Saturday 8 May 2021

General Pavlo Shandruk to Pope Pius XII

Shandruk in Polish uniform

 Your Holiness! 

            On the solemn day, for the whole world of 80th Birthday Jubilee of Your Holiness,

On behalf of 20,000 soldiers of the 1st Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army and tens of thousands of their relations, I bend my knee in reverence with deepest gratitude before Your Holiness for having saved those soldiers from certain death.

Those soldiers, and thousands of others of that Division who perished at [the Battle of] Brody were the finest sons of the Ukrainian Nation.

They joined the 1st Ukrainian Division to arm themselves in the hope that, at the opportune moment, they would drive out the old enemy of our beautiful yet somehow unfortunate Ukrainian homeland. And 90% were the flower of the Ukrainian intelligentsia.

 Red Moscow [The Communist Kremlin] demanded their repatriation and the Western Allies, ignorant of the Ukrainian people’s struggle for freedom and independence, were on the verge of handing them over.

At that moment, the one and only hope for us all was the profound faith that only the intervention of Your Holiness could rescue all of those brave patriots. It was with this hope that I, along with delegations from those very soldiers, approached our beloved Prince of the Church, Archbishop Ivan [Buchko], to plead with Your Holiness for help and deliverance.

Your Holiness,

as the Great Patron and Protector of all who are sorrowful and oppressed, You did not refuse His Excellency Archbishop Ivan. We were all saved by the Apostolic See of Your Holiness. And I, their commander, prostrate in filial humility before the Greatest, Worthiest, and Holiest Figure of Your Holiness, we have the greatest honour and good fortune on the day of the 80th jubilee of Your Holiness, to beg the Merciful Saviour and His Most Holy Mother, to bestow endless gifts upon Your Holiness, long life and excellent health for the good of all humanity. All of us without exception will always offer our humble prayers for Your Holiness. We beseech Your Holiness for Your Apostolic Care and intercession before the Throne of the Most High on behalf of our poor humiliated Nation. 

            Prostrate in profoundest respect and endless gratitude          

                        Pavlo Shandruk


Ex-commander of the Ukrainian National Army

May 1956 Anno Domini


Documentation from the reign of Pius XII (1939–1958) was opened to scholars in March 2020. Shortly after this, I discovered an Italian translation of the above letter, made by Archbishop Ivan Buchko, in the Archive of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches. The original letter, written in Ukrainian, was only discovered last month in the Vatican Apostolic Archive.

            Finally, scholars will be able to clarify the role played by the Apostolic/Holy See, through its various officials and representatives, in rescuing the Ukrainian Division from being repatriated to the Soviet Union, as demanded by Joseph Stalin. Several books and many articles have been written on the Division but the role of the Pope and his Curia have hitherto been shadowed in mystery and innuendo, since the relative source documents were not accessible. My friend, Professor Myroslav Shkandrij, will touch on this question in his upcoming book on this controversial topic. 

Buhcko visits the Division 1946

          Bishop Buchko brought the desiderata of Ukrainians refugees to the Pope directly and via his Roman Curia, especially through the Congregation which was then called Pro Ecclesia Orientali (today it is Congregation of the Eastern Churches), headed by the indomitable Cardinal Eugène Tisserant. The refugees included both Catholic and Orthodox Christians, and the Apostolic See assisted all of them without discrimination. Among these was the future Metropolitan Ilarion Ohienko, who requested help with research in Switzerland. Buchko asked Tisserant to intervene and the latter obtained access for Ohienko to the University of Fribourg. In arranging this, Tisserant wrote to the Nuncio in Switzerland, in June 1946: “It is the wish of Holy Father that the Oriental Congregation also takes an interest in the material and moral wellbeing of the Orthodox Bishops, in seeking to help them and to assist them with all their just requests.”

In the Spring of 1945, Bishop Buchko wrote to the Pope, to Cardinal Tisserant, and to Monsignors Montini and Tardini of the Papal Secretariat of State. As a Frenchman in Italy who had made his sympathies clear during the War, Tisserant was highly respected by the victors. He lobbied his Allied political and military contacts and the Papal Secretariat of State, which in turn lobbied Allied authorities all over Europe not to forcibly repatriate Ukrainians to the Soviet Union. The Division was only one among several groups in danger of repatriation. Tisserant also brought the Ukrainians’ appeals to the Pope in an audience of 14 and 28 July 1945 and on subsequent occasions.

On 30 September 1955, a general letter of homage was sent to the Pope by the Association of ex-members of the Division. On 15 June 1956, Buchko entrusted Shandruk’s private letter to Cardinal Tisserant, who sent it to the Pope via the Secretariat of State. At the time, the ex-general was residing in Trenton, Ohio, as indicated on Buchko’s Italian translation of the letter (where he substituted “Trenton” for  “травень” (May) 1956. Buchko also airbrushed himself out and substituted the passages referring to himself with thanks to the Oriental Congregation. Although Shandruk had not made that reference in his original letter, Buchko was aware that, without Cardinal Tisserant’s dogged perseverance (as evidenced by internal notes between Tisserant and his own officials), the papal Secretariat of State would not have intervened so vigorously for the Ukrainian prisoners and refugees. In response, the Pope ordered his underlings to thank the old General and to assure him of the Pope’s enduring concern for the “severely tried” Ukrainian people.

Shandruk in UNR uniform
General Shandruk was an Orthodox Christian from Volyn. In the First World War he served as a officer in the Russian Army and later in the army of the Ukrainian National Republic. After the war he continued his association with the UNR in Exile. In 1936, he joined the Polish Army and fought to defend the Second Republic against the German Invasion of September 1939 (for which he was posthumously decorated by the Polish Government-in-Exile, in 1965.) In February 1945, he was appointed commander of  a Ukrainian National Army and was dispatched to Austria to organize the former Galicia Division, for that purpose. On 8 May 1945, he surrendered the Ukrainian Army to the British and American Allies. There has been talk of the intervention of Polish General Anders, but it is clear that Shandruk attributed the salvation of his men, at the most critical moment, to the intervention of the Pope.
Shandruk mentioned the papal intervention on p. 291 of his 1959 book Arms of Valor.