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15 Feb, 2023 12:26

Zelensky decorates military unit with ‘Nazi’ title

A Ukrainian mountain brigade will now be called ‘Edelweiss,’ a moniker recalling a German unit involved in mass atrocities during WWII
Zelensky decorates military unit with ‘Nazi’ title

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has awarded one of the country's combat units an “honorary title” that harkens to a notorious Wehrmacht division that was involved in numerous war crimes during World War II.

In a presidential decree published on Tuesday, Zelensky granted the name ‘Edelweiss’ to the 10th Separate Mountain Assault Brigade due to “exemplary performance of assigned tasks during the protection of the territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine” amid Kiev’s conflict with Moscow.

The newly bestowed title bears similarity to the one used by Nazi Germany's 1st Mountain Division, which took part in the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and raised a swastika flag on Mount Elbrus in a propaganda stunt during an advance into the Caucasus in 1942. The name ‘Edelweiss’ stuck because the chevrons on the unit’s uniform bore a depiction of the edelweiss flower.

The division’s history is besmirched by numerous war crimes. Among other atrocities, it was responsible for executing hundreds of partisans in Yugoslavia in July 1943. Two months later, Edelweiss also murdered more than 5,000 Italian soldiers who had surrendered to them on the Greek island of Cefalonia.

The Ukrainian brigade that now bears the same name was formed in 2015 and for about a year incorporated the nationalist battalions ‘Aidar’ and ‘Donbass’. The unit has seen combat first against the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, and then against Russia after Moscow started its military operation in February 2022.

Zelensky has on numerous occasions found himself in hot water over Nazi-related controversies. Over the most recent weekend, he posted a photo to his Instagram account showing a Ukrainian soldier wearing the ‘totenkopf’ (death’s head) insignia, which is associated with the notorious 3rd SS Panzer Division, a unit infamous for committing war crimes during World War II.

Last May, he marked Victory Day over Nazi Germany by sharing an image showing a Ukrainian service member sporting the same symbol, prompting a public outcry. The photo was later removed.