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Stepan Andreevich Bandera

military , politician , collaborator

Stepan Bandera was an ukrainian historical figure who led the nation's strugle for independence during the World War II. To post-maidan Ukraine Bandera is a hero and a symbol of freedom, and to those who supports Soviet historiography he's a traitor and a nazi collaborator.


Stepan Andriyovych Bandera was born in Ukraine’s western village of Staryi Uhryniv to a clerical family.


In 1928, Bandera enrolled in the agronomy program at the Lviv Polytechnic (then Politechnika Lwowska). One of the few programs open to Ukrainians at the time. This was due to restrictions placed on minority enrollment aimed primarily at Jews and Ukrainians—in both secondary schools (gymnasia) and university level institutions by the Polish government.


To get back to Bandera facts – from boyhood he was involved with Ukrainian ultra-nationalist organisations, rising through the ranks to become chief propaganda officer of the OUN in 1931, active in recruiting Ukrainian nationalists in both western and eastern Ukraine. By 1932 he was second in command of OUN in Galicia, and 1933 head of the OUN.

This took the premise that GaliciaUkrainian people would always be exploited by an ‘occupier’, revolution would be required to overthrow that system, and then another once the inevitable ‘exploitation’ emerged again, and so on. After becoming head of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists, OUN, in 1933, Bandera set about either converting to his cause, or driving out the Poles and Soviets in the at the time disputed territory of Galicia (above left – much now subsumed as west Ukraine). This policy failed to have his desired effect in obtaining autonomy for the region. Bandera then turned to an attempt at assassination, plotting to do away with Polish minister of internal affairs, Bronisław Pieracki – it failed, he got caught, and sentenced to death for that.

By the time of his arrest and subsequent imprisonment, in 1934, Bandera‘s political career had long moved to the insurgent terrorism he had chosen as the method of achieving an independent Ukrainian state. Death sentence commuted to life, then released after five years, after agreeing unconditionally to cooperate with Nazi Germany, in 1939, Bandera headed straight to occupied Krakow, capital of Nazi Germany’s General Government. However, there he failed to regain control of his former organisation, the OUN, falling out with current leader, Andriy Melnyk (the two pictured, above left).

February 25, 1941 saw head of the Abwehr, Wilhelm Franz Canaris sanctioning the creating of “Ukrainian Legion”, to comprise 800 fighters, fighting as part of Nazi Germany’s forces, under Shukhevych. Bandera himself oversaw the formation of small units of the OUN-B, named ‘Mobile Groups’, comprising teams of 5-15 members who would travel around Western Ukraine and beyond spreading propaganda and recruiting. The recruitment pitch shared a Nazi platform – with anti-Semitism at its core, the difference being that supposedly an independent Ukraine would be allowed to exist independently alongside any German super-nation.

The tactic was successful, with the mobile groups some 7000 strong, recruiting waves of fighters, and support for the Nazis spreading across Western Ukraine, with towns in the west turning out in force to greet Nazi forces (left), even to parts of the capital of Kiev, and prominent Western Ukrainian literary figures lending their support, notably the duo of Ivan Bahrianyi and Vasyl Barka.

In early 1941, the Nachtigall unit was formed, under Bandera, and outfitted in the standard Wehrmacht uniforms, placing blue and yellow ribbons on their shoulders. Their aims were outlined in a May 1941 Krakow meeting: “Moskali (derogatory term for Russians), Poles, Jews are hostile to us must be exterminated in this struggle, especially those who would resist our regime: deport them to their own lands, importantly: destroy their intelligentsia that may be in the positions of power … Jews must be isolated, removed from governmental positions in order to prevent sabotage, those who are deemed necessary may only work with an overseer… Jewish assimilation is not possible.”

So it was, the OUN-B followed behind the Nazi invasion into Ukraine. Bandera and his Nachtigall battalion have been accused of a particularly ruthless approach towards the extermination of the Jews, Poles, and Russians they viewed as the enemy. On June 30, emboldened by a Ukraine which looked like it was falling to the Nazis, the OUN-B, led by Bandera, declared an independent Ukrainian State from Lvov, stating that it would work closely with Hitler and the Nazis to form the ‘new order in Europe’. The first Lvov Bandera tangible manifestation of this was the ‘Lvov Pogrom‘, the mass extermination of Jews and Poles which took places from 30th June to 2nd July, murdering a number estimated as high as 10s of thousands. (Photos from pogrom).

Bandera’s Nachtigall battalion, and Bandera himself, were actively involved in this pogrom, with reports that the Nazis themselves were shocked at their brutality in execution. This independent ‘Ukrainian state’ lasted less than a week, with Bandera arrested by the Nazis, who had duped the gullible 32-year-old at the time, into believing they supported an independent Ukrainian state. Of course, they simply wanted to ease their passage into occupying Ukraine.

Bandera himself was arrested on July 5th 1941 and taken to prison in Berlin. The Germans treated Bandera well, but he was a prisoner, not allowed to leave Berlin for Zellenbauthe remainder of 1941, then in January 1942, transferred to Sachsenhausen concentration camp’s special barrack for high profile political prisoners, Zellenbau (left). Bandera made no attempts to escape from here, watching on in comfort as hundreds of thousands of his countrymen perished in conflict.

He spent most of the next 3 years in prison, albeit with special treatment after indicating ongoing willingness to help the Nazis. He had access to a radio in prison, and even Bandera Stepancertain communication with the outside world, so by 1944, he knew the Nazis were losing. Actually, the military branch of his own OUN, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, UIA, had even changed sides to start fight against the Germans in early 1943. Yet, when Bandera was approached in April 1944, he enthusiastically agreed to throw himself into the Nazi effort, released in September of 1944, setting up office in Berlin arranging supplies of arms and intelligence in an attempt to enlist the Ukrainians once more to fight for the fast-losing Nazis.

Yet, by this time, most of them were dead or had switched sides. The seeds sown by the OUN-B’s dissemination of anti-Semitic propaganda had seen Ukraine engage in Babi Yarseveral atrocities against Jews during the war, most shockingly perhaps the Babi Yar massacres (right – more on them here). Bandera’s re-recruitment attempt was unsuccessful, the war finished just a few months later, seeing Nazi defeat and Bandera revert to civilian life. Sort of.

As for Bandera’s family, reports that Bandera’s brother Bogdan was killed by the Nazis, are unconfirmed. His brothers Oleksandr and brother Vasyl (below left) were killed in Auschwitz, with Bandera acolytes having observed over the years that Stepan could hardly endorse a regime which had Vasyl Bandera in Auschwitzexecuted his brothers. In reality, evidence points to them being killed by Polish inmates who discovered their identity. It is known Bandera’s father was executed by the Germans, though it is reported his father did not share Stepan’s extreme politics and some have suggested he was executed for harbouring a member of the OUN opposed to the Nazis. This was the month before Stepan proclaimed Ukrainian independence in Lvov.

The remainder of the 40s and early 50s, saw Stepan Bandera, working for the German equivalent of the CIA, giving freelance spy training for infiltration into the Soviet Union. Bandera had met his future wife, Yaroslava Yaroslava Bandera(pictured right), in Krakow in 1940, with her at 22 already a seasoned activist for the Ukrainian cause. The two married in June of that year and had three children, Natalia, born 1941, Andrei (year of birth given as 1944 or 1946), Lesya 1947. Bandera was never able to take adequate care of his family, with Natalia having spoken of a childhood of assumed names, hiding, living in cabins in forests, going for long periods of time without seeing her father, subsisting on inadequate food.

In 1954, Yaroslava and the children joined Stepan in Munich. Yet, life for the family was still tough here. Post war, the Germans were willing to leave Bandera alone, the western forces to occasionally use him for espionage assistance. But the Soviets had not forgotten Bandera, with repeated attempts made on his life over the years. In 1959, these reached an apotheosis, with German police arresting a man seen taking a Bandera assassinationsuspicious interest in Bandera’s children. Bandera was given extra security, but strongly advised to leave Munich, which he declined to do.

On October 15th, 1959, Bandera was killed in his own apartment, by KGB assassin Bogdan Stashinsky, who had been watching him since January, but intensely for several days. Despite this, the (in Stashinsky descriptions) ‘short, bald, blue-eyed’ Bandera (living under the named Stepan Popel) had let his bodyguards off that day. As Stashinsky produced his cyanide gun inside a rolled-up newspaper, Bandera’s last words, as he held his shopping, were the rather redundant “What are you doing here?” Bandera didn’t even produce his own gun, on him at all times, with him a proficient marksman (he had taken an active part in the Lvov pogrom). Shot in the face, quickly turning purple, then black, the 50-year-old Bandera died on a third-floor landing before the ambulance had even arrived.


Politicised from an early age, Bandera rose through activist, scout, up to leader of the Ukrainian nationalist movement. Well-known through Ukraine in his life, primarily for being responsible for the proclamation of an Independent Ukrainian State in Lvov in 1941, his fame to some, notoriety to others, grew to such an extent after his 1959 KGB assassination that then-President Viktor Yushchenko attempted to award him the Hero of Ukraine accolade as one of his final acts in power, in 2010. It was annulled a year later by then new President Viktor Yanukovych.


Bandera's brother Aleksandr (who had a PhD in Political Economy from the University of Rome) and brother Vasyl (a graduate in Philosophy, Lviv University) were arrested by Germans and interned in Auschwitz, where they were allegedly killed by Polish inmates in 1942.

Andriy Bandera, Stepan's father, was arrested by Soviets in late May 1941 for harboring an OUN member and transferred to Kiev. On 8 July he was sentenced to death and executed on the 10th. His sisters Oksana and Marta–Maria were arrested by the NKVD in 1941 and sent to a GULAG in Siberia. Both were released in 1960 without the right to return to Ukraine. Marta–Maria died in Siberia in 1982, and Oksana returned to Ukraine in 1989 where she died in 2004. Another sister, Volodymyra, was sentenced to a term in Soviet labor camps from 1946–1956. She returned to Ukraine in 1956.

Bandera’s wife and children, upon his death, quickly moved to Toronto to start a new life. Bandera had politicized his children from infanthood, yet it was only after his death they learned they were Banderas, not Popels. Natalia took some part in Ukrainian Stephen Banderamovements, yet unable to recover from the health problems of their childhood, Natalia died in 1985 at 44, she had two children, Sophia, born 1972 and Orestes, 1975. Andrei, Andrew, took an active role in the Ukrainian diaspora, forming several organisations, a newspaper ‘Ukrainian Echo’, and arranging mass demonstrations. With his wife Mary, he had three children, Stepan (Stephen, Steve – right), 1970, Bogdana, 1974, and Helen, in 1977.

Stephen, Steve, who has tried to forge a career as a journalist, has been the most vocal defender of his grandfather, accusing others of unwarranted attacks on the grandfather he frequently referred to as a ‘hero’. However, his actions on behalf of him seem to have waned in recent years. Steve previously did extensive ‘historical’ work to exonerate his grandfather, though his fallback position was always that no one really knows the truth: ‘an accurate account of Ukraine’s 20th century history remains largely unwritten.’ Sadly for ‘Steve’, countless, verified, articles of history exist from that time.

Suffering health problems, Andrei died in 1984 at either 38 or 40, depending on sources. Lesya, who worked as an interpreter for Ukrainian organisations and had no children, lived on to the age of 64, dying in 2011. Yaroslava had died in 1977 at the age Stepan Bandera stampof 59. Despite his wish to be returned to Ukraine in death, Bandera was buried in Munich, where he remains to this day, his burial place the subject of several recent attacks.

Even in death, Bandera’s fortunes have been little better than life. In 2009, to mark 100 years of his birth, he was put on a stamp (right), which many outlets in Ukraine refused to stock. Then, on January 22nd, Ukraine’s Day of Unity, in 2010, Viktor Yushchenko, in his final weeks as President, attempted to use the controversial figure (in Ukraine as a whole, pre-Euromaidan, only 6% had a strongly positive opinion of him, as high as 37% in the west, down to 1% in parts of the east), as a last stand, and two-fingered farewell. Bandera was made a Hero of Ukraine, with grandson Stephen accepting the award on his behalf.

Andriy Bandera