How Canada and the U.S. ‘normalize’ and promote Ukranian fascists

On Sept. 22, the Canadian Parliament welcomed Yaroslav Hunka, a 98-year-old Ukrainian-Canadian man, into the chamber as part of a ceremony that included Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Hailing Hunka as a “Ukrainian hero,” the legislature and guests gave him a standing ovation, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau later held a private audience with Hunka.

However, Hunka is no hero. He is a fascist and a collaborator in the brutal and genocidal Nazi occupation of the Ukraine during World War II when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union.

The National Holocaust Museum estimates that during the 1941-45 Nazi occupation of the Ukraine, fascists shot to death 1.5 million Jewish men, women and children at close range. Ukrainian fascists assisted in these murders.

In 1943, as the Soviet Red Army was advancing westward, liberating Ukraine and other parts of the USSR from the German Nazi occupation, Hunka volunteered to fight the Soviets in a Ukrainian unit of the Waffen-SS. The Waffen-SS was the military arm of the Schutzstaffel (SS), the paramilitary unit staffed with Nazis who coordinated and carried out the mass murders of the Holocaust.

The Ukrainian unit, the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Galician), was cut from the same cloth as the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), another fascist collaborationist group that supported the Nazi occupation. The group murdered tens of thousands of Jews, Poles, and other non-Ukrainians, as well as communists. In the Waffen-SS, these nationalists received Nazi sanction and weapons to fight the Red Army and the myriad partisan groups resisting Nazi occupation.

These were the men Hunka volunteered to join in 1943. Popular outrage followed his being honored in Ottawa once it became known this was no “Ukrainian hero.”

In the days since, only one person has paid any kind of consequence for this gross act of antisemitism. Canadian Parliament Speaker Anthony Rota was forced to resign. His apology made no mention of Hunka, his hateful ideology or the vile deeds. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also forced to apologize with his public statements referring honoring Hunka as a “mistake” with he and others “unaware of the context.”

However, in the very next breath Trudeau dismissed the role of neo-Nazis in Ukraine today as “Russian propaganda,” pledging that Canada would continue its “steadfast, unequivocal support for Ukraine.” Trudeau has long sought to deflect attention from the Canadian government’s tolerance of Ukrainian Nazi collaborators, which include numerous monuments to their organizations, such as the 14th Waffen-SS Division; and the fact that his Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is the granddaughter of Michael Chomiak, a collaborator who edited an antisemitic Ukrainian-language newspaper during the Nazi occupation and worked closely with Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.

Remarkably, the label of “antisemitic” hasn’t been attached to Trudeau, Rota, or any other Canadian MP who gave Hunka a standing ovation, even though it’s hard to think of a more antisemitic act than glorifying a Nazi. The situation stands in stark contrast to the treatment given to Jeremy Corbyn, a British MP who was driven out of Labour Party leadership, and eventually suspended from the party entirely in 2020, as the result of a demagogic campaign painting him as antisemitic for showing solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.

Whitewashing of Nazi crimes and of the presence of neo-Nazis in Ukraine ruling circles, parliament and military is not limited to Canada. Part of Washington’s crusade to promote the cause of the Kyiv government and win the hearts and minds of Americans to funding and prolonging the Ukraine war has been to allow the Azov Battalion, a neo-Nazi regiment of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, to send their representatives on tour in the United States. The ideology and aims of this group was stated by Azov commander Andriy Biletsky: “The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival. A crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen [inferior races, according to the standard Nazi terminology].”

In November 2022, Azov press officer Dmytro Kozatsky did a speaking tour of the U.S. East Coast. MSNBC promoted him and his new book. Most concerning was the decision by Rockville Middle School and Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland to give Kozatsky an audience of teenage students. Less than a week later, residents of nearby Bethesda, with its large Jewish population, awoke to antisemitic graffiti, with phrases such as, “No mercy for Jews,” and “Jews not welcome” spray painted in public areas. 

This promoting of Ukrainian fascists has an impact here in the United States where white supremacist acts of violence have only grown bolder in recent years, targeting Jews, Black people, LGBTQ people, immigrants, and women — many of the same groups coming under focused attack by the U.S. capitalist state.

Neo-Nazi normalization and blowback

On May 14, 2022, a white supremacist live-streamed his entry to Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., and, armed with an AR-15 rifle, opened fire on patrons of the market in a predominantly Black neighborhood, killing ten people. Embroidered on his clothing during the racist terror attack was a sonnenrad or “black sun,” a fascist icon used by Heinrich Himmler as the head of the Nazi SS — the same group Hunka joined.

The Ukrainian Azov Battalion, a neo-Nazi regiment of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, also uses the black sun symbol. U.S. mainstream coverage of the Battalion has included interviews and profiles of Azov members. The New York Times would have you believe that this symbol represents “sovereignty and pride.”

The normalization of neo-Nazis in Ukraine as simply the most patriotic fighters of their nation sends a clear message to the neo-Nazis lurking in the shadows at home: Come out. Further, it reveals the lengths that the Pentagon and U.S. State Department will go to seek further spheres of dominance and war contractor profits.

This is not the first chapter of the U.S. nestling into bed with fascist collaborators as junior partners of their imperial project. The existence of Nazism and fascism in Ukraine is not a “creation of Russian propagandists,” as Trudeau, Biden, or others would have it. In fact, the United States has a long history of aiding and abetting fascists there.

After World War II, the United States leaned heavily on fascist groups from across Europe, using them both as anti-communist terror cells in Europe and shipping them to other parts of the globe to do Washington’s bidding. The CIA gave backing to neo-Nazis so they could continue their terrorism campaigns in the USSR  into the 1950s, killing more than 35,000 communists and Soviet officials by 1951. This included members of the Ukrainian OUN and 14th Waffen-SS Division — Hunka’s collaborationist coterie — and the infamous OUN leader Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera, a man glorified as a national hero in modern Ukraine. The United States refused to honor a Soviet request to extradite Bandera after World War II. Bandera actually has a monument in his honor in Ellenville, N.Y.

In 2019, 40 members of Congress signed a letter calling for the U.S. State Department to designate Azov a foreign terrorist organization. “Azov has been recruiting, radicalizing, and training American citizens for years,” the letter said. Their effort was not successful. In recent years, it has been estimated that tens of thousands of foreign fighters have entered Ukraine to be trained by Azov. According to a recent FBI affidavit, Azov “is believed to have participated in training and radicalizing United States-based white supremacy organization.”

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