Hunting for the Wolf: How the Soviet Special Services Caught the Commander of Ukrainian Nationalists

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


On March 5th, 1950, the commander-in-chief of UPA Roman Shukhevych, during an attempt to detain him, put up an armed resistance and was shot. For five years he managed to hide from the MGB and travel around Ukraine. “Life” found out how they searched for and detained the leader of the Ukrainian nationalist underground in the USSR.

The main forces of UPA were actually destroyed already by the end of the war, and already back then their leaders understood that they have no chance in an open battle. Many commanders died in skirmishes or were arrested by the Soviet special services. This forced Roman Shukhevych to switch from tactics of direct armed clashes to tactics of diversion, terrorism, and sabotage.

The Soviet special services used a rather wide arsenal of methods against UPA detachments. Besides the armed suppression of detachments with the use of the army, amnesties were actively used, and six of them were announced just during the first few years. However, they concerned only ordinary participants who weren’t committing any crimes. Very considerable losses were caused also by the NKGB agent-fighting groups, which were formed from the converted participants of the underground. The former UPA militants who switched to the Soviet side were very effective at establishing contact with small detachments of UPA, which were captured or destroyed in the event of resistance. These tactics, in addition, gave rise to paranoia in the ranks of UPA militants, who suspected each other of being informants, and periodically staged bloody purges in their ranks (often dealing with their rivals in the organisation).

All of this led to the fact that militarily UPA stopped representing any significant threat. However, the nationalists were still capable of sabotage and individual terrorism against Soviet servants. The ranks of UPA were thinned out, but there weren’t any more unknown people — only those who already had nothing to lose.

In 1947 Shukhevych united the remains of UPA with the underground asset of OUN (b), after which he actually headed the nationalist underground in the western part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The political leader Stepan Bandera was in Europe at this time. Colleagues on the ground decided that he shouldn’t return to the USSR, and actually hid him away from the administration in this region.

Hunting for the Wolf

During wartime the search for Shukhevych was carried out within the framework of the general search for the leaders of OUN and UPA structures. A separate investigative case was initiated against him only in October, 1945. It received the name “Wolf” (cases initiated against leaders of the nationalist underground were named after various animals — for example, investigative case of Kuk was called “Badger”, Kravchuk — “Hippopotamus”, Fedun — “Jackal”, and so on).

Shukhevych, who was being searched for by all Soviet special services, spent the first post-war winter in Lvov. Under the furnace in one of the houses a bunker had been created for the leader of an already almost nonexistent army.

After the winter, Shukhevych moved to the woods in the Rogatyn district, where a lot of bunkers and caches for the leadership structure had been created. Conferences periodically took place there with the participation of those who escaped and commanders who remained at large.

For the next winter he went to the village of Knyagynychi, where he lived alone in a furnished secluded room in the house of one of the local female residents.

Shukhevych’s health problems begun after several winters in caches and bunkers. Although he wasn’t yet elderly, life in the conditions of the underground had its effect. Later, in one of Shukhevych’s caches, besides weapons, a large amount of medicines were found, which he was supplied with by an ideological female supporter who worked at the Lvov medical institute.

He had heart problems, and he was tormented by joint pains. And it became so serious that he was forced to seek help from doctors. The first visit to a doctor took place in the summer of 1947 and was organised by the efforts of one of his female contacts, who presented Shukhevych as her husband. Under the guise of an accountant he visited the doctors twice and was treated. The MGB only learned about these visits the following year. Then it was decided to strengthen the activity of agents and to enlist informants in all the drugstores and hospitals of Lvov. However, Shukhevych didn’t appear in the city any more.

While he was being searched for in Lvov, Shukhevych had a break in Odessa. Together with his associate Galina Didyk he had a rest in a sanatorium under false documents in the name of Yaroslav Polevoy. The risk of being found out was high, therefore Shukhevych didn’t leave the capsule with poison out of sight, and in addition, he always carried a pistol with him just in case, seperation with it only before procedures. But the precautions were excessive, nobody recognised him.

When he was being treated for a sick heart in a sanatorium, Soviet special services tried to use his wife Natalya Berezinskaya to search for the elusive Shukhevych. However, there was little hope of obtaining information via the usual interrogation. So it was decided to be cunning. In order to make Berezinskaya speak, a whole spectacle was organised. At first, Berezinskaya’s arrest was staged. Then, when she was being taken to another city, the convoy was unexpectedly attacked by “UPA militants”.

In reality, it was one of the agent-fighting groups, which consisted of members of the nationalist underground converted by the Soviet special services. After a shootout in the best traditions of movies they “liberated” Berezinskaya. As was envisioned by the organisers of the spectacle, Shukhevych’s wife had to believe in the staged performance and give the “saviors” information about the location of her husband. However, it turned out that she actually knew nothing about where he is staying.

After returning to the underground, Shukhevych’s health problems begun again. And during the winter of 1949 he decided on a risky sortie to Lvov to visit the doctors. By that moment the special services had already flooded the hospitals and drugstores of Lvov with their agents, but Shukhevych was again lucky. Using false documents he managed to the visit doctors, who put him on a diet and advised sanatorium treatment.

Therefore in the summer of 1949 Shukhevych and Didyk went to the Odessa sanatorium under fake documents again and remained undetected.

Attempts to negotiate

However radical Shukhevych was, he realised that the State is always stronger than a group. If in the conditions of war it was still possible to count on something, then in post-war time fighting was conducted not towards a victory, but because those who remained had nothing to lose any more.

Nevertheless, Shukhevych made several attempts to enter into negotiations with the authorities. The first such attempt was made during the war, at the end of 1944. The intermediary between OUN-UPA and the NKGB was the Lvov artist by the name of Muzyka. She made an appeal with the offer of negotiations with the Lvov official of the city health department Kordyuk (interestingly, Kordyuk was pro-Soviet, whereas his brother was registered in the ranks of UPA) who, in turn, transferred information to the special services.

Negotiations were soon held in the apartment of Muzyka between the Colonel of the NKGB Karin-Danilenko and one of the leaders of OUN structures in Lvov Svitlyk. At this meeting the technical details of the forthcoming meeting were discussed. Everything was arranged like it is in spy thrillers. The car of the negotiators had to go on the Lvov-Ternopol road and travel at no more than 30 kilometers per hour, flashing the headlights until a lamp signal is seen. After this the negotiators were brought to a farm 12 kilometers from the road where Mayevsky (the head of the military headquarters of UPA) and Busel (political advisor), authorised for negotiations by Shukhevych, waited for them in a log hut. The Soviet side was represented by precisely Karin-Danilenko, who was responsible for the elimination of the underground in Western Ukraine.

Negotiations lasted five hours, but the parties didn’t reach an agreement. The conditions that they laid down to each other seemed to be unacceptable to both. The negotiators from UPA wanted the independence of Ukraine, whereas Karin could only offer “capitulation with political negotiations in Kiev”. Nobody wanted to make a compromise, and negotiations were completed at the initiative of representatives of UPA (although Karin proposed communicating at any time through Muzyka and at least three times appealed to the intermediary with a proposal for negotiations).

However, this was not the last attempt at negotiations. In 1948 attempts to resume negotiations were made again through Muzyka. But this time they didn’t take place at the initiative of the Soviet side. By this time UPA had already been destroyed and actually consisted of several hundred people scattered across all of Western Ukraine, attempting to legalise themselves in the USSR.

Special Operation

About 800 field investigators and a large number of agents were focused on the search for Shukhevych. It was succeeded to find his trace via one of his female contacts. But for this purpose it was necessary to stage a whole spectacle. It was succeeded to be hot on the trail of the head of the underground in Soviet Ukraine thanks to a converted agent. After the war, this young woman left the underground, was amnestied, and from time to time supplied the Lvov MGB with information about old contacts. She didn’t know Shukhevych’s location, but she had information about one of his trusted associates — Darya Gusyak. In exchange for information she wanted the release of her brother, who was arrested for having ties with the nationalist underground.

The young woman told the authorities the place of her meeting with Gusyak, and an operative group was immediately sent there. The women walked around the city for a bit, having shown their faces in front of operatives, then said goodbye. After this, Gusyak was tailed by operatives, who followed her around the city. Having seized the moment, they grabbed her hands in order to not allow her to grab the capsule with poison. After this, Gusyak was delivered for interrogation. However, the young woman flatly refused to give interesting information to the MGB, although it was well known that she knows about Shukhevych’s hangout spots.

Then it was decided to make her speak via a spectacle, almost like Shukhevych’s wife at the time. A young woman who was plentifully decorated with “bruises” and doused in Zelenka was planted in the cell with her. In fact, it was another converted female agent, and she wasn’t deprived of actor’s talents. She very convincingly played the role of an underground worker who was cruelly beaten during interrogations. At the same time, at the first attempt of Gusyak to communicate with her, she kept silent. Finally, she begun to knock on the wall of the neighbouring cell.

When asked by Gusyak whether she is connected with the underground, the lady, saying that it is a big secret, revealed her secret, having previously promised to kill her if she blabbed. She also said that in the cell next door there is the well-known Moneta, she is Ekaterina Zaritskaya. Moneta was the coordinator of Shukhevych’s contacts and was rather close to him. In 1947 she was arrested, but whilst being detained she shot and killed an operative. In general she was a legendary personality within OUN-UPA.

Actually Moneta received 25 years and was in Vladimir Prison. But Gusyak didn’t know this. But she realised that there was some large underground worker in front of her. And the latter reported to Gusyak that the NKGB don’t have any proof against her, that during interrogations she didn’t break, and that she will soon be released. And she proposed to jot down a couples of lines for Gusyak’s relatives, having promised to transmit a message to the destination.

Gusyak outlined a note, in which she reported that she had been grabbed on the street and couldn’t use poison. The addressee of this note was a certain female resident of the village of Belogorshcha (in the mid-80’s the village became a part of the Zaliznychnyi district of Lvov).

The end of the Wolf

Immediately after receiving this information, the MGB began to develop an action plan. An headquarters for carrying out an operation was created, all available reserves of militia, local MGB, and infantry divisions in Lvov were made available for this. In addition, the units involved in the operation in the neighboring district of the region were supposed to join this operation.

On the morning of March 5th, soldiers and security officers had to block Belogorshcha, and then the operational group in turn had to scour the houses that Shukhevych could hide himself. At the place of the son of the woman who was supposed to receive the note of Gusyak, it was succeeded to find out that a women lives in one of houses who matches the description of Shukhevych’s contact Galina Didyk.

Nobody responded to the knock on the door for a long time. Finally, after a few minutes the door was opened by Didyk, who introduced herself using a different name. However, investigators immediately recognised her and suggested to surrender along with Shukhevych. However, the woman denied that in the house there was Shukhevych, who at that time was hiding in a especially equipped room between two floors, hidden by a hanging carpet.

Investigators started searching the house. As soon as they found a hidden pistol, Didyk yanked the poison ampoule and bit it open. At this time, the operatives were climbing the stairs to another floor. And in that moment Shukhevych opened fire at them from a pistol. Most likely, he assumed that this was some random patrol and that it is not a large-scale operation. That’s why it will be possible to break through, taking advantage of the surprise effect, and go into the forest.

Shukhevych killed major Revenko of the MGB, after which he rushed down the stairs into the yard. However, having heard the noise of the shooting, Sergeant Polishchuk ran into the house, saw Shukhevych rushing towards him, and opened automatic fire.

Three bullets hit him in the stomach and, apparently, he was still alive for some time, because in the postmortem photos a bullet wound near the temple is clearly seen. The narrative about a controlled shot to the head should be immediately dismissed. The chekists never killed those who had to be captured alive. And the leader of such a rank shouldn’t be eliminated, but captured without fail. Security officers made enormous efforts to save the life of wounded detainees (up to calling the best doctors of the Republic) when they needed their testimonies. This same Didyk, who took poison, was urgently taken to hospital and saved. So it is simply impossible to imagine that they killed Shukhevych. It’s unlikely that Polishchuk could hit his temple, because he aimed at the lower part of the body, and the bullets that he fired entered into his stomach.

Most likely, this shot was made by Shukhevych. Immediately after being injured, taking advantage of the confusion and hesitation of the operational group, he shot himself in the head with a pistol. This is the most adequate explanation for a gunshot wound to his temple.

It should be noted that there is also an embellished narrative, which is presented in Sudoplatov’s memoirs – that near the house there was a real fight. However these memoirs contradict the reports of direct participants of the operation to capture Shukhevych. In addition, there are many other inaccuracies in Sudoplatov’s memoirs. For example, he wrote that Revenko was killed not by Shukhevych, but by Darya Gusyak, although no one was hurt during her capture. Apparently, his memory failed him and he confused the capture of Moneta (Zaritskaya), during which an operative really died (but not Revenko), and Gusyak. There are other inaccuracies. Sudoplatov calls Revenko the young Lieutenant, although he was a Major. In addition, he writes that Shukhevych revealed himself by shooting a random police officer who checked documents. Besides this, according to Sudoplatov’s narrative, the tip off on Shukhevych was given by Gorbovoy. In short, the memoirs of Sudoplatov significantly differ from the remaining reports.

With the death of Shukhevych, UPA practically ceased to exist. By the early 50’s nearly all meaningful persona were eliminated or arrested. And the remains of the destroyed underground were literally flooded with converted agents, so all the activities of the nationalists still at large was under the control of the security services. Vasyl Kuk, the last UPA commander, was arrested in 1954. He served six years, after his release he publicly announced the cessation of the fight and the recognition of Soviet authorities, and after the collapse of the USSR he met journalists with pleasure. Kuk died in 2007 at the age of 94.

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