Mykola Lebed (Ukrainian: Микола Лебідь; January 11, 1909 - July 18, 1998), also known as Maksym Ruban, Marko or Yevhen Skyrba, was a Ukrainian nationalist guerrilla fighter and a WWII war criminal. He was among those tried, convicted, and imprisoned for the murder of Polish Interior Minister Bronislaw Pieracki, in 1936. The court sentenced him to death, but the state commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. He escaped when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939. As leader of OUN-B he is responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia.
In 1949 he emigrated to the United States and lived in New York. Through Prolog Research Corporation, a CIA funded organization, he gathered intelligence on the Soviet Union as late as into the late 1960s. The CIA project name for the operation was AERODYNAMIC. In 1991, the CIA still considered him a valuable asset. Federal investigators had considered Lebed a war criminal but did not pursue prosecution. He died in 1998.
Born in Novi Strilyscha, a small town in Galicia, nowadays western part of Ukraine (at the time, Austria–Hungary), Lebed completed his studies in Lviv which during the Interbellum was part of the Second Polish Republic. In 1930-32 he took an active part in setting up youth groups of Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) in the area around Lviv. From 1932-34 he directed communications between the Ukrainian Executive and the Foreign Command of the OUN.
In 1934, he participated in the preparation of the assassination of the Polish Minister of Internal Affairs Bronisław Pieracki. After the assassination he attempted to flee through Gdansk-Szczecin to Germany, but by order of Himmler was arrested by the Gestapo and handed over to the Polish authorities. During the Warsaw Process (1934–36) he was given the death penalty which was later commuted to life imprisonment. He escaped in September 1939 while being evacuated from the Bereza Kartuska prison due to the threatening Soviet invasion.
World War II
In 1940, during the internal conflict that erupted within the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) he supported Stepan Bandera, and, in 1941, became his assistant. In June 1941, he was one of the functionaries in the short-lived Ukrainian government. Lebed assumed control of Bandera's faction of the OUN in western Ukraine, which would come to dominate the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) until 1943.
Lebed was described as a "Ukrainian fascist leader and suspected Nazi collaborator",1 and later labeled as a "well-known sadist and collaborator of the Germans" by United States Army counterintelligence.2
In 1942, he was a participant in the 3rd Special Conference of the OUN, and headed the head council and the delegate for external contacts of the Direction of the OUN. In 1944 he became one of the founders of the Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council (UHVR) and the general Secretary of International Policies of the UHVR.
"In July 1944, before the Soviets took Lwów, the UHVR sent a delegation of its senior officials to establish contact with the Vatican and Western governments. The delegation was known as the Foreign Representation of the Supreme Ukrainian Liberation Council (ZP/UHVR). It included Father Ivan Hrinioch as president of the ZP/UHVR; Mykola Lebed as its Foreign Minister; and Yuri Lopatinski as the UPA delegate. [...] Until 1948, all three envoys were members of the OUN/B party and loyal to Bandera."3
At the recommendation of the UHVR he traveled to the West where he contacted various Western governments.
In 1948, he became a member of the OUN (Diaspora).
"A feud erupted in 1947 between Bandera and Stetsko on the one hand, and Hrinioch and Lebed on the other. Bandera and Stetsko insisted on an independent Ukraine under a single party led by one man, Bandera. Hrynioch and Lebed declared that the people in the homeland, not Bandera, created the UHVR, and that they would never accept Bandera as dictator. At an August 1948 Congress of the OUN Foreign Section, Bandera expelled the Hrinioch-Lebed group from the party and ordered his own followers in their organization to resign. Bandera still controlled 80 percent of the party and claimed exclusive authority to direct the Ukrainian national movement at home and in the emigration. He also continued terror tactics against anti-Banderist Ukrainian leaders in Western Europe and maneuvered for control of Ukrainian émigré organizations. U.S. intelligence officials estimated that up to 80 percent of all Ukrainian DPs from Eastern Galicia were loyal to Bandera. But Lebed, Hrinioch, and Lopatinky remained the official UHVR representation abroad."4
From 1949, Lebed lived in the United States. During 1952-1974, he headed the Prolog Research Corporation in New York; in 1982-85, he was Deputy Chairman and since 1974 he was a Member of the Board of Directors of the institution. From 1956-91 he was a member of the board of the Ukrainian Society of Foreign Studies in Munich and Toronto.
He died on July 18, 1998.
- Breitman, Richard & Goda, Norman G.W. Hitler's Shadow: Nazi War Criminals, U.S. Intelligence, and the Cold War. National Archives Publication. https://www.archives.gov/iwg/reports/hitlers-shadow.pdf.
- 1. Salazar, Christian and Herschaft, Randy, "Declassified CIA Files Detail Ties Between U.S. And Ex-Nazis," Huffington Post, February 10, 2011. https://web.archive.org/web/20150924140013/http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/11/cia-report-us-nazis_n_795359.html
- 2. Sam Roberts, "Declassified Papers Show U.S. Recruited Ex-Nazis," The New York Times, December 11, 2010. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/12/us/12holocaust.html.
- 3. Richard Breitman and Norman J.W. Goda, "Hitler's Shadow: Nazi War Criminals, U.S. Intelligence, and the Cold War," National Archives. https://iwpchi.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/hitlers-shadow.pdf.
- 4. Breitman & Goda, Hitler's Shadow, 78.