Ukrainian honor for wartime nationalist angers Jews

(JTA) — A Jewish group has decried Ukraine’s decision to honor a wartime nationalist leader.

The Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia called President Viktor Yuschenko’s granting of the Hero of Ukraine award to Stepan Bandera, the leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, last Friday a provocation that “helps rehabilitate Nazi crimes” and “insults memory of its victims.”

"President Yuschenko’s decree says that Bandera was awarded ‘for his unshakeable spirit, for defending the national ideology, for his manifestations of heroism and selflessness in the fight for independence of the Ukrainian state,’ "  the federation said in a statement issued Monday. "Obviously, President Yuschenko is thus attributing ‘to the manifestations of heroism and selflessness’ the killings of Jews and Poles, in which Bandera and his comrades-in-arms were massively involved."

The Ukrainian nationalist forces led by Bandera fought against both the Nazis and the Soviet army in World War II, and led an armed battle against Soviet rule in Ukraine into the 1950s.

“Yuschenko succeeded in enriching political life of the contemporary European state with names of people who openly promoted fascism and extremely nationalistic views, who took part in disgusting crimes against humanity, who were accused in the Nuremberg trial,” the federation statement continued.

Yuschenko is running last in the race for Ukrainian president, with elections scheduled for Feb. 7. His honor for Bandera is seen as a way to force the other candidates to take a stand on the  nationalist leader.

Bandera was assassinated by a KGB agent in Munich in 1959.

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