After World War I and the dissolution of Austria–Hungary, the territory of Eastern Galicia (Halychyna), populated by a Ukrainian majority but with a large Polish minority, was incorporated into Poland following the Polish–Ukrainian War. Between the wars, the political allegiances of Ukrainians in eastern Galicia were divided between moderate national democrats and the more radical Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. The latter group itself splintered into two factions, the more moderate OUN-M led by Andriy Melnyk with close ties to German intelligence (Abwehr), and the more radical OUN-B led by Stepan Bandera. When Poland was divided between Germany and the Soviet Union under the terms of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in 1939, the territory of eastern Galicia was annexed to Soviet Ukraine. In 1941 it was occupied by Germany.
Ukrainian leaders of various political persuasions recognised the need for a trained armed force. The Germans had earlier considered the formation of an armed force made up of Slavic people, but they decided this to be unacceptable as they regarded Slavs as sub-humans (untermenschen) compared to the Germanic ubermenschen master race. At the beginning of 1943, growing losses inclined Nazi leaders to alter their initial opinions.
Organizing the division
The idea to organize a division of volunteers from Galicia was proposed by the German Governor of District Galicia, Dr. Otto von Wächter. He suggested creation of a Waffen-SSdivision composed of Galician volunteers and designed for regular combat on the Eastern Front. The creation of 14th Voluntary Division SS Galizien was announced in April 1943 at ceremonies throughout Galicia. At least 50 documents including contemporary newspaper clippings, radio broadcasts and speeches etc. record the date of 28 April. By June 1943 the first phase of recruitment had taken place. Initially Wächter’s proposal (which he was certain would be supported by Ukrainian circles) was rejected. In Berlin Wächter was able to get support from Himmler who made the stipulation that the division would only made up of Galicians, who Himmler considered “more Aryan-like”. The terms “Ukrainian”, “Ukraine”, could not be used when addressing the division, stressing the Imperial Austro-Hungarian heritage of the term “Galizien”. David Marples suggests that the division was titled “Galicia” to ensure stricter German control to avoid direct use of inflammatory term “Ukrainian”.
Wächter approached the Ukrainian Central Committee, a nonpolitical social welfare organization headed by Volodymyr Kubiyovych which supported the idea of the formation of the division The Ukrainian Catholic Church demanded the presence of its chaplains in the division, which was usually not permitted by Germans. Thus the Ukrainian division along with the Bosnian one became notable exceptions.
Germans made two political concessions: It was stipulated that the division shall not be used to fight Western Allies, and would be used exclusively to “fight Bolsheviks”. The other concession was in that its oath of allegiance to Hitler was conditional  on the fight against Bolshevism and in the fact that Christian (mostly Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and Ukrainian Orthodox) chaplains were integrated into the units and allowed to function (in the Waffen-SS, only the Bosnian division and Sturmbrigade Wallonien had a clerical presence). The latter condition was instituted at the insistence of the division’s organizers in order to minimize the risk of Nazi demoralization amongst the soldiers.[page needed] Indeed, Nazi indoctrination was absent within the division.
The creation of foreign SS units had been carried out previously in the name of fighting against communism; with French, Dutch, Latvian,Estonian, Croatian, and Belarusian units, among others, had been created. The creation of a Ukrainian SS division was perceived by many in Ukraine as a step towards the attainment of Ukrainian independence and attracted many volunteers.
1st Ukrainian Division UNA
On 17 March 1945, Ukrainian émigrés established the Ukrainian National Committee to represent the interests of Ukrainians to the Third Reich. Simultaneously, the Ukrainian National Army, commanded by general Pavlo Shandruk, was created. The Galician Division nominally became the 1st Division of the Ukrainian National Army, although the German Army’s High command continued to list it as the Ukrainian 14th SS Grenadier Division in its order of battle. The Division surrendered to British and US forces by 10 May 1945.
The Ukrainian soldiers were interned in Rimini, Italy, in the area controlled by Polish II Corps forces. The UNA commander Pavlo Shandruk requested for a meeting with Polish general Władysław Anders in London, and asked him to protect the army against the deportation to Soviet Union. Despite the Soviet pressure, Anders managed to protect Ukrainian soldiers, as the former citizens of the Second Republic of Poland. This, together with the intervention of the Vatican saved its members from deportation to the USSR. Bishop Buchko of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had appealed to Pope Pius XII to intervene on behalf of the division, whom he described as “good Catholics and fervent anti-Communists”. Due to Vatican intervention, the British authorities changed the status of Division members from POW to surrendered enemy personnel and the Polish II Corps declined their deportation to Soviet Union. 176 soldiers of the division joined Władysław Anders‘s Polish army. In 1947, former soldiers of SS “Galizien” were allowed to emigrate to Canada and to the United Kingdom. The names of about 7,100 former soldiers of SS “Galizien” admitted to the UK have been stored in the so-called “Rimini List”. Despite several requests of various lobby groups, the details of the list have never been publicly released. Only in 2003 the anti-terrorist branch of Scotland Yard launched a massive investigation of the people from the list by cross-referencing NHS patient, social security and pension records. However the order to release confidential medical records was met with an outcry from civil liberties groups.
Accusations of war atrocities
Although the Galizien Division has not been found guilty of any war crimes by any war tribunal or commission, numerous unproven accusations of impropriety have been levelled at the division and at particular members of the division from a variety of sources. It is difficult to determine the extent of war criminality among members of the division. If prior service in Nazi police units is a measure of criminality, only a small number were recruited from established police detachments. Among those who had transferred from police detachments, some had been members of a coastal defence unit that had been stationed in France, while others came from two police battalions that had been formed in the spring of 1943, too late to have participated in the murder of Ukraine’s Jews. According to Howard Margolian there is no evidence that these units participated in anti-partisan operations or reprisals prior to their inclusion into the division. However, a number of recruits, prior to their service within the police battalions are alleged to have been in Ukrainian irregular formations that are alleged to have committed atrocities against Jews and Communists. However, both the Canadian government and the Canadian Jewish Congress in their investigations of the division failed to find hard evidence to support the notion that it was rife with criminal elements.
It has been claimed that the division destroyed several Polish communities in western Ukraine during the winter and spring of 1944. Specifically, the 4th and 5th SS Police Regiments have been accused of murdering Polish civilians in the course of anti-guerilla activity. At the time of their actions, these units were not under Divisional command but were removed from Divisional command and temporarily placed under separate German police command. Yale historian Timothy Snyder concluded that the division’s role in the ethnic cleansing of Poles from western Ukraine was marginal.
Recent releases at The National Archives
Home office papers reveal how 7,100 Ukrainian men from the 14th Waffen SS ‘Galicia’ Division were allowed to settle in Britain in order to protect them from persecution in Stalinist controlled Ukraine. The documents follow the case of the Ukrainian soldiers, from their capture in Italy by British forces to Britain’s reaction to an Italian treaty with the Soviet Union to repatriate the men. Catalogue reference: HO 213/1851, Ukrainian prisoners of war in Italy: possible transportation to UK for ‘screening’. Go to Discovery to view the images
Catalogue reference: HO 213/1853, Ukrainian prisoners of war: proposal to return to Germany if not accepted for release to civilian status as agricultural workers in UK. Go to Discovery to view the images
The most controversial element of the anti-government alliance is Svoboda (Freedom), an extreme right-wing political party that not only has representation in parliament, but has been dubbed by its critics as a neo-Nazi organization. Britain’s Channel 4 News reported that Svoboda has assumed a “leading role” in the street protests in Kiev, with affiliated paramilitary groups prominently involved in the disturbances. Svoboda flags and banners have been featured in the demonstrations at Kiev’s Independence Square. During the continuing street riots, one Svoboda MP, Igor Myroshnychenko, created an iconic moment of sorts when he allegedly helped to topple the statue of Vladimir Lenin outside a government building, followed by its occupation by protesters.
However, despite its extremist rhetoric, Svoboda cannot be called a “fringe” party – indeed, it currently occupies 36 seats in the 450-member Ukrainian parliament, granting it status as the fourth-largest party in the country. Further, Svoboda is linked to other far-right groups across Europe through its membership in the Alliance of European National Movements, which includes the British National Party (BNP) of the United Kingdom and Jobbik, the neo-fascist, anti-Semitic and anti-Roma party of Hungary. The leader of Svoboda, Oleh Tyahnybok, who has appeared at the Kiev protests, has a long history of making inflammatory anti-Semitic statements, including the accusation during a 2004 speech before parliament that Ukraine is controlled by a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia.” Miroshnychenko also called the Ukrainian-born American film actress Mila Kunis a “dirty Jewess.”
Tyahnybok has also claimed that “organized Jewry” dominate Ukrainian media and government, have enriched themselves through criminal activities and plan to engineer a “genocide” upon the Christian Ukrainian population. Another top Svoboda member, Yuriy Mykhalchyshyn, a deputy in parliament, often quotes Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, as well as other Third Reich luminaries like Ernst Rohm and Gregor Strasser.