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2007: The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA): What Have We Learned 65 Years after Its Founding?

Description: The 41st annual Shevchenko Lecture, co-sponsored by CIUS and the Ukrainian Professional and Business Club of Edmonton, was delivered on 30 March 2007 by Dr. Peter J. Potichnyj, a leading authority on Ukrainian wartime insurgency, who spoke on “The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA): What Have We Learned 65 Years after Its Founding?”

In his lecture Dr. Potichnyj addressed some of the key controversies surrounding the UPA. The first concerns the common practice of conflating the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), especially the faction led by Stepan Bandera (OUN-B), with the UPA, giving rise to the joint acronym OUN-UPA. Professor Potichnyj pointed out that this hyphenated designation was first used by Soviet security organs to discredit the UPA by linking it with the OUNs integral-nationalist ideology of the 1930s. While acknowledging the important role played by OUN members in the UPA, Dr. Potichnyj stressed that the latter was subordinate to the Supreme Ukrainian Liberation Council (Ukrains'ka Holovna Vyzvol'na Rada), an underground governing body more broadly based than the OUN-B. The second controversy concerns estimates of the number of people involved in the UPA and underground activities generally. The Soviet-sponsored image of the UPA as a collection of undisciplined bands of gangsters has fuelled the third controversy. Here, Professor Potichnyj stressed the UPAs resemblance to a regular army, noting Soviet efforts to create armed groups that looked like UPA units and imitated them. Professor Potichnyj also discussed controversies related to ideology, concluding that the ideology of the UPA was based largely on the democratic wartime writings of Osyp Diakiv (Hornovy), P. Poltava (Fedun), and others, not on the integral nationalist ideas of Dmytro Dontsov, who came to prominence between the wars. Professor Potichnyj also discussed the Polish-Ukrainian conflict, stressing its long history and suggesting that land hunger was partly to blame for the ferocity of the struggle and the involvement of peasants in the Volhynian tragedy of 1943, when many Polish civilians were slaughtered. Other factors included plans to incorporate Volhynia into Poland, German and Soviet meddling, and the inability of Polish and Ukrainian underground leaders to reach an understanding. With regard to the Holocaust, Dr. Potichnyj noted that although the Ukrainian populace was aware of the mass murder of Jews in Ukraine, there is no documentary evidence to support the assumption that the UPA welcomed or supported it. The greatest failure of the Ukrainian underground leadership, however, was that it did not issue condemnations or proclamations of concern. Dr. Potichnyj also pointed out that he knew of no instance of Jewish leaders attempting to contact the Ukrainian underground leadership.

During the lecture and in the question period, the guest speaker drew on his own wartime experiences. Dr. Potichnyj, who comes from the village of Pawlokoma (Pavlokoma) near Przemysl (Peremyshl), now in Poland, became a guerrilla soldier at the age of fourteen after the mass killing of his fellow villagers by Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa) soldiers in March 1945. Dr. Potichnyj served in the UPA until 10 September 1947, when the remnant of his company (36 soldiers), led by Mykhailo Duda (Hromenko), crossed from Soviet-occupied Austria to the US-controlled zone of Germany. He earned his Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University in 1966 and began his academic career that year as professor of political science at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He retired in 1995.

Throughout his career, Dr. Potichnyj has had a particular interest in relations between Ukrainians and their neighbours. He organized scholarly conferences on this subject that resulted in the publication of the following books by CIUS Press, which he edited or co-edited: Poland and Ukraine: Past and Present (1980); Ukrainian-Jewish Relations in Historical Perspective (1988); and Ukraine and Russia in Their Historical Encounter (1992).

Since 1975 Dr. Potichnyj has served as editor-in-chief of the documentary series Litopys UPA, of which 61 volumes have been published to date. He is co-editor of Political Thought of the Ukrainian Underground: 1943-1951 (Edmonton, 1986), published by CIUS Press. He is also the author of a documentary history of his native village, Pavlokoma, 1441-1945: istoriiasela (Lviv and Toronto, 2001.

Found in CIUS Newsletter 2007
Author: CIUS
Publisher: CIUS
Date: March 30, 2007
Contributor: Peter Potichnyj
Language: English, Ukrainian
Original Format: Digital Audio Recording





CIUS, “2007: The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA): What Have We Learned 65 Years after Its Founding?,” CIUS-Archives, accessed May 29, 2024,
Unless otherwise noted, this work is subject to a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license .