The Ukrainian Central Committee
During the Nazi occupation, the Lviv office of the Ukrainian Central Committee (UCC), headed by Volodymyr Kubiyovych, was located on modern-day vul. Lystopadovoho Chynu 10 (earlier Parkstrasse, Mickiewicza).
The UCC was one of three patronizing organizations representing three national communities (Polish, Jewish, and Ukrainian) before the occupying regime. The range of and the difference in powers proper to these organizations were a reflection of the Nazi policy towards the national groups in Lviv and in the District of Galicia in general: it was the Ukrainian committee that had the best material support as well as the broadest range of powers.
In accordance with the Reich’s racial policy and the vision of the place of Jews in the social hierarchy, the organization with the most narrow range of powers and opportunities was the Jewish Social Self-Help (JSS; pol. Żydowska Samopomoc Społeczna, ger. Jüdische Soziale Selbsthilfe, Jüdisches Hilfskomitee), opened by the Germans in Lviv in 1941. Due to a number of factors, such as scant funding, social and physical isolation of Jews, unfavourable sentiments of the majority of the Polish and Ukrainian populations, and the inability to coordinate with the Krakow branch, the JSS focused on providing food for the poorest and most needy through social kitchens, as well as on searching missing persons. This organization did not exist even for a year. In the summer of 1942, after the extermination of the Jewish population of Lviv, the Jewish Social Self-Help virtually ceased to exist, although it was officially dissolved only in October 1942.
The Reich's relations with Poles and Ukrainians in Lviv were an important element of the "divide and rule" policy and practice and consisted in a thorough study of the history and nature of Ukrainian-Polish relations by various state institutions of Nazi Germany before the war, in playing on mutual contradictions, in opposing one community to the other, in using those sections of the population who willingly or under coercion cooperated with the Nazis, supporting such oppositions.
After the outbreak of World War II and the occupation of Poland, the newly appointed head of the General Government, Hans Frank, assured Hitler that the local Ukrainians could and should be used as opposed to the Poles and that the Ukrainian element in the General Government should be recognized as anti-Polish and pro-German. An excerpt from Hans Frank's speech, published in the weekly Krakivski Visti, reads as follows:
...the Poles must not forget that they are to blame for what has faced them. They have unleashed this war themselves. The Poles neglected this country and brought tyranny, filth and rot to it. It was high time for the Polish state to disappear. The longer it would exist, the longer it would be a source of eternal unrest in Europe. The Poles must now come to terms with this new order... From the very beginning, the Ukrainians have been as loyal as possible to the tasks of the General Government and have placed themselves at our disposal. For them, the hour of the creation of the General Government was an hour of freedom. Polish hatred was directed against the Germans living in Poland and against the Ukrainians. These enslaved people can be sure that they will carry out their peaceful mission under the protection of the German state.
It was to the Ukrainians in the General Government in general and in Lviv in particular, that the German authorities made certain concessions. Both Ukrainians and Poles were used by the Nazis for their own ends, and the contradiction between propaganda declarations and practical steps was often quite apparent. Nevertheless, it is obvious that, after the Germans, it was the Ukrainians that had better chances of survival.
It was Alfred Bisanz, a Galician German known for his pro-Ukrainian position, who was responsible for national policy towards the non-German population in the District of Galicia; earlier he took part in the Polish-Ukrainian war of 1918–1919 and headed one of the brigades (9th) of the Ukrainian Galician Army. From 1921 he lived near Lviv in his estate; after the outbreak of World War II, under an agreement between the USSR and Germany, he moved to Krakow, where he volunteered to serve for the Reich. In addition to the affairs of the District of Galicia’s social security department for the non-German population, Bisanz served in the Abwehr (the German Reich’s intelligence and counterintelligence service) and is credited with recruiting members of the Ukrainian community, including the OUN and members of Ukrainian auxiliary committees. He was arrested by Soviet troops in Vienna in 1945, convicted and later executed in the USSR.
Such favouritism of one national group against another is well illustrated by the example of the activities of two organizations in Lviv: the Polish Central Welfare Committee and the Ukrainian Central Committee.
The history of the Polish Central Welfare Committee in Lviv dates back to July 1941, when on the initiative of Roman Catholic priests and parishioners the so-called people’s kitchens for the poor began to open. The occupying Nazi authorities agreed to their activities and in August 1941 initiated the creation of a separate structure, which could coordinate social charity and through which it was possible to influence the form and directions of its activities as well as to control it.
In mid-August, Alfred Bisanz suggested that one of Lviv lawyers he knew, Dr. Leopold Teschner, set up a non-political assistance committee to deal with the social affairs of Poles in Lviv, modelled on the Polish Welfare Committee in Krakow. Officially, the Polish Welfare Committee began operating as an independent structure consisting of five people in late August 1941; after some structural changes in December 1941 it grew to an organization with more than 50 workers. Officially, it was subordinated to the Welfare Committee in Krakow headed by Leopold Teschner and was allotted a townhouse at ul. Sobieskiego 15 (now vul. Brativ Rohatyntsiv) for its own needs.
The PWC’s main activity was running people’s kitchens, which at the peak of its activities fed about 5 thousand people daily. Also among the important functions of the Polish Committee were financial assistance to representatives of the city’s Polish community; caring for children and organizing their recreation; medical and legal assistance, as well as job search support, refugee assistance, information on the dead and missing, and assistance to prisoners. By the way, lunches for prisoners and providing prisoners with everything they needed were the only activities where the Committee worked together with the UCC.
Despite all the efforts by the Polish committee to obtain permission to open a Polish theater, whether for adults or for children, or to carry out any legal cultural activities, the occupation authorities kept refusing. The only thing that was from time to time allowed to the Polish community in the cultural field was organizing charity concerts in parishes. Therefore, the activities of the Polish Welfare Committee remained within the framework of social assistance.
As for Ukrainians, after the OUN-B’s failed attempt to declare independence, the main institutional partner for cooperation with Nazi Germany was the Ukrainian Central Committee (UCC), established in Krakow at the beginning of the war and headed by Volodymyr Kubiyovych, a Ukrainian nationalist. His political activity was connected with the Melnyk branch of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists.
In Lviv, after the beginning of the Nazi occupation, the Ukrainian National Council was established, later reformatted into the Ukrainian Provincial Committee. In February 1942 the Ukrainian Provincial Committee was liquidated, its functions passing to the Ukrainian Central Committee, invariably headed by Volodymyr Kubiyovych, whose deputy in Lviv was Kost Pankivsky.
Certain functions of the Ukrainian institution were similar to those of the Polish committee. First of all, it concerned social security. The activities of the Ukrainian committee also began with three people’s kitchens, which prepared dinners for 800 people daily; at the peak of its activity in Lviv, the number of Ukrainian people’s kitchens reached 11, three to four servings being available in these establishments every day. These similar functions included also financial assistance, provision of clothing and footwear, distribution of food and fuel for those in need, assistance to prisoners, asylums for the elderly, searching and informing families about the dead, missing persons, prisoners of war, organizing and maintaining orphanages, catering in children's institutions, organizing recreation for orphans, etc.
Both the Ukrainian and Polish committees had two main sources of funding: funds from the occupying authorities and voluntary donations from citizens. It should be noted, however, that, according to the Reich’s national policy, Ukrainians received larger food rations, and there was a special contribution (in cash or in foodstuffs) from Ukrainian cooperatives operating in the General Government. Because of this, the UCC had greater financial and material opportunities to provide assistance.
In addition to social care and unlike other national committees, the UCC was granted permission to conduct active cultural and educational activities. In the rather extensive structure of the Committee, the Department of Cultural Work was established, consisting of the Folk Art Institute and the Public Education Institute, as well as the women's section and several professional creative unions. The Folk Art Institute worked with institutions specializing in theater, music, and art. The main task of the Public Education Institute was organizing educational work, training personnel for educational establishments, fighting against illiteracy, opening libraries and educational societies and more. Much attention was paid to work with children, schoolchildren and students, as well as to organizing educational and sports associations.
Work in the field of culture and education was conducted under German control and was accompanied by nationalist and pro-German rhetoric and propaganda. An important role in promoting nationalist and pro-Nazi ideas belonged to the chairman, that is, the leader of the UCC, Volodymyr Kubiyovych. Educated as a geographer and historian, whose research interests focused on Ukrainian ethnic territories, he was an active participant in the Ukrainian nationalist movement and, from 1940, the Ukrainian committee chairman; he was also one of those representatives of Ukrainian nationalists who, despite a failed attempt to create a Ukrainian state and the accession of the District of Galicia to the General Government instead of uniting with other Ukrainian territories, which some Ukrainians saw as a defeat, continued to seek ways to cooperate with the Nazis for a "bright future" without the "Jewish Bolsheviks." In his speeches, Volodymyr Kubiyovych argued that Ukrainians were a reliable ally of the Germans, as opposed to "unreliable" Poles, and that this should be used in the fight against "saboteurs and hidden communists" and to "get rid of the Polish and Jewish influence". Appealing to German statements about defending Europe from "Bolshevik barbarism", the UCC chairman stated that Ukrainians, as an "outpost of European culture", started the war with Bolshevism as early as 1917. Kubiyovych criticized Germans for the ill-treatment of Ukrainians and for the forcible deportation of workers to Germany. Besides, he was annoyed by the provision of better positions in certain areas to the Poles and advocated the development of the Ukrainian cooperation movement, which meant not only the strengthening of the Ukrainian economy, but also, in his opinion, "protection of Ukrainian peasants from Jewish exploitation." During the extermination of the Jewish population, Kubiyovych, speaking to young people on the occasion of the opening of yet another school, noted that commercial education would allow Ukrainian youth to occupy those areas of economic life that had previously been "preserved" almost exclusively for Jews.
At the same time, the leaders of the Ukrainian Central Committee distinguished the realization of Ukrainian national interests from the interests of Germany and Nazi ideology. The main idea was to use all opportunities for training personnel for the future state in order to eventually demonstrate the Ukrainians’ organizational and creative abilities and to prove that they deserved their own state.
The culmination of the UCC's activities in cooperation with the Germans was the creation of the Military Administration under the Committee and a call for the formation of the Waffen SS Division "Galicia". Both the governor of the District of Galicia, Otto von Wechter, and Volodymyr Kubiyovych, who considered the creation of such a military unit an important stage on the way to the Ukrainian statehood, played an active role in the process of creating a Ukrainian formation as part of Wehrmacht troops. Here is what Kubiyovych said delivering a speech in honour of the division creation:
Today is a truly historic day for the Ukrainians of Galicia, because the current state act fulfills one of the most sincere desires of the Ukrainian people — to take up arms in the fight against Bolshevism. This desire, expressed on various occasions since June 22, 1941, is the result of the conviction not only of the leading circles, but also of the whole people, that Bolshevism is our greatest enemy, bringing us not only material and spiritual ruin but also national death. Fate destined our people to be the first to deal with Bolshevism. This fight has lasted for 25 years, first as an armed struggle, and then as a stubborn, inconspicuous competition in all areas of human existence. When the Führer called on the peoples of Europe to the final struggle against Bolshevism on the historic day of June 22, the choice was clear to us. Moreover, this desire was the result of a deep conviction that it is our duty not to remain neutral in the great struggle for a new structure of the European order, but to contribute to the victory of the new Europe to the best of our ability. Our active attitude to the cooperation with the German authorities was based on these convictions; all sections of the people fulfilled everything that was possible. I will remember the voluntary departure of hundreds of thousands of workers to Germany, the conscious compulsory delivery of various contingents, the collection of winter clothes for the German armed forces, respectable monetary donations for military purposes, the willingness of creative work of our community members who worked at machines, factories, offices and agencies for the sake of our victory, the conscious work of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, which has led to a broad understanding of the obligatoriness of military needs. We are glad that you, Mr. Governor, as the highest representative of the German authorities in Galicia, bring us words of recognition for this contribution of labour. We are especially glad to hear that the highest officials of the German state also have information about our active attitude. The highest permission to the establishment of an SS Grenadier Division, which will consist of Galician Ukrainians, is a distinction for us and at the same time a special honour. We are aware of the great importance of this supreme decree for our people. That's why we want to do our best to make it work. For us, the formation of the Galician Ukrainian Division within the SS is not only a distinction but also an obligation to continue this active position in cooperation with the German state authorities and to persevere in this position until the victorious end of the war. I ask you, Mr. Governor, to accept our assurance that we will abide by this commitment. The coming of this historic day is due to the conditions that have been created in our country under your leadership, Mr. Governor. On the basis of these conditions, you took the initiative to create a worthy opportunity for the Ukrainians of Galicia to fight hand in hand with the heroic German soldiers of the SS troops and weapons against Bolshevism, our common mortal enemy. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. At the same time, we would like to thank the great Führer of the United Europe for acknowledging our participation in the war, agreeing to our initiative and authorizing the formation of the Galician Division.
As the front approached, assistance to refugees, the wounded, and prisoners of war was added to the functions of the UCC. In May 1944, of the eleven operating Ukrainian people’s kitchens in Lviv, seven were feeding Lviv residents, three kitchens were taking care for refugees from the District of Galicia, and one kitchen was feeding refugees from Eastern Ukraine. During that month, the kitchens prepared 33,729 lunches, of which 26,347 were free. Homeless people were housed in special shelters, and in addition to lunches, they received food ration cards, cash benefits, medical care, and support in finding work and livelihoods.
During the German occupation, the Ukrainian Central Committee in Lviv made a lot of efforts and did a lot to make the life of the city’s Ukrainian residents easier and to help them. Despite some political activity and greater opportunities (compared to similar national committees), the main activities of the UCC were aimed at providing social assistance to the poorest and weakest members of the Ukrainian community. The fact that in the late 1942 about 11,000 residents of the city benefited from various forms of assistance provided by the UCC testifies to the needs of the community.
In addition to broader powers and better material support for Ukrainian institutions, the main difference in the activities of the Ukrainian committee and other national committees of Lviv is the political cooperation of the committee leaders with the Nazis and their cooperation with the Abwehr as well as ideological support for the occupation regime and an active participation in creating Ukrainian military and auxiliary structures meant to serve the Reich.
It was these aspects of the Ukrainian Committee's activities that caused the institution being accused of collaboration and to the persecution of the UCC activists by the Soviet Union.
In the current information space of Ukraine, the history and activities of the UCC are covered insufficiently. Some information, accessible to the general public, highlights primarily the social activities of the committee and the opportunities for cultural and educational activities for the Ukrainians. At the same time, information on the role and participation of the committee in the creation of military formations is either absent or, in the nationalist narrative, this participation is presented as a necessary and important step on the way to the creation of the Ukrainian state.