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Life as Action

In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Stepan Bandera’s birthday


“… The defined sense of the Ukrainian state is to unite the entire nation and all lands under the sovereign rule of the Ukrainian people, ensuring all Ukrainian citizens’ freedom, justice, equality, welfare, personal development, and unrestricted possibilities to demonstrate creative potential!”


This statement represents the understanding of the very concept of independent Ukraine as suggested by Stepan Bandera, a person whose name is associated with dedication and patriotism by one part of the society while others feel only hatred towards him. Bandera’s personality and life story require careful review and reflection.

Stepan Bandera was born on 1 January 1909 in Staryi Uhryniv, a village in Kalush region of Galicia. His father, Andriy Mykhailovych Bandera, came from Stryi and served as a Greek Catholic clergyman and the parson in Berezhnytsa and Staryi Uhryniv, where he met Stepan’s mother Myroslava Bandera (Glodzinska). Her father was a priest as well. Andriy Bandera had seven more children apart from Stepan. The young boy remembered family meetings where both families’ members discussed the peculiarities of Ukrainians’ life under Austria-Hungary rule and perspectives of the independent Ukrainian state. Stepan Bander mentioned that his political views and social position were highly influenced by Pavlo Glodzinsky, who was one of the “Maslosoiuz” and “Sil’sky Gospodar” founders, Jaroslav Vesolovsky, ambassador to Austro-Hungarian government, and Mykhailo Gavrylko, sculptor.

The Banderas family actively participated in the development of Ukrainian statehood on Western Ukraine’s lands. Andriy Bandera contributed to establishing the Ukrainian government’s rule in Kalush region, helped developing military regiments consisting of former villagers, and later became the ambassador to the West Ukrainian People's Republic (also known as ZUNR) government. Stepan Bandera considered the union of ZUNR and UNR (Ukrainian People's Republic) in 1919 as the crucial factor that predetermined the development of his patriotic views. 10-year old Stepan witnessed the greatest military operation by the Ukrainian Galician Army called Chortkiv offensive since his family moved to Yagolnytsi village near Chortkiv exactly before that event due to the Second Polish Republic’s army advance in May 1919. Andriy Bandera served as the military chaplain in the Ukrainian Galician Army at that time while all other male members of this family were soldiers and officers. The Army continued moving to East Ukraine in July 1919 and Stepan Bandera returned to Staryi Uhryniv along with his mother and other female family members.

Stepan Bandera went to Ukrainian gymnasium in Stryi in October 1919 even though he did not attend the primary school. The matter was that the majority of these schools were closed since the beginning of World War I so that Bandera obtained elementary education at home. Bandera graduated in 1927 already being a member of the underground youth movement and a member of the scouting organization “Plast”.

After graduation from gymnasium Bandera was a social worker in Staryi Uhryniv, contributed to the work of Prosvita society and the sporting organization “Luh” local department’s development. He became the student of Lviv Polytechnic University’s agronomical department in 1928. Similarly to the majority of contemporary patriotic young people Bandera tried to overcome the frustration after the failure of the ZUNR government to preserve the independent state and participated in social and underground movements as the result. This feeling of frustration changed the attitude and perception of nations that contributed to the destruction of Ukrainian sovereignty and separating Ukrainian lands. This period of widespread attempts of overcoming the feeling of loss and rethinking ideology resulted in many young Galician people’s developing their own understanding of the possible solution to restoring Ukrainian sovereignty. Considering all the circumstances and political strategies of suzerains, this solution could not have been peaceful.

Stepan Bandera continued his social and political activity during studying at the university. He joined the student organization Osnova while being a freshman, worked for the “Sil’sky Gospodar” organization, and visited many villages in Lviv region completing Prosvita’s tasks. Bandera was a member of three youth organizations while he was a student: “Plast”, “Luh”, and “Sokil-Bat’ko”. Bandera joined the Ukrainian Military Organization right after graduating from the gymnasium continuing the membership in the Group of Ukrainian Nationalistic Youth.

Stepan Bandera was arrested for the first time in 1928. 

He joined the First conference of Ukrainian nationalists that was held in Stryi in 1929. Once the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) was established, Bandera started working in its propaganda department, combining this job with completing organizational tasks in the Kalush region. He established the system of publishing and distributing relevant nationalist-oriented materials during 1930 and became the head of the propaganda department in the regional executive of the OUN in 1931. He obtained more influential leadership roles since that event and eventually became the head of the OUN national executive in 1933. The OUN’s activity has changed after that since Bandera initiated active propagandistic work including massive campaigns’ organization since such events had more impact on masses. Stepan Bandera wrote that the OUN started the war against Bolsheviks with Mykola Lemyk’s assassination of the Soviet Secretary in the Soviet Union's consulate in Lviv. It is a well-known fact that the struggle against the Soviets became the main aim of the OUN’s activity after that.

Stepan Bandera was arrested once again after the assassination of Bronisław Pieracki, Polish minister of internal affairs, and sentenced to death during the trial in Warsaw. However, it was replaced with life imprisonment soon and the second trial in 1936 in Lviv confirmed it based on the activity of the OUN in general and Bandera’s in particular. Stepan Bandera was imprisoned until September 1939. 

He managed to escape from the Wronki Prison and stayed in Lviv for some time even though Soviet forces already occupied the city. In October 1939 Stepan Bandera followed the order of the OUN’s Provid and went to Krakow to join all other underground movements’ leaders who managed to escape from prisons. Once the contact with the OUN’s Provid was established, Bandera moved to Vienna and conducted many meetings with the OUN’s representatives from the Ukrainian lands. According to Bandera, these meetings in Lviv, Krakow, Pishchany, and Vienna resulted in the general decision to choose him as the speaker during the discussion of the organizational structure of the OUN with the OUN’s Provid. Thus, Stepan Bandera met Andriy Melnyk in January 1940 and made several demands that were already voiced before by other OUN representatives. Some of these demands included the rejection of Yaroslav Baranovsky’s leadership role in Ukrainian Nationalists’ Provid and cancellation of the OUN activities’ coordination with Germany’s military plans. Apparently, the discussion was unsuccessful and the OUN split into two factions.

The OUN-B became the faction that adopted a revolutionary approach under the command of Stepan Bandera and it was established in February 1940. A year later, the Second General Congress of OUN declared Stepan Bandera the head of the OUN-B Provid. This position allowed him to declare the creation of the Ukrainian National Government and the renewal of Ukrainian statehood on 30 June 1941. The development of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) started that day as well as the formation of the Banderivtsi legend and image of Bandera and his followers as the powerful force of resistance. This leadership role allowed Stepan Bandera to develop the new ideology of the OUN, making it free from the 1930s ideological influence and eventually finish his evolution as the philosopher of opposition and resistance.

Stepan Bandera remained to be the leader of the Provid that moved its headquarters to München despite some foreign OUN division’s disapproval and ideological differences. Bandera even tried to resign 1952 due to the opposition’s pressure but OUN leaders did not agree.

Soviet KGB agent Bohdan Stashynsky killed Stepan Bandera on 15 October 1959 using a cyanide poison spray gun. Even though Bandera was eliminated, Soviet leaders did not manage to reduce the ideological influence of the Banderivtsi movement. On the contrary, this influence became stronger since Stepan Bandera, as well as thousands of his followers from the OUN and UPA, became a martyr. The same is true for his entire family: Stepan’s father Andriy Bandera was shot and killed by NKVD agents in Kyiv in 1941, his brothers Oleksandr Bandera and Vasyl Bandera were arrested in 1941 by Gestapo and they both died in 1942 in Auschwitz concentration camp, another Stepan’s brother Bogdan Bandera went missing during the OUN’s mobile groups’ travels to Western and Eastern Ukraine. All other members of the Banderas family also suffered from both Nazi and Soviet repressions.

The term “Banderivets’” is alive for more than 60 years and different people represent different perceptions of this notion, from denoting the representative of the struggle against the communist regime to the umbrella term that unites all Western Ukrainians. The Bandera’s name influence is treated as dangerous by those who are in persistent opposition to the Banderivtsi movement. To be more precise, it is known that during the Soviet era simple mentioning of this name could have caused repressions, Bandera’s bust in Staryi Uhryniv was destroyed soon after installation, and even nowadays the monument on Stepana Bandery Street needs to be protected from assaults. Dmytro Dontsov’s idea of “permanent revolution” was further developed by Bandera’s activity and philosophy to be embodied in the political situation during the second half of the 20th century: the OUN resistance to Polish government transformed into UPA’s struggle against Nazi and Soviet rule, which, in turn, transformed into the Dissidents’ activities which resulted in political and national revival during the late 1980s and eventually contributed into the declaration of the independent Ukrainian state on 24 August 1991.

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Bandera, Stepan. Perspectives of Ukrainian Revolution. München, 1978.

Posivnych, Mykola. Stepan Bandera – A Life Dedicated to Freedom. Toronto-Lviv, 2008.

Vaskovytch, Grygory. Life and Struggle of Stepan Bandera. München, 1964.

Posivnych, Mykola, editor. Stepan Bandera: Documents and Materials (1920-1930). Lviv, 2006.



Ivan Fedyk, Associate Professor

Department of History