Ukrainian Insurgent Army

Ukrainian Insurgent Army
Українська повстанська армія
Participant in World War II
OUN-r Flag 1941.svg
Battle flag of the UPA
Active14 October 1942–1949 (active)
1949–1956 (localized)
IdeologyUkrainian nationalism
LeadersVasyl Ivakhiv
Dmytro Klyachkivsky
Roman Shukhevych
Vasyl Kuk
Area of operationsVolhynia
Galicia (Eastern Europe)
Size20,000–200,000 (estimated)
Part ofOrganization of Ukrainian Nationalists
Opponent(s) Soviet Union
Red Army, NKGB, NKVD, partisans
 Ukrainian SSR
 Polish Underground State
Armia Krajowa
 Nazi Germany (1941–1944)
Wehrmacht, SS
Polish People's Republic
People's Army

The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (Ukrainian: Українська повстанська армія, УПА, Ukrayins'ka Povstans'ka Armiya, UPA) was a Ukrainian nationalist paramilitary and later partisan formation.[1] During World War II, it was engaged in guerrilla warfare against Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, the Polish Underground State and Communist Poland.[2][3][4] It was established by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, and the OUN's stated immediate goal was the re-establishment of a united, independent Nazi-aligned, mono-ethnic national state. The insurgent army arose out of separate militant formations of the Organization of Ukrainian NationalistsBandera faction (the OUN-B), other militant national-patriotic formations, some former defectors of the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police, mobilization of local populations and others.[5] The political leadership of the army belonged to the Organization of Ukrainian NationalistsBandera.[5] It was the primary perpetrator of the ethnic cleansing of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia.[6][7]

Its official date of creation is 14 October 1942,[8] day of the Intercession of the Theotokos feast. The Ukrainian People's Revolutionary Army at the period from December 1941 till July 1943 has the same name (Ukrainian Insurgent Army or UPA).[9]

The OUN's stated immediate goal was the re-establishment of a united, independent Nazi-aligned, mono-ethnic national state on the territory that would include parts of modern day Russia, Poland, and Belarus.[6] Violence was accepted as a political tool against foreign as well as domestic enemies of their cause, which was to be achieved by a national revolution led by a dictatorship that would drive out what they considered to be occupying powers and set up a government representing all regions and social groups.[10] The organization began as a resistance group and developed into a guerrilla army.[11] In 1943, the UPA was controlled by the OUN(B)[citation needed] and included people of various political and ideological convictions. Furthermore, it needed the support of the broad masses against both the Germans and the Soviets. Much of the nationalist ideology, including the concept of dictatorship, did not appeal to former Soviet citizens who had experienced the dictatorship of the Communist Party. Hence, a revision of the OUN(B) ideology and political program was imperative. At its Third Extraordinary Grand Assembly on 21–25 August 1943, the OUN(B) condemned "internationalist and fascist national-socialist programs and political concepts" as well as "Russian-Bolshevik communism" and proposed a "system of free peoples and independent states [as] the single best solution to the problem of world order." Its social program did not differ essentially from earlier ones, but it emphasized a wide range of social services, worker participation in management, a mixed economy, choice of profession and workplace, and free trade unions. The OUN(B) affirmed that it was fighting for freedom of the press, speech, and thought. Its earlier nationality policy, encapsulated in the slogan "Ukraine for Ukrainians"; in 1943, the most extreme elements of it were officially abandoned, although the actual policy of the OUN(B) hadn't changed significantly, and the UPA undertook ethnic cleansing in 1943.[6]

During its existence, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army fought against the Poles and the Soviets as their primary opponents, although the organization also fought against the Germans starting from February 1943 – with many cases of collaboration with the German forces in the fight against Soviet partisan units. From late spring 1944, the UPA and Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists-B (OUN-B)—faced with Soviet advances—also cooperated with German forces against the Soviets and Poles in the hope of creating an independent Ukrainian state.[12] The OUN also played a substantial role in the ethnic cleansing of the Polish population of Volhynia and East Galicia,[13][14][15][16][17] and later preventing the deportation of the Ukrainians in southeastern Poland.[18]

After the end of World War II, the Polish communist army—the People's Army of Poland—fought extensively against the UPA. The UPA remained active and fought against the People's Republic of Poland until 1947, and against the Soviet Union until 1949. It was particularly strong in the Carpathian Mountains, the entirety of Galicia and in Volhynia—in modern Western Ukraine. By the late 1940s, the mortality rate for Soviet troops fighting Ukrainian insurgents in Western Ukraine was higher than the mortality rate for Soviet troops during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.[19][20] Between February 1943 and May 1945, unlike most resistance movements, it had no significant foreign support.[21] Its growth and strength were a reflection of the popularity it enjoyed among the people of Western Ukraine.[22] Outside of Western Ukraine, support was not significant, and the majority of the Soviet (Eastern) Ukrainian population considered, and at times still viewed, the OUN/UPA to have been primarily collaborators with the Germans.[23]:180


UPA propaganda poster. OUN/UPAs formal greeting is written in Ukrainian on two of the horizontal lines Glory to Ukraine- Glory to (her) Heroes. The soldier is standing on the banners of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

The UPA's command structure overlapped with that of the underground nationalist political party, the OUN, in a sophisticated centralized network. The UPA was responsible for military operations while the OUN was in charge of administrative duties; each had its own chain of command. The six main departments were military, political, security service, mobilization, supply, and the Ukrainian Red Cross. Despite the division between the UPA and the OUN, there was overlap between their posts and the local OUN and UPA leaders were frequently the same person. Organizational methods were borrowed and adapted from the German, Polish and Soviet military, while UPA units based their training on a modified Red Army field unit manual.[24]

The General Staff, formed at the end of 1943 consisted of operations, intelligence, training, logistics, personnel and political education departments. UPA's largest units, Kurins, consisting of 500-700 soldiers,[25] were equivalent to battalions in a regular army, and its smallest units, Riys (literally bee swarm), with eight to ten soldiers,[25] were equivalent to squads.[24] Occasionally, and particularly in Volyn, during some operations three or more Kurins would unite and form a Zahin or Brigade.[25]

UPA's leaders were: Vasyl Ivakhiv (Spring – 13 of May 1943), Dmytro Klyachkivsky, Roman Shukhevych (January 1944 until 1950)[26] and finally Vasyl Kuk.

In November 1943, the UPA adopted a new structure, creating a Main Military Headquarters and three areas (group) commands: UPA-West, UPA-North and UPA-South. Three military schools for low-level command staff were also established.

Former policemen constituted a large proportion of the UPA leadership, and they comprised about half of the UPA membership in 1943.[6] In terms of UPA soldiers' social background, 60 percent were peasants of low to moderate means, 20 to 25 percent were from the working class (primarily from the rural lumber and food industries), and 15 percent members of the intelligentsia (students, urban professionals). The latter group provided a large portion of the UPA's military trainers and officer corps.[24] With respect to the origins of UPA's members, 60 percent were from Galicia and 30 percent from Volhynia and Polesia.[27]

The number of UPA fighters varied. A German Abwehr report from November 1943 estimated that the UPA had 20,000 soldiers;[28]:188 other estimates at that time placed the number at 40,000.[29] By the summer of 1944, estimates of UPA membership varied from 25,000–30,000 fighters[30] up to 100,000[29][31] or even 200,000 soldiers.[32]


The Ukrainian Insurgent Army was structured into four units:[33]

  1. UPA-North
    Regions: Volhynia, Polissia.
    • Military District "Turiv"
      Commander – Maj. Rudyj.
      Squads: "Bohun", "Pomsta Polissja", "Nalyvajko".
    • Military District "Zahrava"
      Commander – Ptashka (Sylvester Zatovkanjuk).
      Squads: "Konovaletsj", "Enej", "Dubovyj", "Oleh".
    • Military District " Volhynia-South"
      Commander – Bereza.
      Squads: "Kruk", "H.".
  2. UPA-West
    Regions: Halychyna, Bukovyna, Zakarpattia, Zakerzonia.
    • Military District "Lysonja"
      Commander – Maj. Hrim, V.
      Kurins: "Holodnojarci", "Burlaky", "Lisovyky", "Rubachi", "Bujni", "Holky".
    • Military District "Hoverlja"
      Commander – Maj. Stepovyj (from 1945 – Major Hmara).
      Kurins: "Bukovynsjkyj", "Peremoha", "Hajdamaky", "Huculjskyj", "Karpatsjkyj".
    • Military District "Black Forest"
      Commander – Col. Rizun-Hrehit (Mykola Andrusjak).
      Kurins: "Smertonosci", "Pidkarpatsjkyj", "Dzvony", "Syvulja", "Dovbush", "Beskyd", "Menyky".
    • Military District "Makivka"
      Commander – Maj. Kozak.
      Kurins: "Ljvy", "Bulava", "Zubry", "Letuny", "Zhuravli", "Bojky of Chmelnytsjkyj", "Basejn".
    • Military District "Buh"
      Commander – Col. Voronnyj
      Kurins: "Druzhynnyky", "Halajda", "Kochovyky", "Perejaslavy", "Tyhry", "Perebyjnis"
    • Military District "Sjan"
      Commander – Orest
      Kurins: "Vovky", "Menyky", Kurin of Ren, Kurin of Eugene.
  3. UPA-South
    Regions: Khmelnytskyi Oblast, Zhytomyr Oblast, southern region of Kyiv Oblast, southern regions of Ukraine,
    and especially in cities Odessa, Kryvyi Rih, Dnipropetrovsk, Mariupol, Donetsk.
    • Military District "Cholodnyj Jar"
      Commander – Kost'.
      Kurins: Kurin of Sabljuk, Kurin of Dovbush.
    • Military District "Umanj"
      Commander – Ostap.
      Kurins: Kurin of Dovbenko, Kurin of Buvalyj, Kurin of Andrij-Shum.
    • Military District "Vinnytsja"
      Commander – Jasen.
      Kurins: Kurin of Storchan, Kurin of Mamaj, Kurin of Burevij.
  4. UPA-East
    Regions: northern strip of Zhytomyr Oblast, northern region of Kyiv Oblast, and Chernihiv Oblast.


World War II-era monument in memory of UPA fighters with inscription "Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!", in place of the Janowa Dolina massacre, Bazaltove, Ukraine

The greeting "Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!" (Slava Ukrayini! Heroyam slava!) appeared in the 1930s among members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) who started using this slogan.[34] Since October 2018 Glory to Ukraine is an official greeting of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Ukrainian National Police.[35]


The anthem of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army was called the March of the Ukrainian Nationalists, also known as We were born in a great hour (Ukrainian: Зродились ми великої години). The song, written by Oles Babiy, was officially adopted by the leadership of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in 1932.[36]

The organization was a successor of the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen, whose anthem was "Chervona Kalyna". Leaders of the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen Yevhen Konovalets and Andriy Melnyk were founding members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. For this reason, "Chervona Kalyna" was frequently used by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.[37][38][39]


The battle flag of the UPA was a 2:3 ratio red-and-black banner.[citation needed] The flag continues to be a symbol of the Ukrainian nationalist movement. The colours of the flag symbolize 'red Ukrainian blood spilled on the black Ukrainian earth.[40] Use of the flag is also a "sign of the stubborn endurance of the Ukrainian national idea even under the grimmest conditions."[41]


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