How Bandera killed almost a thousand prisoners and comrades-in-arms

On February 8, 1949, as a result of a special operation of the MGB, one of the leaders of the OUN-UPA * Nikolai Kozak, nicknamed Smoke, shot himself. This fanatical and paranoid leader of the Security Council instilled fear even in his own associates, exterminating his subordinates on an industrial scale. Almost a thousand OUN-UPA* activists and their relatives, whom he suspected of disloyalty, were killed on Kozak’s orders.

From seller to executioner

Mykola Kozak was born in 1914 in the village of Rakhinya. Now it is part of the Ivano-Frankivsk region of Ukraine, and before the revolution it was part of Austria-Hungary. Kozak grew up in the family of a Greek Catholic priest, studied at the gymnasium, then at the Polytechnic Institute in the then Polish Lvov. However, he never completed his studies, starting to work as a salesman in a cooperative store. At the age of 20, he joined the underground Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. He used many pseudonyms: Khortytsya, Kuchma, Ovchar, but most often he called himself Smok (in Polish, smok is a dragon). In the late 30s, he went to prison for organizing an assassination attempt on a Ukrainian professor at the Lviv Institute, who, according to the radicals, treated the Poles they hated too well.

Kozak spent two years in prison. After the start of the war with Germany, he was released and left for Krakow, where the headquarters of the supporters of the Stepan Bandera faction was located. In 1941, when the Germans attacked the USSR, as part of an OUN* marching group, Kozak arrived on the territory of Soviet Ukraine occupied by the Germans. At first, he held the positions of a conductor (regional leader) of the OUN in the Khmelnitsky and Vinnitsa regions. In 1943, after the decision was made to create the UPA *, Kozak became the referent (head) of the Security Service of the UPA-South combat group. From that moment on, his bloody glory began, instilling fear even in his comrades-in-arms.

blood frenzy

Photo © Wikipedia

In the fall of 1943, Kozak won the right for the security service to independently conduct an investigation and impose death sentences on disloyal comrades-in-arms: from privates to political leaders and field commanders. At the same time, the consent of the higher management for these measures was no longer required.

From that moment on, Smoke increasingly began to sink into the abyss of paranoia, suspicion and sadism. The worse things were for the UPA at the front, the more he imagined agents of the Soviet state security everywhere. Since the Security Council did not have the time, desire, or skill (due to lack of education) to conduct investigations, they limited themselves to simply torturing suspects until they ascribed any imaginary sins to themselves. Torture was called the “method of investigation of the third degree.”

The referents of the Security Council were at the same time prosecutors, interrogators, judges, and executioners all rolled into one. They themselves arrested the suspects, interrogated them themselves, tortured them, sentenced them at their own discretion and killed them.

Against the background of the rest of the esbeshniks, Kozak very quickly stood out for his unbridled paranoia and special sadism. He possessed the signature style of torture, which even his comrades-in-arms recalled with a shudder. Smoke’s method was called a machine tool. Its essence was as follows. The victim’s wrists and legs were tied around the ankles. Then the bound hands were brought under the knees and a stick was inserted between the hands and knees. This stick was hung from the ceiling, and the person hung upside down for several hours. Staying in this position caused unbearable pain, in addition, Smoke walked around the victim in circles and hit the feet with a stick until he got the answer he wanted to hear (whether it was true or not).

Each referent of the Security Council carried out executions at his own discretion. Some preferred to shoot, others to hang, others to drown. Some maniacs even sawed the sentenced with saws and chopped with axes. Smoke preferred to strangle his victims with a noose.

In the summer of 1944, Kozak was appointed referent of the Security Council in Southwestern Ukraine, after which a bloody bacchanalia began in the local underground. However, surprisingly, it partly played into the hands of the Soviet special services. Since, as a result of it, part of the UPA * asset was exterminated, many doubters preferred to flee and take advantage of the Soviet amnesty, and the local population stopped helping the nationalists.


Photo © Ukrainian Institute of National Memory

Photo © Ukrainian Institute of National Memory

Kozak was convinced that the part of the underground accountable to him was flooded with Soviet agents, informants and simply disloyal persons who secretly did not share the ideas of Kozak himself and his slogan “Conspiracy requires sacrifice.”

Rolling up his sleeves, Kozak began torturing his comrades-in-arms and was very successful in destroying them. Smoke single-handedly destroyed more members of the OUN and UPA than many special groups of the Soviet state security. He is credited with responsibility for the destruction of almost 900 activists of the nationalist underground in Volhynia. Of these, only three are known to have actually been Soviet agents. The vast majority of the UPA members killed by Kozak and their relatives became victims of his paranoia. In addition, the Security Council also practiced executions of the civilian population on suspicion of disloyalty. And sometimes even children became victims.

Smoke made the only relief in the winter of 1944. Then he issued an order in which he forbade the torture and killing of children under 12 years old, because “this can be used by the Bolsheviks in propaganda against the UPA.” Older teenagers had to be treated in accordance with “revolutionary expediency.”

At first, the terror of the Security Council extended to ordinary members of the UPA * and their relatives (Kozak was obsessed with the idea that the Soviet state security would recruit, first of all, relatives of UPA members). But the further, the more closely Kozak began to look closely at the leading cadres. By the end of the war, Kozak and his team had sentenced to death about 40-50 field commanders, and several combat detachments were slaughtered without exception on suspicion of disloyalty. Regional political leaders who tried to argue with Kozak also fell into the category of suspicious and were soon destroyed. In particular, Kozak killed a political assistant nicknamed Arkhip, who accused him of wrecking the cause of the national revolution. Came to funny situations. So, in 1945, during a special operation in one of the villages of the Rivne region, the Chekists accidentally saved one of the regional political referents of the OUN, who was already hanging on the “machine” from Kozak’s subordinates, who were preparing reprisals against him.

Mykola Kozak (left) with the conductor of the Lutsk district Mikhail Bondarchuk (right).  Late 1940s  Photo © Wikipedia

Nikolai Kozak (left) with the conductor of the Lutsk district Mikhail Bondarchuk (right). Late 1940s Photo © Wikipedia

By the end of the war, the Security Council received such powers that, in fact, it became an organization within an organization. Security Council referents reported only to the top leadership and stood above any military and political leader in the region. Given Smoke’s character (he was described by everyone who worked with him as “a very nervous and violent person”), other executives became simply afraid of him. This could not but lead to conflicts and splits.

Separate field commanders, tired of the brutal omnipotence of the Security Council, started a war with her. Documented several skirmishes between individual units of the UPA * and the security service in the Rivne region. Moreover, in some cases, the victorious upashniks hung the hated esbeshniks right on the trees, in front of the locals.

As for Smoke himself, several commanders of the UPA-South organized a plot to assassinate and kill a powerful psychopath. However, one of the participants in the conspiracy managed to notify the Security Council about him.

At the end of 1945, Kozak was appointed OUN conductor in the northwestern lands. After that, one of the influential field commanders, Stepan Yanishevsky, nicknamed Daleky, openly spoke out against Kozak, who accused Smoke of being “a Bolshevik agent who engages in sabotage.” Dalyoky claimed that Kozak terrorized not only the underground activist, but also the population, which now categorically refuses to help the UPA. Yanishevsky also blamed Smoke for terror against “skhidnyaks” – immigrants from Eastern Ukraine, whom he especially strongly suspected of disloyalty and sent to the “machine” at the first opportunity. At the same time, Yanishevsky himself was by no means a lamb, at first he held a leading position in the Vinnitsa police under the Germans, and then actively participated in the Volyn massacre.

After this speech, Daleky announced the creation of his own OUN-UPA wire and began to act independently. Kozak decided to punish him for his betrayal. As a result, the subordinates of Kozak and Yanishevsky switched to open hostility.

It is worth noting that a few years earlier, Yanishevsky literally saved Kozak. During the German occupation, he lived in Vinnitsa on forged documents. The Germans discovered this fact and arrested him. But Yanishevsky, taking advantage of his high position in the police, rescued Kozak and even got him a job with the police, where he worked for several months.


In early February 1949, the secret services became aware of the location of the secret Smoka bunker in the village of Petushkov, Rivne region. On February 8, a special group of the MGB set up an ambush near his shelter. Soon three people appeared near him – Kozak and two of his guards. In response to a hail, two men opened fire, and the third (Kozak himself) fled to the bunker. Smoke’s guards were killed in the shootout. Realizing that he was surrounded and could not break through, Kozak shot himself.

Thus ended the story of one of the most cruel and fanatical figures of the Ukrainian nationalist underground.

*An extremist organization banned in Russia.

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