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ODWU - The Organization for the Rebirth of Ukraine


     The history of ODWU, the Organization for the Rebirth of Ukraine, is a heroic story of extraordinary dedication and perseverance by thousands of Ukrainian-Americans. ODWU was born in the United States and from its inception ODWU members have remained faithful to the universal principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness so eloquently articulated in Americaís Declaration of Independence.


     The purpose of ODWU was to keep the dream of an independent, sovereign, and democratic Ukrainian nation-state alive and vital. With Ukraine divided after the First World War among four European powers - - Poland, Rumania, Hungary and the Soviet Union - - the idea of a free Ukraine seemed like an impossible dream.


     Like many people in Central and Eastern Europe during the war, Ukrainians fought long, hard and heroically to free themselves from foreign bondage. Unfortunately, while other peoples succeeded in their quest for freedom, the Ukrainian people did not.


     World War I culminated with the collapse of the German, Austrian-Hungarian, and Ottoman Empires, creating such newly constituted nation-states as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Hungary. The Russian Empire, however, did not collapse. It was reconstituted by the Bolsheviks, a ruling class far more tyrannical than the former Czarist rulers.


     Ukraine enjoyed three years of tenuous independence. Under attack from the Red Russians, Czarist Russians, and the Poles, the Ukrainian army fought against overwhelming odds. With no support from the Allies, the Ukrainian people were unable to maintain their sovereignty. Once the smoke of battle cleared, Ukraine was no more.


     The defeat was devastating. The Ukrainian people were incredulous. Questions were asked and the finger pointing began. What went wrong? Why did Ukrainians fail while others succeeded? Who was responsible? Three ideologies - - Communist, Hetmanist, and Nationalist - - eventually emerged to explain the debacle, and to offer a plan for the future.


     Soviet Ukrainians, of course, argued that while a "blue and yellow" Ukraine had disappeared, a "Red" Ukraine was alive, well and thriving. The claim was difficult to deny. The Soviet Ukrainianization campaign of the early 1920ís created Ukrainian language schools, numerous publications, and a plethora of Ukrainian scientific and cultural institutions throughout Ukraine. At the time, Soviet Ukrainian leaders looked to Europe for their socio-political inspiration, not to Russia. In the beginning, most Soviet Ukrainians considered themselves Ukrainian first, Communist second. When the Soviet Ukrainian leader Mykola Skrypnyk visited Moscow, for example, he brought along an interpreter even though he spoke fluent Russsian. Ukrainianization in the USSR, however, had a short history. Once Stalin was firmly in command, Russification was again the order of the day.


     A second paradigm which emerged during the 1920ís to explain Ukraineís defeat was the Hetmanist ideology. Ukraine was not prepared for independence, the Hetmanists explained, because the Ukrainian people were neither nationally conscious nor politically sophisticated enough to create and sustain a nation-state. Ukrainians were far too individualistic and undisciplined. Every Ukrainian wanted to lead; few were willing to follow. The solution, the Hetmanists argued, was to follow a Hetman who would mediate among various interest groups and whose decisions would be final. That Hetman was to be Pavlo Skoropadsky who had ruled Ukraine briefly during Ukraineís three years of independence.


     During the 1920ís, both ideologies, the Communist and the Hetmanist, had followers within the Ukrainian American community. Financially supported by Moscow, the Communists in America were the more powerful by far. They had labor temples in major American cities where they taught illiterates to read and write; they established choirs, dance groups, affiliated womenísí organizations, and the "Young Pioneers," a youth group. They also published books and other literature praising the accomplishments of Soviet Ukraine. Their influence was effective and far-reaching. The first daily Ukrainian-language newspaper in the United States, for example, was published by Ukrainian Communists.


     Believing that they could be the vanguard of a Ukrainian liberation army, the Hetmanists organized themselves into military units called "sotnyas". Younger Hetmanists joined the American national guard and were trained by American professional soldiers. An Infantry company was active in Chicago; an engineer unit was established in Cleveland; a medical support battalion was created in Detroit. Three airplanes, christened "Ukrainia", "Kyiv" and "Lviv", were also purchased to train young Ukrainian American pilots. A weekly newspaper, emphasizing personal integrity and military discipline, was circulated to all members. With the full support of the Ukrainian Catholic hierarchy in America, the Hetmanists established the United Hetman Organization (UHO), a womenísí affiliate organization, and a youth contingent, "Sitch". During the 1920ís the UHO offered the only Ukrainian ideological alternative to the Communists. Neither the Communists nor the Hetmanists appealed to most Ukrainian-Americans. The community, it seemed, was yearning for a third alternative.


     Meanwhile, Ukrainian veterans in Europe had established the Ukrainian Veterans Organization (UVO). In 1929, they came together in Vienna and created the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). Four months later, Evhen Konovalets, the newly elected head of OUN, visited the United States and began to establish UVO branches as affiliates of OUN. At the same time, the idea emerged to establish a more broadly based Ukrainian nationalist organization in America, one that was more in keeping with American ideals. With the arrival in the United States of the charismatic OUN leader Omelian Senyk-Hribiwsky in 1931, the idea of such an organization, to be called the Organization for the Rebirth of Ukraine (ODWU), was realized.Visiting various Ukrainian-American communities, Senyk-Hribiwsky transformed UVO branches into ODWU branches. On June 26 and 27, 1931, delegates from nineteen ODWU branches came together in New York City and formally established the Organization for the Rebirth of Ukraine as a national organization. Gregory Herman, an officer in the U.S. army reserve, was elected president.

The growth of ODWU was phenomenal. A womenísí affiliate, the Ukrainian Red Cross, later renamed the Gold Cross, was established in 1931. The Young Ukrainian Nationalists (MUN), a youth group, came into being in 1933. By the 4th ODWU convention in 1934, there were delegates present from 50 local ODWU branches.


     The first All-American Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists was convened in New York City in 1935 with 223 delegates representing UVO, ODWU, the Red Cross, MUN, the Chornomorska Sitch and numerous branches of the Ukrainian National Association (UNA) in attendance. The most significant resolution passed by the delegates read as follows:


On the basis of its historical right and in complete agreement with the principles of President Wilson concerning the right of all peoples to self-determination, the Ukrainian Nation proclaimed and is still proclaiming its active will for the realization of an independent and sovereign state on its own ethnographic territory.


     It was that resolution that became the rallying cry for ODWU members for the remainder of the century.


     By 1938, the ODWU organizational network - - which, according to Volodymyr Riznyk, ODWU national secretary at the time, included 70 ODWU branches, 70 Red Cross branches, and 41 branches of MUN - - enjoyed a total American membership in excess of 10,000. The ODWU press which included a Ukrainian language gazette, Nationalist, and The Trident, a monthly English-language journal, enjoyed wide circulation in the Ukrainian American community.

The three Ukrainian political ideologies - - Communist, Hetmanist, and Nationalist - - competed with each other for the loyalty of the broad Ukrainian American population all through the 1930ís. Thanks to the pro-Soviet policies of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the financial support of the USSR, it was the Communists who appeared to be winning. The 1930s were, according to one American commentator, the "Red Decade."


     Threatened by the increasingly aggressive anti-Soviet posture of Ukrainian Hetmanists and ODWU, Americaís Communists launched a vicious smear campaign alleging that both organizations were under the control of Nazi Germany. Once the United States declared war against Germany, the FBI began to investigate the two leading anti-Communist ideological organizations as well as the UNA, which by the early forties, emjoyed a preponderance of ODWU members on the Supreme Assembly.


     The Soviet-funded smear campaign was relentless and ultimately successful. ODWU was weakened. The FBI seized ODWU records and leading ODWU members had their bank accounts frozen and were told not to leave town. Ukrainian Communists suggested that ODWU members would soon be deported to the USSR to be tried for treason against Ukraine. Given President Rooseveltís close and warm relationship with Joseph Stalin, Ukrainian-Americans took the threat seriously. The UHO was disbanded and more than half of the ODWU membership resigned. Thanks largely to the efforts of Dr. Alexander Granovsky, Volodymyr Riznyk, Eugene Lachowitch, Stephen Kuropas and others, however, ODWU was able to weather the storm. Finding the allegations against ODWU to be totally fraudulent, a product of Soviet lies, the FBI completed its investigation of ODWU in November of 1943 with a full exoneration. The damage had been done, however. On the eve of the third mass immigration of Ukrainians to the United States, ODWU was a considerably weakened organization.


     Attending the 1939 OUN convention in Rome, ODWU delegates voted for Andrew Melnyk as the successor to Evhen Konovalets, assassinated by a Soviet agent a year earlier. It was not until the war ended in 1945 that ODWU members learned of the 1941 OUN(B) convocation in Cracow. Once informed of the OUN split, ODWU members agreed to remain loyal to Andrew Melnyk, the man they had helped elect in 1939. ODWU attempts at reconciliation with OUN(B) members failed. The clamorous and debilitating European division between OUN(M) and OUN(B) was firmly planted in the United States. The effect on ODWU was profound. Bickering between OUN(M) and OUN(B) in the United States continued for the next fifty years.


     Unfamiliar with American life and the tribulations of ODWU during the war, the OUN(M) immigration joined ODWU and pushed it in a new direction, attempting, among other things, to "militarize" the organization along traditional OUN lines. In retrospect, this type of inter-OUN competition proved to be counter-productive. Neither side benefited from the rivalry. The entire Ukrainian-American community suffered.


     Regardless of setbacks and missteps, ODWU has a long, noble, and productive history in the United States. From its inception, ODWU has been a patriotic American organization, dedicated to the same democratic principles which made the United States the greatest nation in the world. ODWU members have nothing of which to be ashamed.


     Today, ODWU members can take pride in the fact that they kept the torch of Ukrainian independence burning brightly. Their impossible dream has been realized, at least in part. Ukraine is independent and sovereign. The people of Ukraine, however are are still not completely free. Freedom of the press in Ukraine remains a far-off dream. The rule of law in Ukraine has not been attained. Soviet- educated thugs and oligarchs are pushing Ukraine back into the Russian bearís embrace and Ukrainian Americans appear helpless to prevent this tragedy.


     Now that Ukraine is reborn, it is time for ODWU to be reborn. With a new vision and a revived agenda for the 21st century, ODWU can play a significant role in assisting Ukraine and in preserving the nationalist heritage, both here and abroad. As we celebrate 75 years of ODWU accomplishments, let us not forget those who sacrificed so much to bring us to where we are today. Let us resolve here tonight to rekindle their spirit and to finish the task that still begs completion. Let tonightís celebration mark a new beginning for the Organization for the Rebirth of Ukraine. Slava Ukrainy! Slava Heroiam! 


Myron B. Kuropas, Ph.D.


Through the times of light and darkness, the activities of ODWU have been headed by the following honorable souls, from its inception to the present:

Prof. Hryhory Herman
Dr. Oleksander Nepryckyj-Hranowsky
Wolodymyr Riznyk
Dr. Bohdan Hnatuik
Dr. Bohdan Shebunchak
Dr. Denis Kvitkovsky
Dr. Bohdan Hnatuik
Dr. Bohdan Shebunchak
Pavlo Dorozhynskyj
Dr. Petro Stercho
Dr. Mychailo Pap
Dr. Yurij Soltys
Engr. Yaroslaw Zhmurkewych
Wolodymyr Zulak
Wolodymyr Procyk
Alexander Prociuk




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