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on December 14, 2009
Although numerous stories from that sad saga known as World War II exist, neither do many expose the horrendous inflictions of brutality endured by the Ukrainians as they were subjected to Communism and Nazism, nor do they herald the heroism of many in the face of adversity. This is the true story of one such heroine. This wrenching wartime memoir by Luba Komar is told as a first-person narrative, and gives her firsthand account of life as a covert OUN operative in the Ukrainian Resistance Movement in Western Ukraine during the Soviet and German occupations of Western Ukraine during World War II. Not only is this a very poignant, personal autobiography, but also it's a very important historical recount from that period of Ukraine's history.

Meticulous notes kept by Luba Komar as she recorded her thoughts and feelings during that time enabled her daughter, Christine Prokop, to capture her voice--both the horror of the events and the music of the Ukrainian language--as years later, she translated and excellently edited her mother's memoirs. The writing is crisp, the imagery and alliteration throughout are compelling, the story is riveting.

The very informative Foreword is written by Myroslaw Prokop, writer, publisher, himself an ex-resistance leader, and husband of the author. His professional input adds a dimension of insight to our knowledge. He elaborates that Luba was one of the few resistance fighters whose journal survived--in it, Luba narrates vividly her experiences and her assignments. Although several sections of Luba Komar's memoirs have been previously published in Ukrainian journals, this is the first time that her "work has been translated into English, and the first time all of her memoirs have been brought together in one publication." This memoir takes on additional gravitas, therefore, since not only have few materials been published about this period of Ukrainian history, but also very little of it was published in English.

Her husband explains in his Foreword: "Prior to this war, Western Ukraine had been under Polish occupation since 1920, while Eastern Ukraine came under Soviet occupation shortly after the Russian Revolution of 1917. In Western Ukraine, under Polish rule, native Ukrainians were considered second-class citizens, and access to higher education was limited. Polish was instituted as the official language of Western Ukraine."

In September, 1939, the Poles were pushed back by the Soviets as they advanced into Western Ukraine. Within a short time, the Soviets shattered all organized forms of Ukrainian social and political life. Political parties were forced to disband (although, under Polish rule, they had operated legally); Ukrainian cultural and scientific organizations ceased to function; youth and women's groups were dissolved; press outlets disappeared; and, a wide network of Ukrainian cooperatives was destroyed.

Although the Soviets destroyed all legal forms of organized Ukrainian society, an illegal nationalist movement managed to survive in Western Ukraine--this was OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists). Dedicated to an independent Ukraine, OUN had operated underground during the previous Polish occupation. So, as the Soviets occupied Western Ukraine in 1938, OUN continued its covert activities. The Soviets turned their attention to the destruction of OUN only after they had disbanded all legal Ukrainian organizations; this wasn't an easy task, however, since OUN had had years of experience in underground activity (during the previous Polish occupation). OUN organized cells, promoted a Ukrainian national consciousness, and issued clandestine publications.

As background, in the Preface, the author states that she was born in Ukraine in 1919 during a historic time which had witnessed the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Revolution, and World War I. Her father was a Ukrainian Catholic priest (in Ukraine, they're allowed to marry before ordination). Luba describes her adolescent life in Western Ukraine as sweet, notwithstanding the omnipresent danger from the Poles. Western Ukraine was dominated by Poland, and Ukrainian villagers were always at risk of having their lands, crops, or cattle confiscated. They lived in a constant fear of Polish military or police raids.

At age ten, Luba's parents sent her to Lviv for schooling. Since under Polish rule, higher education for Ukrainians was very limited, she had to wait until the Soviets gained control of Western Ukraine before she was allowed, at age nineteen, to attend Ivan Franko University. Luba loved her studies, and it was while attending Ivan Franko University that she met the leaders of the Ukrainian Resistance Movement and was introduced to the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), a group struggling for the independence of Ukraine. And, it is while Luba is a university student that her memoirs begin.

Experience Luba's arrest, interrogation, imprisonment, and more interrogations culminating in the Secret Trial of the 59. Learn of her sentence. Discover how she and others put scratches on a prison wall--what did they signify? Follow Luba's journey into exile and her escape. Learn how Luba Komar became a covert courier for OUN and later a radio operator in the Ukrainian underground. Extremely riveting reading is enhanced by an appendix which lists NKVD Archival Documents, a glossary, and endnotes.

Five stars plus for riveting reportage of actual events--a rare firsthand account of the Ukrainian Resistance Movement in Western Ukraine during World War II. Scratches on a Prison Wall not only merits serious scrutiny and study, but also should be in libraries worldwide--both personal and public. Please visit my profile page on to see many more reviews and over 600 photos of Ukraine.
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