Irish Times | 28Jan2010 | Daniel McLaughlin

Ukraine 'hero' honour angers Moscow

MOSCOW HAS condemned Ukraine’s president for awarding one of the country’s highest honours to Stepan Bandera, a wartime guerrilla leader whom Russians regard as a bloodthirsty Nazi collaborator.

Viktor Yushchenko said the decision to bestow Hero of Ukraine status on Bandera “had been awaited by millions of Ukrainian patriots for many years” and was fitting reward for his “demonstration of heroism and self-sacrifice in fighting for an independent Ukraine”.

The award will be be one of the final decisions of Mr Yushchenko’s five-year presidency, after he suffered a drubbing in this month’s election.

Relations between Kiev and Moscow have soured dramatically during his time in office, due to frequent disputes over energy supplies, his pro-western policies and alleged discrimination towards Ukraine’s large Russian-speaking community.

Moscow was furious that Mr Yushchenko honoured Bandera, who led a faction fighting for Ukrainian independence in the Nazi-occupied west of the country, then mounted attacks against Soviet forces after they took over towards the end of the war.

Russia says Bandera collaborated with the Nazis and allowed his men to kill civilians and help establish SS units.

Defenders of Bandera insist that any co-operation with fascist Germany was intended solely to secure independence for Ukraine and note that Bandera was arrested by the Nazis in 1941 [after June 30, 1941 declaration of Ukraine independence] and sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He was assassinated by a KGB agent in Munich in 1959.

Bandera is widely lionised in western Ukraine, while being loathed in the largely ethnic-Russian east and south of the country, where officials have burned their Ukrainian passports and pledged court action over the honour.

Russia’s foreign ministry called Mr Yushchenko’s move “an event of such a repulsive nature that it could not fail to provoke an unambiguously negative reaction, primarily in Ukraine”.

Mr Yushchenko will be succeeded as president by prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko or opposition leader Viktor Yanukovich after a February 07, 2010 election run-off. Mr Yanukovich, whose stronghold is in Russian-speaking regions, said Bandera’s award “would not help unite Ukraine”.

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