Edmonton Jewish News fuels the flames of ethnic discord

The defaced monument to Roman Shukevych taken on the morning of December 10. Photo: Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex

Marco Levytsky, Western Bureau Chief.

During the night of December 9-10, vandals desecrated the monument to UPA Supreme Commander Roman Shukhevych, which is located at the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex in Edmonton, with the entire bust covered with red ribbons and the caption “Nazi Scum” spray-painted on the base of the statue. How ironic that such an act of hate occurred right after the Paris Summit during which Russian Vladimir Putin failed to intimidate Ukraine’s Jewish President Volodymyr Zelenskyy into capitulating to his demands.

This act of vandalism follows closely behind the publication of the article “Edmonton Monument Glorifies Nazi Collaborator” in the November 15 issue of the Edmonton Jewish News (https://www.edmontonjewishnews.com/edmonton-monument-glorifies-nazi-collaborator/). This article was an extremely one-sided and biased piece, which regurgitated the ongoing Russian propaganda about the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, all of which is intended to paint Ukrainian nationalists as Nazis in order to justify the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

What makes this even worse is the fact that the Edmonton Jewish News refused to print a response from the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex (written for them by this author), which set the record straight on Shukhevych’s wartime activities. As such, a clear case can be made holding Edmonton Jewish News responsible for fueling the flames of discord between the Ukrainian and the Jewish communities and, ultimately, this act of vandalism, which is being investigated by the Hate Crimes and Violent Extremism Unit of the Edmonton Police Service. As they refused to print the response to their article, we are printing it below so that the record will be set straight.

Russian disinformation seeks to create wedges between Jewish and Ukrainian communities

We are greatly disturbed and, frankly, offended by the blatant Russian propaganda which was disseminated by the Edmonton Jewish News in the November 15 article “Edmonton Monument Glorifies Nazi Collaborator”.

This is not the first time such disinformation has been circulated as it is part and parcel of a concerted Russian propaganda campaign to discredit both Roman Shukhevych, Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) which was created by members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) to fight the Nazi and later Soviet invaders, and nationally conscious Ukrainians in general. Russian objectives in this campaign are to justify their invasion of Ukraine – a country, incidentally, which just elected a President of Jewish descent, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, with an unprecedented 73% of the popular vote – and to drive wedges between Jewish and Ukrainian communities.

While it is true that Shukhevych, in June and July, 1941, commanded a Ukrainian battalion within the German army called Nachtigall, which surged ahead of the advancing German armies to liberate Ukraine from the Soviet Red Army, there is an old saying: the enemy of my enemy is my friend and that is precisely how the OUN felt about the war between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Let us not forget that just eight years earlier, Stalin had starved millions of Ukrainian peasants to death in the genocide known as the Holodomor. Their brief occupation of Western Ukraine between 1939 and 1941 which was accomplished by collusion, created under the infamous Hitler-Stalin pact of August 1939, was extremely brutal. During their retreat they viciously murdered and tortured to death up to 8,000 political prisoners. Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests were especially targeted. For example, Father Yakym Senkyvskyi, who was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 2001, was boiled to death in a cauldron in a Drohobych prison on June 29, 1941.

While the OUN collaborated with the Germans in the very early stages of the war, they had a much different agenda which came to light on June 30, 1941 when the Bandera wing of the OUN declared the reinstatement of Ukrainian independence, which led to prompt Nazi reprisals and arrests. By the time of the July, 1941 Lviv massacre (which is most often cited as purported evidence of Shukhevych’s alleged complicity in Nazi atrocities) the arrests had already begun. OUN had turned against the Nazis and the UPA fought both Nazi and Soviet invaders (the latter right until the mid-fifties).

What’s more, in 2008, the Ukrainian Security Service declassified KGB archives among which was an internal NKVD document which noted that on July 4-7 of 1941, representatives of Gestapo, who arrived in Lviv, turned to the Ukrainian population inciting them to carry out an anti-Jewish pogrom, but OUN ordered its members not to take part. “The OUN leadership, having got to know about that, informed its members that it was a German provocation in order to compromise Ukrainians with massacres”, reads the document.

Russian attempts to discredit both OUN and UPA are very well documented in “The Jewish Card in Russian Special Operations Against Ukraine”, a paper delivered at the 26th Conference on Ukrainian Subjects at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, June 24-27, 2009, by Moses Fishbein, a leading member of Ukraine’s Jewish community as well as a distinguished Ukrainian poet and translator, winner of the Vasyl Stus Prize, and a member of the Ukrainian Center of the International PEN Club and the National Union of Writers of Ukraine. He wrote,

“The claim that ‘the UPA engaged in anti-Jewish actions is a provocation engineered by Moscow. … It is a lie that the UPA destroyed Jews. Tell me: how could the UPA have destroyed Jews when Jews were serving as members of the UPA? I knew a Jew who served in the UPA. I also knew Dr. Abraham Shtertser, who settled in Israel after the war. There was Samuel Noiman whose [UPA] codename was Maksymovych. There was Shai Varma (codename Skrypal/Violinist). There was Roman Vynnytsky whose codename was Sam”.

Of particular interest is what Fishbein has to say about the wife of Shukhevych.

“In 1942-43 Natalia Shukhevych, the wife of UPA Commander in Chief Roman Shukhevych, hid a young Jewish girl named Ira Reichenberg in her home. General Shukhevych prepared a fake passport for the girl in the name of Iryna Ryzhko. When the Gestapo arrested Mrs. Shukhevych, the little girl was brought to an orphanage based at a convent located in the village of Kulykiv in the Lviv region. There the little girl survived the German occupation and the war. In 2007 Iryna Ryzhko died in Kyiv, where her son Volodymyr lives.”

The historical relationship between Jews and Ukrainians remains a controversial one. This especially applies to World War II, where much disinformation has been circulated. In order to clarify such issues, Toronto philanthropist James Temerty created the Ukrainian-Jewish Encounter (UJE), a body which consists of noted academics and other representatives from both communities and whose stated mission is as follows:

“To deepen understanding of the breadth, complexity, and diversity of Ukrainian-Jewish relations over the centuries, with a view to the future. More specifically, to enable the two peoples to:

  • Comprehend each other’s historical experience and narratives;
  • Address embedded stereotypes;
  • Promote mutual awareness of the extended periods of peaceful coexistence, cooperation, and cross-cultural interaction;
  • Facilitate knowledge and understanding of the periods of crisis, in particular the Shoah, and the destructive effects of totalitarian Communism, notably the Holodomor and the Great Terror;
  • Take appropriate action to honour the victims of Nazism and of Soviet rule; and
  • Contribute to strengthened national identities on the basis of greater Ukrainian-Jewish understanding and mutual respect.”

Readers of Edmonton Jewish News who truly want a deeper understanding of the historical relations between our two communities and are interested in a positive dialogue are encouraged to visit the UJE’s website.>.

Not only did the November 15 Edmonton Jewish News article do absolutely nothing to advance this dialogue, it did incredible harm in undermining those positive steps that have been taken to promote greater tolerance and understanding. To paraphrase the second last paragraph of that story:

As defenders against Ukrainophobia spread by a war-mongering and dictatorial regime in Moscow, the responsibility falls on leaders and members of the Ukrainian community to reach out to the Jewish community and ask the question: Why do you insist on regurgitating Russian propaganda intended to sow discord and division between our two communities?

Irene Kolomijchuk, President –
Ukrainian Youth Unity Council
Taras Podilsky, President – League of Ukrainian Canadians, Edmonton Branch
Marco Levytsky, Western Bureau Chief, New Pathway – Ukrainian News

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