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KIEV, January 01, /ITAR-TASS/. Ukrainian nationalists organised a torch march in the centre of Kiev in memory of their leader Stepan Bandera on the occasion of the 105th anniversary of his birth.
Several thousand people, mainly activists from the Svoboda (Freedom) party, marched along the central streets of Kiev, carrying black-and-red flags and chanting “Bandera is our hero.”
Similar rallies of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) were also held in the west Ukrainian cities of Lvov in front of the country’s largest monument to Bandera, in Khmelnitsky and Ivano-Frankovsk.
Ukrainian courts have stripped Bandera of the title of Hero of Ukraine, which was also awarded to him posthumously in 2010 by Viktor Yushchenko, who was president at that time.
The court ruling abrogating Yushchenko’s decree declaring Bandera a hero of Ukraine is lawful and legitimate, the press service of the Higher Administrative Court said.
On April 2, 2010, the Donetsk Circuit Administrative Court ruled in favour of invalidating Yushchenko’s decree on Bandera. The Donetsk city administrative court of appeals upheld the verdict.
The presidential press service of incumbent Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich said that the court ruling had entered into force and that Yushchenko’s decree had been rescinded.
MP Alexander Yefremov of the ruling Party of Region believes that “the decision to award the title of Hero of Ukraine to Bandera was stupidity on the part of President Viktor Yushchenko. Awarding titles to historical personalities who bring out a controversial reaction in society is premature and unnecessary. So if these people have some authority in certain territories, there are regional councils that should do this within the scope of their authority. But it was stupid to divide society in such a way on the national scale.”
Opposition party “For Ukraine!” leader, Vyacheslav Kirilenko, disagreed: “Stepan Bandera was, is and will be a hero of Ukraine irrespective of any court rulings. As for the normative part of this case, I think that when the matter is considered objectively in a short while, with the participation of the public and taking into account all arguments and legal rules, the title of Hero of Ukraine will be returned to Stepan Bandera, even though I don't think that this is so important for public perception of this Ukrainian patriot. People in many regions, cities and villages of Ukraine revere him as a real Ukrainian hero as it is.”
This is not the first attempt by nationalists to rehabilitate OUN-UPA and officially recognise it as a warring party in World War II.
Arkady Monastyrsky, head of the Jewish Foundation of Ukraine, said that “the process of rehabilitation of Nazi collaborators has been going on since 2005 when President Viktor Yushchenko came to power.” Special agencies were created to provide the needed interpretation of historical facts, specifically, “the institute of national memory,” a special information service under the Ukrainian Security Service, and the “institute of history.”
But for many people in Western Ukraine, Bandera is a hero. A street was named after him in Lvov in 1991. There are streets bearing his name in Ternopol, Rovno, Ivano-Frankovsk, and Lutsk. A collectible coin was minted for Bandera’s centenary. In eastern, southern and even central regions of Ukraine, Bandera is not a hero but a traitor and Nazi henchman. For war veterans, he is also a person who ordered them and their comrades-in-arm to be shot.
UPA fought mostly against the Armia Krajowa of Poland, the Red Army and Soviet guerrilla fighters in Western Ukraine. The OUN-UPA men, whom people began to call the Bandera men, by the name of their leader, are guilty of numerous crimes. For example, they physically destroyed some 100,000 Poles, Czechs and Jews in the Western Volyn Region. Thousands of Ukrainians, who refused to cooperate with OUN, were also brutally murdered. For all those crimes, as well as for terrorist activities on the Polish territory before the war, Bandera is now regarded as a criminal and terrorist in Poland.
During the years of his presidency Yushchenko rehabilitated UPA veterans and conferred posthumously the title of Hero of Ukraine to UPA commander Roman Shukhevich.