He experienced the horrors of two wars and during this time he also covered an immense geographical area. The trip described in this blog is an attempt to retrace his steps from Prague across the Eurasian continent to beyond Lake Baikal in Siberia. The first part of the trip will follow the precisely described route of Josef Švejk, Hašek's inspired literary creation. I left home on April 30 2010 and was back on October 29.

Saturday 17 July 2010

Orange flags

This blog-entry is entirely off-topic. It refers to events that took place in western Ukraine during WWII. An excellent introduction to this part of history appeared in New York Times in 1992. Jaroslav Hašek never lived to experience the OUN/UPA underground fighters, but from his time in the Red Army he would have been familiar with their opponents NKVD, or rather their predecessor, the Cheka. In the final chapter of Švejk, Hašek touches on the ethnic conflicts in Galicia which were later to lead to the tragedies described below.

An enigma solved

Vasyl Pazynyak in 2010
One morning in July 2010 I met Vasyl Pazynyak (Василь Пазиняк) who I had got to know six years earlier in this same city, in Lviv. That morning Vasyl took me to a mahasin, bought some horse-meat and we sat down in the garden of a pub behind my ugly hotel to enjoy the meat and a few Ukrainian Staropramen. Six years ago I had taken part in a some celebration, and for six years I had been in the dark where I actually had been that day in 2004.

Pointing at my map Vasyl revealed where it was: the place was called Pyriatyn (Пирятин), a tiny village near Rava-Ruska (Рава-Руська) on the Polish border. In 1944 a little known atrocity had taken place in that village and since 2004 I had searched the internet for information, browsed maps, asked experts, all in vain.

19 August 2004

Пирятин memorial chapel.
That date will stick in my mind forever. I was on my first Švejk-trip and was spending a few days in Lviv. I had been put in contact with Vasyl and Anna Korol who both had been busy most of 18 August, showing the tourist their city. I didn't know their language, so it was for me merely a visual experience. It is mentally exhausting to try to concentrate and listen to a language when most of what was said was guesswork. It may sound ungrateful but I was relieved to be left alone when the day was over. That said, I appreciated the generosity and friendliness. It was also clear that I had been invited to some event the next day but for this illiterate foreigner it was impossible to decipher exactly what this was about.

Despite my unequal struggle with the Ukrainian language I duly turned up by the Львівська обласна рада (Lviv Regional Council) the next morning. Dr Pazynyak was a council deputy and I was led to a chauffeur-driven white Volha limousine where we all took our place. Off we went out into the countryside. I was dressed as a tourist and suddenly became acutely conscious of it, sitting in my shorts and sandals in an official limousine from Lviv oblast, being transported at the expense of Ukrainian tax-payers. After about an hours drive we took off onto a minor road and ended up by a small chapel in an opening in the pine forest. I still didn't know where I was, but judging by the number of people there (and how they were dressed) it was an official occasion.

Religion and politics

The place seemed to be called something like Pyriatyn and people in national customs appeared everywhere. Blue and yellow Ukrainian flags were flying and to my surprise there were also many elderly men in uniforms. Several other flags were waved, and particularly conspicuous was a red and black one. Then there were orange banners decorated with for me incomprehensible slogans, written in Cyrillic script. In the scorching heat a religious service got under way (I assume it was Greek Catholic). I understood that it was some extraordinary  event, as there were tears in the eyes of the old babušy and the uniform-clad veterans. I was told that the men in green were patrioty and that the black and red flags was that of UPA, an entity that on 19 August 2004 for me was entirely unknown.

After the end of the religious service there were speeches held by politicians; first Vasyl and then a deputy from the national parliament in Kiev. The deputy soon became agitated and I picked up the words kriminalny banditsky klan. It was by now clear that the religious service had metamorphosed into a political gathering. Orange banners appeared in numbers and I was explained the meaning of the slogans, of which the most visible one was Tak! Ющенко (Yes! Yushchenko). Who the latter was I still didn’t know but it was obvious that the criminal gang of bandits was the regime of Leonid Kuchma in Kiev, and that this Yushchenko who we were saying Yes! to was an opposition politician and an altogether cleaner man. The rest is history of course but I had no ideas of the significance of it at the time …

Vasyl speaking by Пирятин, 19 August 2004.
As the speeches ended, another transition occurred. The Горі́лка (vodka) started to flow, huge amounts of food appeared and people gathered in groups in the forest to sing songs about “Ukrainske lesy”, “Naše Ukraina”, and “Volyn”. An older man, also called Vasyl, was so engulfed in patriotism and horilka that he stepped onto the tomatoes and eggs on the blanket in front of him, loudly declaring his reverence for his dear motherland. The Ukrainian hospitality which I since have learned to appreciate was on full show. The guest was treated like a king even though a lady wondered why he was so “nirepresentantny” (unrepresentatively) dressed. In the forest there were groups of people enjoying themselves, eating, drinking and singing. A man, pointing at some singing and mead-drinking women, told me that drinking mead would make you mad, make you sing, and even make you fart (med, med, prt, prt).

I still had other things to ponder; it wasn't clear to my why a religious service and political gathering was held in such an unlikely place. That it had to do with events 60 years ago I had grasped, but not exactly what. But during the service the grim faces and the tears in the eyes of the old babušy and dědušy revealed the gravity of it, and it soon became clearer: a tragedy took place here back on 19 August 1944. Amongst the people participating today were survivors of an atrocity, almost all of them had lost relatives, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.

Ignorant tourist dragged into politics.
We were soon taken to a banquet in the village hall, and for I while I feared that I would drown in a sea of horilkaand hospitality, but thanks to copious amounts of food and pickled gherkins I kept my head above water. There were more speeches and Vasyl presented the unlikely guest from Norway, and induced me to hold a short speech. I was petrified, standing there nirepresentantny dressed, but obliged. I thanked my hosts for the hospitality and was given a hint that I ought to round it off with a few choice expressions: Slava Ukraini, Za svobodnu Ukrainu a za Yushchenko. I had no problem with toasting to a free Ukraine of course but I still didn't know who this Yushchenko was...

The return of NKVD

The list of victims.
The whole day had been a genuinely moving experience and there in the village hall I finally understood why we were here. On the wall there was a exhibition commemorating the tragedy that took place 60 years ago on this day. The Red Army had driven the enemy out of western Ukraine and Pax Sovietica was reintroduced. But not before the NKVD-troops following in the rear of the regular army had performed their “clean-up operations”. That meant punishing anyone who was suspected of co-operating with the enemy, whether it be the Nazis, the Ukrainian Insurgence Army (UPA) or even the Polish Home Army, Armia Krajowa (AK). The village didn't know what horrors were in store for them that day. The men were rounded up and executed, branded as counter-revolutionaries and fascists. Only those who happened to be out working on the fields survived. The number of victims totalled 68. This was to teach UPA-sympathizers a brutal lesson and it is just one of many atrocities NKVD-troops committed during the re-conquest of western Ukraine that year.


UPA veterans at Пирятин, 2004.
Even there in the village hall I didn't know what this organisation UPA with it’s black and red flag was, an organisation who is obviously held in high esteem in western Ukraine.

But after my return home I started to investigate who the people with red black and red flags were. Slowly a sinister picture emerged. The Organisation of Ukrainian  Nationalists (OUN), was created as a reaction to Polish repression and discrimination during the inter-war period. They carried out acts of sabotage and assassinations, both against prominent Poles and moderate Ukrainians. The aim was an ethnically clean, totalitarian Ukrainian nation state. The Polish reaction was heavy-handed; collective punishment hit whole communities, an act that further fueled animosity between the two peoples. OUN obviously were in conflict with the Soviet Union as well, but were less effective against the more ruthless Stalinist regime. After the Soviet invasion of Galicia in September 1939, the OUN leadership, headed by Stepan Bandera fled to Kraków and for the next four years they co-operated with Nazi Germany whose ideology they to a degree shared.

The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 led to another twist. ONU declared an independent Ukraine, but the leaders were immediately arrested and deported to Germany. Bandera himself spent the next three year at Spandau prison and in Sachsenhausen. The Nazis would not tolerate a rival centre of power, but OUN and the Nazis still continued to co-operate. In 1943 UPA, the armed wing of the Bandera faction of OUN, was formed. Armed resistance against the Nazis became widespread. Banderivtsi also carried out massacres on Poles in Volyn and Galicia. There were armed encounters with Armia Krajowa, who in turn killed many  Ukrainians. Czechs were also among the UPA victims in Volyn, so were many ethnic Ukrainians. The Polish question is perhaps the darkest chapter in OUN's violent history. Its members also took part in massacring of Jews, although it has been claimed that UPA also had Jewish members. It adds up to a tragic and confusing picture, with shifting and opportunistic alliances, where your enemy’s enemy is your friend, but a friend who the next day may have turned into en enemy. Still it is difficult to have any sympathy for OUN: the ideology and brutal deeds of the Bandera faction of OUN makes up an extremely obnoxious brew.

In 1944 the Red Army drove the enemy out of the Ukraine and NKVD troops were left fighting UPA, inevitably killing civilians in droves like they did in Pyriatyn. From now on UPA again co-operated with the retreating Germans. They also started to work with their arch-enemy Armia Krajowa against the even greater NKVD evil. There could have been no clean hands in this tragedy, which has some similarities with concurrent events in Yugoslavia. The outcome was by now given, whoever UPA aligned themselves with. The organisation was slowly liquidated by Soviet and Polish forces, but scattered groups were active as late as the early 1950’s. The final chapter was written in 1959 when Stepan Bandera was killed by the KGB in Munich. He is buried there.

OUN had no natural allies, as none of the powers at the time shared their goal of an independent Ukrainian state. The Bandera group still has few sympathisers outside the Ukraine except for in certain emigrant circles in North America.  Bandera and his followers are a highly divisive force in the Ukraine, where he by many in western Ukraine is regarded a hero but is equally reviled in Russian speaking Eastern and Southern Ukraine. One of the last acts of former president Yushchenko was to declare Bandera a hero of the Ukraine. This happened in face of protests both in the Ukraine and abroad. A court even declared the nomination illegal. His successor Viktor Yanukovych revoked the nomination soon after he came to power.

Lviv, sixty-six years later

GULAG, the fate of millions, including Vasyl's relatives.
As I was sitting there with Vasyl and having pin-pointed the place where we went that hot August day in 2004, he told me about the fate of his father. When the archives were opened in the 1990’s Vasyl finally found out. His father and other family members had been arrested and deported to Siberia. Their crime was that they were kulaks, they might have had one cow too many to be classed as worthy peasants and prospective model Soviet citizens. Thus they landed in the category “class enemies”. Whether the arrest had happened after the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 or on the return of the Red Army five years later wasn't clear to me. Their destination was a village by the town of Zima in the Irkutsk region. They journey had taken one month, on the carriages was written “Ukrainian bandits” and the wagons were pelted with stones and whatever was at hand for the on-lookers at the stations. They had been away for 10 years. Vasyl had visited the village by Zima recently and had met many  chorosyoe ljudi (good people) there, emphasising that moskali were as much victims of Stalin and Beria as anyone else.

We were soon joined by another member of the delegation to Pyriatyn in 2004; Dr. Anna Korol. I was even invited to her hospital but soon got tired of worn corridors, pretty nurses, and sick people, so I went back to my favourite spot Hasova Lyampa to do some work with my dearest friend, my Asus net-book.


In the afternoon I met Vasyl and Anna again for a meal in a most unlikely place. Opposite the town hall we went through an unmarked door and there was a soldier in UPA uniform asking if I was a moskal and communist. “No”, I said, “I am a Norwegian spy”. Then he brusquely asked for the haslo (password). I had been told earlier by Vasyl what to expect and obliged with Slava heroii!, Slava Ukraini! and Smrt moskalam. Hailing the Heroes, the Ukraine and declaring  ‘Death to the Muscovites’ did the trick. A book-reel opened and we were let into the hideout cum restaurant in the basement. On the menu were interesting items like jazyk moskala (tongue of a Muscovite) which was an enormous sausage. The guest could also have ordered drunk carp-looking moskal and a wider assortment of highly political dishes. This theme restaurant is called Криївка (Kryivka), a term for an underground bunker.

Kaiser dreimal hoch

Franz Joseph I, portrait in a cafe in Lviv.
That sausage with the unlikely name rounded the day off. I had enjoyed myself yet again in Lviv but also had a few more things to think about. In retrospect the fall of Austria-Hungary proved to be a disaster for this part of the world, a disaster it has only recently recovered from (some would say it still hasn’t). By the amount of Habsburg memorabilia and nostalgia found around Lviv it seems that quite a few are ready to regard the Habsburg era as a golden age.

Today the wounds between Poland and Ukraine have healed considerably. When Bandera was declared Hero of the Ukraine the Polish government diplomatically referred to it as an internal matter. Voices from Russia, Jewish spokesmen and even the European Parliament were less conciliatory. Poland and the Ukraine are soon to host the EURO 2012 football championship together. One of the host cities is Lviv...

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