Setting the record straight about Sambir Memorial Complex

Yaakov Dov Bleich, right, chief rabbi of Ukraine, with Canada's ambassador to Ukraine, Roman Waschuk, left, and primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, His Beatitude Epifanii, second from right. His Beatitude is talking with James Temerty, founder and main sponsor of the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter, which organized the commemoration along with the Kyiv City Jewish Committee, at Sambir, Aug. 21, 2019 (Aliona Nikolaievych/Barcroft Media via Getty Images via JTA)

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

National Post Report Distorts Facts, Regurgitating Russian Propaganda

On September 16, the National Post printed a grossly biased piece of Russian propaganda by David Pugliese under the grossly inaccurate headline “Canadian officials honour Nazi collaborators in Ukraine, angering Jewish groups”. This was subsequently reprinted in a number of PostMedia newspapers. Pugliese is well known for regurgitating Russian propaganda especially where it applies to Ukrainians and what he wrote in that particular piece is no exception.

First and foremost, the August 21 ceremony of sanctification of the future “Remember” Memorial Complex to victims of WWII in Ukraine was organized by the Kyiv City Jewish Committee and the Toronto-based Ukrainian Jewish Encounter. It was attended by the Primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Patriarch Sviatoslav, the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Metropolitan Epiphanius, and the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine Yaakov Dov Bleich, whose presence was conveniently omitted from Pugliese’s report.

The ceremony was held to seal the compromise achieved earlier to move three crosses from the territory of the Jewish cemetery and to erect a monument to 17 young Ukrainians, members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), who were shot by the Nazis in July 1944. While two of the three crosses still remain on the Jewish cemetery, both parties are working to correct this.

Pugliese cites Eduard Dolinsky, director-general of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee to back up his contention that Jewish groups are supposedly angered by the ceremony. The Ukrainian Jewish Committee is a marginal group and not representative of the Jewish community in Ukraine at large. Its president, Oleksandr Feldman is a member of parliament for the pro-Russian “Our Land” party, which was created as a refuge for former members of the Party of Regions, headed by Viktor Yanukovych, the former president who fled to Russia following the Revolution of Dignity in 2014.

The mainstream organization of Jews in Ukraine – a country which just elected a Jewish president with an astonishing 73% of the popular vote — is Vaad (Hebrew for council), the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine. On September 11, they issued a statement in which they expressed “full confidence in and support of the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter, the Kyiv City Jewish Community and Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich in their efforts to memorialize Nazi victims and organize the mourning ceremony in Sambir.”

In addition they called upon: “everyone to self-restraint in one’s assessments and statements on this situation”; and “journalists to use only verified information and to seek comments from direct participants in the events only; concluding with “-resolutely condemning all provocative posts and comments on the situation in Sambir spread about by the mass media and social networks in order to fuel negative emotions.”

And here is an excerpt from a Twitter thread posted on September 17 in reaction to Pugliese’s story by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the advocacy agent of the Jewish Federations of Canada:

“This story is a deliberate attempt by malign actors to destabilize a process by mischaracterizing it if only by very partially telling the story. #Canada has been central in helping to resolve the issue of appropriate #Holocaust commemoration in #Ukraine.

“Canada has played a huge and positive role. The opponents of this project are set on torpedoing all the good work that has been done to build a fitting memorial to the victims of the #Holocaust, especially at a very delicate point in the discussions.”

The charges of OUN-UPA collaboration with the Nazis is another example of Russian propaganda. 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. OUN then turned against the Nazis and the UPA, which was formed two years later, fought both Nazi and Soviet invaders (the latter right until the mid-fifties).

As far as the accusation that “members of the OUN-UPA supported the Nazis and helped round up and execute Jews after the Germans invaded Ukraine”, much of this historical misrepresentation is based upon the false charge that OUN assisted the Germans in the 1941 Lviv Massacre. In 2008, the Ukrainian Security Service declassified KGB archives among which was a 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.

There were many Jews who served with the UPA and UPA’s commander in chief, Roman Shukhevych and his wife Natalia, saved a Jewish girl, Iryna Rechtenberg, by hiding her from the Nazis. Pugliese’s statement that “at one point, they broke away from their support of the Nazis, but later joined forces again with Germany” has absolutely no foundation in historical fact.

The repeated attempts to besmirch OUN-UPA, as well as drive wedges between the Ukrainian and Jewish communities is a principal goal of Russian propaganda. One would hope that Postmedia and its respective member newspapers would practice much more journalistic responsibility and check the facts before they regurgitate such drivel, which comes from a source whose intention is to undermine democracies around the world.