It is now May 2019. That means we’ve had five years of the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine, undeclared by Russia and hybrid by nature. The war has already led to the deaths of 13,000 Ukrainians, and it continues to claim Ukrainian military and civilian lives almost every day, undermining the international security order, the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and economic and political stability of Ukraine, while using the occupied territories of the Donbas as testing grounds for new Russian military systems and platforms.
For example, records show that just during one day, April 26, 2019, the armed formations of the Russian-terrorist occupying troops violated the ceasefire 23 times – nine times with the use of 120-mm and 82-mm mortars prohibited by the Minsk agreements. The enemy also fired at the positions of the Ukrainian military using infantry combat vehicles, anti-tank missile systems, grenade launchers of various systems, large-caliber machine guns and small arms.
The Russian aggressor purposefully and persistently creates or instigates crisis situations in Ukraine, expands its set of tools to exacerbate the operational situation in the Ukrainian Donbas, and undermines the spirit and the letter of prior peaceful political and diplomatic processes, including the Minsk agreements and Normandy format work.
Vladimir Putin’s latest decision to grant fast-track Russian citizenship to Ukrainian citizens permanently residing in the temporarily occupied territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, without any exaggeration, not only creates conditions for the potential annexation of these territories, disrupts diplomatic efforts to settle the conflict and contributes to the outflow of the labor force from Ukraine, but also establishes a legal foundation for the open Russian invasion of Ukraine, expands ways to actively employ military force by Russian troops that have increased their presence (to the level of the Cold War) on the northeastern and southern borders of Ukraine.
On the other hand, granting Russian citizenship serves as a reward to those who devotedly promote the ideas of the “Russian world” and support the so-called “Russian spring” in Ukraine. It is also a form of motivational and spiritual rescue for the Russian-terrorist occupying troops, as they will undoubtedly be prosecuted and convicted in Ukraine for war crimes.
With its aggression against Ukraine, Russia’s leadership, in fact, has destroyed the world collective security system that emerged after World War II and broke the basic principle of international law: the inviolability of post-war borders. Thus, Russia resorted not only to rewriting history, but also to revising the outcomes of World War II.
Actually, the Soviet government – as now has Russia – has always tried to avoid the term “World War II” in order not to draw attention to the international activities of the USSR from August 1939 to June 1941. It was in August 23, 1939, that the Soviet Union and fascist Germany signed a non-aggression treaty, the secret protocol of which defined the “boundaries of spheres of interest” of the signatories “in the event of territorial and political rearrangement of the regions of the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) and the Polish State.” This protocol determined the future fate of Eastern European countries and clearly testifies to the cooperation between the USSR and Nazi Germany.
The Soviet and contemporary Russian historians and propagandists are trying to explain the Nazi-Soviet partnership as a necessity imposed on the Soviet Union by the international situation of that time. But the truth is that Soviet leaders, led by Joseph Stalin, had planned a war that would allow Western European countries to destroy each other, opening the way for Communist revolution and Soviet dominance of the continent.
The fact is that the Soviet Union entered World War II as an ally of Germany on September 17, 1939, by crossing the Polish border, and as a result of the 20-day joint German-Soviet operation, occupied western Belarusian and western Ukrainian lands that had been part of Poland. In December 1939, after unleashing war against Finland, the USSR was expelled from the League of Nations. In June 1940, using an ultimatum, the Soviet Union annexed Romania’s Northern Bukovyna and Bessarabia, and occupied Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
That is why Soviet and Russian ideologists, instead of focusing on the history of World War II, cultivate the remembrance of the Soviet-German war of 1941-1945 – the so-called Great Patriotic War. During the Great Patriotic War, the USSR was not the aggressor, but the liberator, the main anti-fascist, the country that broke the backbone of Nazism.
The Great Patriotic War became the cornerstone of Soviet ideology, serving as the basis for the formation of a Soviet identity and a unified Soviet people. The major references of the Soviet ideology were mass patriotism and sacrifices in the name of the Soviet motherland, the unseen mobilization of all Soviet people in the fight against the common threat, the Soviet Army liberation campaign to the west of the continent to save Europe and, as a result, the Great Victory, which, according to the Soviet leadership, confirmed the correctness of the course chosen by the USSR and the might of the Communist government. The Great Victory seemed to justify the miscalculations and crimes committed by the Soviet authorities before and during the war, and provided a kind of indulgence for the future.
With the help of the basic methods of Soviet (as well as contemporary Russian) propaganda, such as distortion, ignoring and/or omitting facts, and open lies, which were reinforced by the total fear of the people, who had already experienced the horrors of war, of being shot, deported or exiled to the camps, the myth of the Great Victory was created.
In addition, Moscow has always maintained that it was the Russian people who were mainly responsible for the victory, as they carried “the heavy burden of the war,” and suppressed the invaluable contribution of other states, armies, peoples and ethnic groups. This completely resonates with the words of the current Kremlin leader that Russians “would have won by themselves” in that war. Thus, Russia monopolized the Great Victory, at the same time creating and spreading one more myth: the inferiority of the contributions of all other countries and peoples in defeating Nazism.
But, it is now May 2019. Thanks to many open archival documents, published chronicles, testimonies of eyewitnesses and scholarly research, we have many indisputable facts about the extraordinary role of Ukrainians in the victory of the anti-Hitler coalition in World War II.
The first who challenged the Nazis and stood up against them with weapons in their hands were Ukrainians of the Transcarpathian region of pre-war Czechoslovakia. In 1938, when Nazi Germany annexed the Sudetenland, Ukrainians, clustered in the Carpathian region of the country, declared autonomy and formed Carpathian Ukraine. This contradicted Hitler’s plans to pass on the region to his allies, the Hungarians, whose army eventually invaded Carpathian Ukraine in March 1939, when Germany occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia’s territory. Thousands of Ukrainians from the autonomous region, joined by compatriots from the Ukrainian population of Poland, fought heroically against the enemy in the military organization Carpathian Sich.
In 1939, 120,000 Ukrainians in the Polish Army fought against the Wehrmacht troops. They were from Halychyna and Volyn. During the entire World War II, 80,000 Ukrainians were on the fronts with the U.S. Army (most of them were representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora), 45,000 with the British Royal Army (these were representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada – the Dominion of the British Empire, and Ukrainians in Polish military formations under British leadership after the German occupation of Poland), 6,000 with the French Armed Forces (most of whom came to work from Halychyna in the 1930s; the Ukrainians who fought as part of the Foreign Legion are the only foreigners whose participation is officially recognized and honored in France).
Six million Ukrainians fought in the Soviet Army in 1941-1945, 200 generals and seven commanders of armies and fronts were among them.
Furthermore, the Soviet partisan groups that accounted for about 50,000 people operated throughout all the Ukrainian territory occupied by the Germans. But they were not the only force that opposed the Germans: the formations of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which had up to 100,000 soldiers, actively fought against the Nazi invaders and later, until the 1950s, against the Soviet system.
Ukrainian Oleksii Berest was one of three Soviet soldiers who raised the red flag over the Reichstag building in Berlin on April 30, 1945. But because of the “political correctness” of the time, the Ukrainian name was eliminated from the victorious story, leaving only the names of Russians Mikhail Yegorov and Georgian Meliton Kantaria.
On September 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri, on behalf of the USSR, the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was signed by Lt. Gen. Kuzma Derevyanko, a Ukrainian from the Uman region. Thus, the official end of World War II from the Soviet side was executed by a Ukrainian man.
Ukraine paid an extremely high price for the victory. According to the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance publication commemorating the 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazism in World War II, Ukraine’s losses ranged from 8 million to 10 million people, Poland’s – 6 million, Yugoslavia’s – 1.1 million, France’s – 550,000, Great Britain’s – 450,000, and the United States’ – 420,000 people. The number of Ukrainian casualties can be compared with the population of modern Austria, Hungary or the Czech Republic. There are only two countries in the world whose losses exceed the losses of the Ukrainian people in World War II: Russia (14 million) and China (15 million).
During the war, the frontline moved twice across the entire Ukraine. Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, had the front line going through it four times. The territory between the Carpathian Mountains and the Don River was referred to as the “Bloodlands.” Seven hundred cities, tens of thousands of villages, and 2 million homes were completely destroyed; 10 million Ukrainians became homeless. In total, Ukraine’s war damage and losses amounted to 285 billion rubles ($100 billion) at 1941 prices.
The Soviet authorities evacuated 550 industrial enterprises, dozens of scientific and educational institutions, the property and cattle of thousands of collective and state farms, cultural centers and valuable historical artifacts from Ukraine to the east in 1941. Additionally, 3.5 million Ukrainians (skilled workers, engineers, scientists, creative intellectuals) were sent to the east where, utilizing their labor and intellect, they developed the military and economic might of the USSR.
Ukraine became one of the founding members of the United Nations in recognition of its enormous contribution to the victory over Nazism.
Independent Ukraine, especially more actively after 2004, began to consistently pursue its own policy of commemoration – not just different, but often diametrically opposite to that of Russia. In Ukraine, condemnation of the Communist regime’s crimes and the opening of the Soviet special services’ archives took place almost simultaneously, while in Russia the Soviet past was undergoing rehabilitation with new myths being created. History has become an ideological battlefield. That is why ideological aggression is an integral part of Russian military aggression in Ukraine.
On April 9, 2015, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted the Law on Decommunization, which helped to introduce in Ukraine the European tradition of celebrating the victory over Nazism in World War II. At the time, Ukraine adopted the Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation (to be observed on May 8), which occurs before the Soviet holiday, Victory Day (May 9). Ukraine embraced the red poppy, an international symbol that commemorates the victims of all military and civilian armed conflicts, as its own new commemorative symbol.
As we mark the Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation, which has been observed internationally since 2004, the major challenge for the Ukrainian state, as well as for world politics, is Russian aggression in Ukraine, which takes place in the symbolic field of the so-called Great Patriotic War. It is precisely now that Russian propaganda is intensifying, raising the rhetoric of “victory,” imposing old Soviet propaganda clichés, such as “collaborators,” “Ukrainian fascists,” “banderivtsi” (Stepan Bandera followers), “punishers,” etc. on Ukrainian society and the world community. Russia continues to employ the Soviet language of hatred and intolerance, ruthlessly opening old wounds, enflaming ethnic tensions and undermining European and Euro-Atlantic unity. Russia continues to rattle its saber, threatening “We can repeat!”
But for us, Ukrainians, celebrating the Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation, as well as Victory Day, it is important to proudly remember the heroic contribution of our people to the victory of the anti-Hitler coalition in World War II, to show our respect to all fighters against Nazism, including the participants of the national liberation movement, and to honor the memory of the fallen warriors as well as all the victims of the war crimes, deportations and crimes against humanity committed in that war, because our motto is “Never Again!”
Col. Andrii Ordynovych is military attaché at the Embassy of Ukraine in the U.S.