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Memory, Myth, and Monuments: The Commemoration of a Contested Past in Western Ukraine

John Lehr and Natalia Aponiuk


In 2010, President Viktor Yushchenko’s posthumous award of the title ‘Hero of Ukraine’ to Stepan Bandera ignited a debate that threw memory and history into conflict. Bandera was the founder of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) whose military arm, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), or Ukrayins’ka Povstans’ka Armiya, fought for Ukrainian independence from 1942–1952. Initially it opposed German occupation forces in Ukraine, but following the German retreat it fought Soviet troops, at times controlling considerable territory in Western Ukraine. The UPA hoped to achieve an independent Ukrainian state and continued to conduct guerrilla warfare against the Soviets until 1952. A second arm of the OUN joined the German cause as a route to Ukrainian independence, enlisting in the Waffen-SS Division Halychyna. The UPA received strong support from the Ukrainian population, which regarded it as a liberating national organisation. Its opponents allege that it engaged in ethnic cleansing of Poles, and during the Nazi occupation actively collaborated in the murder and deportation of Jews. Many Western Ukrainians also fought as soldiers of the Soviet Red Army, playing a role in the liberation of Ukraine from Nazi control. During the period of Soviet administration from 1945 until 1991, when Ukraine achieved independence, an official landscape of commemoration was established that celebrated communist heroes and the sacrifices of the Red Army. Since independence the ‘monumental landscape’ has been transformed as monuments have been removed, added or altered to reflect the changing political fortunes of this historically contested area. In this landscape of commemoration three collective memories co-exist and compete: memories of the Soviet Red Army, the UPA, and the Halychyna Division.