President Viktor Yushchenko’s recent efforts to commemorate World War II nationalist fighters have provoked a wave of pro-Russian and leftist extremism in Ukraine. Radical leftists disrupted commemorations of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) across Ukraine on October 14, and the Russian radical nationalist organization Eurasian Youth Union (ESM) claimed responsibility for vandalizing national symbols on Ukraine’s highest mountain.
On October 12 Yushchenko posthumously proclaimed Roman Shukhevych, the UPA commander in the 1940s, a Hero of Ukraine, and two days later he decreed that the 65th anniversary of the UPA should be commemorated. On October 14, a monument was unveiled in the western town of Lviv to one of the main ideologists of 20th century Ukrainian nationalism, Stepan Bandera.
The leftist and pro-Russian forces have made it clear that they will not put up with “the president’s attempts to impose pro-fascist, neo-Nazi policy on society,” as one of the leaders of the Communist Party (CPU), Oleksandr Holub, put it. The CPU issued a statement saying that Yushchenko had “voiced support at the state level for an ideology that was condemned internationally and by the Nuremberg trial.”
The UPA has always been respected in western Ukraine, which the Soviet Union annexed from Poland in 1939, as freedom fighters. Official historiography maintains that the UPA fought both the Nazis and the Red Army. Most right-of-center parties, the far-right groups, and President Yushchenko share this point of view. Pro-Russian parties and leftists, most of whom are nostalgic for the Soviet past, say that the UPA collaborated with the Nazis, so it does not deserve commemoration. This negative view of the UPA dominates in the Russian-speaking regions, and it is apparently shared by the majority of the Party of Regions of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.
UPA veterans and several thousand supporters of the far-right parties Freedom, the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, and the Ukrainian National Assembly organized a march in Kyiv on October 14 to commemorate the UPA. They were confronted by supporters of the CPU and the radical left Progressive Socialist Party, who behaved aggressively. Police prevented scuffles between supporters of the rival camps, briefly detaining 24 of them. Similar events happened in several other cities across Ukraine, including the second biggest city, Kharkiv. In the Crimean capital of Simferopol, where pro-Russian and leftist radicals by far outnumber the nationalists, police had to work especially hard to prevent serious confrontations.
Yushchenko’s calls for UPA commemoration were largely ignored by the local authorities beyond western Ukraine. “Not everybody would understand this. We have to first conduct serious explanatory work,” said the governor of the central Ukrainian Poltava Region, Valery Asadchev, who is a member of Yushchenko’s team. The council of Ukraine’s easternmost region, Luhansk, voted 73–2 to approve an appeal for Yushchenko to revoke his decree on proclaiming Shukhevych a hero. Luhansk voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Party of Regions in the September 30 parliamentary election.
On October 18, the ESM, a Russian radical youth group, said that its activists had demolished Ukrainian national symbols that had been erected on Ukraine’s highest mountain, the Hoverla. The mountain, located in western Ukraine, is a symbol by itself. Yushchenko, when he was opposition leader, would ascend it ceremoniously each year accompanied by crowds of his political supporters. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) confirmed that the ESM’s activists had vandalized the symbols but said that the ESM had exaggerated the damage. The SBU said that this was committed by three young men, two of whom had arrived from Russia for the purpose.
One of the leaders of the ESM, Pavel Zarifullin, commenting on the SBU’s statement, said the three young men in question reside in western Ukraine, rather than Russia. Zarifullin mocked the SBU, saying that it only pretended to have full information on the ESM activists in question. The Ukrainian version of the Russian daily Kommersant quoted the ESM’s main ideologist, Aleksandr Dugin, as saying that the “action on the Hoverla” had been prompted by Yushchenko’s commemoration of Shukhevych. Dugin and Zarifullin were declared personae non gratae in Ukraine in 2006 for their participation in anti-NATO and anti-U.S. protests in Crimea.
Ukraine’s main parties displayed very different reactions to the incident on the Hoverla. Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine–People’s Self-Defense condemned it as “a criminal act committed by anti-Ukrainian forces.” Yushchenko’s allies from the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc urged immediate reaction from the Prosecutor-General’s Office. The Party of Regions kept silent. The CPU’s Holub said that the Hoverla incident was Ukrainian society’s “emotional” reaction to Yushchenko’s “neo-Nazi policy.”
(Interfax-Ukraine, October 14; Korrespondent.net, October 14, 19, 20; kpu.net.ua, October 19; UNIAN, October 19, 20; Kommersant-Ukraine, October 22)