Moscow Will Face a Partisan War if It Moves Deeper into Ukraine, Shukhevych Says

May 1, 2014
Yuriy Shukhevych. Photo by Sergei Krylatov/

Staunton, May 1 – Ukrainians have “enormous experience” with partisan war and will draw on it if Kyiv surrenders any more Ukrainian territory to Russia or if Moscow seizes any on its own, according to Yuriy Shukhevych, the leader of the Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian National Self Defense (UNO-UNSO) organization.

Shukhevych and the UNO-UNSO are often dismissed as marginal figures, but his argument here may be important because the prospect of facing such resistance is probably among most important factors keeping Moscow from moving to annex larger parts of Ukraine.

As many countries have learned, it is one thing to seize territory; it is quite another thing to pacify it, especially if a significant portion of the population is antagonistic and prepared to engage in partisan war. The number of troops, the amount of money, and the time required for the second are all far greater than for the first.

Shukhevych, the son of the commander of the Ukrainian Partisan Army and a man who spent 31 years in Soviet camps, said yesterday that he “would not be surprised if the current Ukrainian authorities will surrender [even] Lviv and Uzhgorod,” two cities in the far western portion of Ukraine.

“The Ukrainian government and parliament don’t work as is clear with regard to the situation in the southeastern part of the country. Now they have ‘surrendered’ the Donbass just as they did Crimea earlier,” he said, adding that he had “no answer” as to why they had felt that they had to act that way. And tomorrow, they may hand over even more.

Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov, Shukhevych continued, had not acted soon enough in the east and should have changed the leaders of the Ukrainian force structures there “much earlier and not in the very midst of the conflict.” Indeed, he should have replaced the militia in the east with men from Vinnitsa, Cherkassk, and Zhytomyr Regions.

But if the Ukrainian government doesn’t want to fight or feels it can’t, that not the case with the Ukrainian people. The 45 million of them have “a historical memory about conducting partisan wars,” and consequently, “if Russian forces advance into continental Ukraine, they will get a new Chechen war, one more terrible than the original.”

And that will have an impact on Russia itself: “an underground and partisan struggle” in Ukraine “will become a detonator” that will “blow up the Russian Federation from the inside.”

At a time when many in Kyiv are talking openly about Ukraine’s defeat in the east and even the impossibility of opposing Russian forces, Shukhevych’s argument is worth keeping in mind as is the one presented by Andrey Arkhangelsky about a fundamental shift in Ukrainian thinking at the popular level.

On the basis of his travels in Lviv and elsewhere in western Ukraine, the journalist draws three conclusions: First, the Russian threat is “playing into the hands of the old nationalism” because “militarism and nationalism always working as a pair.” In short, “Russian pressure is strengthening the position of local nationalists.”

Second, this nationalism is not being driven because people have memories direct or otherwise to the pre-Soviet past but rather because they very much have memories of the fact that “nothing in history lasts forever” and that one of the reasons the Russians won before was because their ancestors “sat quietly by their radio sets” rather than acting.

And third, Arkhangelsky says, “when ‘history’ begins, the residents of small countries, who are non-political always feel themselves passive participants, objects not subjects.” But now “for the first time,” Ukrainians “themselves have become the subject and even the catalyst of history.”

“They didn’t intend to go so far,” he suggests, “and it seems that they cannot understand what this means and how they should relate to it. But,” he concludes, “there is already no path back.” And that is something they very much do understand, even if the governments in Kyiv and other capitals do not.