Vovk Foundation Director Yurij Wowczuk and Peter J. Piaseckyj Discuss Ukrainian History And The Legacy of Dmytro Dontsov

Sep 13, 2023 | Blog

The following is an edited transcript from a podcast discussion held on August 29, 2023 between Vovk Foundation Director Yurij Wowczuk and Peter J. Piaseckyj, a noted marine engineer, naval architect, entrepreneur, and expert on modern Ukrainian history and politics.


YURIJ WOWCZUK: Uncle Peter (Bуйко Петрус), thank you so much for taking time to share your incredible and vast knowledge of Dmytro Dontsov and the times during which he lived.  From my perspective, he was a philosopher and thinker of monolithic importance to the notion of Ukrainian nationalism.  The fact alone that he maintained critical objectivity by never joining the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) is a testament to his perspective and legacy.  It also suggests a neutrality and objectivity that is not common among philosophers associated with similar movements in other Nations.  What other characteristics of his persona and philosophy set him apart in your opinion?

PETER PIASECKYJ:  It is unconscionable that until now a political philosopher of such enormous influence and political stature has been ignored and/or maligned by the English-speaking intellectual and literary world. I therefore feel honored to celebrate his 140th Birthday with you.

Dmytro Dontsov’s life, his role in history, his works remain incompletely understood and require objective research and unbiased understanding. His legacy is of course especially relevant today with the russian invasions of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022.

Dontsov helps us understand the concept of nations and borders in 20th century interwar Ukraine as the people who were most directly affected lived in Germany, Poland and of course russia – the most ideologically virulent and murderous state of Europe’s twentieth century.

Dontsov attacked russian imperialism in all its forms and made a decisive contribution to the undermining of russophilism and the influence of Communist ideas in Western Ukraine in the 1920’s. He pointed out that Ukraine was organically tied to the West since Kyivan Rus’ times and strongly condemned those tendencies among Ukrainians in the 19th and 20th centuries that weakened this tie. Influenced profoundly by the Ukrainian struggle for independence (1917–21), he blamed its leaders for the defeat. He idealized Kozak traditions and increasingly emphasized the importance of traditionalism and a ruling caste, and the necessity of militancy and activism among the younger generation.

His ideology was built on the principles of voluntarism and idealism; he considered them, the profound irrational will as the main life force of the individual and of society. Dontsov believed that ideas have played an increasingly important role in history; hence, he denounced Marxism and historical materialism, thus provoking bitter attacks by the socialist and especially communist camps. Because of his brilliant style of writing and his oratorical skill, Dontsov’s ideas had a great impact on the minds of many young Galician Ukrainians in the 1930’s.

Nationalism and idealism became dominant ideologies. Dontsov’s theses were to a large extent the basis for the revolutionary underground activity of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) in the 1930’s. His ideology (Dontsovism) was opposed in certain circles, which condemned his antidemocratic, elitist ethic and his amoral justification of any deed that benefits the primacy of the nation. More than any of his contemporaries Dontsov was a figure of both adulation and vilification. But he always was true to his love of Ukraine and the Ukrainian nation.

YW: The concept of “integral nationalism” is very vital to understanding Dontsov’s work and its influence.  In your own words, how do you define this concept and how does it relate to the Ukrainian people’s perspective today given what is happening?  Both Ukrainians living in Ukraine and abroad in the diaspora.

PP:   It is surprising that certain western historians, even those exceptionally well-versed in the Ukrainian liberation movement of the 20th century, fell into the trap of the Western academic understanding of the integrality of Ukrainian nationalism. The term and concept has been misapplied as it applies to Dmytro Dontsov and OUN. In a personal correspondence with Professor Oksana Mykytyuk, a researcher specializing in Dontsov at the Department of Ukrainian Language at the Lviv Polytechnic University, she writes to me that Dmytro Dontsov never uses such an expression. He uses only the word active nationalism (чинний націоналізм).

Dontsov’s six demands for an active “effective” nationalism were:

The nation must have a clear sense of its own identity.

A strong sense of its own interests.
Be willing to fight for its independence.
A have a strong sense of community.
A strong sense of culture.
A strong sense of history.

Just like the United Sates!

YW: Growing up, I of course was aware of Dontsov and his colleagues and thought partners, most notably scholars like Khvylovy (Хвильовий) and others.  In fact, Dontsov’s famous quote ” Кам’яне серце i Гаряча віра (stone heart and fierce, hot belief)” definitely solidified my beliefs and point of view as a teenager/young adult.  Of his many writings, I was always particularly struck by these:   Ідеологія, Націоналізм, Де шукати наших історичних традицій.  How has your perspective on the notion of Ukrainian nationalism changed over time?

PP:  My understanding of Ukrainian nationalism over time has deepened by my readings and discussions with Ukrainian historians and Ukrainian nationalists with a small n and a capital N. But my awareness came not through reading but in my listening to stories about our struggle for independence and with my interactions with people actively involved in the fight for Ukraine.

My political orientation and knowledge of Ukraine was enhanced by my listening to my grandfather Dr. Lev Hankevych (Hankewycz) and his many friends, who were Ukrainians, Poles, and Jews. My grandfather during the 1st world war – was the representative of the Union for the Liberation of Ukraine in Bulgaria. From November 1918 – deputy head of the Western Ukrainian National Republic (WUNR), councilor, and representative of the secretariat, WUNR ambassador in Sofia and Vienna. In the 1930’s, he defended members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and Ukrainian Military Organization (UVO) in Polish courts.

In essence, my claim to Ukrainian Nationalism is my lives’ experience and reading!

YW: No doubt that Dontsov’s philosophy had an influence on my grandfather’s writings, speeches, and approaches to supporting the diaspora.  Can you recall any discussions with my grandfather about Dontsov, his colleagues, and the origins of Nationalistic thoughts? 

PP:   In our family we respected him and his deep knowledge. My parents told me that he was the chief idealogue of the Ukrainian Nationalist political platform.

In his obituary, Yaroslava “Slava” Stetsko, a lifelong revolutionary and nationalist confirmed what my parents told me about him.

She wrote “… he was an ardent patriot, a man of deep thought, an extraordinary intellectual, an extraordinary expert on the revolutionary and liberation processes in Ukraine and the Russian Empire… a great and multifaceted personality. A remarkable nationalist socio-political figure, an extremely far-sighted mind, who was sometimes ahead of his colleagues in his projections, ideas, and plans. The deceased was a thoughtful analyst of world political processes and the importance of Ukraine’s place in them as a revolutionary problem of the world.”

It is a shame he did not see Ukraine become a free and nationalist state!

He was a participant of the Great Gathering of the Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council (UHVR) held on July 1944, the umbrella organization that combined various Ukrainian nationalists and anti-Soviet partisans until the early 1960’s.

The UHVR, of which your grandfather was third Vice President, was a body formed toward the end of the Second World War by members of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) to provide political leadership for Ukrainian independentist forces. It proclaimed itself the supreme organ of the Ukrainian people in its war of revolutionary liberation.  The council’s organizers hoped to establish a broader political and social base for armed resistance to both the German and the Bolshevik occupational forces and sought to attract support from outside the OUN, although the OUN would continue to serve as the UHVR’s ideological and organizational foundation.

Unfortunately, Ukrainian political terms do conform to western standards and therefor sound awkward and grandiose.

He was in a very select group of Ukrainian patriots in the UHVR. They were resolute, knowledgeable, driven to action and fearless – Dontsov’s ideal.

YW: Your review of Trevor Erlacher’s book* on Dontsov was very insightful.  In it, you very correctly point out inaccuracies about the world’s perception of Ukrainian nationalists and nationalism.  You identify “white spaces” in history.  You challenge certain presumptions and albeit, misconceptions.  Given the challenges we face with “setting the record straight,” what are your thoughts about where we go from here?

*Ukrainian Nationalism in the Age of Extremes, An Intellectual Biography of Dmytro Dontsov, Harvard University Press (Harvard Series in Ukrainian Studies) – May 4, 2021,by Trevor Erlacher

PP:   The new orthodoxy of thought in Academia about Ukrainian nationalists and nationalism in Ukraine as well as in independent Ukraine is the continued implications about nationalists and nationalism such as collaboration, fascism, anti-Semitism, ultra-nationalism, and the study of intercultural legal extremism.  All of these falsehoods are captured in the words currently also used by russian propagandists. It needs to be emphasized that the Ukrainian Nationalists had no one to turn to for military training or arms, so the word collaboration is absurd and meaningless in historical discourses!  There is wisdom in the aphorism, “the enemy of my enemy, is my friend”.

It is imperative that historians write about people like your grandfather and my father, who risked life of his family (namely, me as well) He was the forest administrator of the Metropolitan Yaktoriv-Univ forests. His foresters, and the villagers of Yaktoriv, Halychyna, all participated in saving them.  He miraculously survived incarceration in Stalin’s dungeons in Peremyshliany.

We need to set the record straight about TRUTH – with facts.

Yurij, thank you organizing this Podcast to Honor the memory of Dmytro Dontsov, one of the foremost political philosophers of Ukraine.

Glory to Ukraine and her Heros!