An incident in the Canadian parliament this week between Volodymyr Zelensky and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who praised Ukrainian ex-combatant Yaroslav Hanka, later revealed to be a member of the SS, drew criticism in many Western media outlets. . The old man was introduced at the event as “a fighter for Ukrainian independence against the Russians during World War II.”
A question that needs to be asked is, to what extent, the people involved are not aware of the honoree’s past.
In the West, for decades, they magnified the role of America and Great Britain in the Nazi defeat and ignored the fact that 80 percent of German troops were destroyed by the Soviets. Later, during the Cold War, the Soviets were united with the Russians, which allowed other countries to present the USSR as a state subject to the Russians, trying to create rivalries between them. For most of Soviet history, it was not known that its main leaders were non-Russian: Stalin was Georgian and Khrushchev and Brezhnev were Ukrainian. Also, Canada was a haven for many Ukrainian collaborators who united in the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, a more radical association with anti-communist and anti-Russian discourse.
One can understand the ignorance of Canadian leaders that a fighter against the Soviets or the “Russians” who was being honored should have sided with the Nazis.
Zelensky cannot be blamed for this historical ignorance, because the debate about the past has been going on in Ukraine for years, even under his government. The role of Ukrainian nationalists in the war has been debated since before independence, and for a long time afterwards. Nazi collaborators were promoted as a legitimate opposition to communism because it would have been bad for the Ukrainians and any alliance to defeat them was valid. The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), formed in 1929, proved to be the cause of Ukrainian statehood. The organization later split into two: one led by Stephen Bandera. In German-occupied Poland, the Ukrainian Nationalist Battalions Nachingal and Rowland were formed in 1941 and integrated into the German army for the invasion of the Soviet Union. There the battalion under the command of Ukrainian Roman Shuzhevych organized the first massacre of Jews before the Nazis.
In 1942, Bandera’s OUN formed the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) to fight the Soviets, Poles and Germans and formed their government, although they later agreed with the Nazis to fight the Soviets. In 1943, they exterminated 80,000 Poles in Volyn and achieved ethnically pure territory. Additionally, the OUN helped recruit thousands of Ukrainians to form the 14th SS Division (known as Galitsia). With the Nazi defeat, most nationalists took refuge mainly in the United States and Canada.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, the OUN was legitimized as the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists (KUN) party, which was part of the coalition that brought Viktor Yushchenko to government in 2005. It launched a campaign to rewrite the past and create a homogenous identity rather than the existing multicultural one; They sought to remove support from pro-Russian populations demanding the co-official status of Russian-language and autonomous provincial governments. The Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance was created and by law it was a crime to deny the nature of the 1932 famine under Stalin as an anti-Ukrainian genocide. Shuzhevich was declared a hero and the OUN and UPA were organizations that fought for national liberation. Bandera was finally heralded as a hero, officially accused of being an open Nazi collaborator by the European Parliament.
The government of Viktor Yanukovych, representative of the Russian-speaking regions, dismantled these measures in 2010: Shukevich and Bandera lost the title of heroes and the OUN and UPA organizations stripped of their status as “liberation fighters”. The Ukrainian National Memorial Institute is no longer allowed to promote the claims of nationalist figures.
Viktor Yanukovych faced protests from nationalists for these political changes, but he won the 2012 legislative elections and declared all languages spoken in a province co-official. Yanukovych’s deal with Russia at the end of 2013 produced mobilizations in Kiev and Western cities. Euromidon At the beginning of 2014, although nationalists and neo-Nazis were very active and visible, they had little electoral support, and very heterogeneous groups participated.
Yanukovych’s overthrow could be described as a coup, as legal proceedings to remove him were not respected. Opposition to the coup in the south and east sparked a civil war, during which Crimea was annexed by Russia. The weakness of the Ukrainian army and the advance of pro-Russian militias can only be contained by the spontaneous mobilization of ultranationalist militias, some openly neo-Nazis, such as the Azov, Ider, Donbass and Dnipro battalions. Activities of OUN and UPA.
President Poroshenko integrated these fighters into the Ukrainian army and took control of them, signifying official recognition of their stated figures from the past.
In 2019, Zelensky took office with a large majority, which was not necessarily a democratic victory, as until then the two main parties – the Regions and the Communist Party with broad support among the pro-Russian population – were banned, explaining 39 percent. Neglect. Zelensky promised to legalize the Russian language and end the armed conflict, although his first move was to strike deals with the leaders of nationalist and neo-Nazi battalions eastward.
Assembly elections, shortly after, were even worse: abstention exceeded 51 percent. Because of his actions at the end of 2021, only 23 percent supported Zelensky. and output Pandora Papers It further discredited him: it showed him as the owner of millions of illegal dollars abroad. As his popularity declined, so did his anti-Russian rhetoric and rapprochement with radical nationalists.
* Researcher at the Center for Genocide Studies (UNTREF) and Professor of Contemporary History (Political Science – UBA).
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