Last week, a number of newspapers here in southern Ontario disseminated a problematic story about how some vandals had defaced a “Nazi monument” in a Ukrainian cemetery in Oakville. The monument they were referring too, was one that honoured the deceased members of the Galicia or “Halychyna” Division of Ukrainian soldiers, who during World War II had fought as part of the German army against the Soviet Red forces. Since that time, various Soviet governments and their Russian successors have never let up on a slanderous campaign to brand the members of this Division as fanatical Nazis, accusing them of all kinds of war crimes and genocidal acts.
More reputable and impartial historians, as well as numerous royal commissions and investigations by the British and Canadian governments, have exonerated the Division of any involvement in any Nazi war crimes or genocidal activities. They were Ukrainians who joined the Division, not because they were believers in Nazi ideology or policies, but to fight the Communists who had engaged in several decades of genocidal acts against the Ukrainian state, and killed millions of innocent Ukrainians in the process. In simple terms, they were not Nazis, but die-hard anti-communists, and were using the circumstances and the assistance of the Germans to try and rid Ukraine of what they perceived was a far more deadly and pernicious enemy.
Regrettably, seventy five years of Communist and Russian anti-Ukrainian propaganda has managed to distort many of the facts surrounding what took place on the Eastern Front during World War II, and even today, many people in the west, including journalists who have little knowledge of the history of that area, continue to propagate the slander that the Division, as well as most Ukrainians, were really Nazis who were deeply implicated in the war crimes that the true Nazis wreaked on Ukrainian lands.
It is not my intent to be an apologist for the Galicia division, the Ukrainian underground partisan forces, or the Ukrainian population in general who survived those trying times. They were forced by circumstances to choose sides under extreme circumstances that few of us today can even begin to imagine. No doubt, there were some Ukrainians that were ideological Nazis, that did commit criminal or genocidal acts, just as there were natives in occupied France, Belgium or the Netherlands that did the same. I would posit that these were the exception, and not representative of the general population or its political or moral culture. I have personally known some of the veterans that had fought in the Galicia Division, and I can testify to the fact that their motivations for volunteering had nothing to do with Mein Kampf or the spread of the Third Reich, but was almost entirely motivated by the desire to overthrow the Communist yoke that had so devastated Ukraine since the Bolshevik Revolution.
And yet, whether it was Stalin then, or Putin now, the Russian empire continues its never-ending campaign to discredit and smear Ukrainians whose biggest crime is to dare to assert their independent cultural identity and freedom from Russian assimilation. The official Cold War may have ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the imperialist tendencies of Muscovy continue unabated, and Ukrainians continue to be the Russians’ prime target.
Sadly, there is no shortage of fellow-travellers here in Canada, who for either pecuniary or ideological reasons, are more than willing to propagate Russian disinformation, lies and distortions, some of which manages to make it into Canada’s major newspapers. The recent stories about the “Nazi monument” in the Ukrainian cemetery in Oakville is a good example.
If you look at the monument itself, you will note that there are no swastikas, no references whatsoever to the German army, the SS, or to anything that could be construed as “Nazi”. The inscription simply reads “To those who died for the freedom of Ukraine”. There is nothing “Nazi” about the monument, either in word, symbol or intent.
As a Ukrainian activist for most of my life, I have almost gotten used to the fact that the Russian monolith views anyone involved in Ukrainian nationalist activities as a “fascist”, a “Nazi”, or worse. That does not bother me anywhere near as much as the fact that Canadians can be swayed into believing that this is true. It reinforces the fact that we should strive as much as we can to ensure that the history of Eastern Europe is covered honestly and in detail in our educational curriculums, so that future generations of Canadians are not so susceptible to Russian imperialist propaganda.