It was an embarrassing event in the Canadian Parliament in late September as Ukrainian Nazi-linked veteran Yaroslav Hunka was honored as a World War II “hero.” Upon finding this out, Canadian officials scrambled to save face. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed that this was “deeply embarrassing.” House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota, after getting more information about Hunka (after the fact), regretted his decision to invite him. Democracy Now interviewed Ukrainian journalist Lev Golinkin about this revelation.
It is rather irresponsible that there was no relevant research done on Hunka’s history before anything occurred. Perhaps Canadian officials rushed to prop up Hunka as it relates to the Russia-Ukraine War, of which Canada is a supporter. What is also irresponsible is the standing ovation Hunka got in the parliament, although at the time the audience was unaware of Hunka’s history.
According to the BBC, Hunka served in the 14th Waffen-SS Grenadier Division during World War II. The soldiers in the Division were mainly Ukrainian, and under Nazi command. Heinrich Himmler, who systematized the Nazi policy of genocide against Jews and other “undesirables,” paid a visit to the Division and was very proud of its support for the cause of the Third Reich.
Hunka kept a journal of his time in the 14th Waffen-SS Grenadier Division. In it, Hunka described the Nazis as “mystical German knights” and was in awe of them. Hunka wrote that his service to the Division was the happiest time of his life.
Meanwhile, Nazi Germany was carrying out its genocidal policies. In Berezhany, where Hunka was born, 12,000 Jews were living there and were attempting to flee so they would not be eventually targeted by the Nazis. Many could not escape. Max Blumenthal, Editor-in-Chief of The Gray Zone, gave detailed examples of the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis:
“During the Holocaust, on Oct. 1941, 500-700 Jews were executed by the Germans in the nearby quarries. On Dec. 18, another 1,200 were shot in the forest. On Yom Kippur in Sept.1942, 1,000-1,500 were deported to Belzec and hundreds murdered in the streets and in their homes. On Hanukkah (Dec. 4-5) hundreds more were sent to Belzec concentration camp and on June 12, 1043, the last 1,700 Jews of the ghetto and labor camp were liquidated, with only a few individuals escaping. Less than 100 Berezhany Jews survived the war.”
The Soviets had control of Berezhany, and Hunka and other ultra-nationalist Ukrainians were hoping Nazi Germany would come to their rescue. Hunka wrote in his journal that “Every day we looked impatiently in the direction of the Pomoryany (Lvov) with the hope that those mystical German knights [would] appear.” Hunka got his wish when the Nazi Germany army entered Berezhany. Hunka: “We welcomed the German soldiers with joy.” This was in 1941after the Soviet Union left, ending its occupation of Berezhany.
Hunka eventually joined the First Division of the Galician SS 14th Grenadier Brigade, which was created by Heinrich Himmler. He inspected the brigade, and later commented, according to Blumenthal, “Your homeland has become much more beautiful since you have lost – on our initiative, I must say – those residents were so often a dirty blemish, namely the Jews…I know that if I ordered you to liquidate the Poles I would be giving you permission to do what you are eager to do anyway.”
After World War II, Ukrainian Nazi veterans allied with Nazi Germany acquired Canadian citizenship and established their own communities, along with other Ukrainian immigrants.
The main reason why Canada allowed Ukrainian Nazis into the country was because of their rabid anticommunism. The Cold War produced many instances of Canada giving citizenship to several Ukrainian Nazis. For example, 1,000 Nazi SS veterans from the Baltic states became Canadian citizens after the war ended. If one had an SS tattoo then it was all the more, easier to become a citizen of Canada, besides being an anticommunist. Thousands more Ukrainian Nazis, for example, were given citizenship in Ottawa, Canada.
The wave of Ukrainian Nazi veterans going to Canada included Yaroslav Hunka, arriving in 1954 and going to Ontario. He had become a member of the World Congress of Free Ukrainians. Ukrainian Nazis were now on the side of the “Free World.”
No doubt, Hunka and other Ukrainian Nazi veterans have been celebrated in Ukraine, in particular, after the 2014 U.S.-backed coup. Before that, when the Soviet Union existed, the right-wing in Ukraine was not in the mainstream, but on the outer fringes of politics. (In the USSR, it wasn’t a case of Russia and Ukraine being at each other’s throats, like they are now.) The coup caused the right to reemerge and is now practically in the political mainstream. Neo-Nazis, fascists, etc. have been marching in the streets, making a spectacle of themselves. These “stormtroopers” carry the Ukrainian flag and also flags depicting Nazi symbols on them.
If there is any Ukrainian that is enthusiastically followed in the country more than the others, it is Stepan Bandera, who was a Nazi collaborator during World War II. Writing for Jacobin, Daniel Lazare gives examples of Bandera’s personality traits:
“Bandera was indeed noxious as any personality thrown up by the hellish 1930s and ‘40s. The son of a nationalist-minded Greek Catholic priest, Bandera was the sort of self-punishing fanatic who sticks pins under his fingernails to prepare him for torture at the hands of his enemies. As a university student at Lviv, he is said to have moved on to burning himself with an oil lamp, slamming a door on his fingers, and whipping himself with a belt. “”Admit, Stepan!’” he would cry out. ‘No, I don’t admit!’”
Bandera sounded like he was a masochist. And he would do anything for the cause of Ukrainian independence. But the independence Bandera wanted was characterized by right-wing motives. One could dare say this is not independence at all, but an elitist caricature of it. With the right being in power, it’s as though they think they have the right to violate the rights of others. More directly put, imposing Nazism, fascism, etc.
Having a violent streak, Bandera joined the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and proceeded to influence a tendency in the organization that was already violent. Lazare wrote, “In 1933, he organized an attack on the Soviet council in Lviv. A year later, he directed the assassination of the Polish minister of the interior. He ordered the execution of alleged informers and was responsible for other deaths as well as the OUN took to robbing banks, post offices, police stations, and private households in search of funds.”
There was a series of events which caused Bandera to move further rightward. Poland was in control of Western Ukraine, and when Ukrainians like Bandera struck back with arson attacks, the Poles cracked down. Poland responded with repression and cultural warfare. Polish farmers were brought to Ukraine to make use of the land changing the demographics, Ukrainian schools were closed down, And there was even an attempt to ban the word “Ukrainian.”
In 1930, the OUN used arson and sabotage to resist Polish control. Poland again cracked down. There were about 30,000 Ukrainians thrown into prison. If that wasn’t enough, Polish politicians were considering to embark on an extermination campaign. Lazare wrote, “…a German journalist who traveled through eastern Galicia in early 1939 reported that local Ukrainians were calling for ‘Uncle Fuhrer’ to step in and impose a solution of his own on the Poles.”
Ethnic tensions continued in Eastern Europe, in particular Western Ukraine. Combined with that, World War II was approaching. Lazare: “Conceivably, Bandera might have responded to the growing disorder by moving to the political left. Previously, liberal Bolshevik cultural policies in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic had caused a surge in pro-communist sentiment in the neighboring Polish province of Volhynia.”
But Bandera moved even further to the right. His membership in the OUN practically indoctrinated Bandera into being antisemitic. Ukrainian ultra-nationalists’ feelings devolved into a hatred for the Jews. Further, what the ultra-nationalists ideally wanted was a pure Ukraine with no Jews, Poles, Russians, etc. And that obviously included no Bolsheviks, communists, socialists; anything that contradicted Ukrainian purity.
The OUN embarked on a pogrom against Jews. Its members, for example, smashed the windows of Jewish homes in 1935. The next year was worse. OUN members burned about 100 Jewish homes, thus making the families who were living in those houses homeless.
Bandera, meanwhile, was arrested and put on trial for murder. Rather than expressing any guilt, Bandera taunted the court, giving the fascist salute and saying, “Glory to Ukraine.” Bandera was to serve a life sentence and began doing so.
Nazi Germany, however, took over Western Poland in 1939. This gave Bandera an opportunity to escape. And he did, going to Lviv, the capital of Eastern Galicia. But the Soviet Union eventually made an incursion into the territory, and Bandera fled again, toward the side of the Nazis. Lazare wrote, “Eventually, he and the OUN leadership settled in German controlled Cracow, where they set about preparing the organization for further battles yet to come.”
Then, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The OUN knew this ahead of time, and this was an opportunity to attack in an effort to establish a Greater Ukraine. The OUN drew up a document entitled “The Struggle and Activities of the OUN in Wartime.” Lazare gave details as to the contents of this document:
“It called on members to take advantage of the ‘favorable situation’ posed by a ‘war between Moscow and other states’ to create a national revolution that would draw up all Ukraine in its vortex. It conceived of revolution as a great purification process in which ‘Muscovites, Poles, and Jews’ would be ‘destroyed…in particular those who protect the [Soviet] regime.”’
Lazare quoted more of the document: “We treat the coming German army as the army of allies. We inform them that the Ukrainian authority is already established. It is under the control of the OUN under the leadership of Stepan Bandera…”
Bandera and his followers saw the relationship with Nazi Germany as “tactical.” But it was deeply ideological. There was the scenario of setting up a one-party state with Bandera as the “Fuhrer.” And Ukraine would be under the wing of Nazi Germany.
Hitler, however, saw the Ukrainians as inferior Slavs. Lazy, disorganized, and nihilistic as the Russians.
Ukraine was important to Hitler because of its grain supplies. Nazi Germany proceeded to expropriate grain out of Ukraine on a such scale that would it threaten to cause starvation for about 25 million people. The Nazis had a plan called the Generalplan Ost. The objective was to kill or expel 80% of the Slavic population and replace them with German settlers. Bandera, however, wanted to desperately to maintain an alliance with Nazi Germany, despite being put under house arrest. Lazare wrote, “Bandera and his followers continued to long for an axis victory.” Quoting Bandera, “German and Ukrainian interests in Eastern Europe are identical.” He added that Ukrainian nationalism had taken shape “in a spirit similar to the National Socialist ideas.”
But Hitler wasn’t impressed. That prompted OUN members to form the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). And the goal for the UPA was ethnic cleansing, notably against Poles, driving them out of Eastern Galicia and Volhynia. Between 1943 and 1945, the UPA killed about 100,000 Poles. And the campaign against the Jews continued.
In the last phases of World War II, Bandera and his followers still continued to fight alongside Nazi Germany, as the latter was retreating and on to eventual defeat. The Soviet Union had the momentum as its Red Army came closer.
Even in the post-war era, Bandera and the OUN carried out oppression against “undesirables.” Lazar provided details:
“OUN fighters killed not only informers, collaborators, and eastern Ukrainians transferred to Galicia and Volhynia to work as teachers, or administrators, but their families as well. ‘Soon the Bolsheviks will conduct the grain levy,’” they warned on one occasion. ‘Anyone among you who brings grain to the collection points will be killed like a dog, and your entire family butchered.’”
The OUN killed 30,000 people before the Soviet Union wiped out the resistance in 1950. Eventually, in 1959, Lazar wrote, “a Soviet agent managed to slip through Bandera’s security ring in Munich and kill him with a blast from a cyanide spray gun.” Today, Bandera is honored in Ukraine to the point of it being a cult.
That forced the Ukrainian ultra-nationalists to retreat to the fringes of society. But in 1991 after the dissolving of the USSR, the OUN, along with other right-wing entities, reemerged in Ukraine. They have names like Svoboda, Right Sector, the Azov brigade, etc. And they still want a pure Ukraine.
Canada has been dealing with worldwide criticism of the Hunka scandal. In making assumptions that Hunka was a “hero,” Canada has soiled its reputation; and all for a proxy war.
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About the Author
David Starr acknowledged his interest in politics in 1986 when he lived in Hawai’i.
From there, he became active, joining such groups as the Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Association (LACASA), the Hawai’i Union of Socialists (HUS) and Ka Lehui Hawai’i (The Hawaiian Nation).
Starr also created a publication entitled Voices of Change, and had articles published in the Honolulu Weekly and Toward Freedom during the 1990s.
Now Connecticut-based, Starr has published many pieces in Reader Supported News, the Daily Kos, and has been published in the LA Progressive.