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29 Apr, 2021 08:52

Ukrainian far-right nationalists stage march in center of Kiev to mark 77th anniversary of WWII Nazi military division SS Galicia

The German Embassy in Ukraine and the country’s main opposition party have condemned far-right nationalists in Kiev who marched on Wednesday evening to celebrate the legacy of SS Galicia, a World War 2 Nazi infantry division.

According to the TASS news agency, about 100 people from various far-right nationalist groups participated in a celebration of the military division’s 77th anniversary.

In response to the march, the country’s second largest parliamentary grouping ‘Opposition Platform – For Life’ asked for a “tough reaction” against the Nazis, and demanded that the organizations who arranged the event be banned. The party also noted what it deemed to be hypocrisy on the part of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government, explaining that the authorities are blocking the traditional WWII Victory Day parade marking the Soviet victory over Adolf Hitler’s Germany. Kiev officials claim this is due to Covid-19 restrictions, but they did not apply the same rules to Wednesday’s radical march.

Created in Lvov in 1943, SS Galicia was made up predominantly of Ukrainian volunteers who wanted to take up arms for Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union, and mainly fought against local partisans. The unit was almost wiped out in the 1944 Battle of Lvov–Sandomierz, and later saw action in Slovakia and Austria. In 1945, it rebranded as the Ukrainian National Army and lasted until the end of the war in May that year.

The SS itself was the military branch of Hitler’s Nazi Party, and was primarily responsible for planning the Holocaust. The organization is banned under the laws of Ukraine.

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On Wednesday evening, supporters of SS Galicia met in the center of Kiev on Arsenalnaya Square, and walked for half an hour to Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the city’s Independence Square. At the end of the march, the Nazis hung a banner on a bridge, depicting soldiers in Nazi uniform. Local police blocked off the road to facilitate the celebration.

“We are the force that will rule this country,” one of the participants said, according to Ukrainian publication Strana. “We are the force that will wage war on its own territory. We are the force that will fight in Moscow. We are proud and remember the deeds of the SS division Galicia.”

The event also struck a nerve in the German Embassy in Kiev, and Ambassador Anka Feldhusen warned Ukrainian nationalists not to associate themselves with Nazi war criminals.

“Waffen SS units participated in the worst war crimes and the Holocaust during World War II. No volunteer organizations fighting and working for Ukraine today should be associated with them,” she wrote on her Twitter page on Wednesday.

In recent years, Kiev has had a difficult and controversial relationship with far right politics. Last year, the United Nations voted in favour of a resolution to combat the promotion of Nazi ideology, with Ukraine one of tonly two countries to vote against the measure.

The text called on member states to pass legislation to “eliminate all forms of racial discrimination,” and condemned the "glorification, in any form, of the Nazi movement, neo-Nazism and former members of the Waffen SS organization,” as well as “revisionism in respect to the Second World War.”

In Ukrainian civil society, far-right nationalists have significant influence. In 2019, the country’s former Prime Minister, Aleksey Goncharuk, was caught attending a concert from a prominent neo-Nazi band. Outside of elected officials, radical groups like the Right Sector have a large following.

Earlier this year, twenty-seven policemen were injured in clashes with members of the  Right Sector, an anti-Moscow Ukrainian nationalist organization branded as an extremist organization in Russia, due to its adherence to Nazi ideology and symbols. 

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