Academic defending Yaroslav Hunka receives standing ovation in Edmonton

This piece is co-published with the Orchard, Jeremy Appel’s Substack.

A Royal Military College historian who once fantasized about defacing the National Holocaust Monument in an error-riddled Ottawa Citizen column was hosted at Edmonton’s Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex to promote a new pamphlet defending the 14th Grenadier Division of the Waffen-SS. 

Lubomyr Luciuk spoke to a crowd of about 50 people on April 28 at the complex, which features a bust of Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) commander Roman Shukhevych outside, as well as a shrine to Shukhevych and the UPA in the lobby. 

In pursuit of establishing an independent Ukrainian state, Ukrainian nationalists during the Second World War found common cause with the Nazis against the Soviet Union, collaborating with German forces in the mass murder of Jews and the ethnica cleansing Volhynia and Eastern Galicia. They were united in common fear of “Judeo-Bolshevism,” a conspiracy theory which regarded Jews as inherent agents of Communism. 

A quarter of all Holocaust victims lived in Ukraine and academics like John-Paul Himka and Per Rudling have studied and catalogued the extent to which Ukrainian nationalists took part in the killing of Ukraine’s Jewish population

The UPA—the armed wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists’ (OUN) radical Bandera faction—was independent from the Nazis, who later turned on and arrested them, but not before these nationalist partisans assisted the Nazis in murdering some 100,000 Poles, Jews and other Ukrainians by 1943. 

At least, that’s what most historians of the era argue—but Luciuk, and nationalist elements in the Ukrainian diaspora, say that history is communist and Putinist propaganda. 

Luciuk was in Edmonton to hawk his new book, The Galicia Division: They Fought for Ukraine, which he said he was inspired to write due to the international scandal that erupted in September after 14th Waffen-SS veteran Yaroslav Hunka received a standing ovation in Canadian Parliament. 

The book argues that those who volunteered to join the 14th Waffen-SS, also known as the Galicia Division, weren’t in fact Nazis. 

Lubomyr Luciuk speaking at the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex in Edmonton on April 28, 2024. Image by Jeremy Appel. 

Luciuk’s argument rests on the question of what, exactly, qualifies one as a Nazi. Slavic people, including Ukrainians, were precluded from joining the Nazi party itself. But all SS members, regardless of their nationality, swore a loyalty oath to Adolf Hitler. “Doing so did not make any of them a ‘Nazi,’” Luciuk claims in The Galicia Division

That’s a tough sell for those who aren’t steeped in Ukrainian nationalist mythology. Fortunately for Luciuk, the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex offered a choir for his preaching. 

Tying discussions of the role Ukrainian nationalists played in Nazi atrocities to the present, he opened his lecture with a warning that “our enemies” are attempting to pit Ukrainians against each other—kids against their parents and grandparents—“to weaken us so that we cannot help Ukraine.”

“It’s a concerted, orchestrated, organized effort and it has been very, very, very effective,” Luciuk said. 

The first part of Luciuk’s lecture dealt with a subject that is indeed often overlooked—the internment of Ukrainian-Canadians, and other immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian empire, as enemy aliens during the First World War. 

He emphasized the prejudice the 171,000 Ukrainian-Canadians who immigrated to Canada between 1871 and 1914, faced from influential quarters in Canada, quoting a Roman Catholic priest, who said they “have no sense of sanitation,” “resemble animals,” “are so much trash” and “filthy.” 

The Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex in north Edmonton. In the lower right part of the frame you can see a bust of Nazi collaborator and UPA commander Roman Shukhevych. Image by Jeremy Appel.

But even then, Luciuk couldn’t help but inject the latest right-wing culture war touchstones into his presentation.

During the First World War, more than 8,500 Ukrainian-Canadians of all ages—about 5% of their population—were sent to 24 internment camps across the country. The rest of the population was declared enemy aliens and had their civil liberties severely constrained. By contrast, 21,000 Japanese-Canadians, representing 90% of their population, were interned during the Second World War.

Describing the harsh conditions at these Ukrainian-Canadian internment camps, Luciuk implicitly compared them to Indian residential schools, specifically citing a cemetery in the forest at the Spirit Lake camp in Quebec.

“You want to talk about unmarked graves in rural areas that no one knows about, we have our own to think about,” said Luciuk. 

In the early-2000s, Luciuk received  a phone call from someone at the National Library and Archives in Ottawa warning him that a member of the Ukrainian Communist Party was in charge of the Central State Historical Archives of Ukraine in Kiev. 

Luciuk said this meant that the nationalist archives were at risk. “She might not destroy them physically, but she’ll put them in a part of the archive where no one will ever see them again,” he said. 

He boasted that he went to Kiev and returned with 300,000 documents from the archives on a USB stick. 

“I can't explain exactly how I did it. It was not entirely legal, and it had something to do with honey,” Luciuk said. 

This culminated in a book he co-edited, Enemy Archives: Soviet Counterinsurgency Operations and the Ukrainian Nationalist Movement, which was until recently listed by the American Library Association as one of the top historical books of 2023.

In an excerpt of the book published in the National Post in February 2023, Luciuk describes the notion that Ukrainian nationalist forces committed war crimes, collaborated with the Nazis or had fascist sympathies as “overworked disinformation.”

Luciuk was evidently bitter about the library association’s decision to remove his volume from its list of historical resources, and lashed out at the journalists who questioned the association’s decision to honour the book. 

He described Lev Golinkin, who wrote an April piece for The Nation, headlined, “Why Is the American Library Association Whitewashing the History of Ukrainian Nazis?” as a “Soviet Jewish immigrant [who’s] largely a fiction writer.” 

Reached for comment, Golinkin said, “I’ve never written fiction in my life.”

Golinkin’s sole published book, A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka, is a memoir, which focuses on his family’s decision to emigrate from Soviet Ukraine in the late 1980s. Golinkin was the first journalist to report in September 2023 that the Canadian Parliament gave a standing ovation to a Waffen-SS veteran, which he did in the U.S. Jewish publication The Forward

David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen, whose name Luciuk mentioned more than a dozen times in the lecture, was described as “no friend of Ukraine.” 

Luciuk said he first learned that Enemy Archives was dropped from the library association’s resource list when Pugliese reached out to Luciuk for comment for an April 25 story, headlined, “Library Association pulls award for RMC professor's book.” 

“Now, I don't engage with people like David Pugliese, but I did answer this one,” he said, boasting that he told Pugliese to “read the book, lest you misrepresent its contents” before complaining to his bosses about the reporter’s line of questioning. 

Petty personal gripes aside, the main purpose of Luciuk’s presentation was to deny Ukrainian nationalist collaboration with the Nazis, which he did with gusto. 

Ukrainian nationalists were united in their goal of creating a sovereign Ukrainian state after the Second World War, he said, but there was considerable debate among them about how that state would function, which he noted was the same discussion Ukrainians are having today. 

“Is it going to be the second Israel President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy’s referred to? I hope so, personally,” said Luciuk. 

Luciuk acknowledged there might have been some Ukrainian nationalists who collaborated with the Nazis under duress, but he insisted this ran counter to the “ideals of the nationalist movement.” 

To suggest there was any ideological overlap between Ukrainian nationalism and Nazism, Luciuk said, is to engage in a Soviet propaganda campaign that has been resurrected by Russian president Vladimir Putin. 

“And so how have they branded us, how have they attacked us? Here you go,” he said, clicking his slideshow to an image of the Shukhevych bust outside spray painted with red paint from 2021. 

“Criminal vandals creeping onto your property in the dead of night and spray painting actual Nazi onto Shukhevych, then spreading that story throughout Canada and internationally.”

That story relates to our own organization: Progress Report editor and reporter Duncan Kinney was charged with committing this vandalism in 2022. Kinney has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and has yet to have his day in court.

A relief and plaque commemorating Nazi collaborator and UPA commander Roman Shukhevych inside the Ukrainian Youth Unity Council. Image by Jeremy Appel. 

Luciuk complained that people are “attacking” 14th Waffen-SS monuments across North America, including the one in Oakville, Ont., that was damaged “so badly that it's had to be removed for repairs and may never be put back, because, quite frankly, our community has more than its fair share of cowards.” 

“There are no Nazis left. Do the math,” he said. “So what are they attacking? The monuments, the memory, the ideals. This is what the attack is, and because you are the bearers of those ideals, just by even being here, you're the enemy.” 

It took Luciuk about an hour to get to the subject of Nazigate, in which Waffen-SS veteran Yaroslav Hunka received a standing ovation in Canadian Parliament while President Zelenskyy was in town for an official visit, resulting in former speaker of the house Anthony Rota, who introduced Hunka, losing his job. 

Luciuk complained that there “wasn't a single Canadian reporter that would take my calls to give a different point of view about what the Galicia Division was.” 

A cursory search of his name and Yaroslav Hunka’s on Google suggests otherwise. Luciuk was quoted in a Sept. 27 Global News article and Sept. 28 Globe and Mail piece.

“[Hunka] was called a monster. He was called an SS officer,” Luciuk complained. 

Luciuk said that he spoke at the House of Commons Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to defend Hunka in March, because no other Ukrainian organization was willing to do so, receiving applause. 

“Mr. Hunka has lived in Canada for 71 years now, is a law-abiding citizen, broke no laws, paid his taxes, raised a family, they’re productive, contributing Canadians, and for all of that, because he wanted to see President Zelenskyy and came to parliament, he was called a Nazi,” Luciuk said. 

Luciuk noted that Hunka also served in the Canadian militia reserve for two years, “so he swore an oath not only to Adolph Hitler but to Queen Elizabeth II.” 

The largest applause line of the afternoon came when Luciuk said he told the House committee that Hunka is an “innocent Canadian citizen” who is owed an apology. 

While many prominent community members want to focus on the present war in Ukraine, Luciuk said this “memory war [is] where we can fight best.” 

“This is not Putin’s war, it’s Russia’s war against Ukraine,” he added. 

Luciuk concluded his formal remarks with Slava Ukraini, to which the audience responded with Heroiam Slava—a call-and-response chant popularized by the Nazi collaborationist OUN—and a standing ovation. 

During the Q&A, an audience member asked why the view that members of the Galicia Division were Nazis is so prevalent. 

“The Russians have had the ear of academia for centuries,” Luciuk said, citing the great Russian novelists Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy. 

“They've manipulated public opinion for centuries. Ukrainians have not existed for centuries. The decolonization experiment is only beginning with this war that Ukraine is fighting against the enemy, so it's going to take a very long time to change those attitudes.”

One attendee suggested to Luciuk, with clear echoes of Judeo-Bolshevist conspiracism, that “if you want to find out why your book was banned, at least one reason would be the Jewish Lobby, the Jewish influence,” noting that Golinkin is Jewish. 

Luciuk didn’t correct him to say his book wasn’t banned, nor did he address the comment’s clearly antisemitic implications.

“If you look at the book, the Galicia Division is barely mentioned,” he responded, as if he didn’t spend a significant portion of the previous 90 minutes defending the division, and wasn’t promoting another book explicitly valourizing them.

Luciuk speculated that Pugliese was part of a conspiracy to have Enemy Archives suppressed, suggesting an April 10 tweet in which Pugliese shared Golinkin’s article constitutes evidence Pugliese had advance knowledge that the library association was removing the book from its list.

“Pugliese quotes Golinkin, Golinkin hasn't read the book, and they just do this little daisy chain where they all quote each other,” he complained. 

A different audience member shouted out, “Don’t forget Rudling”—a reference to Swedish-American historian of nationalism Per Anders Rudling, who’s quoted in Pugliese’s piece describing Luciuk’s work as “memory activism.” 

“I was surprised they didn’t bring in the distinguished historian from University of Alberta we all know,” Luciuk said, in apparent reference to respected academic John-Paul Himka, author of the 2021 book Ukrainian Nationalists and the Holocaust and a thorn in the side of Ukrainian nationalists. 

One of the last questions similarly asked “why the Jewish community is so against us.” This time, Luciuk didn’t dodge the question. 

“In a nutshell, prejudice,” said Luciuk.

Many Jews, he explained, believe all the horrible things about Ukrainians they were told by their parents and grandparents, some of whom were socialists, which sounds like Judeo-Bolshevism to me.