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The Reason I'm Alive Is Due to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army – A Jewish Girl Saved by the UPA

The Reason I'm Alive Is Due to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army – A Jewish Girl Saved by the UPA

Editor's Note: This is a supplement article for The Ukrainian Insurgent Army, Part 1: The History, and The Ukrainian Insurgent Army, Part 2: The Small Arms in Firearms News issues 16 (on sale Aug. 24, 2021) and 17 (on sale Sept. 7, 2021.)

Translated from Ukrainian by Illya M. Labunka

The fact that I’m alive today and devote all the vigor of my 38 years to a free Israel, I owe of course only to God and the UPA. I am grateful to God for the fact that He gave me the eyes of a cornflower, like the one you find in Ukrainian fields, and golden hair of the spacious fields of wheat. I am grateful to God for not branding on my countenance the eternal image of Israel, and as a result, I grew up not looking like my great-great grandparents, Rachel or Rebecca, but rather I am no different in appearance than Marusia, Orysia or Olya, typical girls of the Ukrainian land. I often wondered why Jehovah chose to create me not in the image of my mother Sarah, who had red hair and green eyes, nor in the image of my father, who had black hair, a semitic nose and traditional, long, curly sidelocks and served as a Rabbi of the town “B” in Western Ukraine. Today I understand why things are the way they are. His Divine Will had prescribed for me that I may still work for the glory of that Israel, for whose freedom I prayed my entire life; for that Promised Land of Moses, to whom belongs half of my heart. The other half of my heart, until my death, will be filled with love for that land in which I was born and where I grew up.

I was born indeed in that town “B”, which is situated about 75 kilometers from Lviv. My father was respected in the town not only by Jews. He was an exceptionally honest human being who abided by God’s commandments, held dear that which was his own, but equally respected that which belonged to others. For this reason, it was not out of the ordinary that my father was on good terms with the local Greek-Catholic dean, to whom he would often pay a visit for discussions about the Bible’s Old Testament. This priest’s daughter, Olya, was my sincerest friend from first grade. After I completed elementary school, my father registered me at the local gymnasium [National Heritage Junior & Senior High School], even though there was also a Polish state gymnasium in the town. My father told me that in the Ukrainian school I will experience less discrimination. However, I must admit, my father erred significantly when he used the term “less”. Over the course of my eight-year education in a Ukrainian school, I did not experience any condescending discrimination. My friends considered me an equal friend on all levels and treated me like a fellow Ukrainian. While I was a student at the Ukrainian Gymnasium, I diligently learned the Ukrainian language and familiarized myself with the inspirational grandeur of Ukrainian literature. And thus, over time, I began to despise the enemies of Ukraine and to love her friends. At home I was raised according to age-old rules and customs. We did not speak in a dialect, but rather in pure Hebrew. My parents instilled in me, from a very young age, a love for Israel, a captive homeland just like Ukraine. And then as I became a bit older and began to do some introspection into the depth of my soul, I realized that my heart was divided into two equal parts. In one part burned a love for Israel, in the other part a love for Ukraine. Perhaps some people will consider my assertions to be absurd, i.e. love can be great and powerful for only one country. However, when I do some self-examination yet again these days, and when any sense of uncertainty is wiped out, I can boldly say that both loves were and are equally great and equally powerful!

In 1935, I received my Gymnasium (High School) diploma and was hoping to matriculate at Lviv University’s Medical School. However, my application was rejected along with the applications of 38 Ukrainians. I was the only Jewess who wasn’t admitted. As a result, I registered in the university’s Philosophy Department. That same year my parents relocated to Palestine and I was to join them following the completion of my studies. In June 1939, I completed my formal studies and received my doctoral degree. On September 28, 1939 I was supposed to sail to Palestine on a ship for which I had a reserved ticket. However, the war broke out on September 1st and I didn’t manage to depart from Lviv in time. The new occupants, namely the Bolsheviks, at first treated Jews well. I immediately got a job in a local gymnasium (high school), of course never mentioning my background. But then, in less than year, one morning the police appeared at my house and ordered me to pack my belongings for the road. What itinerary, I inquired calmly, assuming that this was some sort of mistake. I showed them my passport and all of the appropriate identification documents. But this was all for naught. As it turns out, an official government order had been issued to deport Jews to Siberia and that’s it! And so, I began to gather my things, got dressed in my best clothes and was ready to accept what fate had in store for me. Before exiting the premises, I inquired if I could use the bathroom. I was granted permission. That situation was what saved me. I lived on the first floor and the bathroom window faced the courtyard, so I jumped out the window, passed through the courtyard’s commonly-shared gate and ran onto a different street. I remained in hiding at the home of my friend Olya (the daughter of the priest in my native town) until the Bolsheviks retreated in 1941. Olya worked as an accountant in one of the local produce departments and barely managed to keep us both nourished. She would share with me her last crumb of bread and was like a biological sister to me; Olya never let me sense the fear that she felt in my behalf, as she endangered her own life. Olya too, like myself, had no one. Her mother had passed away when she was a child. Her father was killed during the war by the Poles, by the so-called Legion of Death, which was comprised of convicted criminals who had been released and dispersed to burn down Ukrainian villages and kill patriotic Ukrainians.

When the Germans entered Lviv, I was probably the only Jewess who was enthusiastic about their arrival. I assumed that they would create a new Ukraine while at the same time fighting the Bolsheviks. But I became painfully disillusioned! Soon my joy changed to horror. What the Germans started doing to the Jews and then to the Ukrainians, was nothing else but simply a continuation of Bolshevik cruelty.

I continued to live with Olya and worked as a seamstress for numerous Ukrainian households. My official identification papers were issued with a Ukrainian surname and my face did not raise suspicion, but my nerves were frayed. Every day I saw large columns of Jews, who submissively marched to their death under the escort of a few policemen. My wrath got the better of me because of this submissiveness. I used to cover up my mouth so that I would not shout out to them: “Jump these few policemen and kill them, you are in the majority. You will die anyway, but as heroes, not as slaves!” I would often mention these issues to Olya, but she would tell me that Jews were not capable of heroic deeds. At that time, I agreed with her.

Oh, Olya, if only I could tell you today how capable are the sons of Israel in fighting and dying heroically, but I’m sure you’re already aware of this as well.

Life in Lviv was becoming dangerous for the Ukrainians as well. Having dealt with the Jews, the Germans began to arrest the Ukrainians. The prisons had filled up with Ukrainian youths, the intelligentsia as well as with patriotic peasants. Frequent executions by firing squad, arrests and deportations to concentration camps in Germany were now the order of the day. However, the Ukrainians were not submissive, like the Jews. They paid with blood for blood, and with death for death. This is when news of the UPA’s activity in Volhynia began to reach me. After a while, this movement began to grow and it spread throughout all of Ukraine which had been “liberated” by the Germans. I suspected that Olya also had ties to the UPA, because one day a typewriter appeared in our house and Olya spent time typing all sorts of propaganda on it. Sometimes, Olya would disappear on Saturday evenings and then return before dawn on Mondays, often covered in mud and tired. Various young men and women began showing up at our house, whose identity was unknown to me. They would stay in Olya’s room for a long time, or they would stop by just to pick up the medicine, which Olya regularly brought home from the pharmacy where she worked as a lab technician. The doorman of our building was a Pole. He noticed that a lot of people were visiting us and therefore he began to monitor us. At one point, his wife happened to blab to me that the neighbors are keeping an eye on us. I mentioned this to Olya and as a result, the visits to our abode began to subside. Nevertheless, we were now under suspicion. I had a feeling that one day we would be arrested (maybe this was just an example of psychosis), as a new wave of neuroses got the better of me. As a result, I decided to volunteer for work in Germany, because I assumed it would be safer there. I explained my plan to Olya. She attempted to dissuade me from travelling to Germany. Yet, I insisted on going, basing my intention on the premise that I have no other choice. That’s when Olya suggested that I should join the ranks of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Olya’s proposal turned out to be my salvation and I accepted it with great joy. My entire being was electrified with hate and a yearning for revenge against the enemy. So, what better way to seek revenge than in the UPA? This was on November 7, 1943. “How did you describe me, Olya, as a Ukrainian or a Jewess?” – asked I, as I walked along the path in a field towards stacks of hay near the forest. − “Take it easy, they know everything about you and amongst them, you can be what you are. They don’t segregate people based on race, only according to those who are honest and those who are dishonest.” I proceeded to go with a sense of relief; Olya’s words cheered me up. And that day I became a member of the heroic UPA.

Up to July 1944, we hid in the wooded areas near Lviv. There I underwent a six-month nursing course, which was supervised by two Jewish physicians and one Ukrainian physician. Our group consisted of 12 Jews, eight of which were physicians.

When the Bolsheviks returned to Western Ukraine in July 1944, I received orders to relocate to the town of R. to work in the local police department. For eight months, I worked as the police chief’s secretary. My boss was an ardent, card-carrying, communist Jew. In his presence, I feigned sympathy for communism. Making up various stories about life in the “ghetto,” I named the Bolsheviks as my liberators, etc. As a result, my boss took a liking to me and flirted with me. I pretended to be in love and he assumed that the relations between us were genuine and friendly. Simultaneously, I was in constant contact with the insurgents. I was regularly informing them about anything important that I managed to find out while at the police department.

But one day, at the designated location of a meeting with my underground liaison officer, my boss startled me. He gravely wounded the liaison officer, and leaving him for dead at the said location, my boss transported me to a location of incarceration. Meanwhile, the liaison officer, having regained consciousness, managed to garner enough strength to crawl back to his fellow insurgents and told them about my arrest. The local prison I ended up in had previously served as military barracks. The prison was filled mostly with peasants, and they were elderly. All of the youth were in the UPA. Over the course of five weeks, I was interrogated 15 times. I was tortured and beaten. There are marks still on my body – visual proof of that persecution. I remained silent the whole time and I didn’t utter a word. They began conducting a test on me with some sort of awful apparatus to see if I hadn’t become mute. I couldn’t take the pain anymore and screamed. My only response to all of the interrogations was in the form of shrieks and groans. Nevertheless, one day a trial took place and that’s where I heard my so-called confession. I was sentenced to death, and this verdict I accepted with ease. I was placed on death row. There were 24 of us in the cell, which could barely fit 12 persons. Among those sentenced was a 70-year old woman and a 12-year old girl. The girl was convicted, because she had taken a cow out to pasture by the forest, allegedly to provide milk for the insurgents.

Everyone who was sentenced had been branded with an absurd accusation. When the lights in the corridor had been turned off, the women decided to spend the entire night in prayer in order to meet death in the morning with dignity. The elderly woman had removed from her chest a black cross, which featured a shiny silver figurine of the Crucified Christ. Everyone stood in queue to kiss the cross and then everyone began to whisper in prayer. I prayed with everyone in earnest. As a matter of fact, the religion of my parents teaches that Christ is not God, only a great prophet. However, that night I became convinced that Christ is the Only Almighty God. I don’t know how much time had passed as we prayed, but suddenly we heard shots and bustling in the corridors. There was an exchange of gunfire, and although we didn’t know what had ensued, a glimmer of hope had reached our hearts. After some time, the doors to our cell opened up and a few young men appeared, whom I knew from the forest. For the next four days, the town of R. was under the control of the insurgents.


From the day of my liberation from prison, my life was tightly linked with the lives of the insurgents. I moved around with them from one place to another, whenever I received orders to do so. Our unit consisted of 70 soldiers, physicians, three nurses and four other women. In the summer of 1945, we relocated and settled in the Carpathians, where we joined forces with two other units. Initially, the Bolsheviks did not enter into the mountains and for a while we lived in peace. But in late autumn, the skirmishes began to occur more and more frequently, and our field hospital had filled up and there was a lot of work to take care of.

One day, January 7, 1946, exactly on Ukrainian Christmas, the Bolsheviks surrounded us in a three-tiered ring. There was no escape. Our commander gave each of us a grenade, so that we may kill ourselves, if necessary, in the last minute. The skirmish was intense, uneven and lasted for a long time without any end in sight. The chaplain of our field hospital, who was an elderly priest and invalid, prayed for three hours in front of a wooden cross and the whole time asked for the following: “Help them, Christ, don’t let us lose our souls in vain!” We all prayed with him. And then a miracle happened. To our aid, a large group of insurgents had arrived from the other side of the Carpathians, and having attacked the Bolsheviks from the rear, they broke through the ring. The commander of that large group told us that his group had not been aware of our location. However, he said that a young boy had come to him with a note requesting assistance. We never found out who this boy was, where he came from nor who had sent him. He could not have been from our group, because we were surrounded. And that’s when people started talking about a miracle. I pondered over this event for a long time and ultimately came to the conclusion that if God used to cause miracles during the times of the Old Testament, why couldn’t He cause a miracle at the present time?...

In the summer of 1946, our group was completely decimated in a skirmish. There were ten times as many Bolsheviks as us. That’s when my friend Olya was killed. Our field hospital was very well hidden in a large cleft of the mountain range and despite intense searches on the part of the Bolsheviks, they didn’t find us. Eight of us survived. The field hospital physician, the old priest, two invalids each without an arm, two invalids each without an eye, one invalid with a broken jowl and me. For three weeks no one visited us, and we didn’t know what was going on around us. We had no means of communication. This was a sign that no one else was aware of us. Our food supply was diminishing, although I rationed it quite sparingly. One day I assessed with great trepidation that in our pantry we had half a sack of flour left. One more week and we were on the verge of death by starvation and there was no communication. Then our Rev. Volodymyr declared that he would set out to make contact with someone. We didn’t hold him back, although none of us believed that this 77-year old man, with a bad, rigid leg, would reach his goal. Two weeks had passed from the time that he had departed. The last of the potatoes had been consumed and we had not eaten anything for two days. The physician, a native of Kyiv, scoffed and sneered, stating that a human being cannot hide anywhere from death. His parents had died of famine [during the Holodomor of 1932-33], while he managed to flee to the city and thus survived, but after 13 years, this same type of death has now come for him here. However, that afternoon, not death, but rather a liaison officer came to visit and brought us food and money, as well as orders to head West. Rev. Volodymyr did indeed reach another underground unit and sent us aid. Immediately the next morning we set out on the road. We had already trekked quite a bit on our route, when I remembered something and turned back. The physician was angry at me and said that this will not bode well for us. But things went surprisingly well. I had returned for the wooden cross which had saved our field hospital many times over. Who knows if, without the cross, we would have been as successful in crossing three borders, which at that time were already well-guarded.

On October 1, 1946, we ended up in the British Zone of Occupation of Austria. There I said goodbye to my friends. How I got to Palestine is not a topic related to these memoirs. I would still like to mention the meeting with my elderly father, who, having listened to my story about the underground, asked me in a trembling voice: “Did you perhaps convert to Christianity?

Based on his question, I realized that my Old-World father would have accepted news of my death easier than had I made a religious conversion. Although I often do contemplate about Christ’s religion, and I cannot banish Christ from my heart, at the same time I do not have the strength to be my father’s liquidator.

Once I had reached my new homeland, I promised myself that I would inform the world about the Ukrainians and their heroic UPA. However, such an opportunity did not lend itself for a long time; I didn’t stand out in any noticeable way and no one is particularly eager to listen to such individuals. But now, ever since I began working in the ministry and my signature has become familiar to many a diplomat, I aim to fulfill my promise and responsibility. As I finalize these short memoirs of mine, I appeal to the freedom-loving world and offer words of warning – do not be frivolous regarding the Ukrainian question and do not put it on the back burner.  Because only a free Ukrainian State will be a guarantor and testament of justified peace in the world.

[This 8-page memoir (published originally in Ukrainian) initially appeared in the November-December 1954 issues of the weekly Ukrainian Catholic journal, "Nasha Meta" (Our Goal). The journal, Our Goal, was published in Toronto, Canada from 1949 until the late 1980's.]

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