Ukrainian Sports Club in NYC with the UPA black-and-red flag
“Slava Ukraini” “Heroyam Slava” echoed and boomed through the corridors of New York City alleyways and streets, filling the whole of Times Square in the sea of blue and yellow flags. Hundreds gathered together in NYC for weeks following the February 24th Russian Special Operation in Ukraine, hoping that raising attention to their condemnation of Russia’s operation would support the Ukrainian war effort.
Back to back coverage of the invasion of Ukraine flooded Western mainstream media, showcasing heart wrenching images of Ukrainian refugees while valorizing the “heroes of Ukraine” who were forced by Ukrainian government issued mandates to fight against Russia.
Through the years, Western people have heard the tropes of the “brutal, imperialistic” Russian government that led an attack in 2016 on so-called American democracy resulting in a Trump presidential victory. The masses in North America and Europe alike have been groomed by their state-funded media and politicians to anticipate a Russian invasion of Ukraine, of Russia seeking to expand their territory and dress their imperialist endeavors in WWII anti-fascist garbs.
Immediately, Russia’s operation was swiftly met across the West with condemnations, sanctions, calls for boycotts, and mass civil unrest, particularly among the Ukrainian-American diaspora.
Soon after, online there was a saturation of fundraising efforts for the Armed Forces of Ukraine garnering millions of dollars, initiated by organizations few had heard of.
Lying dormant in the fabric of North American civil society, there has long been a foundation of pro-Ukrainian, pro-NATO organization, waiting for its moment of full glory as torch carriers of Ukraine’s first fascist movement of the 20th century. And it was there in the heart of Manhattan where years of organizing finally paved the way to capture the entirety of the American people and their tax dollars, fighting for an Independent Ukraine.
The Fascistic Myth Surrounding the “Independent Ukraine"
Behind tales of valiant Cossack legions trudging through the Dnieper lies the mythical idea of the Independent Ukraine of which Ukrainian nationalists have been fighting a 100 year long crusade for, fighting for their own Valhalla.
The Independent Ukraine is mythologized in roots by historical revisionist chronicles of a Ukrainian Kievan Rus, citing that Kievan Rus was the birthplace of Ukrainian history while “Moscow was just a swamp then”, similar in fashion to German Nazis tropes of descending from Aryan nomads.
But if we look at history departing from fascist mythology, Kievan Rus was the kingdom of which Belarusian, Russians, and Ukrainians alike descend from, owing this to their Nordic-Eastern Slavic ancestors of whom they share. The southern principalities of Kievan Rus, including of course its capital city Kiev, are parts that are considered today Ukrainian land while northern principalities extended to modern day Russia and Belarus with cities such as Novgorod and Polatsk.
The term itself “Kievan Rus” was designated in the 19th century, well after the demise of the ruling Rurik dynasty, of which during their time the kingdom was known as Rus, land of the Ruthenian people. Put simply, Kievan Rus and its legacy belongs to Russians as much as it belongs to Ukrainians. Nonetheless, Ukrainian nationalists desperately strive to portray Ukrainian history as distinct from Russia’s. In numerous ways, it is, but it is simultaneously tied to Russian history at its roots. However historical revisionism will continue to be a key tool in fascist Ukrainian propaganda for centuries to come.
But what is then the struggle for an Independent Ukraine, namely for a country that’s been independent for 30 years?
The ruse surrounding the Independent Ukraine is defined by the brutal reign of Symon Petliura and the short-lived Ukrainian National Republic (UNR), a nationalist Ukrainian state that undertook the ethnic cleansing of over 100,000 Ukrainian Jews to create a “pure” racial society of Ukrainians.
Founded on ideals of social democracy, for ethnic Ukrainians only, the UNR declared itself a state following the October Revolution of 1917 and quickly became hostile to the rise of the Bolshevik Party in Ukraine. The antagonisms between competing ideologies in Ukraine led to a 5 year long civil war between the Ukrainian National Army and the Bolsheviks, among other groups, with particularly heated skirmishes between the Ukrainian Red Galician Army, led by Volodymyr Zatonsky, against their nationalist compatriots in West Ukraine.
The UNR government later made a pact with the Polish government to aid them in pushing the Bolsheviks, or Soviets, eastward resulting in the Polish-Soviet War. As a consequence, Petliura had to recognize Galicia, a hub of Ukrainian nationalist sentiments, as Polish territory, and in turn, the UNR became a “government-in-exile” within Polish dominion, marking Soviet Ukrainian victory over nationalists.
Though protected by the Polish government, the UNR had lost all capacity to function as a legitimate government as their lands were then under Soviet and Polish control. Nonetheless, Petliura wrote extensively on the national movement in Ukraine and became one of the first prominent Ukrainian nationalist activists in the West until his assassination in 1926. The exiled UNR government leaders would only make their re-emergence after the 1941 German invasion of Soviet Ukraine, allying itself with its ideological partners, German Nazis, once again in the struggle for a Ukrainian national-socialist state, the Independent Ukraine.
The Birth of Ukrainian Fascism
According to Per Anders Rudling, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, influenced by nationalist Dymtro Dontsov, was formed in Vienna in 1929 by leaders such as Yevhen Konovalets by uniting the Ukrainian Military Organization and other extreme right-wing organizations, such as the Ukrainian National Association, the Union of Ukrainian Fascists, and the Union for the Liberation of Ukraine. They operated first in Eastern Galicia infiltrating institutions to maintain positions of power and spread the ideals of their Ukrainian fascism.
The OUN then split on the question of collaborating with Nazi Germany into the OUN-B, headed by Stepan Bandera who wanted independence from the Soviets and Germans, and the OUN-M, headed by Andriy Melynk who vowed to work with Hitler’s army. While the OUN-B was later persecuted and had hostile relations with Nazi Germany, records show that they in fact at times did collaborate with German fascists, particularly in executing Ukrainian Jews and Poles as they were seen as settlers. Both the OUN-B and OUN-M were deeply anti-Semitic, citing ideas of Judeo-Bolshevism as justification for the ethnic cleansing of Jews, Poles, and Russians.
Originally published in Surma, the OUN was led by 10 Decalogues of the Ukrainian Nationalist Revolutionary which go as follows:
The OUN’s principles were to create an Independent Ukrainian state with the ideology rooted in fascism. The OUN, seeing itself as the greatest representation and authority over the Ukrainian people, sought to build a “Ukraine for Ukrainians'' dominated by the capital of the wealthy kulak class and a nationalist dictatorship, cleansing out those who were deemed racially inferior or tainted, as stated in early OUN documents.
The ideals of the Independent Ukraine, as it has been mythologized, was one ridden with nationalist fascism and deep discrimination against the “Judeo-Muscovite-Bolsheviks” which took full force after the 2014 Euromaidan coup that ousted the democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych, while other far-right paramilitaries such as Right Sektor and the Azov Regiment continue the crusade started by Ukrainian nationalists started in 1905 for the Independent Ukraine.
Anti-semitism, while a major role in the actions of Ukrainian nationalists, was fed by their anti-communism and Russophobia. In many instances, it was because of a perceived Jewish loyalty to Bolshevism and Russia that Jewish people could not be tolerated by the nationalists. The Ukrainian nationalists of today will now tolerate Jewish people, so long as they are Zionists, and they use this as a cover against all claims of Nazism, despite polling higher than Russia for anti-Semitic sentiments among the population.
But national socialism as an ideology cannot be reduced to anti-Semitism. The ethno-nationalism of today in Ukraine sets its sights against ethnic Russians and Communists, for the latter poses an existential threat to fascists across the globe.
There is much debate about the OUN-B and their role as German Nazi collaborators, some stating they resisted the Germans, others factually raising their work with the Nazis. Yet both of these arguments fail to reveal that the OUN-B and their allies were Nazis in their own right, regardless of their ever changing relationship to the German Nazi Party. They were members of the economic elite and the intelligentsia who sought out to create a state ruled by nationalism and ethnic purity, guided by perceived ethnic superiority over their neighbors and took no mercy on those deemed enemies.
The Ukrainian nationalists were brought to their knees by the Bolsheviks and later the Soviet Red Army, later to flee with their families, refusing to face justice for their crimes, and then to spend years in Displaced Persons Camps in hopes of obtaining refugee status in the West.
Between 1947 - 1955, 80,000 Ukrainians immigrated into the United Status, the majority with pro-nationalist sentiments. Today, New York City is the home of over 150,000 Ukrainians, the highest in the country. Despite being a marginal fraction of the U.S. population, their influence proves immense.
In The Fascist Kernel of Ukrainian Genocidal Nationalism, Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe writes “Ukrainians in Romania and Czechoslovakia, as well as the diaspora communities in countries such as Germany, Canada, and the United States of America, were important outposts of the Ukrainian revolutionary nationalism.” The West has served as the center for Ukrainian fascist organizing, continuing its legacy through indoctrinating Ukrainian-American youth, and serving as collaborators with the anti-Worker, imperialist governments of the West.
From the xatas of Galicia to the shoebox apartments of Manhattan, the Ukrainian nationalists have held and passed on their ideology of national-socialism, they have brought Bandera to the streets of New York.
Kayla Popuchet is a Peruvian-American CUNY student studying Latin American and Eastern European History, analyzing these region's histories under a scientific socialist lens. She works as a NYC Housing Rights and Tenants Advocate, helping New York's most marginalized evade eviction. Kayla is also a member of the Party of Communists USA and the Progressive Center for a Pan-American Project.