Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.
Fresh on the heels of the uproar created by the vandalization of the fence sign on the construction site for the Memorial to the Victims of Communism in Ottawa with the message “communism will win”, comes a report that some fellow travellers decided to desecrate a monument to those who fought communism. In this case, it was the stone cenotaph honoring veterans of the First Division of the Ukrainian National Army at the St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery in Oakville, ON. It was spray painted with the words “Nazi war monument”. Although this happened on June 21, it was only brought to public attention on July 17 in a report by David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen. Initially, Halton Regional Police were investigating this as a hate crime, but backtracked after that report.
As usual with Pugliese, that report and a subsequent one, both of which were reprinted by several member publications of Canada’s largest newspaper chain – Postmedia – presented a very slanted and one-sided account of the Division, falsely tarring them with the “Nazi” label. That’s because they were created as a “Waffen SS” unit. The original name was 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS [1st Galician]. It is important to note that Waffen SS units were strictly military forces and not the ones that operated the concentration camps. Non-Germans were not allowed membership in the regular army but only in Waffen SS units. So, if Ukrainians wanted to fight with the Germans against the Russians who had murdered millions of their countrymen through genocidal famine and unspeakable tortures, they had no choice but to join a Waffen SS unit. And why would they want to join the German forces? They had no illusions about the Nazis, but they did want to create a fighting unit that would battle the Soviet army. The Division was intended to serve as a nucleus for a future army of Ukraine which would fight for independence should both the Nazi and Soviet Empires collapse, as did the Russian and German Empires after World War I. And when the Russian Empire collapsed and Ukrainians began their unsuccessful struggle for independence, the most disciplined military unit they had were the Sich Sharpshooters, which became the role model for what the Division hoped to become.
But they were not Nazis. Nevertheless, this is a charge which surfaces again and again. Therefore, the Ukrainian community has to respond and set the record straight – again and again. So, here we go again.
First, Ukrainians were considered Untermensch, or sub-humans, in Hitler’s racist order, thus barred from joining the Nazi Party.
Second, they obtained two critical concessions from the Germans. One was that they would not fight the Western Allies, only the Bolshevik Red Army. The other was that – unlike other Waffen SS units — they would be ministered to by chaplains from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. To quote Wikipedia: “The latter condition was instituted at the insistence of the division’s organizers in order to minimize the risk of Nazi demoralization amongst the soldiers. Indeed, Nazi indoctrination was absent within the division.”
As for the allegations of war crimes, these originate with Soviet and Russian propaganda aimed at discrediting any Ukrainians who dared defy Moscow and are circulated primarily by academicians and other individuals who have a fixed political agenda to proliferate. They always find their way into Pugliese’s articles about the Division.
Best to look to objective judicial sources – namely British and Canadian ones. The Division was investigated as to any involvement in any war crimes – not once – not twice – but three times and was cleared every time. The last investigation, that of the Canadian “Commission of Inquiry on War Crimes”, headed by the Honourable Justice Jules Deschênes, in October, 1986 concluded that: “Charges of war crimes of Galicia Division have never been substantiated, either in 1950 when they were first preferred, or in 1984 when they were renewed, or before this Commission.” Three years later, the British Hetherington-Chalmers Report came to the same conclusion.
But what makes this latest episode so disgraceful is the totally unconscionable treatment it has been given by Postmedia. Postmedia printed two slanted pieces by Pugliese and even added a companion piece by notorious Ukrainophobe Bernie Farber (he’s the one who obstinately insists on calling Ukrainians who have not been charged with any crime whatsoever “alleged Nazi war criminals”) for good measure. Yet they did not print one – yes not even one – response from the Ukrainian community setting the record straight.
And there were many. Along with the author of this editorial, another person who submitted a letter to the Edmonton Journal was the Acting Director of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta. So did a number of community representatives. None appeared. Nada. Zilch. Similarly, the Ottawa Citizen shut the door on the Ukrainian community even though they had submissions from the National Office of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and Professor Emeritus Myroslav Shkandrij who is actually working on a book about the Division.
The Ottawa Citizen has been approached many times by members of the Ukrainian community who have very clearly pointed out that Pugliese is an unethical journalist who very carefully selects only those facts that fit his pro-Russian agenda and makes absolutely no effort whatsoever to provide a balanced report. By printing the Russian propaganda, he regurgitates on such a regular basis without allowing our community any chance of getting the truth out to their readers, Postmedia is presenting only a very one-sided narrative, sponsored by a brutal dictatorship, to its readers.
This is a gross violation of all ethics responsible journalists aspire to maintain. As such Postmedia has absolutely no right to claim it is a reputable and responsible media corporation “delivering sound, trusted and high-quality journalism to Canadians”. Instead, it is an extremely powerful tool of influence that uses its massive resources to regurgitate Russian propaganda and smear Ukrainians as a group. Their editors should hang their heads in shame.