Konovalets in Kyiv
This past week, I’ve noticed some new graffiti has been plastered all over my neighborhood. Take a look:
Ever the curious purveyor of street graffiti culture and especially, political street culture, I took a closer look. For all you Ukrainian history fans (and nationalists) out there, you’ll notice this is, in fact, Yevhen Konovalets, founder of the OUN or Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. Konavalets, a Galician native (and son of Polish woman I might add), studied law at the University of Lviv in the 1910s where he first became involved in Ukrainian nationalist activities. He fought in the Austro-Hungarian army during WWI and was taken POW by the Russians, but then fled and met up with other Galician-Ukrainian nationalist-minded soldiers and went to Kyiv. There they formed a number of military units that fought against the Soviets in Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine. He then helped create the Ukrainian Military Organization (UVO), which was to fight against both Poles and Russians in the turmoil that was post-WWI Eastern Europe.
Having lost out to both Poland and Soviet Russia in the civil war in Ukraine, Konovalets spent the next two decades in exile between Czechoslovakia, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. It was in 1929 that he created the OUN, which was to play a major part in WWII hostilities. The goal of the right-wing nationalist organization was to create an independent Ukraine through armed struggle (emphasis on “armed”). He was never to take part in this struggle again though, since in 1939 he was murdered by a NKVD agent in Rotterdam. Konovalets was sent a box of chocolates from a “friend” that blew up when opened (can’t blame the chekists for a lack of creativity). As historians of this time period know, Konovalets death was extremely important since it opened up an era of struggle within the Ukrainian Nationalist Organization between Andriy Melnyk and Stepan Bandera. This in-fighting was also to play out in dramatic fashion during the Second World War with the latter, Bandera, ultimately winning out and taking full control of the nationalist movement.
And thus, Konovalets has remained a symbol of Ukrainian nationalist struggle for the past seventy years or so now. Who is putting up this graffiti? That would be the Molodizhnyi Nationalistychnyi Konhres (MNR) (or Nationalist Youth Congress), which is a right-wing nationalist youth group created in the 2000s. They see themselves as the offspring of the OUN in the modern era whose goals it is to “to defend the rights and interests of young Ukrainians” and the “propaganda and ideas of Ukrainian nationalism.” As far as I can tell they are the youth section of the far-right Ukrainian Nationalist organization, Orhanizatsiia Ukrains’kykh Natsionalistiv Revoliutsiina OUN(r). They are both connected to the Nationalist Portal website, which is based right in the center of Kyiv on Yaroslaviv Val (news to me).
The 120 years noted in the graffiti refers to the 120th anniversary of Konovalets’ birth, which the MNK will be celebrating in Kyiv on June 14th at Drahomanov University (I think I’m busy that day). I’m curious about what kind or reception this type of organization has in Kyiv, to say the least. Kyiv is not exactly known for being a hotbed of far right-wing Ukrainian nationalism. I’ve already seen one of the Konovalets crossed out in spraypaint. More typically, one finds nationalist propaganda in the West, namely L’viv and in others places, like Lut’sk and Rivne. I suppose the larger question is: Does Kyiv, or Ukraine for that matter, need more of the 1920’s style of nationalist ideology that sacrifices militarism and ethnic essentialist understandings of race and nation? Is that going to make Ukraine a better place? Probably not.