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Rehearsal for Volhynia: Schutzmannschaft Battalion 201 and Hauptmann Roman Shukhevych in Occupied Belorussia, 1942

Source: Per Anders Rudling and Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe


This article is part of the special cluster titled Conceptualizations of the Holocaust in Germany, Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine since the 1990s, guest edited by Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe.

In 2007, Roman Shukhevych (1907–1950), the commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), was designated an official Ukrainian state hero. He has since become the object of an elaborate cult of personality. Lauded for his resistance to the Soviet authorities in 1944–1950, Shukhevych is highly controversial in neighbouring Poland for the ethnic cleansing that the UPA carried out in 1943–1944, as he commanded that organization.

Over a few months, the UPA killed around ninety thousand Poles, expelling hundreds of thousands of others. The brutal efficiency of this campaign has to be seen in the context of the larger war, not least Shukhevych’s training by Nazi Germany, in particular the military experience he obtained as a captain in the Ukrainian formation Nachtigall, and as a commanding officer in Schutzmannschaft Battalion 201, which served in occupied Belorussia. This article is an attempt at reconstruct Shukhevych’s whereabouts in 1942, in order to establish the context and praxis under which Shukhevych operated until deserting the auxiliary police in January 1943.


Long understudied or deliberately ignored, the memory of massacres carried out by the Bandera wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and its armed forces, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), against the Polish minority in Volhynia and Galicia in 1943 and 1944 has polarized Ukrainian memory domestically and led to tensions with Poland. Whereas recent years have seen a significant increase in the quality and quantity of research on this topic, the historiography remains sharply polarized, and many questions remain to be answered. Current scholarship has contextualized the ethnic violence in the larger context of the brutal German–Soviet war, and there has been an increased attention to the topic of collaboration and the impact of hands-on experience in the Holocaust and the brutal counter-insurgency campaigns in the occupied Soviet Union.

In order to understand the efficiency and brutality of the massacres of an estimated 91,200 ethnic Poles by a relatively small group of Ukrainian Nationalists over a short period of time, the background and training of the perpetrators, particularly in 1941–1942, becomes a relevant inquiry. Roman Shukhevych (1907–1950), the commander of the UPA, had distinguished himself in German service, combining his political activism as a Ukrainian Nationalist with a distinguished military record. In 1941, he was a commander of the battalion Sondergruppe Nachtigall, a military formation consisting near-exclusively of OUN(b) members, embedded into the Wehrmacht.4 The virulent denial of Shukhevych’s admirers notwithstanding, the involvement of Nachtigall soldiers in the brutal anti-Jewish pogrom in L’viv in the summer of 1941 and in massacres of Jews by Vinnytsia later that summer must be regarded as a historical fact.5 A less known, and often overlooked, aspect of Shukhevych’s service for Nazi Germany was his whereabouts in 1942, something often omitted in the nationalist historiography.6 During that year, Shukhevych served as a Hauptmann (captain) of the Schutzmannschaften, and stood under the command of the Höhere Polizei- und SS-Führer Heinrich Himmler. This paper is an attempt to fill out and contextualize this blank spot in Shukhevych’s biography.

A Restricted Source Base

The activities of the very institution of the Schutzmannschaften are one of the lesser-known episodes of the Holocaust, despite their central role in implementing the genocidal policies in the occupied Soviet Union. “The little-known role of the Gendarmerie and the Schutzmannschaft demonstrates the ‘open’ or ill-concealed nature of the genocide in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union. The Jews were killed by shooting in pits close to their neighbors. As German forces, especially Security Police, were so thin on the ground, most of the available local manpower had to be utilized to carry out such as vast programme,” Martin Dean, the leading authority on the topic, concludes. While there are considerable documentary evidence and witness accounts to establish the participation of the Schutzmannschaften in Nazi war crimes, the involvement of these formations in the Holocaust at the micro-level remains poorly researched. Unlike the murder of Jews, West German authorities did not generally treat the killing of local Slavs as racially motivated. Anti-partisan activities, similarly, were considered as conventional war crimes, and received limited interest from the Federal German prosecutors in Ludwigsburg. Subsequently, as much of the scholarship has been based on German archival records, atrocities carried out by local collaborators have received considerably less attention.

Researchers working on local perpetrators face significant difficulties. The OUN and UPA began the distortion of their records during the war itself, deliberately destroying evidence and producing false documents to “prove” their non-involvement in atrocities and war crimes. In emigration, the largest wing of the OUN, led by Stepan Bandera, has zealously protected its own archives, whereas its rival splinter group, the ZP UHVR/OUN(z), covertly supported by the CIA until 1991, systematically arranged its archives to obfuscate or omit all traces of collaboration and war criminality. It released documents selectively, re-typing and editing, or otherwise manipulated key documents to omit compromising sections, in particular with regard to the period of 1941–1942. The UPA veterans’ own chronicle of their organization’s activities, the Litopys UPA (Chronicle of the UPA), was devised to serve the ideological purpose of nationalist mobilization and has been criticized for being selective and tendentious. Alas, documents from collections put together by Ukrainian émigré nationalists and their front organizations in Ukraine obviously need to be treated with great caution.

Soviet war crimes trial records of former Schutzmänner were long inaccessible, and much of the Belarusian and Russian archives remain off-limits to scholars. Historians are only beginning to use the materials from Soviet war crimes trials. Access to Belarusian archives—in particular, the crucial archives of the Belarusian KGB—remains seriously restricted, and regional Ukrainian archives have often been reluctant to release materials that would contradict the official policies of venerating Shukhevych, the OUN(b), and the UPA.

In addition, many documents were destroyed during, or immediately after the war. As the German forces retreated, many members of the Schutzmannschaften followed them. A survey of about two hundred Schutzmänner indicated that more than 30 per cent of them remained in the west after the war. Few, if any, were held accountable for their actions. Western countries have yet to try a single Schutzmann for war crimes.21

Nachtigall Battalion

On 30 June 1941, in L’viv, the Bandera wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN(b)) issued a declaration of Ukrainian statehood, modeled on the Slovak and Croatian precedents. The OUN(b) appealed for German recognition of their state, which, they reassured Hitler, would be a dedicated member of his New European Order. Marching into the city of L’viv in the morning of 30 June 1941, shouting “Death to the Muscovite-Jewish Commune!” members of the unit took part in the violent anti-Jewish pogrom in L’viv on 30 June–3 July 1941.

The top leadership of the OUN(b)—in addition to Shukhevych, Stepan Bandera (1909–1959), Stepan Lenkavs’kyi (1904–1977) and Iaroslav Stets’ko (1912–1986)—shared the Nazi stereotypes of the żydokomuna, of Jews as the tools of Moscow and/or Bolshevism. The latter two openly approved of their extermination, and equated the fight against communism with that against Jews and Muscovites.

On 6–7 July 1941, the Nachtigall battalion was ordered east from L’viv, along the path Tarnopil–Sataniv–Mikhal’pol–Proskuriv (today Khmel’nitskyi)–Iuzvyni (today Nekrasovo) by Vinnytsia. It was a highly radicalized military unit marching eastward, having demonstrated a propensity to use violence against its enemies; singing, as they crossed the river Zbruch into pre-1939 border of Soviet Ukraine, the official OUN march We were born out of the blood of the people, with the stanza “Death! Death to the Poles! Death! / Death to the Muscovite-Jewish commune! / The OUN is leading us into a bloody battle.”

In the Vinnytsia area, the unit got involved in a skirmish with a Soviet unit, which appeared unexpectedly. The OUN’s internal documents show the unit carried out acts of anti-Jewish mass violence. According to the Nachtigall and Schutzmannschaft Battalion 201 veteran Viktor Kharkiv “Khmara” (1918–1988),

At the time of our march eastwards we saw with our own eyes the victims of the Judeo-Bolshevik terror, and the sight so strengthened our hatred of the Jews that in two villages we shot all the Jews we encountered. I recall one example. At the time of our march through one village we saw many vagrant people. Asked where they were going they answered that the Jews were threatening them and that they were afraid of spending the night in their houses. As a result of that, we shot all the Jews we encountered there.

By September 1941, the German refusal to accept the Ukrainian declaration of statehood complicated the relations with the leadership of Nachtigall.

Jews, Partisans, and “Bandits”

The German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1942 placed vast territories under German control. As German military personnel were spread thinly, Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel (1882–1946), the head of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, argued “Since we cannot watch everybody, we need to rule by fear.” From the onset, the German war in the east was one of racial extermination, and followed a strategy of extreme violence. Learning about Stalin’s call for a partisan movement in the summer of 1941, Hitler exclaimed, “That’s only good, it gives us a possibility to exterminate everybody who challenges our rule.”

The Führer compared the fighting of partisans with that of the struggle against “red Indians.” On 16 September 1941, Keitel issued an order that every German soldier killed in a partisan attack in the occupied Soviet Union would be avenged by the killing of “50–100 Communists.” At a September 1941 meeting for army officers, Höhere SS-Polizeiführer in Russland-Mitte Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski (1899–1972) and SSBrigadeführer Artur Nebe (1894–1945), the leader of Einsatzgruppe B, linked the partisans to the Jews: “Where the partisan is, there also is the Jew, and where the Jew is, is the partisan.” In December 1941, one month before the Wannsee conference, Himmler’s appointment book carried the cryptic note “Jewish question/to be exterminated as partisans.” The view that “the Jews are without exception identical with the concept of partisan” was a key assumption of the architects of the German counter-insurgency campaigns, which linked the expediency of exterminating Jews to counterinsurgency activities.

Local Collaboration during World War II

The shortage of German military personnel necessitated an increased reliance on local collaborators. The Schutzmannschaften — auxiliary police forces — were designated as an instrument, operating under the Gendarmerie, intended to carry out the “dirty work” (Schmutzarbeit) of the occupying forces,35 including the execution of Jews and Communists.36 Central assignments ranged from “anti-partisan warfare, searching the ghettoes and sealing them off during Aktionen, to executions at the murder sites.”37

While the Schutzmannschaften had constituted a fairly small force, they were drastically enlarged after the summer of 1942. From July 1942 to the end of that year, the overall strength of the Schutzmannschaft-Einzeldienst increased from about thirty thousand to more than two hundred thousand men.38 While half of the men worked in fire brigades, the dramatic growth of the Schutzmannschaften mirrored the growth of the pro-Soviet partisan formations. By October 1942, there were 55,562 local police in Ostland (i.e., the Baltics and Western Belorussia) but only 4,428 Germans, that is, a ratio of 1:13.39 With the exception of the Soviet POWs, the Schutzmänner were recruited on a voluntary basis.40

Nachtigall into Schutzmannschaft Battalion 201

Troubled by the OUN(b)’s declaration of Ukrainian statehood and the violent infighting between the two OUN wings that followed, the German command dissolved the Nachtigall battalion. On 13 August 1941, it was ordered to return from Vinnytsia to Neuhammer am Queis in Silesia (today Świętoszów), where it was disarmed. Its members were then transported to Frankfurt an der Oder. On 21 October 1941, the soldiers were reorganized as the 201st Ukrainian Schutzmannschaft Battalion, which consisted of four companies.41 The formal commander of the battalion was major Ieven Pobihushchyi (1901–1995), under the supervision of the German Hauptmann Wilhelm Mocha.42 Roman Shukhevych’s title was that of Hauptmann (captain) of the first company and deputy commander of the legion.43 Even though enrollment was voluntary, of the around three hundred remaining members of the Nachtigall division, only about fifteen declined to sign up for service in the Schutzmannschaften.44 The men of Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 wore German police uniforms without national symbols. The members named the battalion after Ievhen Konovalets (1891–1938), the founding leader the OUN, an organization to which almost all of its members belonged.45 To the battalion were added sixty Soviet POWs from Poltava and Dnipropetrovs’k oblasti, selected by Shukhevych.46 Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 would become a nursery in which several future commanders of the UPA and the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Galician) were trained. Besides Roman Shukhevych himself, these included Oleksandr Luts’kyi (1910–1946), the organizer and first Commander of the UPA-West, based primarily in Galicia, and his successor Vasyl Sydor (1910-1949), who commanded UPA-West in 1944–1949.47 No fewer than eighty-three of its soldiers would serve in the UPA, and at least thirty-two of them in Volhynia.48

Having completed their training in Germany, the soldiers of Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 signed a one-year contract with the Germans.49

On 16 March 1942, the battalion was ordered eastwards. To the Schutzmänners’ disappointment, they were not sent to Ukraine, as they had hoped, but to northeastern Belorussia, “in the vicinity of the town of Barouka, to protect military installations and fight Soviet partisans,” according to Litopys UPA.50 Pobihushchyi wrote in his memoirs that the unit was ordered into military assignment, or Einsatz, at an undisclosed location on 19 March, but that the order was sent directly to his Absichtsoffizier, Mocha, but not himself, the commander.51 According to Kal’ba, the soldiers arrived “on the morning of March 23, 1942, the transport arrived at the station in a city already on the territory of Belorussia.”

During the German occupation, this territory, which between 1924 and 1941 had been a part of the Belorussian SSR, was not part of the Generalbezirk Weissruthenien, which covered only a quarter of pre-war BSSR (and which, in turn, was part of Reichskommissariat Ostland) but stood under direct military administration as part of the territory administered by Armeegruppe Mitte.53 Upon its arrival in Belorussia, the Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 replaced a Latvian Schutzmannschaft battalion. It was to operate in the area occupied by the Heeresgruppe Mitte, specifically in the territory occupied by the 201 Sicherungsdivision of the Wehrmacht under the command of Major General Alfred Jacobi (1884–1972) (Figure 1).

The battalion was spread out over twelve different posts, or Schutzpünkte, in the triangle Mahilieu–Vitsebsk–Lepel, guarding a territory of 2,400 square kilometers. Schutzmannschaft Battalion 201 was stationed in this region along with the 707th and the 102nd Infantry Division of the Wehrmacht, and also the 203 Reserve Division and the 51 Reserve Battalion. As these were ineffective in subjugating the spread of partisan resistance, the brutal SS- Sonderkommando of Oskar Dirlewanger, Schutzmannschaft battalion 201, and five additional Schutzmannschaft battalions from Lithuania were sent to the region.

Figure 1. The area of operations of the Sicherungsdivision 201.
Figure 1. The area of operations of the Sicherungsdivision 201.

Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 in Occupied Belorussia, 1942

Very little scholarly research has been conducted on the unit. Andrii Bolianovs’kyi’s magisterial work on Ukrainian military formations in the service of Nazi Germany dedicates but a few pages to the battalion’s whereabouts in 1942.56 Frank Golczewski describes the activities of Schutzmannschaft Battalion 201 as “fighting partisans and killing Jews.”57 Instead, most of the existing writings have been published by activists affiliated with the émigré OUN(b) or its façade organizations, heavily vested in rehabilitating and promoting the legacy of Shukhevych.58

Several veterans of Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 made it to the west after the war, where many were active participants in émigré politics.59 Unsurprisingly, the veterans themselves and their admirers present the unit’s activities in patrimonial terms as a benign tutoring of the passive and cautious local Belarusian population in national consciousness. The relations with the locals are characterized as excellent; their recollections acknowledge no wrongdoing on the part of the battalion.60

The veterans were acutely aware of efforts to track down collaborators and perpetrators.61 Virtually all of the veterans’ accounts are edited in such a way that the reader would not learn that the division was stationed in Belorussia. Moreover, this effort was coordinated by the émigré OUN(b) publishing house, bringing together the top OUN(b) leadership, such as Stepan Lenkavs’kyi and the ranking officer of the unit, Evhen Pobihushchyi-Ren.62

The last surviving veteran, Myroslav Kal’ba (1916–2013), a non-commissioned officer in Nachtigall and the Schutzmannschaft battalion 201,63 who edited six books on the formation, which the nationalists prefer to refer to euphemistically as DUN, Druzhyny Ukrains’kykh Nationalistiv, either avoids listing the battalion’s specific geographic whereabouts in 1942 or uses abbreviations, referring to the cities “K.,” “M.,” and “L.,” the villages “Zh.,” “V.,” and “P.,” “the small city B.,” or “the locality H.”64 The excisions from the text are so significant that they bring their usefulness as a source into question. With the opening of the Soviet archives, the picture has become clearer. Historian Daniel Romanovsky, in the authoritative USHMM Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, identifies two headquarters of the battalion: “From July 1942 it fell under the 201st Security Division, with its headquarters in the village of Barouka, northeast of Lepel’,”65 and also, that “Polotsk became the site of the 201st Security Division’s headquarters.”66 Ivan Patryliak identifies the unit’s Stutzpünkte as Lepel’, Boichekovo, Komeno, Zhary, Voronezh (by Biarezina), Barisau, Velivshchyno, and Beshankovichy.67

The Killing Fields of Belorussia

The unit arrived at one of the most brutally violent scenes of World War II at a time of escalating tensions. After a massive wave of mass shootings of its Jewish population in the fall of 1941, the year 1942 saw the completion of the Holocaust of the Belorussian Jews, and the liquidation of most of the ghettos across Weissruthenien.68 During a period of ten weeks, a massive wave of massacres between mid-May and late July 1942 left fifty-five thousand Jews dead.69

If Kal’ba’s recollections are correct, the unit arrived in Barouka only days after the Lepel’ ghetto was liquidated. Local historians describe how, on 28 February 1942, on the Jewish cemetery, “the Hitlerites and Polizei” massacred the men, women, children, and the elderly in the Lepel’ ghetto: “In freezing cold, the Jews were forced to undress and were chased out of their houses, brought on trucks to the village of Chernoruch’e to already prepared ravines, were they dumped the corpses of shot old men, women, and children. Over two thousand people were killed.”70

Located along the railroads connecting Minsk, Vitsebsk, Polatsk, Vorsha, and Barisau, the city of Lepel’ was strategically important. A former Soviet military sanatorium in the nearby village of Barouka lodged the rear of the Third German Army.71 It was also a local center of the Soviet partisans, a source of pride for Belorussian officials, and something heavily stressed in contemporary Belarusian publications.

The Lepel’ lands suffered horrific losses in the years of the Great Patriotic War; over 5,200 people of the peaceful population was exterminated, and 48 villages burnt. The Lepel’ raion was known as one of the centers of the partisan movement in the years of the Great Patriotic War. During this period a large part of the raion was part of the Polotsk-Lepel’ partisan zone, in which 17,000 partisans were active, united in the 16th brigade under the command of the Hero of the Soviet Union, V. E. Lobanka. . . . As a memory of the war years, on the territory of the raion there are 80 mass graves.72

In order to facilitate access—and, no doubt, affirm the politically expedient memory of the “Great Patriotic War,” a cornerstone of the Belarusian government’s identity building—the National Archive of the Republic of Belorussia (NARB) is digitizing and making readily available testimonies and primary documents on the German campaigns to create “dead zones” in partisan-infested areas.

Brutal massacres and destruction of entire villages, along with their residents, increased in scope and brutality during the time of the unit’s presence. Such massacres were carried out in the immediate vicinity of Barouka: In May 1942, Zaozer’e was destroyed. Sixty-three houses were burnt, and seven people were killed.73 On July 10, 1942, all twelve houses of Kiasileva/Kistelëvo, of the Nesensko selsovet (Rural Soviet) of the Lepel raion, were razed. “The village was burnt July 10, 1942 by the Germans along with the local residents (28 people). Before burning the village, its residents were shot by pistol shots in their homes,”74 a 1969 Soviet inventory into the scope and details of the number of burnt villages in the Vitsebsk oblast notes drily. In July 1942, the village Varan’ of the Lepels’kyi raion was razed—forty-two houses burnt and sixteen people killed.75

In the morning of July 10, 1942, a fascist punitive detachment and Polizei arrived in the village of Kiasileva/Kistelëvo. All residents were gathered and chased to the village of Kostinka. The punitive detachment brought everything that they could from the houses, and thereafter burnt the village. At the same time the Polizei dug up a ravine—the grave of the Kiasileva/Kistelëvo residents. When the dig in the ravine was ready, the village residents were chased there, two-three people at the time, and shot at point blank. The last old man to be shot was the village elder Svidir Shnitko, an old man of 75. On October 28, 1942, alleging that the residents of the village of Kvetcha had not fulfilled their grain quota by October 27, a punitive squad arrived, burnt the village and shot over 40 people. After an unsuccessful partisan attack on the garrison in the village Pyshko, the fascists, in revenge, organized a punitive expedition to the villages Slobodka, Punishche, and Krivtsy, shot and brutally tormented 159 people. According to archival data, during the years of the war, in the Lepel area more than 4,700 people were killed, among them 1,600 women, 550 children; 903 people were brought to penal forced labor (katorzhnye raboty) in Germany. During the war years in the Lepel’ raion, totally or partially, the Hitlerites wiped out 47 villages.76

Unsurprisingly, the veterans’ own accounts of their whereabouts in Belorussia make no mention of such atrocities carried out by the auxiliary police forces. Rather, they present the battalion’s tasks as being of a purely military nature. Ievhen Pobihushchyi describes the military assignment as

defending the major bridges across the rivers Biarezina and Dzvina and to prevent Bolshevik partisans from destroying them. That was the main assignment, and for that purpose, the legion was distributed over an area nearly 50 kilometers long, and approximately 50 kilometers wide, and the soldiers were quartered in the villages in groups of 40, since their task was to protect the local administration. In addition to this, the legion’s assignments included a constant clearing of the forest of Bolshevik partisans. Such combing operations (besides being very dangerous) required no less than two formations (80 men), which, in turn, weakened our positions in the villages, the so-called Stutzpünkte. Still—regardless of various difficulties, the entire time – that is from March 22 to December 31, 1942—the Legion, painstakingly and in an exemplary fashion carried out its military service in such a way that the Bolshevik partisans would not be able to destroy another large bridge.77

These were indeed pressing military matters, which required attention. A similar key concern was the so-called Vitsebsk or Surazh Gates, a forty-kilometer-long breach in the German front line on the current Belarusian–Russian border between the German Army groups “North” and “Center” that had been forced open by a shock attack by the third and fourth Soviet Armies and remained open from February to September 28, 1942. Through this opening, ammunition, weapons, sabotage groups, and medical supplies reached the Soviet partisan underground behind the front.78 There were various partisan formations in the region. Partisan Detachment 406 carried out military operations on the Minsk–Vilnius, Maladzechna–Polatsk, and Minsk–Lepel’ railroad lines. Over the course of the war, this detachment attacked 148 highway bridges and blew up three railroad bridges. One of their more spectacular attacks was carried out on October 14, 1942 when they destroyed “9 automobiles and 70 Nazis on [the] Pukhavichy-Omel’na road.”79

Yet even the memoirs of the Schutzmänner themselves indicate that the battalion had alternative assignments beyond the safeguarding of the infrastructure. Pobihushchyi wrote that his soldiers “found out” that in the vicinity there was a camp for Soviet POWs. According to Pobihushchyi, Shukhevych attempted to have forty-five Ukrainian POWs released from that camp in order to join the Schutzmannschaften, but was prevented from doing so as a punishment for refusing to participate in an operation of forced grain requisitions from the local Belarusian population.80 Viktor Kharkiv “Khmara” recalled in 1944,

In early February the Legion, already under the name Schutzmannschaft battalion 201, travels eastwards, not to Ukraine but to Belorussia. Our battalion (kurin’) joined the protective (skladokhoronnoi) division 201, commanded by General-Major Jacobi. The task of our battalion in Belorussia is to fight remaining Bolsheviks (desanty) and partisans. The battalion was active in the raion of Lepel’-Vitsebsk. Also the staff of the above-mentioned division was located in this raion. The battalion’s attitude to the local population was friendly throughout. As an evidence of this could be mentioned that the battalion collected food for the Christmas celebration for the children who it protected in the small city of Cherven’.81

Interrogated by the NKVD at the very end of the war, Nachtigall and Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 veteran Oleksandr Luts’kyi82 gave the following account of the activities of the battalion:

In mid-April 1942 we were brought from Minsk to the city of Lepel’, where we were divided into four groups. Each group was assigned particularly important military objects to be safeguarded, but the primary task was to fight the Soviet partisan movement in the Lepel’, Ushycha, and Beshankovichy raiony. Personally, I belonged to a group of the legion of approximately 90 people, brought to the south of the city of Lepel’, to the village Veleushchyna, where I took part in the safeguarding of roads, the protection of the representatives of the German command, which moved along the roads from place to place. Several times I was sent out on assignments to liquidate Soviet partisans. The information we received was passed on to the staff of the legion, located in the city of Lepel’.83

Luts’kyi stated that “in October of 1941 the entire legion was put under the disposal of the SS, and the Germans used us to fight Soviet partisans. At that point our battalion was already named Schutzmannschaft battalion 201.”84 Schutzmann Volodymyr Pavlyk (1915–1947) told his Soviet interrogators that “in 1941 and 1942, I served in the German armed formations as a commander of a platoon and company. In that period I, as a platoon and company commander, did not participate in the battles against partisans and the Red Army but helped organize them and sent them into battle against the Red partisans.”85 The interrogation reports from that of other veterans, such as Schutzmann Omelian Pol’ovyi (1913–1999) make no mention of the activities of battalion 201.86 The way the Soviet interrogators framed their questions show that they were more interested in the veterans’ role in Nachtigall in 1941 and in the UPA from 1943 than in their whereabouts in 1942.

As to Shukhevych himself, he appears to have had significant liberties (Figure 2). In 1942, he visited Ukraine serval times, meeting with, among others, acting OUN(b) leader Mykola Lebed (1909 or 1910–1998) in L’viv in “mid-1942.”87 According to Alfred Bisanz (1890–1951), who was responsible for liaisons with the Ukrainian Nationalists in the Generalgovernement, Shukhevych visited his department in L’viv three times during 1942, in February, May, and November. Interrogated by the Soviets in November 1949, Bisanz stated, in regard to the May 1942 meeting,

“I asked [Shukhevych] about the activities of the Ukrainian battalion at that time. He answered that the battalion takes part in the Germans’ punitive operations against Soviet partisans in Belorussia. In connection with this, SHUKHEVYCH told me that his battalion several times got involved in battles against Soviet partisans and had some losses among its men.”88

Figure 2. Ukrainian officers of Schutzmannschaft Battalion 201, in Belorussia, no earlier than July 1942. Roman Shukhevych second from left, front row.

Schutzmann Krochak’s Diary

As to the unit’s activities in occupied Belorussia, the historian has a number of sources to work with. One of which is the heavily redacted and selective sections of Schutzmann Teodor Krochak’s (1921–1995) diary, published and edited by the émigré OUN(b) in 1953.89 The text is deliberately redacted to make it impossible to determine his unit’s exact whereabouts in Belorussia. Krochak’s diary places Shukhevych in the Belorussian “city M.” from March 22 to 30, 1942, where “sot[nyk] Shukhevych has to serve often at the staff, where he carries out his most important tasks.”90 According to the excerpt from Krochak’s diary, the battalion suffered its first loss on May Day, 1942, when “early in the morning in the village P.” a red banner appeared on one of the buildings. When one of the battalion’s soldiers, the NCO Viiuk “wanted to tear down that hated scarf (plakhta)” a mine went off, “badly destroy[ing] his leg. He died en route to the hospital.”91 If the unit had suffered minimal losses to this point, the situation began to change around midsummer. The next skirmish Krochak lists took place on June 16, 1942, during which the battalion “in a four-hour battle suffered the losses of two people, the NCO Petro Pronyk and Osyp Sirko. The reds sustained losses in the dozens, including one officer, and several wounded.”92 On July 4, 1942, Soviet Belorussian snipers killed one of the battalion’s soldiers, Kachor.93 Without mentioning Barouka, Krochak’s diary stated that Shukhevych was back at the battalion headquarter in Belorussia on July 7.94 On July 25, in the village “H.,” Krochak’s detachment clashed with the Bolsheviks, burnt the village, opening fire with heavy stationary machine-guns and grenade launchers, “liquidating the enemies in the houses.” During this operation, “the temperamental NCO Khmelyk could not hold back and ran in between the burning houses and disappeared, creeping up to that rapid machine gun fire from dense bushes. After a few minutes we feel the explosion of a heavy grenade behind the hill, and the machine gun turned silent . . . but Khmelyk never again returned to us; possibly, during this mission he was killed by the blast.”95 During the retreat, two soldiers were killed, the machine gun operator Bobenko was shot by a sniper in his heart, and the soldier Tsutsurak was hit by a bullet in his back as they were retreating from the village. Krochak does not find consolation in inflicting disproportionate losses on the enemy: “Even though our losses, in relation to the enemy, were at least 1:20 . . . it meant little satisfaction to us, when we looked at our best, fallen comrades.”96 Without naming the village “H.,” Krochak wrote that he later learned that this was “the ‘capital’ of the Bolshevik partisan ‘republic.’ . . . In that accursed village remained only a handful of passive residents. The rest were partisans, mostly with their families. In village H. was located the very partisan central, including its political administration.”97

On July 29, Krochak noted, “on the road from village L. to Zh., Our ambulance hit a mine, killing Ivan Blashchak.”98 On August 10, a partisan ambush against a convoy of the Grenzschütz kills two Germans; Krochak’s unit “almost totally exterminated” the partisan unit of ten to fifteen men, without suffering any casualties themselves.99 On August 25, Krochak’s convoy ran over a heavy anti-tank mine, in the locality “U.,” which killed the German driver, whose name he gives, in Cyrillic transliteration, as “Rais,” and wounded Krochak in his arm, following which he received permission to return to L’viv for a month.100

As of late summer 1942, with the exception of the Absichtsoffizier Wilhelm Mocha, Pobihushchyi-Ren characterized the relations between Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 and the German command as amicable and friendly. Pobihushchyi-Ren describes SS-Obergruppenführer Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski’s (1899–1972) visit to the unit as being a cordial, even jolly, event, a fraternal meeting of officers.101 According to Pobihushchyi, Shukhevych’s outstanding racial qualities convinced Bach-Zelewski that the unit’s officers were worthy to wear officer’s designations on their uniform.

Von [dem] Bach [-Zelewski] calmly walked up to the aircraft, and requested that some of the other officers also should be present, so that he would be able to meet and talk to them. More soldiers gathered in front of the aircraft. Shukhevych was among them, but without officer’s insignia, since [Ukrainian] officers did not wear any. Von [dem] Bach [-Zelewski] looked at Shukhevych and said: “the solder over there is entirely of Germanic type.” Obviously, [Bach-Zelewski’s] understanding of that type meant possession of extraordinary intelligence and energy, something commanding over [Shukhevych’s] facial features. Shukh[evych] laughed. Shukhevych did not need any officers’ insignia—even foreigners recognized the soldier in him, and that this was a born commander. Major Pobihushchyi presented Shukhevych, and said: “also among us you find types, similar to yours.” . . . After his encounter with Shukhevych, a “Germanic type” without officer’s insignia, commander von [dem] Bach [Zelewski], ordered to immediately issue all officers German insignia.102

As the Soviet partisan movement gained in strength, the situation became more precarious. During one of the last days of September 1942, in clashes with the increasingly assertive Soviet partisans, the battalion sustained traumatic losses. “Accursed day! Accursed Zh.! This day is written into the history of our Legion,” reads the Krochak’s diary entry for October 2, 1942.103 “The best platoon [chota] of the “1.” company [sotinia], with the best lieutenant [chotovyi], Kashubyns’kyi, returned to its former post [Stützpunkt], with a unit of twenty-nine men. On an open field by the forest they were attacked by a partisan unit. The entire group was killed, their bodies mutilated. The following day they were buried in a mass grave.”104

The field chaplain of Schutzmannschaften 201, father Vsevolod, in a letter to Metropolitan Andrii Sheptyts’kyi (1868–1944), lamented

The railroad tracks are sometimes mined, and the trains are often fired upon with machine guns. This last month, that is, September, was full of such unpleasant surprises. Lately, the partisans, which are by now an outright military formation, have become very aggressive. The day of September 30, I buried in a mass grave 26 of the best and bravest boys of our battalion (kurin’), led by lieutenant (chotaria) Roman Kashubyns’kyi. An entire formation (chota), which was convoying our wounded from the battlefield to the post, routed the partisans after a long day in battle. They had run out of ammunition. The losses were serious and it was painful to bury them. This is not the sort of finale we had anticipated for our struggle. This humiliation has triggered a state of psychological depression among both officers and soldiers. We don’t see an end to this.105

On October 30, 1942, von dem Bach-Zelewski noted twenty-six casualties from Schutzmannschaft battalion 201, four Germans and twenty-two “fallen members of the Schutzmannschaften.” Unlike Krochak’s and Vsevolod’s accounts, the German report notes a disproportionate retaliation; enemy losses were listed as eighty-nine dead and twenty wounded.106

An unreferenced footnote, published in Litopys UPA in 2007, that is, after virtually all of the battalion’s veterans had passed away, read,

They were buried in the village Barouka by the small city Lepel’ in the Vitsebsk oblast. At that funeral, according to the recollections of the eye witnesses, R. Shukhevych, for the first and last time, wept bitterly with his soldiers and NCOs. In all, in battle with the Bolshevik partisans close to 50 soldiers of the DUN Legion were killed. Towards the end of 1942 it had in its ranks 650 soldiers and 22 officers, five German liaison officers and physicians.107

Soon thereafter, on November 1, 1942, the unit also saw battles with Soviet partisans, in which three members of the units were killed, and three wounded.108 Bisanz’s November 1942 meeting with Shukhevych reflects the unit’s sapped morale. But Shukhevych relayed to him something else, which the veterans’ post-war accounts only allude to:

In November 1942, I received Shukhevych in L’viv in connection with the large number of deserters from the battalion. . . . SHUKHEVYCH said that his battalion was conducting frequent punitive operations, not only against Soviet partisans, but also against the civilian population of Belorussia.109

What was the nature of these frequent punitive operations against the civilian population in Belorussia that Shukhevych’s auxiliaries, as a matter of routine policy carried out in retribution for partisan attacks? To get a better understanding of this, we need to look at the general situation in occupied Belorussia from the fall of 1942.

The extermination of Belarusian Jewry had reached its most intense phase in the fall of 1941 and early 1942, when the bulk of its Jews were ghettoized and murdered. In the Vitsebsk area the murders continued through 1942. Martin Dean writes “The ghettos liquidated in the first six months of 1942 were mainly smaller ones in more remote towns and villages, although a few were larger, such as that in Beshenkovichi, [Be: Beshankovichy] which contained more that eight hundred people. The Khotimsk ghetto was liquidated in early September 1942 and was probably not the last ghetto in the region, as Belorussian sources date the liquidation of the Sloboda ghetto to October 1942.”110 Whereas Khotimsk lies to the south of the unit’s area of operation, and Sloboda on the outer border of the unit’s area of operation, Beshankivichy is located 45 km from Barouka, at the very heart of the area of Schutzmannschaft battalion 201’s operations.

In August 1942, the 201st Sicherungsdivision launched Operation “Panther” in the Rossoshanskyi raion, in September 1942 Operation “Luchs” in the Beshankovichi raion, in September–October 1942 Operation “Blitz” in Beshankovicheski and Sirotinski raions, and in November 1942 Operation “Affenkäfig” in the Horodotskii, Mekhovskii, and Nevel’ raions. The losses were disproportional; in September 1942, the 201st Sicherungsdivision reported about the destruction of 864 partisans and the transfer of 245 men to the Secret Field Police, whereas the division itself sustained eight killed and twenty-five wounded.111

Interrogated by the NKGB of the BSSR in 1945, General Johann-Georg Richert (1890–1946), the commander of the 286th Security Division mentions two major anti-partisan operations in the area during the time of Schutzmannschaft battalion’s assignment there. The first one was conducted in the first half of June 1942 “in the area of the Mahileu-Cherven’ highway, the river Druch, the Mahileu-Osipovichi railroad and the river Biarezina. The operation lasted five days.” Richert states that along with an “artillery division, a police battalion, a squadron of Cossacks, the so-called Eastern and Biarezina battalions . . . [and] two police regiments,” it included two Schutzmannschaft battalions (okhrannyie batal’ony). A similar operation, with similar forces and including two Schutzmannschaft battalions, was carried out in the second half of August 1942, between the Vorsha–Vitsebsk and Smolensk–Vorsha railroad lines. It lasted four days.112 The operations were carried out by encircling and destroying the partisans, including houses and livelihood for the local population. In the first operation, Richter said, “about 400 partisans” were killed, in the second, 250.

During the time of these operations my military behaved harshly, in particular: executions, burning of villages, gathering livestock and foodstuff. In the first operation, as far as I remember, on my orders the secret field police (“GFP” [Geheime Feldpolzei]) shot 170 peaceful residents, suspected of aiding the partisans, in the second operation 80 people. . . . During battle were burnt, in the first operation, seven villages, of which I recall the village Dulevo in the Biarezina raion, in the second three to four villages, the names of which I no longer recall.113

The intensification of Soviet partisan resistance was invoked as a pretext to mop up and murder any remaining Jews. On September 8, 1942, Generalkommissar Wilhelm Kube of Weissruthenien ordered the stepping up of violence toward the remaining Jews who had escaped the ghettos before their annihilation, using increased partisan warfare as a pretext for their extermination, claiming that “the strong presence of Jews with the partisans could only be countered by the accelerated cleansing of the countryside and by confining needed Jewish workers under close guard.”114 The late summer and fall of 1942 also saw large-scale massacres of the Jewish population in Soviet areas under military administration, such as the August 1942 massacre of the Jews of the Rostov-na-Donu at Zmievskaia Bal’ka.115 As Timothy Snyder notes, “In the second half of 1942, German anti-partisan operations were all but indistinguishable from the mass murder of Jews.”116

Given Keitel’s order of disproportionate retaliation, it would be reasonable to assume a further, sharp escalation of violence against the local population, something reflected in Shukhevych’s November conversation with Bisanz. It does appear that Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 distinguished itself during this very period of violent escalation. In his diary, Krochak proudly boasts that von dem Bach-Zelewski, in October 1942, claimed that Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 was his best detachment.117 If this is correct, it would all but confirm the unit’s participation in the utterly brutal violence of the anti-partisan operations.

Some correspondence between Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 and its German commanders has been preserved, the last of which was sent on November 3, 1942, at which point the unit was stationed twenty kilometers north of Lepel’.118 Two weeks later, writes Daniel Schmidt in the USHMM Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, “Between November 19 and 26, 1942, the Germans launched Operation Nuremberg in the region Glebokie-Lepel’-Borisov. . . . It was one of the first Aktions intended to ‘liquidate the peripheral ghettos,’ which meant the systematic extermination of the Jewish population in the ghettos on the edges of the Belorussian forests and swamps, conducted under the pretext of fighting partisans.”119

The context of exploitation and extortion which the auxiliaries upheld can be sensed between the lines of the veterans’ accounts, even though, they insist, Shukhevych’s sotnia120 refused to carry out German orders to extort foodstuff from the hungry population, because, Myroslav Kal’ba asserts, Shukevych declared, “We were sent here not to steal, but to fight.”121

Violence appears to have been common also for the maintaining of discipline within the unit. The veterans’ recollections of their time in German service contain complaints about arrogance and abuse at the hands of German officers. Internal documents, such as interrogations by the OUN(b)’s own security service, show that discipline was maintained by force and testifies to Shukhevych physically abusing his soldiers.122 No stranger to extreme violence —he committed his first murder in 1926, at age 19 — Shukhevych appears to have had an explosive temper. Some testimonies describe them as “sadistic inclinations since his childhood.”123 Pobihushchyi-Ren described Shukhevych as the “Legion’s harshest sotnyk” (Vin buv naihostriishym sotenniym u Legioni), “always ready for assault” (zavzhdy hotovyi do nastupu).124

Dissolving the Unit

The volunteers of Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 had originally agreed to serve until December 31, 1942. Not only did the German authorities step up the recruitment of forced labor in the occupied territories in late 1942, they also extended the Schutzmannschaften’s term of service for an indefinite period.125 The auxiliaries’ grievances with the leadership style of the Germans increased. Pobihushchyi himself complained that

the last straw, which led to the dissolution of the entire legion [Schutzmannschaft battalion 201] was the terrible, unforgivable crimes that the German command allowed to be carried out against the riflemen of the legion. At the funeral of one fallen volunteer there wasn’t even a Ukrainian banner on his bier, only a German one. One of [our Ukrainian Schutzmänner] pushed the swastika bands in under the wreath. When a German policeman saw this, [the Ukrainian Schutzmann] was terribly abused. No appeals or pledges from the Ukrainian side helped. It was deemed an insult to the German state. The rifleman was jailed and . . . shot. From that moment on the attitude of the soldiers of the [Schutzmannschaft battalion 201] to the Germans changed.126

This, according to Pobihushchyi, contributed to the battalion’s refusal to renew the contract:

We decided to abstain from [further] service, since military honor required it. We did not receive answers to our inquiries about why our leaders were arrested, our loved ones arbitrarily sent to work deep into Germany, why wounded Ukrainian soldiers were not allowed to be treated in the same hospitals as the Germans were but taken to hospitals for “aliens.” The Legion did not want to fight for such a “New Europe,” with different categories of citizens and soldiers. At the front we all faced death equally. Yet the wounded had different rights and received different treatment.127

As soldiers started to desert, a rift appeared between soldiers and some of the officer corps, as the former wanted to return home whereas some of the officers wanted to continue fighting.128 According to Pobihushchyi, “shortly before Roman Catholic Christmas 1942, Obergruppenführer von dem Bach-Zelewski called me to M[ahileu] to inform me that our unit was to be dissolved and to return in smaller groups to L’viv and register with the police.”129 At the time of its dissolution the unit had 650 soldiers and 22 officers, including 176 Ukrainians and 5 Germans.130 On January 6, 1943, the battalion was sent to L’viv where most members arrived by January 8. The officers left Belorussia on January 5, the last soldiers on January 14, 1943.131 In L’viv, its officers were arrested and placed in the prison on Łącki/Lonts’kyi Street. Some, including Roman Shukhevych, managed to escape and went underground.132 The officers were formally arrested for declining to continue their service, but appear to have been treated quite leniently by the Germans. “The forms under which we were arrested were quite delicate—we only had to surrender our weapons, and with an escorting officer from the German army we traveled to L’viv,” wrote Pobihushchyi.133 From the beginning of 1942, and for the next six months, Shukhevych’s wife, Natalia Shukhevych-Berezyns’ka, received foodstuff from the German army as a family member of an officer. In addition, on July 25, 1942, she received 2,000 Reichsmarks and “at the end of 1942 or in the beginning of 1943” another 3,000 złoty from the German authorities.134

The German authorities reported to Berlin that while the “better treatment of the Ukrainians by the local administration is not without effect,”135 the disbanding of Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 caused “indignation” and “extensive disquiet” among Galician Ukrainians, as well as the intelligentsia.136 The German command suggested that the men of Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 should gather in Lublin to form a new unit. Several of its members and officers left the unit and came to form the hard core of the OUN(b) security service, Sluzhba Bezpeky, or SB, whereas several officers who stayed were eventually transferred to the 14th Waffen-SS Division Galizien137 where they continued their voluntary services to Nazi Germany until May 1945.

After the second capture of Kharkiv, amidst plans to launch a summer offensive, the Germans responded positively to the repeated offers from the Ukrainian Central Committee, the leading Ukrainian political authority of the Generalgouvernement, to allow the establishment of a Galician Ukrainian military formation. In April 1943, the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS was founded. Evhen Pobihushchyi became its highest-ranking Ukrainian officer, advancing to the rank of SS-Sturmbannführer (Figure 3).138 At least fifty of the regular soldiers of Schutzmannschaft 201 who chose to stay in service were transferred to Schutzmannschaft Battalion 57, which was returned to Belorussia and continued, with intensified force, its anti-partisan and punitive operations against the civilian population.139

Figure 3. Major Evhen Pobihushyi, L’viv, 28 April 1943 at the inauguration of the Waffen-SS Division “Galizien.”

Counterinsurgency or Mass Murder?

While the source material of the whereabouts of Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 is incomplete, some of the correspondence between the battalion and its German commanders has been preserved. According to Myroslav Kal’ba, the DUN, that is Nachtigall and Schutzmannschaft battalion 201, “lost” 450 soldiers and officers, that is, two-thirds of its members over the entire period of 1941–1945.140 Many of these losses were due to desertions, most of which took place toward the end of 1942. However, during its ten-month tenure in Belorussia, Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 lost only forty-nine men, while forty were wounded. Krochak and Pobihushchyi-Ren’s tally is thirty-seven losses plus one court marshalled by the Germans. In sharp contrast to their local victims, many of their fallen comrades are listed by name. Of the forty-nine men the battalion lost in Belorussia, twenty-six were lost in the above-mentioned single ambush. This should be contrasted with the more than two thousand “partisans” the unit killed.141 Even if we were to take this higher figure, and count all the losses of Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 as combat deaths, this means a discrepancy in the casualty ratio of more than 1:40. Such disproportional losses between German and collaborating forces and “bandits” is largely in line with what we know about the activities of other Schutzmannschaft battalions. The imbalance is also reflected in von dem Bach-Zelewski’s personal records, which he kept as Bevollmächtiger für Bandenbekämpfung.

Von dem Bach-Zelewski’s routine report on the activities of Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 appears in a folder of fifteen Meldungen an den Führer über Bandenbekämpfung to Reichsführer-SS Himmler, who passed them on to Adolf Hitler personally. It contains a series of information bulletins from German-led police forces in occupied Belorussia and Ukraine.142 The reports illustrate the nature of the “counterinsurgency” activities in which Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 was involved.

Meldung number 51 is a summary of anti-partisan warfare in Russia-South, Ukraine, and the Bezirk Białystok, which is a summary of the police activities in that region from September to November 1942. Passed to Hitler on 29 December 1942, it shows the realities of the Bandenbekämpfung. The number of Jews outweighs all other groups executed, and the number of “bandits” executed after an Aktion far exceed the number of people killed in action.


Killed in combat   1,337

Executed prisoners  737

Executed later  7,827

Bandit helpers

Arrested   16,553

Executed   14,257

Jews executed  363,211

Deserters   140

German casualties

Dead   174

Wounded   132

Missing   13


Dead   285

Wounded  127

Missing   133143

Meldungen 36, 40, 41, 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 55, 56, 57, covering Russland-Mitte and Gebiet Weissruthenien for the fall of 1942, report 28,360 enemy casualties and 381 “own losses,” a ratio of 1:74.144 Meldung 51a, which appears in the same folder, summarizing the entire region Russland-Süd, Ukraine, and Białystok, shows a ratio of killed Schutzmannschaft and Germans to killed “bandits” and “bandit helpers” (excluding the category of “Executed Jews”) of over 1:52. If we include the 363,211 executed Jews in the column of Bandenverdächtige, or “suspected bandits,” the ratio is 1:843.145

It may also be useful to compare the ratio of dead Schutzmannschaften to “bandits” with the more infamous anti-partisan Aktionen, such as Operation Cottbus in 1943, during which 6,087 “bandits” were registered as “killed in action” while only 88 German officers and soldiers and 40 non-Germans Schutzmänner were killed and 152 wounded, a casualty ratio of 1:47. In operation Cottbus, 90 per cent of the people killed were unarmed.146 Historian Christian Gerlach calculates that between 10 and 15 per cent of the victims of the partisan hunts in Belorussia actually were partisans.147 Regular warfare or counterinsurgency campaigns do not generate such staggering imbalances. Rather, these numbers reflect the genocidal consequences of the war of annihilation, in line with Keitel’s, Himmler’s, and Hitler’s directives. German historian Manfred Messerschmidt makes the following assessment of the Schutzmannschaften:

In evaluating the operations of the Schuma battalions one has to consider that . . . they were involved in a ruthless scenario of terror. This included the compulsory use of specific language. They had to speak of “gangs” [“Banden”]. Annihilation operations were called “pacification” or “re-establishment of security and order.”148

Former Schutzmänner in UPA

By 1943, as the German violence escalated, the OUN(b) appeared increasingly concerned with the image of the Schutzmannschaften. By now, Soviet Belorussian partisans habitually referred to the ethnically Ukrainian Schutzmannschaften, such as battalion 118, in national terms, as “Ukrainians” and “Ukrainian police.”149 The OUN(b) now began to disassociate itself from the Schutzmannschaften. “A Ukrainian police can exist only in a Ukrainian state,” OUN(b) propaganda stated.150

In the spring of 1943, the men of the Schutzmannschaft battalion 201, who had crossed over from Belorussia to Volhynia, came to constitute the heart of the OUN(b) security service, the Sluzhba Bezpeki, or SB.151 After Stalingrad, several thousand Ukrainian auxiliaries deserted the Germans and formed the backbone of the UPA.152 From 15 March to 15 April 1943, close to four thousand Ukrainian former Schutzmänner joined the UPA.153 A recent study of the biographies of sixty-nine top UPA commanders shows that at least 72 per cent had a background as collaborators with Nazi Germany or its Axis partners: 49 per cent had served in Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 and other auxiliary police formations, 29 per cent were graduates of military, intelligence, and security schools in Germany or the Generalgouvernement, 16 per cent in Nachtigall and Organisation Roland battalions, or the Bergbauern-Hilfe (the so-called Sushko Legion), 16 per cent in the local and regional administration, and 1 per cent in the 14th Waffen-SS Division Galizien.154 Myroslav Kal’ba wrote that “I was able to trace 60 DUN participants, who joined the UPA. It turned out that besides those who were in the diplomatic mission or assigned special tasks, the majority (80 per cent) were in various military head staffs of the UPA, and the rest, mostly battalion (kurin) commanders.”155

Singled out by his German superiors for his particular heroism in battle,156 Pobihushchyi summarizes his own experiences of the Einsätze in Belorussia in the following words:

The struggle against the partisans was extraordinarily good training for our officers and soldiers. It taught us a lot. Unfortunately I lost my notes during my internment. Our education and battle experience was very useful to all of our soldiers, non-commissioned officers and officers, who continued their military paths in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army or the I UD UNA [The first Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army].157

A similar assessment of the unit’s activities was made by Stepan Bandera himself in 1954. On Shukhevych’s sojourn in Belorussia, Bandera commented: “Roman Shukhevych returned to the revolutionary ranks of the OUN, with a respectable number of officers, NCOs and soldiers of the DUN, having undergone not only good military training but also seasoning and practical battle experience.”158 Looking at the nature of the brutal efficiency of the OUN(b)’s massacres in Volhynia, in which a small group of less than seven thousand UPA paramilitaries in a matter of months massacred up to ten times as many Polish and Jewish civilians, it is hard to disagree with the OUN leader. More important than the weapons and equipment the deserting auxiliaries brought with them were the experiences from the anti-partisan campaigns—methods employed in the UPA’s ethnic cleansing of the Poles of Volhynia, launched in the early spring of 1943.159


Researching the whereabouts of Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 in occupied Belorussia in 1942 is in many ways a difficult piece of detective work. Not only are the sources scarce and incomplete, a number of actors—Soviet authorities, Ukrainian nationalists, and the veterans themselves—have deliberately distorted the historical record. The official designation of Shukhevych a national hero in 2007 was accompanied by a government-sponsored campaign of airbrushing the OUN(b) and UPA leader’s legacy and systematically denying or downplaying the aspects of his biography that did not fit the official hagiography. In particular, Shukhevych’s activities in the Schutzmannschaften are glossed over and the presence of a handful of Jews in the UPA are routinely invoked to “disprove” the OUN(b)’s well-documented anti-Semitism, which was particularly strong in 1941–1942.160 While Nachtigall’s involvement in mass anti-Jewish violence in the summer of 1941 has been the subject of emotional debates, and whereas Poland in 2016 officially recognized the UPA’s massacres of the Volhynian Poles as a genocide,161 Hauptmann Shukhevych’s role as a commanding officer of Schutzmannschaft Battalion in 1942 has generated marginal attention. His admirers in Ukraine and its overseas diaspora have gone to great lengths to categorically deny any wrongdoings; the current head of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory—a government agency tasked with the instrumentalization of Ukrainian history—has stopped short of justifying Shukhevych’s killing of Belarusian and Polish civilians.162

Further research remains to be done, not least in the currently inaccessible regional archives of the KGB of the Republic of Belorussia. Yet, from the materials at our disposal, we are able to make some conclusions.

Under Shukhevych’s leadership, the UPA carried out a campaign of mass murder in Volhynia and Galicia in 1943–1944 in which sixty to one hundred thousand Poles and thousands of Jews lost their lives.163 It is reasonable to assume that the Schutzmannschaft battalion 201 too, like other Schutzmannschaft battalions, was involved in a ruthless scenario of terror, aimed against not only “bandits” (partisans and Jews) but also passive bystanders.164 The Schutzmannschaften operated under the same ideological premise as the OUN(b), namely, that the struggle against communism equated the destruction of the of Jews, “the staunchest supporters of the ruling Bolshevik regime and the vanguard of Muscovite imperialism,” emphasizing the necessity to “fight Jews as supporters of the Muscovite-Bolshevik regime.”165 Much as this notion had underwritten the pogroms in the summer of 1941, in Belorussia the elimination of Jews and partisans were overlapping tasks. That these anti-partisan Aktionen, in particular from mid-1942, took the form of extermination campaigns, or outright massacres; is reflected in the gross imbalance of casualties between the Schutzmannschaft Battalion 201 and the “bandits,” of 1:40. Far from being co incidental, these figures reflected Keitel’s policy of mass retribution, and resemble those of other Schutzmannschaften in occupied Belorussia; this was part of the greater scheme of Generalplan Ost, which foresaw the deportation and extermination entire ethnic groups. This practice is mirrored in the OUN and UPA’s anti-Polish and anti-Jewish massacres, the reliance on grossly disproportionate violence against civilians and the principles of collective retribution carry the hallmarks of the SS and Schutzmannschaften’s tactics of “anti-partisan” warfare.