THE FOUNDER OF THE REVOLUTIONARY LIBERATION MOVEMENT
Evhen Konovalets in the War
Evhen Konovalets, who for seventeen years led the Ukrainian revolutionary liberation movement, appeared on the political stage in 1917. Ukraine, divided between the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires, was in the third year of the war. Millions of Ukrainians served in the Austrian and Russian armies. At the outbreak of the First World War Evhen Konovalets (born 1891 at Zhashkiv, province of Lviv, in Western Ukraine) was called up and fought, as a lieutenant of the Austrian army, in the front line against the
|Evhen Konovalets (b. 14.6.1891, d. 23.5.1938) — Colonel, Commander-in-Chief of the "Sichovi Stritsi" corps of the Ukrainian Army; founder and head of the Ukrainian Military Organization (UVO) and of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN); murdered by an NKVD agent in Rotterdam.|
After the first news of the revolution and some months before the restoration of the independent Ukrainian state Konovalets fled from the prisoner-of-war camp on the Volga and eventually reached Kyiv where he entered into the service of the newly-created independent State.
His extraordinary organising abilities, which he had already shown at school and university, in community and cultural activities, and most of all in the organisation of paramilitary Ukrainian Youth associations, became fully apparent during his stay in Kyiv. Very soon he raised a battalion of West-Ukrainians who had been in Russian captivity as soldiers of the Austrian army, and this unit rapidly grew into an army corps by the enlistment of Ukrainians from the central and eastern provinces. Under the name of 'Sichovi Striltsi' (Sich riflemen) it became the best formation in the armed forces of the young Ukrainian state. Under the command of colonel Konovalets the brave, well organised and highly disciplined sich riflemen played a decisive role in the war of Liberation from 19l8 to 1920. They distinguished themselves not only through bravery but through a Ukrainian patriotism which set the welfare of the entire Ukraine — an independent state comprising all Ukrainian regions — above all regional interests. The 'Sichovi Striltsi' corps was the most faithful support of the Symon Petlura government in its fight against the Russian invaders and other enemies of Ukrainian unity and independence.
The name of Colonel Konovalets became familiar in the whole of Ukraine, and even abroad he was esteemed as a chivalrous soldier and as the commanding officer of one of the best military units of Ukraine.
After the failure of the Ukrainian struggle for liberation Colonel Konovalets and his Sich riflemen were interned by the Poles. In the spring of 1920 he succeeded in escaping from the camp and went abroad. He visited all the larger centres of Ukrainian emigration in Czechoslovakia, Austria and Germany. The vast majority of the emigrants were former members of the Ukrainian army who, after many vicissitudes, had gone abroad. Among them were comrades and close collaborators of Colonel Konovalets — members of the so-called Riflemen's Council.
The Foundation of UVO
On the initiative and under the chairmanship of Colonel Konovalets a meeting of the Riflemen's Council was held at Prague in July 1920, at which he submitted to his comrades a plan for the continued fight for the ideal of a Ukrainian national state, a fight which now had to be carried on under the new conditions of enemy occupation of the country. According to this plan the methods to be employed were revolutionary underground activity and individual armed action. Colonel Konovalets proposed the setting-up of a Ukrainian Military Organisation (Ukrayins'ka Viys'kova Orhanizatsiya — UVO) which was to develop its activity in every region of Ukraine. The Council accepted this proposal.
After the failure of the Ukrainian War of Liberation of 1917—1921 the country was occupied by four neighbouring states: Russia, i.e. the USSR, Poland, Roumania and Czechoslovakia. The major part of Ukrainian territory, however, was occupied by Russia and annexed to it, and a regime of appalling terror was the consequence. Under the three other occupants the life of the Ukrainian people was full of troubles and persecution. However, these three countries, unlike bolshevist Russia, did not have at their disposal sufficient means and manpower which would have enabled them to suppress and exploit the Ukrainian people to the same extent.
The Ukrainian Military Organisation (UVO), led by Colonel Konovalets, began to organize itself in all regions of the quartered Ukraine. It had to adapt its activities to varying local conditions and circumstances. It also encouraged the formation of UVO cells among emigrants and appointed representatives in various countries.
The activity of the UVO gained its strongest impetus and widest expansion in the years 1921—1923 in the western regions of Ukraine which were under Polish occupation. At that time the occupation by Poland had not yet been legalised by the victorious powers. It was only made legal on 15th March, 1923, by the council of Ambassadors with the proviso that the autonomy of Eastern Galicia should be ensured and the convention for the protection of national minorities be respected. Eastern Galicia never did become autonomous; and the convention about minorities was persistently circumvented and in the end unilaterally terminated by Poland on 13th September 1934.
The revolutionary activity of the UVO (armed attacks, acts of sabotage, liquidation of administrative institutions of the occupying power and their exponents, widespread agitation and propaganda) supported and strengthened the spirit of resistance among the broad masses of the Ukrainian people and demonstrated to the world the Ukrainian people's desire for freedom and independence.
At the same time resistance against the Russian-bolshevist occupation also increased and manifested itself in numerous armed risings in which members of the UVO actively participated. The revolutionary struggle of the Ukrainian people weakened and demoralised the enemy and at the same time stimulated the so called 'organic sector' of Ukrainian life (culture, education, economy) which developed a purely national character.
Colonel Konovalets, the commanding officer of the UVO, had returned to Western Ukraine from abroad in June 1921 in order to take direct charge of the leadership and planning of UVO activities. For political and conspiratorial reasons he 1eft the country again in the autumn and went into exile in the West from where he continued to direct UVO activities. As supreme commander and representative of the UVO, and thus the leader of the Ukrainian liberation struggle after the assassination of Petlura, colonel Konovalets showed himself as an alert, energetic and versatile man of action.
The Development of Activity Abroad
An organisation like the UVO had, of course, to provide for the proper administrative and military training of its cadres. Colonel Konovalets directed all his energy to this task and ensured that many Ukrainians, at home as well as abroad, received military instruction. Abroad, he not only supervised military training but took part in it. The trainees formed later on the nucleus of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) which was to play a decisive role in the Second World War.
Konovalets attached great importance to political journalism and propaganda both in Ukraine and on the international forum. Under his editorship appeared 'Surma' (Fanfare), the official UVO publication, secretly printed and distributed, in several tens of thousands of copies. 'Surma' played an important part in the spreading and strengthening of the revolutionary spirit among the broad masses of the people and particularly among the Ukrainian youth.
Konovalets suggested the publication, in German, of the 'Osteuropäische Korrespondenz' (East-European Correspondence) which was published in 1924 in Berlin by the Committee of Subjugated Nations. The UVO in every way supported this sound publication, which appeared two to four times a month, by financial assistance and contributions from UVO members. The main objective of the 'Korrespondenz' was to supply information to foreign newspapers and political bodies about events in the Ukrainian territories, about
|Evhen Konovalets and his son Yuriy|
Konovalets established close and important contact with leading politicians and statesmen of other countries and of the subjugated nations. With regard to their revolutionary underground nature these relations were carried on in secret and were kept confidential. No news of them reached the public and only very few members of the Ukrainian underground knew of them. Later on these contacts became all the more important when it came to the actualization of the Ukrainian struggle for liberation in the international field.
The UVO and Konovalets also kept in touch with leading representatives of the legal life in the Ukrainian homeland. Every initiative, every communal or political enterprise, which might be of advantage to the national struggle, was approved and supported by Konovalets and the UVO. This support was particularly evident during and after the so-called 'pacification' of the Western Ukraine by the Polish rulers in the year 1930. It is due to Konovalets that the world received news of this 'pacification' and that it was discussed at the League of Nations.
It is also due to him that the innumerable Ukrainian exiles in Europe and overseas rallied round the banner of the national liberation movement. In this way it was possible to present the Ukrainian problem to the world and to popularize it. At the same time the movement was given a sound financial basis and the UVO could rely on its own resources and on the generosity of Ukrainians everywhere for the continuation of its struggle. Its financial independence enabled it to ward off alien influences.
Birth and Growth of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN)
During the revolutionary struggle the spiritual and ideological basis and aim of Ukrainian nationalism became more and more definite as years went by. Alien ideologies had no room in the UVO. On the other hand, stimulated by the influence of the UVO, fresh forces arose among Ukrainians at home and abroad and particularly among young people, whose ideology was closely related to that of the UVO. They became active in the many legal or semi-legal youth associations and unions formed by the youths at school and university and inspired by Ukrainian nationalism. It was absolutely essential to combine and coordinate all these forces into a single organisation, under a single leadership. Konovalets readily understood this necessity and was aware of the fact that the centralisation of all Ukrainian nationalist forces could not be fitted within the framework of UVO and would require a new type of organisation. In November 1927, and on the initiative of Konovalets, the First Conference of Ukrainian Nationalists was held at Prague, at which a resolution was passed concerning the formation of a single, centralized organisation of Ukrainian nationalists. At this conference the Leadership of Ukrainian Nationalists (Provid Ukrayins'kykh Natsionalistiv — PUN) was established under the chairmanship of Colonel Konovalets.
The most urgent task of the PUN was the preparation and summoning of the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists. The PUN fulfilled this task and from 29th January to 3rd February 1929 the First Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists met at Vienna, in the course of which the 'Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists' (OUN) was founded. Within a short time all cadres of the UVO and of other nationalist associations and groups were merged in the OUN and Colonel Konovalets was elected president. With the creation of the OUN a new era began in the fight for freedom of the Ukrainian people.
The foundation of the OUN was without doubt the work of Colonel Konovalets and it was owing to his exceptional administrative ability ani competent leadership that it rapidly developed and showed itself to the world as the organising force and advanceguard of the Ukrainian nationalist revolution.
The official publication of the OUN was the monthly journal 'Rozbudova Natsiyi' (The Building of a Nation) which was published in Prague, widely distributed, and secretly read also in Ukraine. The purpose of this publication, to which Konovalets contributed, was to make known the ideology and programme of Ukrainian nationalism and to inform the Ukrainian public about the work of the freedom movement. As president of the OUN Konovalets extended and perfected the work of the OUN in the homeland and abroad whereby the OUN eventually gained influence upon all spheres of life of the Ukrainian people. In contrast to the UVO period, armed action no longer took first place of importance; stress was now laid mainly on the ideological and political mobilisation of the broad masses of the people. This activity aimed at the constant undermining of foreign rule and the systematic preparation of the people for the decisive battle against the occupiers in the war for the final liberation of Ukraine and the creation of an independent state.
In April 1929 Konovalets set out on a four-months' journey to the USA and Canada where he visited the larger centres of Ukrainian emigration. The result of his visits was a further activation of Ukrainian life and its inclusion in the common national front.
Until the foundation of the OUN Konovalets was domiciled in Berlin, but in 1929 he moved to Switzerland. During the next seven years his permanent residence was at Geneva, from where he directed the Ukrainian liberation movement and on his mission travelled widely through European countries. In 1936 he had to leave Switzerland after an attempt on his life was made by bolshevist agents, which was foiled by the Swiss police who arrested the Russian agent, Norman, and his associates. Urged by the Swiss authorities to leave the country, he went to Italy and took up residence in Rome.
Under the leadership of Konovalets the OUN in ten years spread and elaborated its organisation throughout the whole of Ukraine. For tactical reasons it often had to work under cover of legal societies or associations. It fought against the attempts of the enemy either to belittle the Ukrainian problem or to describe it as the 'internal affair' of the respective occupying power.
The structure of OUN organisation depended on the existing possibilities in each region and, therefore, varied in strength. Nevertheless, the OUN became everywhere the mouthpiece and true representative of an independent Ukraine and of the interests of the Ukrainian people.
The central and eastern parts of Ukraine under Russian occupation presented the greatest problem to OUN organisation. Here the conspiracy required a maximum of skill and Konovalets himself dealt with it, often without the knowledge of his closest colleagues.
The numerous proceedings against UVO and OUN members in the Russian-occupied Ukraine and the inflammatory writings in the Soviet press against 'Ukrainian bourgeois nationalists' in general and UVO and OUN in particular, are all proof of Konovalets' success in strengthening the UVO/OUN in Russian-occupied territory.
To this task Konovalets devoted all his energy. In various European towns he met the middlemen and couriers from OUN underground centres in Ukraine. These individual centres were so strong that in 1938 Konovalets planned to visit Ukraine in order to inspect and coordinate the work of the OUN. With growing international tension and the threat of war Konovalets considered such a visit as absolutely necessary.
Death by Moscow's Hand
Moscow saw the danger which threatened in the shape of the Ukrainian nationalist movement and fought it ceaselessly and ruthlessly. In order to deprive the OUN of its leader Moscow had for a long time intended an attempt on the life of Konovalets who had gained such popularity in Ukraine and whose name — after Symon Petlura's death — had become the symbol for the desire for independence of the entire Ukrainian people. For many years, however, the experienced revolutionary managed to escape or foil these cunning attempts.
Faced with the threat of war Moscow increased its reprisals against the Ukrainian people (a concrete example is the murder of thousands of Ukrainian 'anti-social parasites' at Vinnytsia in 1937
|Konovalets' Grave — in the Crooswijk |
Cemetery in Rotterdam
The Kremlin finally achieved its object in 1938. The GPU had succeeded in smuggling one of its agents into the network of an underground centre in Soviet-Ukraine and this agent, Valyukh, was sent as an alleged confidant and courier of the underground to Konovalets. Meetings with this 'middleman' took place in various towns of western and northern Europe, similar to the meetings with genuine envoys from the underground. The last encounter took place on 23rd May 1938 and ended in the death of Colonel Konovalets.
The investigations carried out by the Netherlands police in cooperation with security departments of other countries showed that the agent Valyukh had arrived at Rotterdam as a passenger on the Soviet merchant vessel 'Menzhinskiy.' He met Konovalets on the 23rd of May at 12 o'clock in the 'Atlanta' café. He handed Konovalets a small package which was supposed to contain cyphers and reports from underground centres in the Ukraine. After a short conversation Valyukh left the café. Konovalets himself left soon after and went towards the near-by 'Grand Central' hotel at which he stayed during his visit to Rotterdam. He stopped in front of the 'Lumière' cinema and at that moment the infernal machine inside the package exploded and tore Konovalets to pieces. Meanwhile, Valyukh succeeded in leaving Rotterdam on the same Soviet vessel that had brought him.
The death of Colonel Konovalets was a severe blow to the Ukrainian revolutionary movement. However, the OUN was able to resist all enemy attacks, which was to become apparent very soon after the death of Konovalets.
The Ukrainian people will always hold in high honour the memory of their great son. The graves of Symon Petlura in Paris, Evhen Konovalets in Rotterdam and Stepan Bandera in Munich are memorials on the steep and thorny path to the liberation of the Ukrainian people.