Munich’s Connections to Ukraine Are Long, Dark and Deep

UKRAINE PROTESTFrom its earliest beginnings there had always been one country which could have potentially destroyed the Soviet Union from within. That country was Ukraine. Poised like a blade on the soft underbelly of Russia, Ukraine had the population, the geographic position and the plausibility to strike a mortal wound at the Soviet Union.

Stalin, aware of this distinct possibility, ordered grain to be collected in 1932-33 from Ukraine to be sent to the workers in Russia’s industrial population centers. This action culminated with the Holodomor or ‘Death by Forced Hunger’, which killed approximately 5,000,000 Ukrainians outright, and contributed to the disfiguration or incapacitation of another 10,000,000. A half generation later, another 8-10,000,000 or so Ukrainians were killed by World War II, with another 5,000,000 displaced. And yet Moscow still feared Ukraine.

Well after the fighting ended in 1945, and unable to pacify western Ukraine until well after 1950, the leaders of the Kremlin ordered hits on Ukrainian nationalists who they saw as troublesome.

Most of the exiled Ukrainian nationalist leaders had taken up residence in Munich, for myriad reasons, and were leading the continued struggle against the Soviet yoke. Many Ukrainian nationalist newspapers were being printed in Munich, smuggled into western Ukraine in order to fan the flames of the still smoldering desire for a free and independent Ukraine.

Lev Rebet, the publisher of many of those publications and a three year survivor of Auschwitz, was assassinated by Bohdan Stashynsky in a somewhat rundown building at Karlsplatz on 12 October 1957. The building housed the offices of Rebet. He was killed by a special gun which sprayed cyanide gas. At the time the death appeared to be of natural causes.

winter-2011-062There was still work to be done for Stashynsky, and a little more than two years later he accomplished his goal. Stepan Bandera, the most popular and controversial Ukrainian nationalist leader, was killed by a modified version of the gun on 15 October 1959. He died at Kreittmayrstrasse 7, a hundred meters or so northwest of the Löwenbräukeller. He was interred at Munich’s Waldfriedhof, and his grave has become a sort of minor pilgrimage site for western Ukrainians.

Stashynsky was ordered by the Kremlin to kill Yaroslav Stetsko, but didn’t carry out the mission. Stetsko was yet another Ukrainian nationalist leader who had made Munich his home. Stetsko died of natural causes in 1986, in Munich five years before the creation of an independent Ukraine. A plaque commemorating Stetsko can be found on Zepplinstrasse in Munich.


Stashynsky later defected to the West and admitted to killing both Rebet and Bandera.

When Stashynsky was tried for his offences he was found guilty of much lesser charges than both Alexander Shelepin (Head of State Security) and Nikita Khrushchev. Stashynsky had become a KGB hit man after much pressure from the Soviet government on him and his family. The court ruled that the majority of responsibility lay at the feet of Khrushchev and Shelepin more so than the trigger man. Stashynsky’s last known residence was in South Africa with an assumed name and his German-born wife Inge.


Ten Things Most People Don’t Know About Ukraine

A recent look at the official statistics at Munich’s Kreisverwaltungsreferat (county authorities) showed that officially more Ukrainians live in Munich than either Brits or Americans. An estimated 12,000 Ukrainians live in or near Munich.

Here are 10 things you should know about Ukraine which might help explain the recent demonstrations war there. These factoids were culled from either Paul Robert Magocsi’s ‘A History of Ukraine’ or Orest Subtelny’s ‘Ukraine: A History’. Ukrainian schools often used a translated version of Subtelny (from English to Ukrainian) to teach pupils Ukrainian history. These two giants are considered by many scholars to be the two best sources for Eastern European studies in English.

  • Shortly before the Mongols sacked Kyiv in 1240, it had 35,000-40,000 inhabitants. London reached that number approximately a century later.

  • After the Mongols were vanquished, Ukraine was controlled by either the Polish/Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Tartars of the Ottoman Empire, the czars of Russia and eventually the Soviet Union. Except for a brief few months in 1918, Ukraine was never an independent country after 1240 until the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991.

  • From 1848-1917, western Ukraine was under the control of the Habsburgs. The Habsburgs gave western Ukraine near autonomy. The eastern part was led by the czar in Moscow, who considered Ukraine to be nothing more than a vassal state.

  • In 1919, six foreign armies were operating on Ukrainian soil. These included the French, the Romanians, the Hungarians, the Russians (Red and White), and the Poles. Three Ukrainian armies joined the fray: Red, White and Anarchist. Kyiv changed hands five times in 1919. Between the two world wars, Hungary and Czechoslovakia also found reason to have armies in Ukraine too.

  • Kyiv is known as the city of 300 churches. Before the Soviets conquered it Kyiv was known as the city of 3,000 churches.

  • The most important Ukrainian ever was Taras Shevchenko. He basically standardized and created the modern Ukrainian language. Statues of him can be seen all over Ukraine.

  • The Holodomor of 1933, ‘Death by Hunger’, caused the deaths of 4.5-5 million Ukrainians directly. Another 10 million died in the 1930s as a result. Stalin wanted the grain of Ukraine to feed his factory workers in the cities, and was only too pleased to decimate Ukraine, the only country with a population (and mentality) to cause problems internally for the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union denied it ever happened, but it is recognized as genocide by the United States and many members of the European Union, Stalin being the perpetrator.

  • The Soviet Union wasn’t able to completely pacify western Ukraine until the 1950s. The areas near the Carpathian Mountains were trouble spots for many years after WWII.

  • From 1657-1686 another ‘Thirty Years War’ but with a different name was fought in Ukraine between Poland, Russia, the Turks and the Cossacks. Cossacks’ leader Bohdan Khmelnytsky threw his countrymen’s lot in with Russia, forever aligning Ukraine with Russia and not Poland. Poland and Russia would continue to try and pull Ukraine into their respective spheres of influence.

  • Leonid Brezhnev and Leon Trotsky were born on Ukrainian soil, and Nikita Khrushchev moved there when he was 14.

GolodomorKharkivA brief look at the history of present-day Ukraine shows the tremendous amount of difficulties this country has had, and continues to have, to assert its rights as an independent state. Though many of the difficulties can be traced back to the behemothian neighbor Russia, it runs much deeper than that. Western Ukraine has enjoyed a bit more independence that eastern Ukraine, and this is one of the main factors as to why it has been in the lead when it comes to the demonstrations across war in the country.