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10 May, 2009 07:20

Ukrainian activists ban essential symbol of Victory parade, veterans shattered

The Victory Parade is a 64-year-old tradition that unites all former Soviet Republics. But an organization in Western Ukraine called 'Svoboda,' is calling for the banning of Soviet Symbols from Victory celebrations.

May 9th, 1945 – a day of celebration, of freedom, of victory. It was a victory that came at a great cost, but the fight united millions against a common enemy. The role of the Soviet Union in World War II was key – and even now, over half a century later, Victory Day is a celebration shared and respected in all former Soviet Republics. But there are some forces trying to break this sacred bond from within.

An organization in Ukraine vehemently opposes the use of the Red Army Flag and other Soviet symbols during the Victory Day Parades.

“Svoboda” was always for banning Communist ideology and the Communist party, because such ideology just crippled the Ukrainian nation – there was repression, shootings, and famine. Therefore in our 18th year of independence, we’re absolutely against displaying any symbols under which millions and millions of Ukrainians died,” says Andrey Mishenko, regional chief of the Svoboda group.

They aren't alone in their unusual demands.

The Ukrainian Insurgent Army was a military wing of the country's Nationalist Movement. In 1941, it was formed as a resistance group who fought Nazis – but later changed sides and joined the enemy. They attacked the Red Army and Soviet Partisans, and, according to some historical documents, played a significant role in the ethnic cleansing of Western Ukraine's Polish population.

Despite the fact that the group, or UPA – as it is known – was formally disbanded in 1949, it still exists today, defending its fighters and condemning all things Soviet. They enjoy a notable influence in Western Ukraine, and demand recognition from the country's political forces – claiming that what their fighters did was for the sake of Ukraine.

“Ukrainian insurgents were fighting invaders and NKVD troops against expulsion, deportation, and the destruction of the Ukrainian nation. This struggle didn’t stop for many years, and, as we know it wasn't until 1991 that Ukraine became independent,” says Sergey Tkachuk, archbishop of the UON-UPA.

Archbishop Sergey is a father confessor for the UPA. His chapel is full of icons, but alongside Jesus and the Holy Virgin are some rather unusual faces.

Opponents of the movement to ban Soviet symbols for Victory Day commemorations claim the people glorified by groups such as the UPA are the very people who shot their own comrades during the war years.

Nontheless, activists continue to fight against any kind of Soviet memory. And in a small city in Ukraine, they've won that fight.

A court ruled that the use of the Red flag during the Parade was prohibited. But how LEGAL is that ruling?

“The right to use symbols of Victory by the country which defeated fascism is written in a special law. Ukrainian law says absolutely clearly that symbols to immortalize victory, as well as government symbols can also be used and, after all, it’s a red flag too. The court ruling absolutely contradicts the law. I believe it would be overturned on appeal,” says lawyer Mikhail Pogrebensky.

The debates may go on for a long time, but there are those who haven't got much time left: those who fought and survived the Second World War, the liberators for whom Victory Day is the most significant day of the year.

So how do they feel when something they were prepared to die for…is questioned?

“Its a crime, its an awful crime to try and take away the red flag from Victory Day. That flag is a symbol of our fight, our pain – and our victory,” says a war veteran.

“The flag was what we fought for. We WERE the flag, and we won with it. To try and take it away from Victory Day celebrations would be a terrible crime,” says another war veteran.

These words are echoed in banners carried by members of the parade. “Your so-called 'heroes' shot their comrades in the back,” reads one of many rising above the victors alongside the Soviet Red Flags.