Volodomyr Viatrovych, director of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, in an article in Kyiv Post on June 17, 2016, refuted leftist media attacks on him and the work of the institute. There are several leftist journalists and academics in the West that attempt to smear Ukrainian freedom fighters of the 20th century. Excerpts below:
Journalist Josh Cohen’s article [“The Historian Whitewashing Ukraine’s Past”, Foreign Policy, May 2, 2016) claims that I, and others, are “whitewashing” Ukraine’s past. What we are really doing is de-Sovietizing it.
After reading the first few lines of his initial email requesting comment from me on February 25, I already understood he was talking to me as if I were the accused. “How would you respond to Western historians’ allegations that you or your staff has a willingness to ignore or even falsify historical documents?” he asked. His other questions were similar in nature.
Despite the angry, even accusatory, tone, I prepared detailed answers, and yet only fragments of my responses were printed in his article.
Cohen…quotes a Ukrainian historian named Stanislav Serhiyenko who laments the ways I could use a new law to restrict access to archives for research. I could not recall a historian with that name; that’s because Serhiyenko is not a professional historian, but rather a left-wing student activist, who works with and is published in the pro-Russian publication Gazeta 2000.
Cohen’s article is full of factual mistakes and distortions. Streets were not, as he wrote, renamed after leaders of the OUN and UPA under President Viktor Yushchenko, or if they were, there was never any direct involvement from the then-president.
The deeper the author [of the article] gets into history, the more errors there are. With ease, he states unconfirmed figures: 70,000-100,000 Poles were “killed by the UPA,” he says. These were the figures quoted in political statements but there is no study based on sources, or, at the very least, reliable methodology that calculates these numbers. The origin of the figure of 35,000 Jews Cohen claims were killed by nationalists in western Ukraine is also unclear. It’s one you can’t find in the works of even those historians who are the most critical of the OUN.
Furthermore, Cohen insists that the OUN took an active participation in the 1941 Jewish pogrom in Lviv. There are no OUN documents to suggest such an active participation of the organization during this time; while individual members of the OUN took part, the organization was more focused on announcing the June 30, 1941 Act of Restoring Ukrainian Independence.
OUN members…saved hundreds of Jews from German executioners — one of them being Olena Viter, a Greek-Catholic nun and OUN member who has been honored by Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.
But aside from factual errors, and questionable sources, the bigger point is this: One of Cohen’s main arguments is that I am “whitewashing” Ukrainian history by including the Ukrainian liberation movement within Ukraine’s national historical narrative and ignoring its involvement in the Holocaust and the ethnic cleansing of Poles during the Second World War. He calls this “revisionist history.” I would disagree. During the Soviet period, the mention of the nationalists was automatically associated with Nazis (even though the two were not the same thing). Moreover, the Holocaust was almost completely Sovietized: that is, the emphasis was on how Soviet citizens were the real victims of the Holocaust, not Jews. In no way am I, or the Institute of National Memory, falsifying the “narrative of the Holocaust” — especially when that narrative was all but forgot in mainstream Soviet Ukrainian history. If anything, the Institute has worked hard to place the Holocaust — and its memory — back into the Ukrainian national historical narrative by including it in public displays and discussions.
Cohen also systematically ignores more than 10 years of history in which the Ukrainian nation was split between two larger countries, devastated by genocide, the Pacification, the Great Terror, repression and inter-ethnic strife. Yes, the OUN was a militant organization — no historian denies that fact. But what Cohen is doing is denying the importance of the OUN to western Ukrainian history during the interwar period…
Eastern Ukrainian history and western Ukrainian history were never identical, and one cannot please one group over another.
What I, and the Institute are working hard on doing, is advocating for a united national historical narrative in which all historical activities of all Ukrainians are mentioned — nationalist, communist, and even those of the diaspora Ukrainians who fought in the Allied forces on the beaches of Normandy, in Monte Cassino, and in the Pacific Theatre.
Cohen takes a very Soviet perspective on the history of Ukraine during World War II.
Ukrainians did kill other nationalities; they also killed other Ukrainians, and other nationalities killed each other, and Ukrainians, in horrible ways. This period of Ukrainian history resists being simplified to black and white. For instance, while, the OUN and UPA did not collaborate with the Germans or the Soviets, there were occasional individual pacts of understanding among all three.
The accusations that the OUN and UPA collaborated, and that they participated in the Holocaust and in ethnic cleansing are characteristic of Soviet historiography and propaganda. It’s a narrative that is still supported by a number of researchers in the West to this day (including those referred to in Cohen’s article…). But Cohen presents this as the only correct version of events, and thus, attempts to argue against their views, based on newly discovered documents becomes deplorable “revisionism” — words that, for many readers in the West, have a clear association with “Holocaust denial.”
The most important conclusion Cohen draws in his article is that I am restricting access to the archives in order to censor and promote my version of Ukrainian history…the number of users accessing the old KGB archives has significantly increased, including researchers from outside Ukraine, and the number of Ukrainian citizens gaining access to them has grown by almost 50 percent, according to archive data.
The transfer of historical documents from the Security Services, the Foreign Intelligence Services, and the Ministry of Interior not only rids these agencies of the extra work, but it also allows for the documents to be processed by historians and archivists, instead of soldiers and officers. This transfer is an important element of the general democratic transformation of a post-totalitarian society.
The International Council on Archives recommends, as best practices:
“Records produced or accumulated by former repressive bodies must be placed under the control of the new democratic authorities at the earliest opportunity and these authorities must assess the holdings in detail. … The security bodies must ensure the transfer of selected files and documents either to the national archives, to the institutions dealing with compensation or reparation for victims of the repression and purging of former officials, or to the Truth Commissions.”
This was why special archival laws were adopted last year; our law is similar to ones that already operate in 11 post-communist countries in eastern Europe (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania, among others).
It is this very opening of communist secret service archives that is to act as the main guarantee against the state imposing one single view of the past. Furthermore, it helps serve as one of the guarantees of democratic development. This is why Ukraine chose to follow the examples of its neighbors after the Euromaidan.
This process sits in contrast to the closed Russian archives (which were recently put under the direct control of Putin). These serve as the foundation for the rehabilitation of totalitarianism, and are being used for this purpose today…this is quite another, more dangerous, story about the rewriting of the past and the use of archives, one to which Josh Cohen is not paying any attention.
Comment: The above article by Volodomyr Viatrovych is important setting the record straight as there is a number of leftist journalists and academics in the West who are involved in an attempt to slander Ukrainian freedom fighters, who in the 1940s and 1950s fought against Soviet and Nazi totalitarianism. A prominent leftist Swedish academic, Assistant Professor Per Anders Rudling at Lund University is among those who use the arguments of the Soviets against UPA, OUN and other Ukrainan liberation organizations. Rudlings’s articles are mainly published in leftist publications on the world wide web and he is constantly repeating the old Soviet lie that the Ukrainian anticommunist fighters were involved in the Holocaust. There has been international complaints against Rudling but Lund University has so far taken no action against him.