from the Daily Telegraph NZ
The history of Ukrainian nationalist cruelty is an important factor, barely discussed, or known, in the West.
Russian troops shot in the legs screaming in pain. Others dying from blood loss and shock. With no one around to provide medical assistance. A Russian soldier crucified on an anti-tank barrier, chained to a metal ‘hedgehog’ and then burned alive…
For many, graphic footage of Russian servicemen tortured and killed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and nationalist battalions, came as a real shock. But this did not surprise those who are familiar with the ‘traditions’ of Ukraine’s ‘fighters for national freedom’, as they have more than a century of history in this sort of thing.
Europe’s first Concentration Camps
The first concentration camps in Europe – Terezin and Thalerhof – were established in Austria-Hungary in the fall of 1914, not to hold prisoners of war, but the empire’s own citizens. This is how Vienna, then the ‘sick man of Europe’, tried to protect its eastern border areas from members of its population which sympathized with neighboring Russia. Fighting between the two countries had broken out just before the beginning of the First World War. Austria-Hungary’s last emperor, Charles I, confessed in his edict of May 7, 1917, “All the arrested Russians are innocent, but they were detained to prevent them becoming guilty.”
People from Galicia who did not want to call themselves Ukrainians, as the Austrian authorities insisted, and continued to use the name ‘Rusyns’, were arrested and incarcerated in two places – in a garrison fortress in Terezin and in a valley near Graz, the capital of Styria. While the prisoners in Terezin were held in the vaults and dungeons of the fortress, with the support of local Czechs, the concentration camp later known as Thalerhof was little more than a bare field fenced in with barbed wire.
Today, most of Galicia is in Western Ukraine and the largest city is Lviv, which was known as Lemberg by the Austrians and Lvov by the Soviets and Polish.
The initial prisoners were brought there in September of 1915, and the first barracks began to be built only at the beginning of the following year. Prior to that, the people were forced to lie in the open in the rain and cold. According to US Congressman Joseph McCormick, the prisoners were often beaten and tortured. (Terrorism in Bohemia; Medill McCormick Gets Details of Austrian Cruelty. ‘New York Times’, December 16, 1917)
According to the memoirs of those who survived the inhumane conditions (about 20,000 prisoners passed through the camp), 3,800 people were executed in the first half of 1915 alone, and 3,000 people died from the horrific conditions and diseases in a year and a half. Vasily Varvik, a writer, poet, literary critic, and historian who endured Thalerhof’s hell describes the atrocities in the internment camp as follows: “In order to intimidate people, to prove their power over us, the prison authorities drove poles into the ground all over Thalerhof Square, on which brutally beaten martyrs often hung in unspoken torment.”
What do the Ukrainians have to do with it? The fact is that Ukrainian nationalists were specially recruited to guard the Thalerhof camp. According to numerous testimonies, the arrested, which comprised nearly the entire Russian intelligentsia of Galicia and thousands of peasants, were also escorted to the camp by the Ukrainians.
Indeed, descriptions given in the Thalerhof Almanac detail how Ukrainian Sichoviki in the Carpathian village of Lavochnoye tried to bayonet the prisoners, among whom there was not a single Russian, but only their fellow Galicians.
It was the Ukrainian nationalists who were the concentration camp guards’ cruelest torturers and murderers. “In the end, the atrocities committed by the Germans do not equate to the victimization of your own people. A soulless German could not get his iron boots so deeply into the soul of a Slavonic Rusyn as well as a Rusyn who called himself a Ukrainian,” wrote Vasily Varvik.
From the Volyn Massacre to 1954
A the end of February 1943, the ‘revolutionary’ wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUP), headed by the current idol of many Ukrainians, Stepan Bandera, decided to create the so-called ‘Ukrainian Insurgent Army’ (UPA) to ‘fight the advancing Red Army’, which was driving the Nazis from the country. But the first detachments that emerged in March and April, of the same year, began to fight not the Soviets, whose troops were still waiting for the Nazis to strike near Kursk, but Polish peasants in territory that had belonged to Warsaw up until 1939. These events, which lasted for more than six months, were called the ‘Volyn Massacre’. UPA detachments and units from the SS-Galicia division, which was made up of locals from the eponymous area, killed from 40,000 to 200,000 people, according to various estimates. The Polish Sejm and Senate put the number of victims at approximately 100,000 people, and July 11 is recognized as a ‘National Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Genocide of Polish Citizens by Ukrainian Nationalists’.