KYIV, Ukraine — Hundreds of Ukrainian nationalists held a torchlight march in the capital of Kyiv to mark the birthday of Stepan Bandera, the leader of a rebel militia that fought alongside Nazi soldiers in World War II.
The Sunday march came amid persistently high concerns over Russia’s massing of troops near the Ukrainian border, which many believe could be a prelude to an invasion. A large sector of eastern Ukraine has been under the control of Russia-backed separatist rebels since 2014.
“Today, when there is a war with the occupier at the front, and the struggle against the ‘fifth column’ continues in the rear, we remember and honor the memory of Stepan Bandera,” said Andriy Tarasenko, leader of the nationalist party Right Sector.
During World War II, Bandera led the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, whose men killed thousands of Jews and Poles, including women and children, while fighting alongside Nazi Germany against the Red Army and communists.
Bandera’s supporters claim that they sided with the Nazis against the Soviet army in the belief that Adolf Hitler would grant independence to Ukraine.
Expressions of admiration for Bandera and other collaborators have increased in scope and status following the 2014 revolution in Ukraine, which toppled the regime of Viktor Yanukovych amid claims that he is a Russian stooge, and triggered an armed conflict with Russia.
The veneration of Nazi collaborators, including killers of Jews, is a growing phenomenon in Eastern Europe, where many consider such individuals as heroes because they resisted Soviet Communism.