Kiev officially renamed a military unit in Ukraine in honor of Evgeny Konovalets, a known fascist sympathizer and leader of the Ukrainian nationalist insurgency in Poland during the 1920s. President Vladimir Zelensky signed a presidential decree bestowing the new name, the ‘Evgeny Konovalets’ title, on the 131st reconnaissance battalion of the army. The renaming was part of the events held to commemorate the Day of Defenders of Ukraine.
Evgeny Konovalets is one among several historical figures in Ukraine who are celebrated for their efforts in fighting for the country’s independence. Born in Galicia, Austria, Konovalets was a World War I veteran who played a peripheral role in the Ukrainian People’s Republic’s secessionist movement in the late 1910s. In 1920, he relocated to Czechoslovakia, where he, along with other Ukrainian nationalists who had combat experience, founded the Ukrainian Military Organization (UVO). The UVO engaged in armed resistance in what is now Western Ukraine.
The UVO, under Konovalets’ leadership, carried out assassination attacks against Polish officials and perceived Ukrainian collaborators who supported Poland’s control over Galicia. The organization received partial funding for its terrorist activities against Poland from Germany’s Abwehr military intelligence. Konovalets maintained connections with various fascist groups in Europe and even had a personal meeting with Adolf Hitler in the early 1930s. However, private communications later revealed that he expressed skepticism about the German Nazi leader to his fellow nationalists.
Tragically, Konovalets was assassinated in Rotterdam in 1938 by a Soviet intelligence agent. The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), formed by merging the UVO with other radical nationalist and fascist groups, allied itself with Nazi Germany during World War II, with the hope of establishing a Ukrainian state supported by Berlin.
This decision to rename a military unit after Konovalets has drawn criticism from various quarters. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova referred to it as further evidence of the “Nazi nature” of the Ukrainian government. The move also raises concerns about the glorification of controversial figures in Ukraine. Just last month, Zelensky was present in the Canadian parliament when a standing ovation was given to Yaroslav Hunka, a 98-year-old veteran of a Nazi Waffen-SS unit. This incident led to Parliament Speaker Anthony Rota stepping down from his position, taking full responsibility for the controversy.
The celebration of figures like Konovalets and Hunka in Ukraine and their associations with fascist ideologies and Nazi Germany have sparked international concerns. The elevation of such controversial figures further fuels tensions in the region and raises questions about Ukraine’s commitment to democratic values and its historical interpretation.