This is a tricky situation. The basic histories of World War II talk of the Nazi invasion of Russia, and how many Ukrainians, starved and miserable under Communism, were ready to accept the Nazis as liberators. Invariably, the next sentence in these books says Nazi brutality caused the Ukrainians to re-think collaboration and to fight alongside the Russians.
For the most part, that was true, but tens of thousands of Ukrainians volunteered for Russian-speaking Wehrmacht units. By the end of the war, at least 500,000 were in the German forces. By the end of 1946, nearly all of these men were dead. Some survived a few years longer, working 18-hour days, seven days a week, in Soviet coal mines. One recent writer said the last of these men were not even allowed to sing as they were worked to death.
Now, many of these people deserved punishment. Ukrainians filled the ranks of some of the most notorious Waffen SS units and staffed the death camps in Poland.
There were, however, thousands of Ukrainians who simply fought for the Ukraine. They fought the Germans when they invaded, attacked German occupation forces, and, when the Germans withdrew, fought the Soviets. Ukrainian nationalism was one motivation. The other was the well-founded belief that Stalin's secret police, the NKVD, would kill them. Author Anthony Beevor has written recently about this bizarre aspect of the war. Stalin distrusted partisans of any sort. The maps of occupied Europe are misleading: much of the "occupied" Soviet Union remained contested territory through the war, with many divisions of German soldiers tied down fighting the resistance, and large parts of the occupied territories "no go" areas for the Germans. But Stalin thought partisans showed too much free will and he had them hunted down. Men and women in isolated regular units of the Soviet Army that fought on in the Pripet Marshes were also sent to the Gulag after the war. Stalin was fearful of anyone who worked independently from the central mind.
In the Ukraine, post-war retributions and resistance lasted an incredibly long time. The NKVD killed off the last of the Ukrainian partisans in 1954. So, in the Ukraine, there are people who fought the entire war as Red Army soldiers, people who fought in the anti-German resistance and were allowed to go home unmollested at the end of the war, people who collaborated for a short time with the Germans but made their peace with the Ukrainian resistance and commited no great crime and perhaps fought with some effect for the Ukraine, outright collaborators who burnt their uniforms and escaped Soviet "justice", and there are the Ukrainian die-hards.
Pensions and family reputations ride on the Ukrainian authorities being able to sort the sheep from the goats. And that's hard in a place where most records were destroyed and the truly guilty have worked for sixty years to fudge their past:
Last Updated: Saturday, October 14, 2006 | 4:15 PM ET
The Associated Press
Minor clashes erupted on Saturday in downtown Kiev between police forces, Ukrainian nationalists and communists during a gathering to mark the 64th anniversary of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.
The nationalists briefly scuffled with opposing Red Army supporters who were holding a counter-rally, but police were largely successful in blocking protesters from clashing. They detained about 20 activists from both sides who tried to break through police cordons in the Ukrainian capital.
Veteran Ukrainian nationalist fighters who fought both Soviet and Nazi forces in the Second World War have been demanding the same recognition as the Red Army veterans.
Some 2,000 veteran nationalist fighters and their supporters gathered in front of St. Sophia Cathedral to honour victims of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which fought in a bid to create an independent Ukraine.
During Soviet times, schoolchildren were taught that members of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army were enemies of the people who committed atrocities alongside Nazi troops. After the 1991 Soviet collapse, the former guerrillas have sought to win financial and moral recognition similar to what Red Army veterans have long enjoyed.