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The Largest Attack on Ukraine: An Update on the War in Ukraine (1 December 2023 - 1 January 2024)

To read previous blogs on the Russian invasion of Ukraine click here. 

Throughout the month of December Russian airstrikes on Ukraine continued, especially on the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson Oblasts.

On 14 December drone footage supposedly showed Russian soldiers using Ukrainian POW’s as human shields in the Zaporizhian Oblast in direct opposition to the Geneva Convention which prohibits the inhumane use of prisoners of war.

On 25 December Ukraine celebrated Christmas for the first time in history on this date, moving away from the Russian Orthodox tradition of celebrating Christmas on the 7 January. This decision had been made back in July in a way to “abandon” Russian heritage. For more on this change I recommend this Aljazeera article: Ukraine picks new Christmas date in break with Russian tradition

The lighting ceremony of the Kiev Christmas tree, 6 December 2023 (Source: Aljazeera)

Just days later, in the early hours of 29 December, Russia launched the largest wave of drone and missile attacks on Ukraine yet seen throughout the conflict. The death toll is yet to be formalised, but it sits at least at 50 with more than 160 people having been injured.

Russia targeted the cities of Dnipro, Kharkiv, Konotop, Kiev, Lviv, Odesa and Zaporizhzhia. The highest death toll spears to have been in Kiev with at least 29 reported killed and 35 others injured while in Dnipro a maternity hospital was attacked.

At least one missile entered Polish territory before it was turned back to Ukraine.

In response to the intense attack, Ukraine launched a drone attack the following day killing at least 21 people and injuring 110. On the same day Russia continued its attacks in Donetsk, Kherson, Chernihiv and Zaporizhzhia with approximately 28 people injured. This was intensified on 31 December with at least six missile hits reported in Kharkiv. While there were no deaths, 22 people were injured and damage to the city was extensive.

Children of Lviv sing Christmas carols on Christmas Eve (24 December 2023). Just days later the city would be bombarded by Russian fire. (Source: Aljazeera)

The new year, 2024, began with an attack on another Ukrainian Museum by Russian forces. On 1 January 2024 a Russian drone set fire to the Roman Shukhevych Memorial Museum in Lviv.

Though Museums had been damaged in the past during this conflict, they were largely collateral damage however in this instance the Museum was targeted by Russia.

So who was Roman Shukhevych and why was a Museum dedicated to him targeted?

Roman Shukhevych was a Ukrainian military leader during World War Two. At that time Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union and so when the Nazis and Soviets signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, followed by the Nazi invasion of Poland a month later in 1939, he was expected to co-operate with Nazi authorities, which he did.

After the Nazi’s turned on their allies and invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 this arrangement changed. It is believed that Shukhevych was, if not a direct participant, at least a collaborator in the murder of at least 4,000 Jews in Lviv and other Western Ukraine cities at this time.

Shukhevych had been a pro-Ukrainian liberator his whole life so with this change in alliances he was one of the supporters of the Act for Establishment of Ukrainian Statehood on 20 June 1941. In short Ukrainian nationalists were hoping to capitalise on the Nazi rise against the Soviet Union to create a intendent Ukraine.

It was hoped that the Nazi administration would support the independence of Ukraine however with bigger issues on their plate the topic of Ukrainian independence wasn’t at the top of their list, and they showed little interest. Instead, as the Nazi’s gained territory in Ukraine they expected their former allies and soldiers to support the Nazi cause, when they didn’t, they were imprisoned. Shukhevych was able to escape and became the Supreme Commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA).

The UPA opposed all forms of totalitarian government, believed in self-determination against empire and imperialism and fought for the construction of a democratic Ukrainian state.

In Spring 1943 the UPA launched a campaign against the Polish population of Volhynia, a region which has ben contested by Poland, Belarus and Ukraine for many years. In early 1944 they also launched a similar campaign against the Poles living in Eastern Galicia (a region of Western Ukraine that had been internationally recognised as part of Poland in 1923). These sites were chosen as the UPA saw them as ethnically Ukrainian territory and the UPA wanted them to be included in the new Ukrainian Republic they were fighting for.

During the attacks on these locations approximately 100,000 Poles were killed and another 300,000 were made refugees in what was an act of ethnic cleansing.

Shukhevych, as Commander of the UPA, played a role in this wartime atrocity however modern scholars claim that this part of his history is often ignored with preference given to his role in fighting for Ukrainian nationalism and freedom overriding the story presented in history books.

He died on 5 March 1950, aged 42, supposedly by suicide as Soviet agents surrounded his hiding place in Lviv. Following his death his family were all persecuted, being guilty of association. His brother was killed in prison while his mother and wife were exiled to Siberia (his Father had been exiled and died in exile two years earlier). His son and daughter were both placed in an orphanage with his son later sentenced to hard labour in a prisoner camp where he stayed for over 20 years and lost his vision.

Shukhevych is remembered in Ukraine as a hero. He received the highest orders of merit from the UPA and in 2001 the house in which he died was converted into the memorial museum which was just destroyed in the Russian attack on 1 January 2024.

In 2007 his face was placed on postage stamps and coins and in 2021 the largest stadium in Ternopil was named after him.

The fact that Russia chose to target the Museum of a man considered a Ukrainian hero is poignant. Personally, I’m not sure how the Museum daily manages the idea of Shukhevych as a hero but also a war criminal. With such extensive destruction to the Museum, Ukrainian officials have vowed to re-build and I am curious what the new incarnation will look like and how his history will be interpreted and presented.

Roman Shukhevych Memorial Museum, Lviv on fire after a drone atatck on 1 January 2024 (Source: State Emergency Service of Ukraine)


Further Reading:

*This blog has been put together with multiple current news sources such as the BBC World News Podcast and local nightly news and media outlets.

Articles and Websites:

Disclaimer: The observations and comments made in this blog are made after reflecting on the news stories and histories I read. History plays a big part in how I understand the present so my comments largely take into account history and the role it has in the present. After all, those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.

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