HERO OF THE HUNTED MEN
Defying death at the hands of Russian agents Yaroslav Stetzko leads a multi-language patchwork army of underground fighters in a crusade to crush Russian imperialism. In a Munich beer cellar he told a Maclean’s editor of his audacious hopes to break up the Soviet Union from within
SOMEWHERE in Europe tonight, a penniless, homeless and hunted man named Yaroslav Stetzko fights on as he has for the last twentyfive years in an undeclared war against Soviet Russia.
While the greatest alliance of nations in history surveys the uncertain task of containing Communist expansion, Stetzko has bet his life, quite literally and almost every day, that he knows how to do a much bigger job much better.
The mere containment of Russia does not interest him and the coalition of enslaved peoples he leads. Their goal is to vanquish Russia in her heartland.
I first heard of Stetzko in Canada last summer. I caught up with him in January in an empty cellar in Munich. Here, for the first time, I came face to face with the wan little figure I had learned so much about—the president of the valiant collation of guerrilla fighters and refugees banded together on both sides of the Iron Curtain under the name of Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations, or ABN.
Stetzko and ABN are dedicated to the kindling of revolt among the three hundred million human beings who have lost their freedom over the centuries to many forms of Russian imperialism of which Communism is the most recent and most ruthless.
For all their audacity they do not believe their dream of liberation from within can be accomplished without help from the free nations. So far this help has not been forthcoming and ABN’s cause looks almost hopeless. While the U.S. Congress was debating sending another eight billion dollars to support the burgeoning armies of NATO and to strengthen other nations under the mutual security program, a Canadian-Ukrainian community hall in western Canada was holding a rummage sale for ABN.
While a United Nations delegate spoke up fn defiance of another Soviet threat, one of Stetzko’s officers stole down an alley in Prague, posted a crude handbill on a wall and fled into the night. While UN jet planes engaged Communist MIGs over Korea in the full panoply of battle, one of Stetzko’s messengers stumbled, into the arms of a Red Army patrol in the dark of a Caucasian forest, bit the end off a tube of cyanide and perished without firing a shot.
But, as a symbol of imperviousness to odds, of a dogged willingness to live only for death and to die for a distant ideal, ABN could have chosen no better leader than Yaroslav Stetzko, I was'told. He has spent all his adult life trying to win independence for his native Ukraine. At forty-five he is stooped and frail, and his thin, sensitive, scholarly face, pallid from Polish prisons, German concentration camps and years spent plotting in cellars, gives him something of the appearance of a university professor who has fallen on evil days. His left arm hangs stiff, bullet-scarred and useless at his side, a souvenir of the Russian secret police whose constant shadow, even in the theoretical sanctuary
of Western Europe, rarely permits him the luxury of spending two nights in the same bed.
The least melodramatic of men, Stetzko need only call on simple mathematics to remind himself that no amount of prudence can guarantee his safety. The Ukrainian underground movement, through whose ranks he rose to his present post, has had four chieftains since 1938, and three of them are dead. Two were killed in guerrilla battles against the Red Army in the Ukraine. The third was assassinated by a Red agent in Rotterdam.
For these good ancf sufficient reasons, Stetzko’s lieutenants are inclined to regard every stranger as a potential killer. Before I interviewed him early this year, I had to go through intermediaries in Edinburgh, London and Munich. During my long journey I had time to think over what I had learned in advance about the detailed aspirations of Stetzko’s ABN.
Its aim is no less than the dissolution of two Russian Empires—the outer empire of eleven satellite Communist states like Hungary and Poland as well as the inner empire of fourteen states and ethnic regions which, although officially a part of the U.S.S.R., is regarded by many of its disparate peoples as a victim of Muscovite oppression. Russia’s 110,000,000 non-Muscovites have always been dominated by the 91,000,000 Muscovites who live around the capital. Some, like the Latvians, Estonians, Lithuanians, have broken away from the
embrace of Holy Mother Russia within comparatively recent times, only to be gathered in again by brute force. Most of the others, like the Ukrainians, Armenians and Cossacks suffered wrongs under the Czars which have been aggravated by the excesses of the Commissars, and according to Stetzko would, if given encouragement from outside, rise in open rebellion.
All these states are also represented in the AntiBolshevik Bloc of Nations, each with its own cadre of underground members inside the Iron Curtain and its own cadre of refugee members outside. Contact is maintained usually by courier.
Although no Western nation supports it officially, ABN has won an increasing number of influential sympathizers in the last year, including the U.S. presidential candidate Harold E. Stassen. Its most vociferous champion in the West is the Scottish League for European Freedom, through which I met Yaroslav Stetzko. The league’s backers include an earl, a professor of law, a banker and an editor.
In 1951 I wrote John Stewart, chairman of the league, asking if he could help me to obtain an interview with Stetzko. He replied cautiously that he would like to meet me first. So early this year I flew from Toronto to Prestwick and took the first train to Edinburgh.
In a bleak little granite villa under the foothills that surround the Scottish capital, I found to my
surprise that Stewart is eighty years old. But he carries his age as vigorously as he swings the kilt he wears every day. He is a tiny, alert, stocky man with silver hair, apple cheeks and a canny chuckle. Before World War II he traveled widely in Russia and Eastern Europe on behalf of an export-import company. Since he retired he has devoted his life to persuading the West that in the groaning subject races of Moscow we have powerful allies against Communism. He is helped by his equally robust wife and daughter. His home is the clearing house for all ABN propaganda in the English language.
In a display cabinet Stewart showed me a photograph album in a polished wooden back inlaid with mother-of-pearl. It was fashioned in a bunker by an underground soldier and it contains pictures of Ukrainian partisans. On the inside is the inscription: “To Mr. John F. Stewart, the great friend of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and the AntiBolshevik Bloc of Nations.”
To this quiet little home, at irregular intervals, come strange visitors from the night-Stetzko himself and other ABN leaders Latvians, Hungarians, Turkestans.
“They come without warning and they leave without telling me where they are going,” Stewart told me. “Even here in Scotland they don’t feel safe from the MVD.”
Stewart gave me addresses in London and Munich and a personal letter of introduction to Stetzko. “I’ll try to arrange an interview somewhere near Munich,” he said, “but 1 can promise nothing.”
From Ukrainians in London I learned something more of Stetzko’s crusade. He was born in 1906 in Lvov in the western Ukraine, which, betwreen wars, was part of Poland. His father was a priest of the persecuted Ukrainian Autocephalic Orthodox Church. At the Lvov University, when he was sixteen, Stetzko took part in student demonstrations against the Polish regime. Before he was twenty he edited an illegal newspaper for an organization which sought to rid the entire Ukraine of foreigners. In 1936 a Polish court sentenced him, along with a score of others, to fifteen years in prison.
Once when the group went on hunger strike the warden threatened to shoot them unless the ringleader surrendered. Although he was not the ringleader, Stetzko stepped forward. In front of his friends he was flogged savagely. They called the strike off to save his life.
In 1938 the bomb murder in Rotterdam of Eugene Konovalets, chief of the Ukrainian underground, by a Russian agent, involved a reshuffle in underground ranks. Stetzko, still in jail, was made Prime Minister of a shadow government to be proclaimed if the chaos of war made this possible.
When the Germans invaded Poland in 1939 the Poles released Stetzko in the hope that he would bring Ukrainians to their side. But Poland fell before he could make a choice. Lvov was seized by the Russians under the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement and the Nazis and Reds conducted a joint man-hunt for Ukrainian nationalist leaders. Stetzko went to earth, but certain that the hated Germans would eventually attack the hated Russians he began preparing the Ukrainians for an uprising. He dodged Russian sentry bullets to visit underground cells by motorboat along the San river, a tributary of the Vistula.
When Hitler invaded Russia, the waiting Ukrainian guerrillas emerged and created a threeday panic among Red Army troops. On June 30 they seized the Lvov radio station and proclaimed Stetzko Prime Minister of a free Ukraine. Next day the Germans entered Lvov. Stetzko broadcast optimistically that his government saw “possibilities of co-operation” with the Germans provided they “respected the ideal of Ukrainian sovereignty.” On leaving the radio station a hail of bullets fired by a Gestapo agent splashed into the wall, missing him by inches. Hitler chose to play the role of conqueror in the Ukraine. Stetzko was tracked down and thrown into Saxenhausen concentration camp.
His supporters now turned against the Germans with a fury sharpened
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by disillusionment. From their cellars they designed a new resistance movement, implacably anti - German and implacably anti-Russian—the Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council. A political wing (OUN) was to concentrate on propagandist activity. A military force (UPA) was to strike the Germans in the back. This framework is still in existence today.
While Stetzko languished in captivity two hundred thousand UPA fighting men forced Germany to divert whole divisions from the Red Front. Moscow, who was later to turn her guns on UPA, pretended it was a Communist guerrilla force. Rut Uzbeks, Georgians, Armenians, Tartars and other racial strains flocked to the UPA banner, some furtively and on foot. On Nov. 21, 1943, in UPA-held territory, representatives of these many races held a conference and drew up a platform of common aims. This was the birth of ABN.
In the spring of 1944, hard pressed by the Russians, the Nazis approached Stetzko and offered him liberty if he would persuade the Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council to bring its forces over to the German side. He rejected the offer.
As the Germans fell back the UPA laid low. When the Russians had won control, UPA attacked their rear. Their strategy was to make such a show of strength that the Western powers would acknowledge their national aspirations at subsequent peace conferences. But this was not to be.
As the Red Army neared Berlin, Stetzko’s jailers fled. Stetzko escaped in the confusion, but advance units of Russian intelligence who’d been ordered to grab him were on his trail. For several weeks he remained at large virtually on a battlefield, sometimes in Red Army territory, sometimes on Wehrmacht ground.
In Czechoslovakia, with the assistance of Czech patriots, he escaped in a car with the MVD close behind. Careening through a Czechoslovakian no man’s land he was machine-gunned by a pursuing Russian fighter plane. The car somersaulted into the ditch. Although his left arm was riddled by bullets and his body was bruised and gashed, Stetzko ran for the woods and escaped to the American zone of Germany.
Even here he was not safe. Thousands of Ukrainians were being forcibly repatriated at Moscow’s request.
Stetzko went underground and met ABN delegates who had been sent West to get a foothold outside the Iron Curtain. He was elected president of ABN in tribute to his record.
As East-West relations began to cool Stetzko poked ABN’s nose above the surface. Today its propaganda unit functions openly in Munich. But its over-all headquarters still remain secret.
“The headquarters of ABN,” I was told, “are wherever Yaroslav Stetzko happens to be.”
With this information I left for
Germany, the cocky new Germany which demands equality in NATO, while Yaroslav Stetzko, with a still more painful irony, remains a man without a country.
First I had to go to a bomb-buckled building in Munich from which a monthly newsletter called ABN Correspondence is circulated in English, French and German.
Here I was interviewed by a strapping young Ukrainian woman with a blunt peasant’s face and a brain as sharp as a knife. She looked me up and down, stalled for a while, and compared my letters of introduction with others ABN had received by mail announcing my impending arrival. Finally she asked me in good English where I was staying. I told her I was at the Hotel Continental. She wanted to know my room number, so I told her. She then said she would bring President Stetzko to me at my hotel at five o’clock that evening.
It struck me as being a curious arrangement, but I went back to my room to wait. At five o’clock I received a telephone call saying a young woman was asking for me in the lobby. I went downstairs to find it was the same woman, alone. She said “We are going somewhere else. It is better that Mr. Stetzko does not come here.”
What ABN Stands For
We got into a waiting taxi and drove across the city to a beer cellar. It was a large cavernous place with strong brick vaultwork. It was empty save for two men in the far corner. One of them was fragile Yaroslav Stetzko, the other, a bulky man, introduced himself as Zenon Pelensky. Stetzko spoke no English and Pelensky had come along to interpret.
Neither was well-dressed, but yet they were not shabby. They were punctiliously well-mannered and obviously men of superior intellect. Stetzko looked ill. He was deathly white and his wounded left arm seemed to stick out rigidly and painfully. We sat at one of the brightly covered tables under a yellow lampshade.
The woman was asked to leave us. Then a waiter brought coffee. During the next three hours not a single other customer entered the beer cellar, although it was a popular drinking time. Throughout the interview a husky young man lolled nonchalantly on guard at the only door. I had the impression the whole place had been rented especially for the interview or was some hideout reserved exclusively for Stetzko and his followers.
Through Pelensky I told Stetzko I wanted him to fill in some of the many gaps in my record of his career and to talk about his personal struggle for survival. Behind his glasses I saw disappointment cloud his eyes. “There is no time for that,” he said. “I am nothing. The interview must be about my policy. I want Canadians to know what ABN stands for. I have two great fights. One is against Russian imperialism and the other against Western indifference.”
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He spoke nervously, rapidly and earnestly, pausing now and then for Pelensky to translate. He said it was important to remember first of all that ABN believes in the inevitability of World War III. If, however, the Western powers would co-operate with ABN this need not be the appalling global and atomic conflict generally predicted. Properly supported ABN could explode the Red Empire at its heart through internal revolution of the non-Russian peoples. Thus it could be localized on Russian and Eastern European soil since Stalin would have his hands too full to fight elsewhere.
It would be a sharp war, but short and merciful.
But, Stetzko added, the peoples inside the U. S. S. R. would not rise until certain of outside help. Nor would they rise until assured of racial independence after the conflict.
I asked him how effective these underground movements were today. He suggested we take as an example the biggest and most powerful movement: the Ukrainian.
At war’s end the Red Army stationed so many troops in the Ukraine that tactics had to be changed. UPA brigades were broken down to nineman sections which worked in field and factory by day and took up arms by night. Their wartime commander, Romans Klachkivsky, was killed fighting the Russians. The battle of his successor, Taras Chuprynka, was against the Red Army and occasionally the Red Poles. One of his jobs was liquidating Red generals, Russian officials and quisling Ukrainians so that the holding of high office would be a precarious and unwanted honor.
Between 1944 and 1948 under Chuprynka’s command UPA had liquidated, for example, the Soviet Marshal Vatutin, the Soviet General Moskalenko and the Polish General Jan Swierczewski.
UPA also fights to save Ukrainian civilians from transportation to Siberia for passive resistance. Through OUN, the political organization which had in its pay many small Russian officials, UPA often obtained lists of suspects before they could be arrested. Where possible UPA took them into hiding.
UPA soldiers also watched railroad marshaling yards for the assembly of trains about to depart for concentration or forced labor camps. If feasible they tried to blow up the trains or destroy bridges to prevent them from leaving. Several times UPA guerrillas have held up trains and released the occupants, Stetzko told me proudly.
Wounded are treated in underground hospitals, so well concealed in the forests that Red troops had often walked over them without suspicion. In 1947 one such hospital, at Chreschtschata, had been surrounded by five hundred Red Army men. Wounded and medical staff fought for hours to hold them off. When their ammunition was exhausted they killed themselves with their last rounds. One wounded man had the presence of mind to throw a hand grenade into a drum of gasoline before committing suicide, destroying all documents.
On Oct. 21, 1950, Taras Chuprynka was killed by Red Army troops during an engagement near Lvov. Ukrainians all over the world mourned his death. Few non-Communist Ukrainian organizations are without a bust or painting of him. His wife was sent to Siberia, his son put into a Soviet school for political correction.
A new field leader continues the fight under the pseudonym of Vassyl Koval. He is head of Ukrainian Resistance and is known to only three I subordinates who in turn are known to
only three more, and so on down the chain of command. Koval’s representative at ABN was Zenon Pelensky, the man who was interpreting for us.
I asked Stetzko about communications between ABN and the “inside.” For obvious reasons he could not go into details. “It is getting more and more difficult,” he said. “Frontier controls are tightening every day. Still we have a number of ingenious devices for getting through the Iron Curtain which have not yet been detected. The most difficult time to get through is the winter, when the couriers find it hard to face exposure at night. We have had a courier through from the Ukraine in three days. He was lucky. He managed to get transportation. Others, who come all the way on foot— it’s nearly five hundred miles—have taken up to three months. Sometimes couriers set off in pairs, in two different directions and we never hear from them again. If they are caught they bite on a vial of poison which brings instant death.”
Occasionally couriers travel in larger armed groups. If they meet resistance they shoot their way out. About eighteen months ago one group shot its way through bringing a youth who had been badly wounded in the hip. This youth is now working in Toronto. 1 cannot give his name because he has relatives in the Ukraine.
Most of the couriers going east memorize long drafts of information concerning political developments in the West. Some, however, carry written information and medical supplies which cannot be obtained in the Ukraine.
Stetzko said: “The nervous strain of getting through the Iron Curtain is so great that we never order a man to do it twice. If a courier is too exhausted to return once he gets here we help him to settle in Europe in North or South America or in Australia. There are several former couriers now living in Canada. Some volunteers, however, keep coming and going.”
In 1948, as a propaganda measure designed to impress on the Western powers that a capable underground army really existed in the Ukraine, four hundred UPA men in uniform fought their way across Czechoslovakia to Western Germany. It was not so widely reported as Stetzko had hoped because newspapers were weary of stories about the nine million Eastern Europeans in Western Germany who, for one reason or another, had been stranded there by the receding tide of war.
Belgians Jumped the Border
The Russians were furious and demanded their repatriation. The U. S. authorities put the Ukrainians in trucks with the supposed intention of handing them over at the Soviet border. On the way, however, the trucks halted and the American guards closed their eyes as the Ukrainians escaped. Some found their way into DP camps under assumed names. Others went back to the Ukraine as ABN couriers.
Stetzko told me ABN plays a big part in the subversion of Red Army troops in the eastern zones of Germany and Austria. He claims part of the credit for the fact that sixty thousand Red Army officers and men have deserted to the West since the end of World War II. Many agents of ABN serve in the Red Army.
“In Feb. 1950,” he said, permitting himself the first trace of a tired smile, “we built a radio transmitter. We knew that unlicensed broadcasting was banned throughout Western Europe so for the sake of security we place! the transmitter in a spot where the Bel-
gian, Luxembourg and German frontiers converge in the Ardennes Mountains. The idea was that the operators had three alternative frontiers to jump over if the police came. The Belgian police arrived first. They didn’t care about infringing frontier agreements. They jumped the border into Luxembourg, arrested the radio team and confiscated the set.”
Stetzko bitterly attacked another anti-Bolshevik movement called The Council for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia whose leading personality is Alexander F. Kerensky the man who after the Russian revolution of 1917, headed the short-lived interim moderate government which preceded the Bolshevik coup. “Kerensky,” said Stetzko, “wants to free Russia but retain the present frontiers under a capital in Moscow. Only by giving sovereign rights to the fourteen different ethnic groups can the back of Russian imperialism be broken.”
Stetzko himself is not without his critics even among Ukrainians in exile. 1 reminded him of the charge that he had tried to establish his independent Ukrainian Government in 1941 with the help of Germans. Stetzko pointed with a patient shrug to his four years in a German concentration camp, but added candidly: “I have no doubt that if the Germans had recognized a free Ukraine when they marched against Russia things might have turned out differently. Certainly they would have beaten the Russians if the UPA had not stabbed them in the back. But the
Germans chose to treat my people like cattle. Hitler won the military war against Russia and lost it politically.”
Stetzko’s policy is regarded as too extreme by an organization called The Ukrainian Canadian Committee. Saskatoon-born G. R. B. Panchuk, MBE, a veteran officer of the Canadian Army, and now the Ukrainian Canadian Committee’s European representative, had told me in London: “Stetzko is too aggressive. He is always wanting to have a fight or blow up a bridge. The reprisals against the civilian population in the Ukraine are terrible. We think it is too early yet for Ukrainians to fight. They should keep quiet until assured of help from the West.”
To which Stetzko replied softly: “Only by defiance can the Ukraine be saved from serfdom. It is also vital to remember that we will not get help from the West until we have proved that we can help ourselves.”
1 asked Stetzko where ABN got its funds. He said from exiles of the countries represented all over the world. Still using Ukraine as the best example he said there were one million Ukrainians in the U. S.; 500,000 in (’añada; 90,000 in South America; 50,000 in France; 30,000 in Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg; 25,000 in Germany; 25,000 in Australia and New Zealand; and also 20,000 in Great Britain.
Many Ukrainian political groups subscribe to central committees which support ABN. In Canada its chief sponsor is the Canadian League for Ukrainian Liberation with headquarters in Toronto.
Through these committees weekly, monthly, annual or occasional subscriptions are paid by individual Ukrainians for the support of the Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council. The Supreme Council also raises funds by bond issues, redeemable after liberation. And, of course, the proceeds of many whist drives, dances, rummage sales and theatrical shows go into the pool. Other countries in ABN also raise funds in a similar way.
Regarding the future Stetzko said ABN hopes by constant lobbying and publishing of literature to win the aid of the West. It wants rights to run its own radio station beamed on the different races in the U. S. S. R.; to train agents and drop them in the subjugated countries; to keep the resistance groups constantly assured that they are not forgotten men but allies in the fight for freedom; and to endow them with the same prestige that the French Maquis enjoyed during the last war.
Silent Exit in the Snow
Stetzko also wants to broadcast to Siberia from Alaska to hearten untold millions in slave labor camps. He wants to send agents to the Far East to weaken the morale of Red Army troops in Manchuria, who are mostly nonRussians and therefore suitable material for ABN designs. And he wants arms for the underground partisans in all countries he leads.
The interview then came to an end. Zenon Pelensky, our interpreter, said to me in an aside: “One of these days the Western powers are going to get up and say, ‘Where is this guy Stetzko? We need him!’ ”
The young man who had been guarding the door went upstairs first to the street. He looked around casually then beckoned Stetzko and Pelensky outside. 1 followed. I watched Stetzko turn a corner out of sight, his slight ailing frame butting into the wind-driven snow, his useless arm hanging stiffly from his side. +