The Prison on Lonts’kyi Street: Memory Dialogue or Memory Monologue?

Uilleam Blacker

L’viv’s wartime history is complex, and demands sensitivity and an understanding that victimhood and guilt are not always exclusive categories. The history of the site of the prison on Lonts’kyi Street speaks to this complexity. It speaks of the Polish state that forcefully oppressed Ukrainian political and cultural aspirations, and also of the Poles tortured, killed and deported by the Soviets. It reminds of Ukrainian victims of the Soviets, but also of Ukrainians’ part in the L’viv pogrom of 1941; it speaks of the Jewish victims of that pogrom, and of wider anti-Semitic violence and murder. This site speaks to the history of interwar Lwów, where Poles, Ukrainians, and Jews failed to build a strong enough society to withstand the chaos that the war would bring. For these reasons, it is a good thing that there is a museum at Lonts’kyi. Its history of the tragic intertwining of the fates of various groups makes it a perfect location to examine that history and learn from it. Unfortunately, the current museum does not take advantage of this opportunity.

Although its address is telling – 1 Stepan Bandera St – the museum is in fact hidden away on a side street, as though trying to avoid awkward encounters. Its entrance is nondescript, marked only by a modest sign. The building has clearly undergone little in the way of renovation since it ceased to function as a prison in 1991. Visitors walk its grim corridors, where peeling, yellowed signs inform prisoners how to behave. The exhibition, which aims to tell the story both of the prison and of the Ukrainian nationalist activists who suffered there, is threaded through the corridors, incorporating some of the prison’s original cells.

The museum represents the suffering and struggles of Ukrainians. The exhibition barely mentions the word ‘Jew’, while Poles appear, in a historically dubious comparison, only as one side of a triangle of evil ‘occupiers’ alongside the Nazis and the Soviets. The prison was indeed used by different regimes, including the Poles and Austrians. But the nature and legitimacy of these regimes varied drastically. The museum presents all these regimes, except the Austrians, as perpetrators of crimes against Ukrainians. It does not recognize that the victims of the crimes carried out here were also plural, and included Jews, Poles, and others. What’s more, the exhibition ignores other perpetrators linked to the site, skating over the question of Ukrainian participation in the L’viv pogrom of 1941.

Lonts’kyi not only denies the memories of others, however: it simplifies that of Ukrainians too. It ignores the complexity of Ukrainian society of pre-war and wartime L’viv and of Ukrainian nationalism. The tradition of fighting for the right of Ukrainians to political and cultural self-determination is bigger than the history of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and Ukrainian Insurgent Army (OUN/UPA), which dominates the museum. That wider story includes those dissidents whose pictures grace the walls of the prison in which they were once held, or whose works are sold at the doorway, and who cannot be simply absorbed into the ‘Liberation Struggles’ understood as a metonym for the OUN/UPA.

One striking feature of the museum is its mnemonic mathematics. Ukraine, we are told, had Europe’s biggest resistance movement during the Second World War, amounting to half a million people. Ukrainians were ‘enemy number one for the occupiers’. The math also shows that Ukrainians suffered most, according to the numbers of victims of various Soviet mass shootings that are displayed on the walls, on top of photographs of victims of those shootings. And yet on the museum’s website we read: ‘Of the population (of L’viv), Jews suffered most of all […] Ukrainians suffered no less.’ This statement perfectly encapsulates the paradoxical and narcissistic logic of Lonts’kyi. The numbers of Jewish victims of pogroms or Nazi executions is not given in such detail.

Sites like Lonts’kyi force us to interrogate the nature of sites of memory. Do they have meaning because of the events they witnessed? Do they retain an ‘aura’ of past events? Or are they invested with meaning only by those who inhabit and use them? Lonts’kyi indicates that the latter can never entirely be the case. Its selective narrative does not sit easily. Something else seems to surface underneath the veneer of nationalist rhetoric. Commentators have noted that the photograph onto which the numbers of Ukrainian victims are projected shows other dead too: Jewish victims of the pogrom. The names on the facsimile execution lists are clearly not all Ukrainian, and neither are those on the ‘wall of memory’ (despite being inscribed in the Ukrainian alphabet, rendering them illegible to those who don’t read Cyrillic). Traces of others stubbornly re-surface.

It is clear that from the point of view of historical accuracy, or of simple human empathy, the Lonts’kyi museum leaves much to be desired. Nevertheless, it tells a story that needs to be told. The story of Ukrainian resistance and suffering during the Second World War and beyond is hardly a dominant narrative, even in Ukraine. At home and abroad, this complex past is often reduced to western Ukrainian collaboration with the Nazis and co-participation in the Holocaust. In the eyes of many, the current Ukrainian authorities undermine ‘everything that is Ukrainian’, as do voices from both Russia and the West, and Svoboda Party conveniently appears as the defender of this ‘everything’. This is a mnemonic zero-sum game, in which there is no room for admission of collective guilt, which means weakness, and plays into the hands of internal and external ‘enemies’.

It is a shame that the story of Ukrainian suffering and resistance can only be told in this atmosphere of antagonism, with this bunker mentality. The result is that the suffering of the majority of peaceful Ukrainians is always tainted by nationalist or anti-nationalist politics. It also means that Ukrainians fail to recognize the suffering of others: they are too busy protecting their own narrative. It is not Holocaust obfuscation as such that is the primary motivation behind Lonts’kyi’s narrative, as some have suggested; it is rather a paranoid determination not to undermine the purity of Ukrainian victimhood that precludes openness about the role of Ukrainian nationalists in the Holocaust. Of course, this is a subtle distinction, which many observers will not recognize.

A glance at the Lonts’kyi visitor book shows that a degree of recognition of the Ukrainian story is being achieved by the museum. Not long after Euro 2012, the book was full of entries by visitors from Portugal, Denmark, Germany, and other countries. Many were moved by a story about which they had known nothing. The museum’s story is indeed in many respects moving, but not necessarily for the reasons that the curators intended. For non-Ukrainian speakers, its nationalist bent will largely go unnoticed: the museum’s texts are solely in Ukrainian, with only a short leaflet in English available. True, English language tours are available, but I would venture that the majority of the visitors’ empathy is a response to human suffering, rather than to nationalist rhetoric. The tourist is confronted with mug-shots of frightened people, execution lists, pictures of naïve, young partisan fighters, and victims of mass murder; one can view the interrogation room, torture chamber, and the execution wall. The fact that the building remains close to its original state is in many ways more affecting than the content of the exhibition itself.

If the curators at Lonts’kyi want foreign visitors to understand what Ukrainians went through on this site on more than an impressionistic level (though it is not certain that they do), they need to invest in translation – admittedly, an expensive business. Entering into other languages cannot only be about repeating a monologue, however. Yes, it gives the opportunity to be understood; but it also gives the opportunity to understand. A site like Lonts’kyi, where multiple memories intertwine, needs not only to speak in the languages of others to others, but also about others. By doing so it will encourage others to listen to the Ukrainian story.

The author is a Research Associate, Memory at War Project, University of Cambridge



Distinguished University Professor, University of Alberta


  1. steve komarnyckyj

    An interesting article from a very good historian which has some interesting points for the museum to consider. However I hope that I will be excused for making a lay person’ of Ukrainian heritage’s commentary on his views.

    The majority of Western historiography denies excludes and ignores what happened to Ukrainians. I have read a lot of material on the Holocaust in Ukraine which ignores the repressions of Ukrainians which immediately preceded that event. However I could not imagine writing a critique of such material on that basis- it would not be relevant.. Now I will make a simple, polemical point, and note that many academics seem to feel the need to adopt a stance towards Ukrainian institutions such as this Museum which would not be adopted towards many comparable Western Institutions. Ukrainans such as the curators of this museum are engaged in a process of restitution and redress and it is utterly appropriate that its scope should be partial. I visited the Holocaust museum in the UK and it never occurred to me to say, for example, what about the nuances of this story? The museum is effective is articulating a story which has been unheard.a s the author acknowledges. However in order to do so the narrative has to be selective and to criticise it on that basis is to criticise it for doing its job

    As for the bunker mentaliity- I grew up in the UK and have had to listen endlessly to comments such as *Your a Ukrainian? they were all fascists/nazis etc.” Many people really think they were all running round Europe in the uniform of the Waffen SS and a Welsh Trotskyite I met in Lviv some years ago said to me “Ukraine didn’t suffer much in the war did it?” Ukrainian culture has been under a persistent attack by means of soft power not just for decades but for centuries. If they are in a bunker its because the shells are falling. And this museum is one small step towards a long painful shift in our account of twentieth century Europe

  2. An important commentary indeed, and one that would be good start for a discussion. As this piece appears on a blog run by the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, it would have been pertinent to include some connected issues integral to the denialist discourse, of which the Lonts’kyi museum is but one manifestation.
    Some of these issues, which would be pertinent for the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies to address are:

    1) the role of an OUN(b) front organization; the Center for the Study of the Liberation Movement in running this museum

    2) this organization’s partnership with the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies and the Harvard Institute of Ukrainian Studies.партнери

    3) the recent lecture tour of the curator of this museum to North America, organized by a OUN(b) front organization, the Canadian Conference in the Support of Ukraine, which, in addition to a lecture at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta included the universities of Toronto, Ottawa, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Harvard, and including a reception at the Prime Minister’s office.

    Blacker is absolutely correct in his observation that “the paranoid determination not to undermine the purity of Ukrainian victimhood that precludes openness about the role of Ukrainian nationalists in the Holocaust.” As the recent OUN(b)-organized lecture tour by Ruslan Zabilyi demonstrates, this is not only a Ukrainian issue, but also very much a Canadian one. To date, I have seen no representatives of the institutions who lend themselves as platform to legitimize this discourse problematize this issue when it takes place in North America.

    If the lack of openness on this issue may be understandable in a post-Soviet museum sponsored by the successors of organizations who partook in anti-Jewish violence, the fact that Canadian universities contribute to the promotion of this narrative should most definitely be openly discussed and problematized, as this is very much indicative of the stagnation of the diaspora institutions, which Andriy Portnov has eloquently addressed.

  3. John-Paul Himka

    Missing in this article is that the museum not only covers up the pogrom, but glorifies its perpetrators (the OUN). Its wall honors Ivan Klymiv (Legenda), who was indeed beaten to death at Lontsky Prison by the Gestapo. But Klymiv also issued proclamations, posted during the pogrom, calling for collective responsibility and the destruction of Poles, Russians, Hungarians, and Jews. As to the “subtle distinction,” the author would do well to read the classic work on the subject of Holocaust negationism, Michael Shafir’s Between Denial and “Comparative Trivialization”: Holocaust Negationism in Post-Communist East Central Europe.
    The commentator above should read Peter Novick’s The Holocaust in American Life to see how a major American historian, a Jew himself, criticizes even such prominent institutions as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. The problem with bunkers is that it is hard to get fresh thought into them. They remind me of Ukrainian buses in the old days. No matter how hot it was, if you opened a little bit of window, there would always be several vociferous passengers shouting “Close that window! There’s a draft!” The buses have gotten better. I’m afraid, though, that it’s still a long wait for the bunker.

  4. steve komarnyckyj

    Thank you for the advice. I think that your comment alas, though while affable and witty illustrates the very problem you criticise- I made a point which, however charmingly, you glossed over. Ukrainians are stigmatised and have to really defend their position their history. The truth of the Holocaust is not under attack but the truth of the Holodomor has to be affirmed;

    • Evgeny Finkel

      The prison museum has very little to do with the Holodomor. In fact, the regions that suffered the Holodomor are the least likely to view OUN as their representatives and subscribe to the historical narrative, put forward by the museum. The best defense for people who care about Ukrainian suffering during the WWII would be to embrace the complexity and the messiness of the situation and to acknowledge what happened at the very same place where the museum is located. In practice, however, what the museum does is quite the opposite of “defense” because no person with the slightest knowledge of history can accept this whitewashing narrative. One of the bloodiest pogroms in modern Jewish history took place precisely where the museum is located. Those who try to erase this part of the story should not expect others to sympathize with their suffering.

    • Evgeny Finkel

      Just to make it clear, when I say “Those who try to erase this part of the story should not expect others to sympathize with their suffering.” I mean the promoters of the OUN/UPA narrative and not the Ukrainian people in general

      • Oi, oi. Sometimes I wonder if it’s in the genes of our peasant Ukrainian heritage to come up with whatever suits the moment, truth or not. A couple years ago I toured the Lonts’kyi Museum. I asked about the June, 1941 Jewish pogrom. I was told that just when the NKVD were vacating the prison, they shot all the anti-Soviet prisoners. Then they released all the common criminals, with specific instructions to go out and kill Jews.

      • I should clarify: I don’t doubt the shooting of the anti-Soviet prisoners, nor the release of the common criminals. I was just dubious about the specific instructions!

    • John-Paul Himka

      Steve, first of all, I don’t think Ukrainians are of one mind. Any Ukrainian election shows that. There are those who choose the bunker and those who don’t. Ukraine has always lived in a rough neighborhood, and this is the environment in which it has to sort out its history, like it or not. I find it troubling that so many of the bunker Ukrainians link the discourse of the Holodomor with the discourse of denial about Ukrainian nationalist participation in the Holocaust. It’s an untenable position and will win no sympathy outside the tribe. Nor should it. If we cannot articulate a reasonable view of the past, we shouldn’t be surprised that we are becoming less of an ethnicity or nation and more of a sect. I don’t think our lack of intellectual effort is the main problem in getting people outside to think about the famine of 1933, but I do think it contributes. Much more important to the ignorance and indifference are larger factors, such as the defeat of Nazi Germany in coalition with the Soviet Union, the continued survival of the latter until 1991, and then the end of the Cold War. I won’t unpack all this here. I also think that things are changing in regard to public consciousness, less as a result of candle-light marches than as a result of articulate statements of the case in books by influential writers and historians. I think of Norman Naimark’s Stalin’s Genocides and Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands. The latter book is extremely effective in telling the tale of the famine (I know because I use it in classes), and it does so without having to inflate the numbers or insist on calling it a genocide.

  5. This is an important essay.

    It brings attention to the profound isolation of intellectual Lviv. But it also shows its profound lack of understanding of what a world heritage site should be.

    Second, it demonstrates the lack of qualified historians to dissect out all aspects of the complicated and emotional history personified by the Lonts’kyi prison. Professor Hrytsak needs support. I write here about the lack not only of academic historians but also of a lack of popular historians, teachers, documentary film producers, editors, and film makers, etc.

    Third, it demonstrates the absence of leadership at HURI and the CIUS. These well endowed institutes should be engaging the issues concerned. They are at amazing universities with incredible resources. Yet, the former has not facilitated the education at Harvard of one historian of the twentieth century that I know of. Yes, some great future scholars have come to Harvard Summer School to learn Ukrainian. But that hardly qualifies today.

    Fourth, this essay hints that there is a fundamental lack of understanding within Ukrainian Studies scholars and external historians of Ukraine that the officials who will set the national tone in the future are more likely to be like Mr. Yushchenko and Mr. Yanukovych than like Drew Faust, the president of Harvard, herself a historian of war related carnage..

    General education is key. Knowledge of English helps end insularity. Internet as being extended by edX and by Coursera can be transformative. It Is already transformative. It has reached out to Mongolia, the inner reaches of China, but has yet to permeate Ukrainian Studies, history, and Lviv.

    There is no reason for Lviv to be insular and paranoid with the all the resources at hand. Lviv, in fact, claims to be the software, Internet, and information technology capital of Ukraine.

    It is even the home of Lohika, which has significant Harvard alumni based investments.

    Bohdan A Oryshkevich, MD, MPH
    New York City

  6. steve komarnyckyj

    Dear Jean Paul
    I was puzzled by your last post because I haven’t linked discourse about the Holodomor to the issue of OUN participation in war crimes. Anyone who wishes to do so can check out my site I note that this does not appear to be the case and would argue that you are setting up your own myth in which the community that you call “the tribe” is in error, in denial and you are showing them the truth. Alas this calls for a few simplifications and indeed a distortion that the Holodomor campaign is a cloak for war crimes. This is simply and demonstrably wrong, efforts to highlight the Holodomor began chronologically before the Holocaust and James Mace was motivated by the horror of the eye witness testimony he recorded. I could go on and on but believe these two facts alone are sufficient to show the specious nature of that argument. Professor Serbyn has however dealt with it more effectively elsewhere.

    Snyder’s book is an important but partial step in the right direction as the very concept of Bloodlands amalgamates several discrete events. He accepts that the Holodomor does meet the criteria for genocide and you accept that it does loosely without really clarifying what that means. Most people would accept that forcibly starving people to death and shooting them to stifle national feeling is a pretty good fit. People who deny the link to the mass executions- such as Marples who elsewhere on this site uses the problematic perhaps they shot lots of people in the same time frame by coincidence argument- almost but sadly not funny- don’t seem to have grasped how the Cheka operated.

    Anyway and in conclusion I note that you ignore the point about Ukrainian culture being under attack- if people are in a bunker it is because shells are falling because Ukraine is under cultural attack. Reading your work and that of your acolytes it would seem that the focus is on maximising the crimes perpetrated by Ukrainians and minimising the massive loss of life caused by the illegal occupation and mass murder carried out by the Soviets. I would suggest that a global view and one based more on micro histories and less on a primitive conception of a monolithic political movement might work better because, although I am not a historian, I can read and see how your conception of the OUN is only partial.

    Finally Ukrainians are not of one mind but eventually a national consensus will emerge. The Easter 1916 Martyrs were spat at in the streets of Dublin…A more genuinely nuanced view, more objective and scientific to use language I know you approve of might mean that people listen to you more. The approach taken by you and your acolytes- suggesting articles by other historians have a fascist hue etc.- will only serve to polarise and alienate.

    • Bohdan A Oryshkevich

      Dear Steve:

      You are adding to the polarizing language. Yes, it is true Professor Himka has many students.

      Where are the students of those who continuously criticize Professor Himka? Why do they not have students? In addition, my parents invested thousands of dollars in the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. Where are their historians? Who is there to make your case? It should be made. Of course there is a case to make for the tragedy and importance of the Holodomor.

      A few years ago, I watched online the so called international conference on the Holodomor at Harvard organized by HURI.

      The scholars in charge from the Ukrainian side were not scholars of genocidal studies not even twentieth century historians, but in essence Ukrainian sympathizers. Professor Grabowicz stated that he “believed” the Ukrainian famine to be a genocide. Professor Grabowicz is a historian of nineteenth century literature.

      Unfortunately, scholarship is not based upon beliefs. If you want to persuade outsiders you have to do it by their rules and not your own. Confusion of polarized views leads to obvious contradictions.

      The reality is that the tipping point has been reached. The cat is out of the box. Contradictory and self serving Ukrainian and Diaspora myths of World War II are now under scrutiny literally around the world. Unfortunately, the many contradictory myths the Diaspora about World War II do not hold water.

      The Diaspora is increasingly poorly informed and confutes all sorts of related issues.

      The same people who go to memorial services for the Ukrainian famine, glorify the likes of Stepan Bandera, Yaroslav Stetsko, and Roman Shukhevych. Then they wonder why no one outside of their narrow Ukrainian clique listens to them.

      Support scholarship to support your views but you do your cause no good by referring to scholars as acolytes. You will have to face that very hard reality.

      There is also no doubt that the people who have been the most vehement about commemorating their Holodomor are the same people who venerate (more often than I am comfortable with) Stepan Bandera, Roman Shukhevych, and Yaroslav Stetsko . That includes such people as Victor Yushchenko, his wife, Askold Lozynskyj, and such organizations as the UCCA and at least some sections of the UCC. I am less familiar with Canada at this time.

      It is also true that these Ukrainians fail to find common ground with the suffering of others wanting to elevate Ukrainian suffering above the suffering of others. That is fundamentally indecent. It is narcissistic. These are people living comfortably in NYC, London, and Toronto. Their ancestors did not suffer in the Ukrainian famines nor did they suffer the worst excesses of Soviet rule which took place before World War II.

      St. George’s Church in NYC is the start of the annual Holodomor procession to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I was recently at a funeral of a prominent American of Ukrainian origin. He served in the US military and was too young to have been active in World War II. The St. George Church pastor insisted on lecturing the largely American audience on the wonderful character and idealism of the Ukrainian Waffen SS Diviziya. It was unnecessary, bizarre but sadly true.

      Yes, the Diaspora has failed to make its case. But it is also true that it has failed to learn its own history.

      • Per Anders Rudling, Lund, Sweden

        Dear Steve,

        speaking of errors, distortions, and claims which are “simply and demonstratively wrong,” your site claims 7-10 million deaths in Ukrainian Genocide 1932-33.

  7. Just a quick comment: I think you must have misread my article, Mr Komarnycky, and probably have never seen my other publications on the Famine, which in no way deny the link or the concept of Genocide. My main concern expressed in the cited article is the politicization of the event by non-historians, which has resulted in inflated numbers and a quest for competitive suffering that in my view is quite insulting to the victims. That is in no way to deny the enormity of the event.

    Regarding Lonts’kyi, I asked Uilleam to focus specifically on his own views after visiting the site to allow a contrast with those expressed by Zabilyi on his recent tour of Canada, which indeed represented what I and others perceived as too one-dimensional in its approach. And I think he too in no way denies the importance of this venue for Ukrainian historical memory.

  8. steve komarnyckyj

    Dear Ukraine analysis

    Many thanks for your reply

    No I saw the article
    “But there is nothing in the targeting of these officials to suggest that the key issue was their ethnic background”.
    The Holodomor and the associated actions were in large degree a special operation so there was no declared programmatic attack against Ukrainians as an ethnic group because the focus was more on national politics (though Kaganovich did make clear the strong nature of the ethnic link) and well the Cheka and the people at the top were obviously not going to lay that card face up on the table . But it seems clear that increasing concern about nationalist agents from 1930 onwards was a factor.and there was nothing to suggest that Vlyzhko was murdered because he was a Ukrainian, or Draj Khmara or, or etc.

    As I said elsewhere Ukraine is under attack and the discipline of history- shamefully- has all too often become an instrument by taking a partial rather than a global view of history. Historians would perhaps be better advised to take stock of the failings of their own profession in that regard. After all once James Mace’s eye witness testimonies proved the Holodomor historians should have then sought to explain it- sadly he was subjected to an unwarranted and deeply mistaken attack. No time for further discussion but on another occasion I will reply to the observation on demography

  9. Right, I see where you are coming from. But what I am suggesting (and not only me) is that Stalin punished Ukrainians as a nascent nation/Soviet republic rather than as an ethnic community. In other words he wanted to rein in Ukraine and make it a compliant republic, including those residents who happened to be non-Ukrainians. Why? Because he feared Ukraine’s secession from the Union, the interference in its affairs of “bourgeois” Poland, and because his secret police informed him repeatedly that a national uprising was in the offing for the spring of 1933.

  10. This obituary about a Harvard educated historian reveals that one can argue a difficult case convincingly even on the turf of a former enemy.

    The Ukrainian Famines and the horrific persecutions of the Soviet era are deserving of historical attention, analysis, and understanding.

    But one has to be able to tell the story honestly and well.

    For that one needs to educate historians. HURI has apparently according to my sources an endowment of upto fifty million dollars.

    The CIUS has spent the last fifteen to twenty years translating the historical works of Hrushevsky which end in the second half of the seventeenth century.

    In both cases, the journals of these institutions have lapsed. HURI lists the current journal. It came out dated 2007:

    If Ukrainian culture is under attack it is at least in part that institutions and HURI and the CIUS have proven not up to the task at hand.

  11. John-Paul Himka

    Just a quick comment to Steve’s later posts. I point out that he is the one who made the link to the Holodomor. This blog and the original comments were about the hushing up of OUN war crimes. Then all of a sudden he introduced the Holodomor in his second post. Now he is launching shells at me. I better scurry to my own bunker. Acolytes! Get down quick!!

  12. Steven makes the argument that because Ukrainian culture is currently under stress (if not suppression or genocide by the ascendancy of President Yanukovych) and given that Ukraine suffered repression and genocide under the Soviets, and given that Ukrainians were considered untermenschen by the Germans) historians should see the big picture and forget the mistakes that a small percentage of Ukrainians made during WW II not only in collaborating with the Germans but also in doing much of their dirty work on Ukrainian territory.

    I have some sympathy for that view. One has to do an over all accounting. Ukrainians do not come out so bad. They were clearly not the Danes. But certainly Ukrainians were not Nazis. They did not come up with the idea of the Holocaust. Nor did they have the industrial means to accomplish it. I am not certain that there was before World War II, a single Ukrainian gun manufacturer in all of Polish Ukraine. In the greater scheme of things, Ukrainians may have even suffered more from 1920 to 1945 than Jews did.

    If one wants to work on that premise one should at least not try to make heroes of those relatively few Ukrainians who perpetrated crimes for or with the Germans or in whose name those crimes were done.

    With the simple recognition of Stepan Bandera, Yaroslav Stetsko, and Roman Shukhevych (who to a greater or lesser degree cooperated with the Germans) as heroes, many Diaspora members simply confirm in public their own inability to see and understand the big picture that they so desire.

    Ukraine and even Polish Halychyna had poor or no leadership after WW I. Ukrainian Halychyna went into a period of decline because of poor and repressive Polish policies. The Depression only made the situation worse as did the rise of Fascism and Nazism.

    Patriotic and naive Ukrainians during WW II made some terrible mistakes and some Faustian bargains that eventually came due.

    Why not simply at the very least admit that?

    If you want the understanding and compassion from other nations who fought the Germans or suffered at their hands, why not simply state the obvious truth?

    Ukrainians made mistakes and certain misguided Ukrainians in World War II collaborated with the Germans to the nth degree and should be held historically if not physically accountable for their actions.

    If one does not do that there is the perception that even worse crimes were committed.

    I think that every admirer of Stepan Bandera, Yaroslav Stetsko, and Roman Shukhevych can understand that.

    But for some poorly thought out reasons, Ukrainian post war nationalists have sought to conjoin their version of the genocidal Holodomor with the alleged heroic exploits of OUN/UPA. There is an East West holism here, but it ultimately does not work. It is poorly thought out.

    I do not see why an independent Ukraine should even bear the stigma of these un-elected, marginal, and misguided western Ukrainians who were actually few in number. But that is exactly what is happening with the construct that President Yushchenko and others like him have created.

    The western Ukrainian construct makes no sense.

  13. steve komarnyckyj

    A final comment from me as life is too short-

    Alas Jean Paul you acolytes did not run for the bunker but lobbed a shell- that is exactly what I wanted though because it illustrates my point. Ukrainian culture is under attack by means of soft power and my comment on the Holodomor was linked to that observation. Per Rudling’s reaction was sadly predictable. Think about the polemicising culture you are helping foster.

    Dr Rudling- the demography is not as definitive as you suggest and relies on censuses the 1937 and 1939 which were produced in a period when there was pressure to inflate the population. and only count statistically excess deaths a questionable concept. The other figures rely on comments from soviet officials.

    Bohdan I don’t think I am- why don’t you read my post again and really see what I am saying?

    Any way so long for now

  14. Uilleam Blacker

    Thanks all for these responses. The essay seems to have been read primarily in relation to North American Ukrainian Diaspora institutions. This is, of course, a very important topic, but not the focus of this essay. I wasn’t asked to comment on diaspora institutions, and it is not something I know much about. Of course, there is a connection, given Ruslan Zabiliy’s recent visit. I would be interested to hear how those lectures went.

    I would also point out that the museum is not necessarily representative of memory in Ukraine, or even in L’viv. There is the Centre for Urban History, which takes a very different approach. The city is planning new Holocaust monuments. I also attended a Jewish cultural festival there last summer. One can also find instances of commemoration of the Polish past. The memory culture in L’viv is complex and not purely nationalist, although that thread is of course strong, and getting stronger.

    I agree with Steve that there is a great deal of misunderstanding and simple ignorance in the West of Ukraine’s history, and I also commented on that previously on this blog with regard to misperceptions in the UK media. Institutions like this museum have the opportunity to correct the simplified image and explain the complexity of that history, but they must also be willing to admit all aspects of that complexity to themselves. I do not believe that that would compromise the Ukrainian story. The approach of Lonts’kyi does not protect Ukrainian memory through its simplifications, but restricts it to closed circles and alienates those from outside of the nationalist community, including many Ukrainians. Of course, a small museum like this has limits to how much it can say, but since it clearly purports to tell the story of that particular prison then it simply cannot ignore events as important as the 1941 pogrom.

    One final point, with regard to the question of whether the museum is being criticized more harshly than a western museum would be: museums like this are in fact subject to scrutiny the world over. For example, a couple of weeks ago a colleague of mine gave a paper that criticized the ignoring of British colonial violence in museums in Edinburgh and Bristol. These institutions need to be scrutinized wherever they are, it’s not a purely Ukrainian problem.

  15. Dear Uilleam:

    We live in a global world. Every day I check the NY Times, I expect a story in the World section on Svoboda, Lviv, its anti-Semitic restaurant or with a photo of the neo-Soviet statue of Stepan Bandera. With my name I am a captive of behavior I do not agree with in Ukraine.

    In reality, North American Ukrainians could change all this by demonstrating tough love to Ukraine. if every Diaspora Ukrainian contributed constructively to the memory in Lviv, things would improve. So many western Ukrainians have emigrated that they are another potential influencing force.

    Third, there are idle resources in North America who could transform this provincialism and narrowmindedness by providing expertise in museum design, local education, heritage based tourism, etc.

    My personal outlook is of some sympathy and a desire for Ukrainians to be able to tell their story well without competing with other genocides, with sympathy for all, and with a view towards the future.

    It is one thing to honor the victims of WWII, or the Holodomor. It is another thing to undo the the psychic, social, political, and economic damage of the Holodomor and of Soviet repressions.

    I know I deal with some of the most talented students in Ukraine who have earned PhDs at Harvard, MIT, Penn, Northwestern, Rockefeller, Cornell, and elsewhere. The scars are there.

    By helping the Ukrainian rural villages in the Holodomor zones to rebuild, the Diaspora would be doing much more than simply playing a dirge once a year. As we say in America, nothing succeeds like success, success is the best revenge. Ukraine should get down to feed the world. As one American Senator working on North Ireland stated, there can be too much emphasis on history.

    Steve, I do not understand your posts. I am trying to listen. You are not expressing anything but some antipathy or discomfort to the analysis of Ukrainian history by non-Ukrainians, by some Diaspora historians, and by historians from all regions of Ukraine.

    The Diaspora post WW II history and memory industry is only one small and rather peculiar and defensive view of Ukrainian history.

    I am open to your message. But you have to make it clearer.

    Follow us at

    Bohdan A Oryshkevich
    New York City

  16. steve komarnyckyj

    Dear Uilleam
    Many thanks for acknowledging that there was some merit in what I said and also for an interesting article. You are correct when you say that a more holistic view of history would enable the Ukrainian story to be told effectively and that events such as the 1941 pogrom cannot be ignored. However I would suggest as well that a more holistic account of Ukrainian history- it is not solely Ukrainians who are selective or defensive- depends on a longer term discussion between all the groups involved in this complex history. You are also right of course that other museums experience difficulties- but my observation was about the use of soft power. You have probably seen this paper

    I would argue that on occasion western historiography and the way it discusses sensitive historical issues has become an instrument of such power (cf the utterly unjustified pillorying of James Mace).The regime in Ukraine is, as you probably know, seeking to divide the opposition by fueling the growth of the ultra right and associating what we might call the Ukrainian brand with fascism. If these historians are in a bunker it’s because shells. are falling. Russia does seem to have succeeded in communicating its negative stance towards Ukrainians to others as witnessed by some of the material in my first post. This is not to argue that Ukrainians are perfect of course. However if a Ukrainian had written the equivalent of Brodsky’s lovely ditty on Ukrainian Independence but addressed to Russia they would be roundly criticised whereas Brodsky was praised because soft power had secured sympathy for a degree of prejudice towards Ukrainians

    Dear Bohdan

    Many thanks for your observations- I don’t really believe that my powers of expression are at fault, and that therefore I need to express myself more clearly,As supporting evidence for that statement, and taking the opportunity to plug my own work shamelessly, I have had several poems published. I would not have achieved this if my communication skills were flawed. Nor can I see where I have expressed any “antipathy or discomfort to the analysis of Ukrainian history by non-Ukrainians, by some Diaspora historians, and by historians from all regions of Ukraine”. Indeed I referred to Himka as making “an affable and witty comment.”

    However, just to reiterate

    – I said that the truth of the Holodomor was under attack ie the campaign for recognition is being misrepresented as an effort to divert attention from war crimes committed by the OUN or Ukrainians. That is not the case. My site does not mention the OUN or war crimes for the simple reason that it is about neither topic and it never entered my head to make any kind of link. I mentioned the Holodomor because of the attack on Ukrainian culture, knowing that Jean Paul Himka would make this point and that that would enable me to challenge that view. Perhaps someone somewhere has tried to use the Holodomor in this way but that would be wrong.
    – My issue with Himka and the school of thought associated with him is less about the material they represent but the polarising and partial way it is presented which often seems to be less about war crimes and more about discrediting the Ukrainian diaspora (referred to as a “tribe” above) or other historians who do not share their views, or organisations. Because I understand their approach I anticipated how Dr Rudling would react when I pointed out the misrepresentation of the campaign- not by granting that the view of the campaign was at least incorrect as regards myself and citing evidence to back up the view that others were were exploiting the Holodomor but by trying to find some way of questioning my credibility. I am bound to note that there are survivors campaigning for recognition and presenting the campaign as a mere kind of PR exercise seems,deeply inappropriate.

    Now let me deal with the comment that the campaign for Holodomor recognition is narcissistic. Even historians who argue that the demography based on the censuses is rock solid, acknowledge that what happened in Ukraine was on a massive and horrific scale. Snyder says that it was “the most dangerous place for life in the world” in the 30s and 40s

    The campaign is drawing attention to an important event which Western historians did not address adequately at the time. That is something we can surely agree on?

    About the demography- I can remember when some of the demographers were arguing that few or no people died with equal certainty on an equally scientific basis. However some recent demography suggests an absolute maximum of six millions-

    However it uses the 1939 census.

    The idea that there is some kind of competition of suffering is simply wrong as far as I am concerned- I would rather that Ukraine had experienced a much happier and prosperous twentieth century.

    Finally Professor Marples- I think Stalin targeted Ukraine as a nation for sure but that the Ukrainian ethnic community were the bedrock of that nation so there was a particular focus on destroying them as a cohesive ethnic community. The plot is a tricky concept as

    1) They believed in a plot to facilitate the secession of Ukraine from the Soviet Union
    2) The concept of a plot was used as a pretext for confining peasants to the area which food had been confiscated from.

    But I am sure you know that!

    best wishes to you all

  17. Dear Steve:

    I thought this was a discussion on the Prison on Lonstkyi street.

    I still find your argument opaque and I know that you are an independent poet and translator.

    This is exactly what happens repeatedly with Diaspora Ukrainians. They switch topics. Perhaps, they should first learn how to debate or negotiate an issue.

    The Lonstkyi Museum has to stand on its own. It is not even located in a region of Ukraine that underwent the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33.

    I also wish to reassure you that we all find the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33 and ALL the Soviet repressions before and after WW II horrific. That includes Professor Himka and Per Rudling.

    I marched in my first Ukrainian Demonstration in 1953.

    I bicycled across the USA for Oxfam in 1983. That was with 36 Harvard College students. It was in part to commemorate the anniversary of the Ukrainian Famine but also to work on hunger prevention in Africa and in the future. Today, I believe that Ukraine can commemorate the Ukrainian Famine by helping feed the world and becoming a success. That was a three month commitment with much time for thought.

    It is you who is constantly switching the debate from the topic of the Lonstkyi Prison.

    I do not think that this is persuasive and it produces exactly the reaction that you do not want. It makes us think that you descend from OUN/UPA or Diviziya members.

    I would add that I visited the website of the Association of Ukrainians of Great Britain. Sure enough there was the obligatory section dealing with the Holodomor.

    There were several sample pages from the current issue of Ukrainian Dumka and sure enough it had a huge section on Stepan Bandera.

    There are three sample pages from the newspaper of Ykrayinska Dumka and of course there is an obligatory full page spread on Stepan Bandera:

    It ends with this statement: Він був носієм і активним подвижником ідей, які стали визначальними у становленні незалежної України.

    I really did not know until reading this article that Stepan Bandera’s ideas were the ones that moved the Communist hacks in the Verkhovna Rada to declare independence in Ukraine in 1991.

  18. Dear Steve:

    I have tried to understand your comments and have read them three times. I am trying to understand the substance of your thinking.

    First, I think that your argument goes something like this:

    Because the current regime in Ukraine is allegedly Russophilic and because the Russian Federation is constantly trying to influence internal Ukrainian politics, we should desist from speaking about past Ukrainian crimes during World War II and take on a more holistic view of Ukrainian history in which we emphasize the Holodomor to garner world support, sympathy and highlight the perennial and never ending Russian threat to Ukraine. This will somehow protect Ukraine. A facet of this is that Svoboda is actually a tool created by the Russian Federation to discredit Ukraine.

    That is the Holodomor should be our only calling card to the world.

    Second, you argue that the Holodomor is not narcissistic. I totally agree. It is the people who had nothing to do with it and who envelope themselves in it who are narcissistic.

    You provide a link to Dr. Oleh Wolowyna. I know Dr. Wolowyna. He personally told me that the numbers of the Holodomor used by the Diaspora are exaggerated. If you read the piece you link to, he states in at least two places that Ukraine had at most four to five million excess deaths due to the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33.

    Your webpage: states everywhere 7-10 million deaths. So you do not even incorporate what you recommend.

    It is this kind of perennial exaggeration, exclusionary thought, and linking the Ukrainian Famine to other events such as UNA/UPA and rationalization for collaboration with the Germans that discredits your position and sadly the position of many nationalist Ukrainians.

    My father told me how as a teenager he would listen and talk about the Ukrainian Famine in 1932-33 with his high school classmates. How upset they were and angry. But I am proud to state that that tragic event did not lead him to join OUN/UPA or collaborate with the Germans, or join the Diviziya even as a physician which he became by the time WW II came about.

    Yes, I understand that the passion of every Diaspora Ukrainian of our generation was to save Ukraine. So many amateur historians arose, so many activists. Unfortunately, their activity was often not very professional or well thought out. It was often manipulated by self serving Banderites or rationalizing Diviziya members. It was also flavored with heavy handed anti-communist agitation.

    You would more persuasive if you stood by the facts that support the terrors of the Ukrainian Famine and other Soviet repressions.

    There is a place for scholarship, analysis, thought, and detachment. That leads to a higher form of understanding, empathy, and wisdom. Finally sympathy and respect from others.

    Sometimes it seems to me these narcissistic promoters of Holodomor wish that more people had died in Soviet repressions since this would further enhance their own status in the world. I personally, think even if only 10,000 died in the Ukrainian Famine that would have made it a horrific event. Even if ten had died that would have been a horrific event. Or even if one had died that would have been a horrific event.

    Well, the United Kingdom now has a Ukrainian Studies program at Cambridge University. I recommend you get involved in supporting their work and learning from them and through them.

    With feedback and your input something better may come of it.

  19. I attended my first Ukrainian FAMINE demonstration in 1953. I failed to include the word FAMINE.

  20. steve komarnyckyj

    This is just a quick post in case anyone re Bohdan’s comments on my views. He says my argument is as follows:

    “Because the current regime in Ukraine is allegedly Russophilic and because the Russian Federation is constantly trying to influence internal Ukrainian politics, we should desist from speaking about past Ukrainian crimes during World War II and take on a more holistic view of Ukrainian history in which we emphasize the Holodomor to garner world support, sympathy and highlight the perennial and never ending Russian threat to Ukraine. This will somehow protect Ukraine. A facet of this is that Svoboda is actually a tool created by the Russian Federation to discredit Ukraine”

    I never said that- I favour a dialogue. The comment about Svoboda is ridicolous

    he says
    “You provide a link to Dr. Oleh Wolowyna. I know Dr. Wolowyna. He personally told me that the numbers of the Holodomor used by the Diaspora are exaggerated. If you read the piece you link to, he states in at least two places that Ukraine had at most four to five million excess deaths due to the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33.

    Your webpage: states everywhere 7-10 million deaths. So you do not even incorporate what you recommend”

    I never recommended it- I question the demography because it is based on Censuses carried out in a period when there was pressure to inflate numbers and each new figure is presented as definitive and finally it relies on excess deaths. a questionable concept- it assumes that in famine conditions the level of death from natural causes would remain consistent.

    He says

    “It is this kind of perennial exaggeration, exclusionary thought, and linking the Ukrainian Famine to other events such as UNA/UPA and rationalization for collaboration with the Germans that discredits your position and sadly the position of many nationalist Ukrainians”.

    I never made the Holodomor a rationalisation for collaboration with the Germans

    In conclusion I suggest that while he presents a well argued critique of the diaspora, albeit one I do not agree with, his characterisation of my views- “A facet of this is that Svoboda is actually a tool created by the Russian Federation to discredit Ukraine” – and the personalisation of the discussion mean that any further debate is not useful. In the unlikely event anyone reads this thread I ask you to please refer to my comments and not his about my views.

    . .

  21. I would like to thank everyone for commenting on Uilleam’s article. During this period we have been getting over 200 visitors to the site daily. I think though we have reached closure on this particular debate, which has wandered a little from the original topic. Happily, however, it has been conducted on a civil level by all concerned. Many thanks for your contributions. David

  22. Leopolis

    You should have given the correct name of the street and prison
    Lacki Street – you cannot change the spelling of a proper name.

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