Under the heavy rain more than 300 young men and women fight, among explosions, in the middle of a Ukrainian forest. Despite the intense fight injuries are few, punches and weapons are forbidden and the life of the players is symbolized by colored laces, velcroed on the arms. The game is organized, since 2004, by the Young Nationalist Congress (MNK) a NGO that focus on the education of the Youth. According to the call on their website: “in a state of possible military intervention of our Eastern neighbours the competition is an important support to fitness and patriotic mood of the youth. In addition to skills in combat tactics, participants will experience life in extreme conditions, the practical knowledge gained will not be lost and can save lives tomorrow or help colleagues to emerge victorious from the unexpected and dangerous situations.” The rules derive from Zarnitsa (Summer Lightning) a game commonly played in Soviet times for the military-patriotic education of young Pioneers (a Soviet time version of Scouts): two teams, the Lions and the Wolves, have to defeat each other, during 60 hours, either by eliminating their opponent or by finding their flag.
In April 1944, in the same forest, between the western Ukrainian villages of Gurba and Antonivtsi, the Ukrainian Revolutionary Army (UPA), with its 5000 soldiers, after being encircled by a largely superior Red Army, managed to resist and escape, as told by Vasul’ Kuruliyk, 88, a veteran of the fight, during the commemoration preceding the game. Although the results of the battle are still disputed in the number of losses on each side, the main outcome was that UPA could continue his guerrilla activity against the Soviet for few years.
UPA was the armed wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) of Stepan Bandera who fought by any means against Poles, Bolsheviks and Nazis around World War II, trying to achieve an indipendent Ukraine. Being held responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Poles in Volhynia and Galicia and not fitting into the rhetoric of the victory of the Red Army against Nazist germany, Bandera has always been a debated figure, loved by western Ukrainians and feared by Russian speakers of eastern Ukraine. When Viktor Yushenko, endorsed by Julia Timoshenko, recognized Bandera National Hero in 2010, they lost elections in favor of Yanukovich and contributed to the strong demarcation of the observed polls between east and west.
MNK goals are to teach a non-Soviet view of history and an active role in the society, according to the first clause of the OUN decalog: “You will achieve a Ukrainian State or perish in fighting for it”. According to Andriy Ben, 30, member of the main board of MNK, people confuse being nationalist with being Nazi, “We are nationalists”, he says, “we want to develop our own nation without harming other ones and respecting minorities”. Questioned on the facts of Volhynia and Galicia, Olesja, 19, a student of journalism from Sume in northern Ukraine, who spent her past months protesting in Maidan in a self-defence unit partially formed by MNK, says, “There is a lot of misinformation about what UPA did during World War II, depending on which side perspective you are going to look at. Honestly I don’t know whom to believe but I am sure of one thing, it was bloody and terrible and I don’t want this to happen again. I wish my country would be like the Netherlands not like the Third Reich.”