Dealings with Germany and Fall
For a long time, Bandera dealt with the German military in an attempt to claim their support. He also attempted two separate uprisings, which were quickly quelled. As the war turned against Nazi Germany, his goal of freeing Ukraine became even more distant, until it became impossible.
He was even arrested and placed in a concentration camp in 1941 as a political prisoner. He was released and setup a headquarters in Berlin to coordinate terrorist activities until early 1945 as Hitler became more desperate.
Death and Legacy
He continued to run the OUN even after the war. By this point, the Soviets were too strong and he was never able to achieve his ambitions during his lifetime.
On October 15, 1959, he was found on Kreittmayr Street in Munich. He was at the entrance to the house where he was found to have been poisoned by Bohdan Stashynskyi. After a long trial, it was found he was acting on behalf of the KGB and the Soviet government under Nikita Khrushchev.
He was buried in Munich, although his tomb was moved back to Ukraine years later.
Currently, he has a status in Lviv and his 100th birthday was celebrated with special postage stamps with his portrait upon it. 15,000 people held a torchlight procession in Kiev to celebrate his 105th birthday in 2014.
Although he was smeared by the Soviets for a long time, he does have a large following in Ukraine. Even when people point to the Polish massacres and the other terrorist activities he was involved in, his stance fuels anti-Russian feeling across Ukraine.
And that is what makes him one of the most relevant historical figures today.