Israel condemns Ukrainian nationalist march celebrating Nazi collaborator

Seen as an anti-Soviet hero, Stepan Bandera’s birthday is a national holiday.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Israeli embassy in Ukraine condemned Saturday a torchlit parade held the previous night in Kyiv, in which Ukrainian nationalists marched to celebrate the birthday of a notoriously antisemitic local leader who fought for Germany in World War II.

“Israel condemns the nationalist march in honor of Stepan Bandera,” the embassy said in a statement. “Any attempt to glorify those who supported Nazi ideology defiles the memory of Holocaust victims in Ukraine.”

Without going into details, the embassy also demanded “a thorough investigation of the antisemitic manifestations that took place during the march in accordance with the law adopted in Ukraine in 2021.”

The capital’s police force estimated the crowds at several marches all together at some 3,500 people. In previous years, the numbers had reached 15,000, while last year, when Covid-19 restrictions were strictly in effect, only hundreds participated.

The march took place as fears of Russian invasion are still high despite Russian denials, as tens of thousands of Moscow’s troops have been stationed at the border between the two countries for several months. Russia already took over part of the Ukraine in 2014, forcibly annexing the Crimean Peninsula. It also militarily backs separatists in the Donbas region of the country, who have been fighting sporadically for independence since 2014.

“Today, when there is a war with the occupier at the front, and the struggle against the ‘fifth column’ continues in the rear, we remember and honor the memory of Stepan Bandera,” said Andriy Tarasenko, leader of the nationalist Right Sector party, at the parade.

In 2018, Ukraine’s parliament declared January 1 a “national day of commemoration” for Bandera, a fierce nationalist whose Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) joined the Nazis to fight against the Soviet Union, hoping thereby to gain independence for his country.

The communist behemoth had taken over the Ukraine before Germany subsequently invaded and occupied the country in 1941. The Nazis were opposed to Ukrainian independence and actually sent Bandera to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in January 1942, albeit to a special barracks for high-profile political prisoners, where he reportedly did not suffer the privations of typical inmates. They released him to fight for them in September 1944, when the war was already going very badly for Germany.

The OUN was responsible for killing tens of thousands of Jews, including women and children, during the war. Bandera considered the Jews “the vanguard of Muscovite imperialism in Ukraine,” as his party wrote in its program of subversive action while still under Soviet rule.

“Jews are to be isolated, removed from governmental positions in order to prevent sabotage… Those who are deemed necessary may only work under strict supervision and removed from their positions for slightest misconduct… Jewish assimilation is not possible,” the section on minority policy said.

Bandera is not universally venerated in the Ukraine. A local survey in May revealed that just under a third, 32%, think of his activity as a historical figure to be positive for the country, while just as many think it was negative. An additional 21% consider his actions just as negative as they were positive. In the western region, where OUN was most active, however, fully 70% of the respondents saw Bandera in a positive light.