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27 Dec, 2008 04:28

Ukraine to commemorate xenophobic national heroes

The New Year in Ukraine will begin with a controversial celebration. On January 1 the country will honour former Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera.

The decision to introduce the holiday was made by the country's parliament on Thursday.

Bandera is known for masterminding the massacre of Poles in Volhynia during the WWI. History repeated itself in German-occupied Volhynia and Eastern Galicia from late 1942 till early 1945, when Ukrainian nationalists, guided by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), exterminated most Poles aged between 16 and 60 years old. The massacre was strongly linked with Bandera’s Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), which openly proclaimed plans of driving all non-Ukrainians out of the future Ukrainian state. Thousands of Poles, Jews and Belorussians were murdered at this time.

In the late stages of WWII Nazi Germany regularly deployed the OUN and UPA against the Soviet army.

After WWII the Ukrainian Insurgent Army did not stop fighting the Soviet Union till the early 1950s, particularly in the largely inaccessible Carpathian Mountains. Stepan Bandera was poisoned by KGB agent Bohdan Stashynsky in Munich, West Germany, in 1959.

Also added to the calendar is the anniversary of another controversial figure, Symon Petlura, the leader of Ukraine's fight for independence following the Russian Revolution of 1917. For a short period of time he was head of the short-lived Ukrainian state during the Russian Civil War.

Besides being a fierce Ukrainian nationalist, Petlura is notorious for sharing the responsibility for anti-Jewish pogroms during his term as Head of State in 1919-1920. The number of civilian Jews killed in the atrocities in Ukraine is estimated between 35,000 and 50,000.

In 1926 Symon Petlura was shot dead in Paris by a Ukrainian-born Jewish watchmaker, Sholom Schwartzbard, who, when caught red-handed, reportedly said calmly: “I have killed a great assassin.”