The Mystery of
Has the final mystery of the UPA been solved?
Some thoughts on recent reports about the alleged discovery of Roman Shukhevych’s “burial” site
By Dr. Yuri SHAPOVAL, professor of history
The mass media recently carried what they called a sensational story about the discovery of the site where the body of Roman Shukhevych, the supreme commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), chairman of the General Secretariat of the Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council (UHVR), and head of the leadership of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) in Ukraine, was destroyed. The Lviv-based newspaper Express wrote: “Perched on the picturesque banks of the Zbruch River, the village of Hukiv is the first settlement on the boundary separating Ternopil and Khmelnytsky oblasts. According to recently declassified KGB archival documents, it was here that the NKVD burned the legendary commander’s body and scattered his ashes in the river.”
The village has unveiled a memorial stone with the inscription: “On this site on March 9, 1950, the chivalrous soul of Roman Shukhevych, the supreme commander of the UPA and a dedicated son of the Ukrainian people, rose to heaven. Treacherously betrayed, he died on March 5, 1950, outside the city of Lviv in an unequal battle against the Muscovite and Bolshevik hordes.”
The inscription seems ordinary, but I will discuss the words “treacherous betrayal” further in the article. I was most struck by the reference to some “recently declassified KGB archival documents.” My colleague, the historian Dmytro Viedenieiev, and I searched for such documents when we were writing about Shukhevych’s death, but found none. We also looked for eyewitnesses of these tragic events, but many of them refused to talk, while many others were long dead. Then all of a sudden, a man whose name is not disclosed allegedly turns up and admits complicity in the slaughter.
This leads to the question: what are these “declassified” documents and who is the person that provided this important information? While there are still no answers, I have some doubts to share. Some historical background is in order.
* * *
I will first provide an abstract from the classified Plan of the Chekist-Military Operation to Capture or Liquidate Vovk [Wolf].
“Based on the intelligence obtained, [it is hereby ordered to stage] a Chekist-military operation in the village of Bilohorshcha, the adjoining forest, and the outskirts west of the village of Levanduvka, to capture or eliminate Vovk at dawn on March 5 of this year.
For the purposes of the operation it
a) To muster all Lviv-based operational reserves of the 62nd Rifle Division of the Interior Troops of the Ministry of State Security (MDB), the Ukrainian frontier district headquarters, and the Militia Administration of Lviv.
b) To alert the troops involved in the operation taking place at the juncture of the administrative borders of Hlyniany, Peremyshliany, and Bibrka raions of Lviv oblast, and muster 600 of these troops to appear in the courtyard of the building of the MDB Directorate (UMDB) in Lviv oblast at 5:00 a.m. on March 5.
c) To conduct the operation by blocking the village of Bilohorshcha, adjacent hamlets, the outskirts west of the village of Levanduvka, and the forest.”
A headquarters established to direct the operation was comprised of Major-General Yuriy Drozdov, Deputy Minister for State Security, Lieutenant-General Pavel Sudoplatov (the future author of the sensational Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness — A Soviet Spymaster), Major-General Fadeyev, the head of the Interior Troops of the Ukrainian district of the MDB, and Col. Maistruk, the head of the UMDB for Lviv oblast.
The operation thus involved serious forces and was controlled by high-ranking people. Whom were they hunting? Who was this Vovk whom they were stalking? It was Shukhevych. From the above document it follows that it was not just the army that was involved in the manhunt for Vovk. In 1944 the People’s Commissariat of State Security (NKDB) unfolded a large- scale operation called “Berloga” [Lair] aimed at tracking down OUN members and Shukhevych himself. October 1945 marks the start of search operation “Vovk” to hunt down Shukhevych. This job was subsequently entrusted to Directorate 2-N of the Ukrainian SSR’s Ministry of State Security. Directorate 2-N was formed in January 1947, and its 1st Division conducted manhunts for the leaders of the Ukrainian underground. Overall, no fewer than 700-800 operatives simultaneously participated in the cross-country manhunt for the UPA commander. Interestingly enough, operatives reported the elimination of Vovk on three separate occasions. However, all three reports were inaccurate and the search continued. The members of the communist special service knew they were not allowed to fail, because their prey was much too dangerous to them. Now is the time to pose the question: Who is Roman Shukhevych?
* * *
Born in 1907 in Lviv oblast, Roman Shukhevych became an underground member of the Ukrainian Military Organization (UVO) when he was still a 6th grader in high school. He graduated from the Lviv Polytechnic Institute in 1932. Between 1926 and 1929 he organized, directed, and participated in anti-Polish actions. In 1926, for example, the UVO decided to eliminate a school curator named Sobinski, who was implementing a policy of Polonization in Ukrainian high schools and seminaries. This task was assigned to Roman Shukhevych, who carried it out successfully.
He was one of the first to join the OUN in 1929, and in 1933-1934 he was the responsible leader of the Combat Section of the OUN’s Krai (Territorial) Executive headed by Stepan Bandera. It was Shukhevych who organized the OUN’s first famous battle operation in the town of Horodok in 1930, and in 1933 he organized the attack on the Soviet consulate in Lviv.
Aside from his excellent military training, Shukhevych was an athlete who excelled at skiing, held records in sprinting, played soccer, and headed a number of Ukrainian sports organizations in Lviv. To put it simply, he was made for combat actions.
In 1934 he was imprisoned by the Poles and released under the 1938 amnesty. In 1938-1939 he was an officer at the headquarters of the Carpathian Sich, and in 1939-1941 he was a member of the OUN leadership, responsible for organizing an underground network in the Western Ukrainian lands. In 1941 he entered Lviv as the commander of the Ukrainian Legion.
At the beginning of the Soviet-Nazi war in 1941, when Western Ukrainian prisons were being “purged,” his brother was executed. Later his wife was arrested, and his daughter and son were placed in a special children’s home. His daughter was eventually adopted by Tetiana Zaporozhska, a local teacher.
In late 1942 Shukhevych went underground. The Nazis arrested his wife Natalia Shukhevych-Berezynska. Shukhevych risked his life by meeting with Colonel Alfred Bisanz, and the Gestapo freed Natalia. In 1944 Roman and Natalia got a formal divorce to protect his family from the Nazis, who were searching for Shukhevych.
However, agents of the Soviet secret police were also hoping to use Natalia to get to Vovk. When they failed, in 1947 Natalia was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the first time. On March 25, 1948, Shukhevych’s son Yuriy was arrested. He was jailed at age 14 and was released only in 1989, when he was 55 years old. By the time he was freed, he was blind. Shukhevych’s father also suffered repressions. In October 1947 this sick, frail man was deported to a settlement in Kemerovo oblast, where he died.
The facts above make it perfectly clear that the communist regime faced an uncompromising and experienced opponent. This explains the huge scale of the manhunt for Vovk.
* * *
On the other hand, ensuring the commander’s safety demanded tremendous efforts on the part of Vovk and his associates. There were people who handled security issues, such as K. Ratych, a member of the Security Service (SB) of the Central Leadership, who was Shukhevych’s personal designer of underground bunkers. The courier, Halyna Didyk, played a major role by securing over 15 hideouts for the commander. Because of Shukhevych’s worsening health (he had developed edema in his legs and could no longer hide in ordinary bunkers) for the winter of 1945-1946 Didyk outfitted a bunker for him underneath a stove in a building at no. 4, vul. Sulymskoho (Street) in Lviv. In the spring of 1946 Shukhevych moved to the forests of Rohatyn, the site of operations of the Rohatyn Special Okruha Leadership, which was especially created as a base for hiding the leaders of the underground in Halychyna. From then on Taras Chuprynka [Shukhevych’s pseudonym — Ed.] would change the location of his hideouts, depending on the season. In the winter of the following year and until April 1947 he lived in a safe house in the village of Kniahynychi, Bukachiv raion, in what is now Ivano-Frankivsk oblast, where another courier, Olha Ilkiv (“Roksoliana”) took care of him.
Despite Shukhevych’s good physical shape, living conditions in the underground and stress resulted in myocarditis, hypertension, and rheumatism. Many times the commander was forced to use forged documents and seek assistance from Dr. Blei in Lviv. According to the testimony of another Lviv- based doctor, Matviy Lotovych, Shukhevych also requested his medical assistance. An unknown woman visited Lotovych in June 1947, accompanied by a man whom she called “an accountant from the dairy.” After an examination that lasted 1.5 hours Lotovych concluded that the patient was suffering from weak heart muscles, stomach catarrh, and rheumatism of the joints. He gave him a prescription and recommended a diet. The “accountant” visited him a second time in February 1948.
Those who saw the Ukrainian film The Undefeated (2000), directed by Oles Yanchuk and devoted to Shukhevych, must remember that in one of the first scenes the commander and his female courier are in Odesa. Unfortunately, in this scene, much like in many others, the filmmakers did not explain anything to viewers. How could the UPA commander, who was in hiding, be vacationing at a seaside resort?
Nonetheless, this episode is in fact authentic. Because of his health, Shukhevych and Halyna Didyk stayed at the Lermontov Resort in Odesa. They bought resort vouchers bearing the names of Yaroslav Poliovy and Hanna Khomyak. Shukhevych received treatment from a leading cardiologist, a professor named Syhal. When they would go for their therapy, they always carried poison capsules and took turns concealing a pistol. The following year, in June 1949, they repeated this dangerous trip to “the pearl of the sea” [Odesa].
Clearly, they were taking a great risk, but they were forced to do this because of Shukhevych’s poor health. The two successful trips merely confirmed his genuine conspiratorial talent.
* * *
Talents aside, we all know how everything ended. Why? Here I must mention another of Shukhevych’s female couriers — Darka Husiak (“Nusia”), who carried out important tasks, such as traveling to Moscow to establish contacts with the US Embassy. On March 3, 1950, she was intercepted by four communist operatives, who held her by the hands to prevent her from reaching a poison capsule hidden in her collar. Inside the car, she tried to free her hand and pull out a TT [Tokarev-Tula] pistol with a bullet already in the chamber. Later at the UMDB, General Pavel Sudoplatov asked her how she had mastered such an unfeminine weapon. After all, the TT pistol weighs nearly a kilogram. Nusia replied challengingly, “Give me a pistol with a single bullet, stand 30 feet away, and you’re a dead man.”
Interrogations were conducted by the deputy chief of the investigative division of the Ukrainian SSR’s Ministry of State Security, and the heads of the operational group and the UMDB. Nusia stubbornly refused to cooperate during questioning, “giving up” only the addresses of merchants with whom she was acquainted. She was tortured, and later her own mother was beaten in front of her. Despite this and the tortures, she did not divulge any information, even though after the interrogations she wound up in the so-called “medical cell.”
Waiting for her was an experienced secret service agent named Rosa, who was covered with green ethyl disinfectant “following a beating.” After “coming to,” Rosa started tapping out a Morse code message addressed to the occupant of “the neighboring cell.” Husiak became very intrigued. Then Rosa wrote a note with a “hidden” pencil. When Darka tried to see the text, Rosa hid the note. Her interest piqued, Darka asked her “comrade in misfortune” if she had ties to the underground. Rosa evaded the question for a long time, but then asked, “Do you know Moneta?” This was the pseudonym of another courier, Shukhevych’s mistress Kateryna Zarytska. This made a big impact on Nusia. In the meantime, Rosa revealed, “She’s in the next cell. Keep your mouth shut. If you betray me, I’ll strangle you during the night.”
Rosa thus earned Darka’s trust. Rosa then said that the investigators had nothing to pin on her and she was being released. So she suggested that Darka pass a note to somebody “on the outside.” That is indeed what happened. Husiak wrote a note that eventually proved fatal for Shukhevych.
“My dear ones! Know that I have landed in a Bolshevik prison, where there is not a single person who would endure what awaits me without breaking down.
After the first phase I am holding
on, but there’s no telling what lies ahead.
M. [a reference to Moneta, i.e., Kateryna Zarytska — Author] was brought for a confrontation; she is a hero because she did not break for 5 months.
They know a great deal about me and, most importantly, about ShU and DI (Shukhevych and Didyk — Author).
I was captured by a team of six, and I had no chance to take my own life. They knew I had a pistol and poison.”
Then Nusia explained to Rosa that she had to pass a note to Natalia Khrobak in the village of Bilohorshcha, Briukovychi raion, Lviv oblast, and explained in great detail the location of her house. The hiding place of the UPA supreme commander was thus revealed.
So was it through “treacherous betrayal” that Shukhevych landed in a hopeless situation, as it is engraved on the memorial stone near the village of Hukiv? I don’t think so. Rather, this happened because of an unwitting betrayal.
* * *
A classified textbook on the history of the Soviet security agencies, published in Moscow in 1977, mentions Shukhevych’s name in connection with his capture. The book says that it was a result of the successful work of agents and the concerted efforts of the special service and units of the Soviet Army and Interior Troops. Basically, this is true.
On March 5, 1950, the 8th Company of the 10th Rifle Regiment, 62nd Division, surrounded not one but several houses in Bilohorshcha in which Shukhevych could have been hiding. Suddenly, Natalia Khrobak’s son Danylo rushed out of her house, and was captured and questioned on the spot. The teenager pointed to a house in the village center, which belonged to his sister Hanna Koniushek whose housemaid matched the description of Halyna Didyk.
Around 8:00 a.m., a group of soldiers and members of Directorate 2-N and the UMDB approached the house. Ten minutes later a woman, who said her name was Stefania Kulyk, opened the door. She was identified as Halyna Didyk. According to one report, it was “categorically proposed [to her] that Roman Shukhevych, who was hiding together with her, surrender, and that she assist this, in which case their lives would be spared.”
Didyk refused. Then a search of the house was conducted. They frisked Didyk and confiscated her pistol. But she managed to swallow her strychnine capsule and was already losing consciousness when she heard gunshots. This member of the underground did not die, as she was immediately rushed to the hospital. She was nursed back to health and again brutally interrogated. She spent nearly 21 years in prison before being deported to a settlement in Kazakhstan. After returning to Ukraine, she lived in the village of Khrystynivka, Chernihiv oblast, where she died in December 1979.
Let us return to the events in Bilohorshcha. Shukhevych was hiding in Hanna Koniushek’s house in a special hiding place built in October 1948. This was a wooden box fitted into the space between two floors. It had two sliding partitions and could accommodate several persons. The exit was covered with a carpet. A person could stay in this hideout during a search without revealing his existence. To this day it is unclear why Shukhevych did not remain in hiding but tried to break out of the house. Here is a description from a report:
“During the search shots were fired
from behind a wooden partition at the landing between the stairs.
At this very instant, Major Revenko, the head of Directorate 2-N of the Ukrainian SSR’s Ministry of State Security, and Colonel Fokin, the deputy head of the UMDB for Lviv oblast, were going up the stairs. Comrade Revenko was killed in the shootout on the landing between stairs.
During the shootout a bandit with a pistol and a grenade jumped out of the hiding place and dashed down the stairs, where he attacked Colonel Fokin, who was going down the stairs.”
The report goes on to say that at that instant someone standing outside “came running and killed the bandit with a hail of bullets from a submachine gun.” In analyzing what happened, Dmytro Viedenieiev and I reached the conclusion that it was not the sergeant with the machine gun who killed Shukhevych. The night before the supreme commander had dismissed his bodyguards (11 people headed by Mykhailo Zayets, “Vlodko”) to the Carpathians, and was in the house alone with Halyna Didyk.
In March 2000 the newspaper Kievskie Vedomosti published reminiscences by Yuriy Shukhevych, who recalled how investigator Huzeyev took him to the garage of the UMDB in Lviv oblast, where he saw his father’s body: “Father was lying on some straw, wearing an embroidered shirt. On the right side of his face was a bullet wound; there were three wounds below his chest, and the hair was singed on his head next to the bullet entry. ‘That means he shot himself,’ I thought.”
In fact, the photo clearly shows a bullet wound to the temple. Now let us try to line up the details. Was it possible to shoot Shukhevych three times in the chest and again in the temple when, judging by the documents, he was struggling with the colonel?
We were even more confused to note that the documents provide two different last names of the sergeant who allegedly shot and killed Shukhevych. It is also unlikely that a final shot was fired, because there are many known cases when efforts were made to save at any cost less important OUN and UPA officers, who had sustained wounds, in order to extract information from them. In a striking case from 1948 the chief neurosurgeon of the Ukrainian District of the Interior Troops flew from Kyiv to Lutsk to save a member of the Volhynian underground, who had shot himself twice in the head to avoid arrest.
Therefore, the version according to which the sergeant was a skilled sniper should be ruled out. Most probably, Shukhevych could not use his grenade in the cramped house and attempted to make a break for it. If he had not wanted to do this, he would have shot or blown himself up with the grenade without any hesitation. Because of the uncoordinated actions of the operational group that Shukhevych had caught by surprise, the UPA commander sustained a fatal wound, rolled down the stairs and, in order not to be captured alive, shot himself through the temple with his Walther pistol.
Shukhevych’s body was delivered to the UMDB for Lviv oblast, where it was shown not only to his son but also to Kateryna Zarytska, Mykola Pasnak, a priest who was under arrest, and Zynoviy Blahy (“Shpak”). All of them identified the body as that of the supreme commander of the UPA.
* * *
Now I return to where I began, i.e., the reported discovery of the site where the supreme commander’s body was burned. I have my doubts about the accuracy of this so-called “sensational story.” As a rule, painstaking efforts were always made to destroy the remains of the underground leaders. For example, Petro Fedun was buried in a three-meter-deep pit filled with quicklime on the premises of “Site No. 39” of the UMDB in Lviv. The remains of the OUN leader of Halychyna, Roman Kravchuk (“Petro”), who was killed on Dec. 21, 1951, near the village of Vyshniuv, Zhuravno raion, Stanislaviv oblast [today: Ivano-Frankivsk], were transported 300 kilometers from Lviv and cremated in a forested tract in Zhytomyr oblast. His ashes were dispersed.
Documents confirming this are extant. Meanwhile, what “declassified” documents underlie the recent “sensational” report concerning Shukhevych? Nobody knows. Neither did some important individuals, who are in a position to know about such documents, offer me any explanation. Sudoplatov does not mention this in his memoirs. Instead, now we know how in the late 1980s and early 1990s the special service consistently concealed and destroyed documents from its own archives. This is why one should not accept this “sensational” story at face value.
There is only one good thing in all of this. Ukrainians are a nation without graves. Even such an ambivalent leader as Bohdan Khmelnytsky does not have a grave. Thus, the prospect that there will finally be a place to lay flowers in tribute to Roman Shukhevych is an accomplishment, albeit a symbolic one, for this country, for whose sake the supreme commander of the UPA fought and died.