By Daniel Moser
(EJNews) – In the mid-1970s the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex was built in North Edmonton and along with it, a monument was erected to a Nazi collaborator. It sounds weird to say out loud, but that is the case. There is a statue of someone who commanded troops to participate in genocide during the Holocaust, in Edmonton.
Roman Shukhevych was a Ukrainian military leader during the Second World War. In parts of Ukraine, and the diaspora, he is viewed as a hero for fighting against the Soviets in the name of an independent Ukraine. This telling of history omits Shukhevych’s bloody atrocities, evil associations, and violent antisemitism. In the early 1940s Shukhevych was a leader in a radical militant group, the Bandera wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, and Nazi trained Ukrainian battalions, where he led his troops into battle committing atrocities and war crimes including massacres in Belarus and an attempt to ethnically cleanse Ukraine.
After his formal association with the Nazi Germany had ended, Shukhevych’s antisemitic murders continued. In 1943 declaring independence, but maintaining allegiance to Nazi Germany, Shukhevych was supreme commander of the newly formed Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), where creating an ethnically Ukrainian country was priority one. The UPA was responsible for the mass killing of 60,000-100,000 ethnic Poles, thousands of Jews, and many more. Many Jews fleeing the Holocaust made their way through the woods of western Ukraine, only to be lured out of hiding and murdered by the UPA.
This is a very brief history of Shukhveych; a more in-depth description can be found in Per Anders Rudling’s 2016 academic article featured in Fascism: Journal of Comparative Fascist Studies titled The Cult of Roman Shukhevych in Ukraine.
There is a statue of Roman Shukhevych in Edmonton.
“As a Jewish Edmontonian, it is very disconcerting,” said journalist and activist Paula Kirman, who recently appeared on the Progress Report podcast discussing the topic. The podcast is eye-opening, the hope is further attention will be drawn to the situation, and a reasonable outcome will be achieved. Kirman put it simply, “ideally, I think it should be removed.”
The choice should be a simple one, a country in North America, in the year 2019 should have zero tolerance for having an antisemitic murderer placed on a figurative and literal pedestal. If outright removal of the Shukhevych statue is out of the question, then at the very least an accurate historical addition should be made, explaining what exactly Shukhevych’s contributions to Ukrainian life were, and the mass murder and attempted ethnic cleansing he took part in along the way. Refusing to do so would be a whitewashing of history, and one that is often sighted as being a form of Holocaust denial.
When approached for comment in a 2018 Coda article on Russian disinformation locals associated with the Complex either denied the accusations outright, denied knowledge of Shukhevych’s atrocities, or reasoned them away claiming it was merely an alliance of convenience with Nazi Germany.
A common argument in the United States of America during debates over Confederate statues is that their removal is a way of erasing history, but the very opposite is true. Kirman explains, “This isn’t book burning – the books that outline who Shukhevych was and what he did will remain available to anyone. Monuments are about honouring someone, and a Nazi collaborator who took part in genocide does not deserve such an honour.”
The statue has been in Edmonton since the 1970s and the fact that it has been discussed so sparingly is astonishing.
“I only learned about the statue a couple years ago,” Kirman continues. “I was working on a film project (A Monumental Secret) that dealt with the topic of the Ukrainian right, and how we look at problematic monuments in light of history, with the case study being a different monument in Edmonton.”
A small amount of coverage was given to the statue in 2018, but it did not gain traction, and never really reached the public. It stands to reason that a major factor in the statue’s continued standing is a lack of outcry.
It is unclear if a serious attempt at having the statue removed, or altered has been made. The hope remains though that if it is approached in a meaningful manner by the correct parties that the easy and proper action will be taken.
“I think they should be willing to listen to criticism of the monument,” Kirman says of the Complex, “at the very least publicly acknowledge that Shukhevych was a Nazi collaborator who took part in genocide, and put a plaque of some kind explaining his role in the Holocaust…so that anyone who sees it will learn the truth.”
As defenders against antisemitism in Edmonton, the responsibility falls on leaders and members of the Jewish community to reach out to the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex and leaders in the Ukrainian community to ask the question: Why is there a statue memorializing a Nazi collaborator, who participated in genocide, in our city?
The Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex could not be reached for comment prior to the publishing of this article.
Files from CBC Radio Canada International, Coda, Progress Report