By FOIA Research
on December 18, 2018 - Last updated: November 7, 2023

Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN)

Early History (1923-1929)

When in 1923 the allied forces recognized Polish rule over western Ukraine, the underground Ukrainian Military Organization (Ukrainska viiskova orhanizatsiia, UVO), composed of Ukrainian veterans, turned to Germany and Lithuania for political and financial support. The UVO established contact with militant anti-Polish student organizations, such as the Group of Ukrainian National Youth, the League of Ukrainian Nationalists, as well as the Union of Ukrainian Nationalist Youth. After preliminary meetings in Berlin in 1927 and Prague in 1928, the founding congress took place in Vienna in 1929, where veterans of the UVO and the student militants united to form the OUN. Yevhen Konovalets served as its first leader, while its leadership council, the Provid, was comprised mostly of veterans based abroad.

After the assassination of Konovalets in 1938, Andriy Melnik was elected leader of the group. Melnik belonged to the older generation of OUN sympathizers, and was challenged by his younger competitor Stepan Bandera (1909-1959), who wanted to militarize the OUN.

The OUN collaborated with the Germans right up from the Polish invasion in September 1939. In December 19391 , the Gestapo trained Mykola Lebed and Bandera supporters in sabotage, guerrilla warfare and assassination techniques in Zakopane. Lebed personally supervised the torture and execution of Jews to harden his men.2

On February 10, 1941, Bandera organized a conference in Krakow to decide over the future leadership of the OUN, where Bandera was elected leader. This caused the to OUN to split into two factions in the spring of 1941: the so-called OUN-B was following Stepan Bandera, while the other adhered to Andriy Melnyk, who would subsequently lead the OUN-M.3

This did not hold both factions back to further collaborate with the Germans:

The OUN-M provided personnel for the Ukrainian social institutions the Germans permitted in occupied Poland. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the invasion force included two battalions of Ukrainian nationalists.4

On February 25, 1941, following negotiations with the leader of Abwehr, Wilhelm Canaris, Stepan Bandera received on behalf of the OUN-B two and a half million marks to form the corps of the future independent army of Ukraine.5 6 In April 1941, this "Legion of Ukrainian Nationalists", composed of 600 Banderites7 incorporated into the Roland and Nachtigall battalions, both equipped by the Abwehr, was created ad hoc with the aim of fighting the Soviets on behalf of the Third Reich.8 It was one of the units of the Brandenburg School Regiment, which then included all the commandos of the Wehrmacht.9

OUN-B leader Stepan Bandera held meetings with the heads of German intelligence regarding the formation of an Ukrainian army. On February 25, 1941, the head of Abwehr, Wilhelm Canaris, sanctioned the creation of the “Ukrainian Legion” under German command. The OUN-B expected that the raised units would become the core of a future Ukrainian army.

CIA recruitment amongst OUN members

Arnold M. Silver, senior CIA officer, and from 1945-1948 responsible of interrogating emigrés from Eastern Europe in Oberursel, Germany, said the following in regards to Soviet infiltration as well as support by the CIA 'to mount "joint" operations with these groups to send agents into the Soviet union':

Another picture that emerged from the Oberursel interrogations concerned the Soviet penetration of émigré groups. From the time of the October revolution of 1917, organizations of Russians, Ukrainians, and other ethnic nationals who fled abroad  were, as potential counterrevolutionary movements, high-priority targets for penetration by Soviet state security organs. It was clear from the information amassed in Oberursel and disseminated to SSU as well as to the Pentagon intelligence agencies that there was scarcely an émigré group that was not penetrated by the Soviets at various levels. This was particularly true of Russian, Ukrainian, and Baltic groups, with the Russian National Labor Union (NTS), headquartered in Frankfurt, and the Bandera and Melnik factions of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), centered largely in Munich, representing focal points of Soviet penetration activity. (...)

The totality of information was staggeringly convincing. It was astonishing, therefor, that in 1949 the CIA decided, in partnership with the British MI6, to mount "joint" operations with these groups to send agents into the Soviet union. Given the scale of Soviet penetration of the groups, it could not be expected that such operations would benefit anybody but the KGB, and of course for the next four years or so CIA and MI6 suffered one disaster after another. There was not one successful operation. The mass of information militating against this kind of blindness of the part of those responsible for the decision to operate with émigré groups was simply ignored, resulting in many lost lives of émigré agents, but this did not hinder the careers of the responsible officers. Promotions in the intelligence field, as in some other fields of endeavor, frequently come fastest to those who commit the greatest blunders with maximum noise."10


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