The history of Ukraine is a story of its people’s struggle for national independence. The aspirations of Ukrainians to establish their own sovereign state blossomed in the nineteenth century and reached a critical mass in the twentieth. Following the shortlived existence of the Ukrainian National Republic in 1917–20, success was finally achieved on 24 August 1991, and a new state was added to the world’s map. However, even after fifteen years of independence, the world knows little about the Ukrainians’ heroic striving for freedom. The consequences of colonial times still weigh heavily on the newly independent state, affecting the discourse on its past, and the current government has not yet mustered the courage to pay fitting tribute to all the Ukrainian patriots who made possible the founding of the Ukrainian state. To this day, disputes rage both in Ukraine and abroad concerning the period of the armed struggle mounted by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), whose members resisted both totalitarian regimes—Nazi Germany and the Communist USSR—for over a decade during and after the Second World War. Various political forces still seek to manipulate this question in order to divide the Ukrainian people, even though the fight for national independence should be a consolidating factor.
In the areas of Ukraine where the UPA maintained its field of operations, Ukrainians did not forget the insurgents, and moved unhesitatingly to formally commemorate them immediately after state independence was gained. With privately raised funds, the residents of practically every village in Western Ukraine (Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil, Volyn, and Rivne oblasts) have erected monuments to their fighting sons, whose names they remember with pride, and both the young and old are once again singing the inspiring and patriotic songs of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Meanwhile, in other areas of Ukraine cautious or even openly hostile attitudes to the UPA prevail, very likely originating not on the basis of direct dealings with the insurgency but as a result of decades of Soviet propaganda.
Therefore, we recognize a burning need to publicize information about the UPA, the sources of its emergence, and the history of its development and of the people who created it. The easiest way to do this is through photographs. After gazing into the faces of the young men and women who shed their blood for our future more than half a century ago, viewers can arrive at their own conclusions and decide who these individuals were and what kind of commemoration they deserve. Ultimately, we trust that these photographs will help viewers to grasp the truth about the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and the history of our unvanquished freedom fighters.
Volodymyr Viatrovych, Director Centre for Research on the Liberation Movement