This is the first volume of the trilogy about the UPA military actions which are directly or indirectly connected with the person known as "Khrin".
The activities described here take place in the region of Bircha which lies between the cities of Peremyshl (Przemysl) and Sianik (Sanok) on the Ukrainian ethnic territory of present day Poland. Between the two World Wars this territory, populated mainly by Ukrainians was experiencing tremendous assimilationist pressures from the Polish government and colonists. It was here, in the fall of 1939, after his release from special political prison, Bereza Kartuzska, that Stepan Stebelskyi ("Khrin") lived in the village of Lishchava Horishnia, and later on as a teacher and the village mayor in village of Kuzmyna.
The narrative begins in June 1944 when the German Army was in full retreat and the Soviet were moving in. For Ukrainians it was a particularly difficult time. Exposed not only to the vicissitudes of war but also to marauding Soviet and Polish guerrillas, the population understood implicitly "Khrin's" message which called for widespread self-defense measures. It was largely under his guidance that weapons and uniforms were collected, mostly from the retreating Germans, self-defense units were organized and military training began. It was also a very important time for him to learn partisan tactics, which later on stood him in such a good stead.
By the end of September "Khrin" commanded a platoon of 30 men, which were largely trained by him in both military tactics and political ideas. He continued to command the platoon as a part of the company commanded by "Khoma". It was with this unit that he and his men participated in one of the largest encounters with the Soviet troops on 28 October, 1944 at the village of Lishchava Horishnia . The battle lasted some 15 hours and involved some 500 UPA men against 2,500 well equipped Soviet troops. The UPA which lost some 30 men (17 killed, 8 wounded, of which 3 died of serious injury, and 3 who burned alive), inflicted heavy casualties on the Soviets ( by official account 207 killed, including a general and several senior officers), and destroyed two tanks and several army trucks. "Khrin" describes the battle in some detail, especially his frustration when after destroying one of the tanks and having been wounded in both hands he was unable to commit suicide, a practice accepted by UPA soldiers so as not to fall into Soviet hands alive.
In danger of loosing his hands to amputation, he describes, with great feeling, the commitment and dedication of women of the underground medical service who nursed him back to reasonable health, saving his hands so that he could continue to fight for his cherished ideal, the freedom of Ukraine. In his memoirs he remembers with tender love not only his mother and his small daughter who had to suffer persecution and alienation at the hand of the enemy, largely because of his political and military activities, but also those idealistic, heroic and dedicated women without whose help the revolutionary struggle would have been nigh impossible.
"Khrin" relates in some detail the efforts and ability of the Ukrainian self-defense units to clear large tracts of the territory of enemy troops and in this way to make the life of the local Ukrainian population relatively normal in this "Partisan Republic". Large portion of the memoir describe his own activities in this regard when after recognizing his abilities as a guerrilla leader the higher UPA echelons entrusted him with ever larger units to train and command. Although he was known as a strict disciplinarian, his men were full of admiration for their commander and willingly followed him into many difficult battles. So legendary was the company in "Khrin's" command that songs were composed describing its heroic deeds.
"Khrin" was a keen observer of life around him and in his memoirs he provides excellent sketches of various underground leaders that he had the opportunity to live and to work with.
The memoirs, which were written in 1948 in Soviet Ukraine, end in the fall of 1945, with his transfer to another region of Lemkivshchyna, where for two more years, he successfully led his company in battles against the Polish Communist army and police units, and became known as one of the most active UPA commanders in Poland.
The author of the memoirs is Oleksa Konopadskyi nome de guerre "Ostroverkh", who was born in 1920 in the Ukrainian village of Hludno, near Dyniv (Dynow), presently in Poland. After conflict with the German occupation authorities and having escaped twice from Germany where he was sent to slave labor, he joined the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in 1944, and served in "Bulava" Company until February, 1945, under nome de guerre "Topolia". Later on he was assigned to a unit commanded by "Khrin", in a Battalion commanded by "Ren", in the Tactical Sector "Lemko", Military Region Nr. 6 "Sian", in Poland. Later, he was transferred to Ukraine together with "Khrin", in 1947, in the Tactical Sector "Makivka", where he was known by his underground name "Ostroverkh".
The memoirs were narrated by the author over a period of time and typed by Sgt. "Tetiana", a typist at the 24 Tactical Sector "Makivka", where "Ostroverkh" was in charge of security of the Tactical Sector Command. These memoirs although authored by a different individual, naturally belong with the memoirs of "Khrin".
"Ostroverkh" died in battle with the Soviet MVD troops on August 18, 1948. He was seriously wounded in the chest and in order not to be captured alive killed himself with his automatic rifle.
The memoirs were completed on September 14, 1948 by "Tetiana" and, together with the memoirs by "Khrin", were sent by couriers to Western Europe and published in Munich, Germany in 1953.
Oleksa Konopadskyi begins his narration on March 14, 1944 when he was transferred to the station of the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police in Liutovyska, Lemko region. From here, he was able to eventually join the Ukrainian underground. He describes battles with the Germans, and the Azerbaidzhanis, Uzbeks and Kazakhs who served as guard companies, and the Soviet parachutists who were operating behind the German lines. "Ostroverkh" makes an interesting mention of successful underground efforts among the German allies such as Italians and Azerbaidzhanis to neutralize and even to recruit them for anti-German struggles. He also describes a meeting with American aviators who parachuted from a disabled plane.
In addition to describing various battles and skirmishes with the Soviet and Polish Communist troops, such as an ambush in which Gen. Karol Swierczewski the Polish Vice-Minister of Defense was killed, "Ostroverkh" describes the horrible conditions of life suffered by the Ukrainian population, which found itself exposed to ethnic cleansing by the Polish Communist authorities and the Soviets, especially as result of their policy of forcible resettlement of Ukrainians from their ancestral lands at first to the USSR and later to North-Western Poland (Akcja "Wisla" in 1947), and the lands acquired from Germany. He shows how Ukrainians resisted this resettlement and how the UPA, as it turned out, unsuccessfully, tried to disrupt this inhuman policy.
In connection with this, the author describes various tactics used by the Ukrainian underground in their struggle against the occupiers, both Soviet and Polish.
Of some interest to historians of the Ukrainian liberation movement are his descriptions of underground activities in late 1947 and 1948 on the Soviet side of the border, and especially descriptions of the very difficult life which, during the winter months, was endured in the bunkers and hideouts dug deep in the fields and forests.
Through the narrative comes a powerful commitment and dedication of "Ostroverkh" and his comrades to the struggle for liberty and independence, patriotism, the love for the oppressed Ukrainian people, and willingness to sacrifice one's life in order to bring for them a better future. The republication of his memoirs is the best memorial not only for "Ostroverkh" but for all who died in the struggle for liberty of the Ukrainian people.
The memoirs presented here were carried from Ukraine to the West in the fall of 1949, probably by the author himself. When on November 9, 1949, he and a group of couriers under his command, walked into an ambush in Czechoslovakia not far from the American Occupation Zone of Germany, and fell mortally wounded, his last words were "men, take care of the mail". His order was obeyed and thus together with important political documents destined for the Foreign Representation of the Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council (ZP UHVR), his memoirs also made it to freedom.
Written in an underground bunker during the winter of 1947-1948 and retyped in similar conditions by Sgt. "Tetiana" (Anna Chereshniovska) during the winter of 1948-1949, the volume, which was published in 1950 in Munich under the title "Zymoiu v Bunkri" ("Winter in the Bunker"), offers a rare glimpse of the harsh life that was led by men and women of the Ukrainian underground in the long years of desperate struggle against Germany and the Soviet Union.
The story begins on June 29, 1947 when "Khrin" was a famous Company Commander, who earlier in that year had killed Gen. Karol Swierczewski, Polish Vice-Minister of Defence in an ambush, was reassigned with his men from Poland to Ukraine. Two months later, on September 8, 1947, he was promoted to Commander of the 24 Tactical Sector "Makivka" of the UPA West and was decorated by a Golden Cross of Military Valor First Class, the highest military honor in the UPA.
The life in the bunker required psychological readjustment, especially for "Khrin" who was not used to such conditions. He felt strange, trapped and thought that death in such conditions would be less heroic than in open battle. "The bunker makes a man timid and fearful while life in the open air makes one more fit and a much better fighter". He acknowledged, however, that a good guerrilla must be able to find his place in any prevailing conditions.
The routine of life in the bunker, relations among the people in cramped quarters, constant struggle to maintain supplies and hygiene, the use of time for political education and training, preparation for future struggle, daily dangers of being discovered by special Soviet forces, are all described here in some detail.
A touching almost wistful moment occurs when the author remembers his mother and his small daughter Lilia. He devotes an entire chapter to his mother, which reads like a prayer. He also describes similar feelings and even dreams of other denizens of the bunker. Retelling and interpretation of dreams, even of intimate nature, was routinely practiced for recreational purposes, and probably to bind the group closely together. Observance of religious and national holidays with all the traditional rituals was another device to keep the morale of the insurgents high.
Of special interest is the presence in the bunker of "Tetiana", the only woman in this exclusive male company. The author has the highest praise for this courageous, exceptional and patriotic former teacher who devoted her life to the struggle for freedom and independence of her people. Treated as an equal, she was able, to exert a very large, positive and calming effect on her male companions primarily because of her high intelligence, foresight and self-discipline. Her real name was Anna Chereshniovska from the village Stezhnytsia in Lemkivshchyna. She died in unfortunate circumstances in late 1948, when her pistol accidentally discharged wounding her mortally.
There were many more such women in the underground who hailed from various regions of Ukraine. "Khrin" makes a special mention of them and their sacrifices in the struggle for independence of their country. He specifically writes about seventeen such women, that he knew personally, who met their death while performing various important functions in the underground.
Of special interest are those sections of the memoirs where "Khrin" discusses his use of guerrilla tactics in Lemkivshchyna then under Polish rule, and contrasts them with those used in Ukraine which was under Soviet control.
The memoirs end on March 23, 1948, when the bunker is being attacked by the Soviet troops and the entire group is forced to abandon it and to seek another shelter. Remarkably, there was no loss of personnel during the attack.