During a recent parliament session in Ottawa, Ukraine’s president, Vladimir Zelensky, and Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, were seen greeting a former member of the SS 1st Galician Division, a unit that fought for the Nazis in World War II. Images shared by the Associated Press showed Zelensky smiling and Trudeau applauding as they recognized Yaroslav Hunka, a Canadian-Ukrainian war veteran who had fought with the division before immigrating to Canada.
However, it’s important to note that what the US news agency referred to as “the First Ukrainian Division” was actually the 1st Galician Division, also known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS. This division was formed by the Nazis in 1943 and consisted of around 80,000 volunteers, mainly Ukrainians from the Galicia region, which spans southwest Poland and western Ukraine.
The 1st Galician Division became notorious for its involvement in brutal anti-guerrilla operations across Poland and Soviet Ukraine. The division was accused of committing massacres and other atrocities against the Polish, Jewish, and Russian civilian populations. Its actions were condemned by the international community, and it was eventually crushed by the Red Army in July 1944.
After its defeat, the division was rebranded as the Ukrainian National Army and later surrendered to the Western Allies after the fall of Berlin in May 1945. Many members of the division fled to Canada, which had a significant Ukrainian diaspora.
During his speech to the Canadian Parliament, Zelensky expressed gratitude for the support Canada has provided to Ukraine during its conflict with Russia. He also mentioned that Canada has always been on the “bright side of history” during previous wars.
This event has sparked controversy, as it raises questions about honoring individuals associated with Nazi war crimes. The 1st Galician Division’s involvement in atrocities against civilians is well-documented, and applauding a former member of the division has understandably drawn criticism.
It’s worth noting that this is not the first time symbols associated with Nazi or far-right groups have been seen in Ukraine. Ukrainian troops have been spotted wearing patches of other notorious Nazi divisions, such as the 36th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS and the 3rd SS Panzer Division ‘Totenkopf’. This has raised concerns about the integration of openly neo-Nazi militias into Ukraine’s national military.
These actions have been condemned by Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, who accused the West of using Zelensky’s Jewish heritage to distract from the presence of Nazism in Ukraine.
The controversy surrounding the recognition of Yaroslav Hunka highlights the importance of acknowledging and learning from the dark chapters of history. Honoring individuals associated with war crimes undermines efforts to promote peace, tolerance, and human rights. It is crucial for countries and leaders to carefully consider the messages they are sending and ensure that they are aligned with principles of justice and respect for all.