OUN: the beginning and the end of independence
The building of the Prosvita society is interesting not only for the history of its owners and its architectural details. This house, and especially the balcony on the second floor, becomes the subject of attention at least once a year, on June 30, when the events of 1941 in Lviv are commemorated. It is symbolic that June 30, 1941 was the date of the beginning of the Nazi occupation for the city itself, while for some Ukrainians (especially members or supporters of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (Banderites)) this date was associated with the proclamation of the Ukrainian state and with the end of hopes for German support for this project.
Like its predecessors, the OUN worked with Germany intermittently beginning from the 1920s. The OUN was a right-wing revolutionary organization that continued to rely on the terrorist tactics of the Ukrainian Military Organization in its pursue of Ukraine’s independence. Ideologically, the OUN was markedly influenced by fascist ideas between 1929 and 1939, with its goals, organization, and ideology most affected by fascist conceptions of corporate state and totalitarianism, the model of hierarchical state and leadership, and a cult of heroism and military virtues. Anti-semitism was radicalized among some members of the OUN from the late 1930s, and features such as a voluntarist worldview, hostility to communism and to liberal ideas were added; besides, there was a deliberate escalation of intergenerational conflict.
Despite its commitment to authoritarian ideas, the organization was heterogeneous and experienced several divisions in its history, including that in 1940, when part of the OUN, which advocated an "evolutionary" path to independence, was headed by Andriy Melnyk (OUN-M), while the supporters of more radical, revolutionary methods were headed by Stepan Bandera (OUN-B). The OUN-M continued to collaborate with the Reich until 1945, hoping for Ukrainian autonomy in the further (evolutionary) perspective.
In spite of the history of contacts between the German leaders and Ukrainian nationalists, the attitude of the Nazis towards the OUN was very ambiguous and cautious. The most fruitful and long-lasting was the relationship with the Abwehr, German intelligence, which supported the organization financially and provided training and education in exchange for reconnaissance operations in Poland before the war. Although the German side did not trust the OUN-B too much and was more sympathetic to the supporters of Melnyk (OUN-M), it was with the Bandera wing in February 1941 that the Abwehr began cooperating, as the Banderites were better informed about the situation in the Soviet-run territories and were able to prepare an uprising, which was to begin with the Nazi offensive on the USSR.
As part of this cooperation, two Ukrainian battalions, the Nachtigal and the Roland, were created as structural units of the Nazi army, which together with other units entered Lviv on June 30, 1940, as well as formations of the Ukrainian militia, which were created under the auspices of the OUN-B. On the same day, on the initiative of the OUN-B, a new city administration was formed, headed by Mayor Yuriy Poliansky. The OUN-run City Administration and the militia were immediately recognized by the German commandant's office, encouraging members of the OUN-B to take further action.
On June 30, 1941, from the balcony of the building on pl. Rynok 10, the OUN-B, represented by Yaroslav Stetsko, proclaimed the creation of an independent Ukrainian state. The document, known as the Act of Restoration of the Ukrainian State, emphasized that the restored state had high hopes for close relations with Germany:
By the will of the Ukrainian people, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists under the direction of Stepan Bandera proclaims the formation of the Ukrainian State for which have laid down their heads whole generations of the finest sons of Ukraine.
The newly formed Ukrainian state will work closely with National-Socialist Greater Germany, under the leadership of its leader Adolf Hitler which is forming a new order in Europe and the world and is helping the Ukrainian People to free itself from Moscovite occupation. […]
Long live the Ukrainian Sovereign United Ukraine! Long live the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists! Long live the leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian people – Stepan Bandera!
Germany did not recognize the proclamation of the Ukrainian state. Among the reasons, there were distrust of the unpredictable part of the OUN-B members, the Nazis' plans to use the Polish-Ukrainian confrontation to pursue their own policies in the occupied territories, and cooperation with the more predictable Melnyk’s part of the OUN. In mid-July, Hitler decided to grant the status of Reich Commissariat to most of the occupied Ukrainian territories, while the District of Galicia was formed in Eastern Galicia, which was merged with the General Government and thus separated from the rest of the Ukrainian lands again.
The OUN-B leaders, including Yaroslav Stetsko and Stepan Bandera, were arrested and sent to Berlin. After interrogations, by the end of 1941, all of them were transported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where they were kept in complete isolation from the outside world until the autumn of 1944. This put an end to the hopes of the Banderites to gain support for the ideas of Ukrainian independence and was the beginning of an underground struggle taken up by the radical wing of the OUN.
The declaration of independence took place with numerous violent actions in the background, aimed primarily at the Jewish population; these events went down in history as the Lviv pogrom of 1941, with the active participation of Ukrainian militia and civilians. According to various sources, between 2,000 and 6,000 Lviv Jews died during the pogrom.
Among the tasks set by the OUN-B in connection with their plans to create an independent Ukraine and build up a state was "clearing the terrain of the hostile element." The hostile element was primarily those who supported the Soviet rule; however, the instructions for the organization members at the beginning of the Soviet-German war said that in times of chaos and confusion, the elimination of "undesirable Polish, Moscow, and Jewish figures," especially Bolsheviks, could be allowed. Studies and analyzes of OUN documents from this period show that Jews were considered by the OUN the main supporters of the Soviet rule. Jews were considered undesirable for OUN supporters and for building a national Ukrainian state.
At the beginning of the Nazi occupation, the OUN’s ideology and activities in Lviv can be compared to the Croatian Ustaše movement — a kind of revolutionary nationalism, which develops in the absence of its own nation-state and seeks to obtain it by all possible means, including terror; if successful, the movement culminates in the creation of a fascist state. However, unlike the Croatian situation, the Germans' refusal to allow an independent Ukrainian state and the OUN's conflict with the Nazi occupation regime prevented the crystallization of Ukrainian fascism and prompted Ukrainian nationalists, both followers of Bandera and followers of Melnyk, to change the rhetoric of their ideology.
June 30 is celebrated at the official city level as an important stage in the formation of the Ukrainian statehood, the main emphasis being made on the proclamation of independence and the heroic struggle of the OUN-B against the occupation regimes; there is much talk about the arrest of major participants and the subsequent underground struggle. The means and methods of achieving the dream of independence remain out of public debate, as well as whether the way of collaboration with the Nazis for a clearly noble goal — an independent Ukraine — can be justified, and how to treat people who were ready for and involved in the extermination of the civilian population, Jews in particular.
The issue of the OUN and its supporters who held administrative positions being responsible for the violent actions against the Jewish population, known as the Lviv pogrom, in the first month of the Nazi occupation of Lviv, with the participation of Ukrainian militia during the proclamation of independence, is also open.