KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian far-right supporters on Wednesday held a torchlight procession in the capital to mark the birthday of a nationalist leader who sided with the Nazis during part of World War II.
The march in Kyiv by about 1,000 far-right supporters commemorated the 111th birthday of Stepan Bandera, lauded by nationalists as a hero.
Bandera was a leader of Ukraine’s nationalist movement, which included an insurgent army that for one period during the war sided with the Nazis. With the rise of nationalism and anti-Russian sentiment in Ukraine, Bandera is being rehabilitated in the country as a patriotic, anti-Soviet hero.
Jewish groups have linked Bandera’s followers to the mass murders of Jews. Ukrainian Police said the march ended peacefully and there were no arrests.
During World War II, the Bandera served as Providnyk — a title analogous to the German fuehrer — of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, a brutally violent and authoritarian Ukrainian ultranationalist organization that had collaborated with the Nazis.
Formed from a merger of fascist and far-right groups, the OUN, as it is known colloquially, had engaged in a sustained campaign of terror and political assassination during the interwar period, when western Ukraine was under Polish control. By 1940, the organization split and the elder Bandera took over the larger faction, OUN-B, which subsequently adopted a 1941 manifesto calling on its members to “liquidate undesirable Poles, Muscovites, and Jews.”
The OUN collaborated with the Nazis and its members served in various German formations taking part in the Holocaust, but eventually turned against the Nazis when Berlin refused to recognize its declaration of Ukrainian independence. Bandera was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp (two of his brothers would die in Auschwitz); he was later released and resumed his collaboration.
Among Holocaust historians, the consensus is that the OUN and its military offshoot, known as the UPA, were responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews and up to 100,000 Poles during the war (estimates vary).
Sam Sokol and JTA contributed to this report.