Vancouver Sun | 10Nov2010 | Peter O'Neil

Historian hopes Harper's visit to Ukraine museum will help shed light on war atrocities

Historians who say Prime Minister Stephen Harper got a one-sided perspective on Second World War atrocities when he visited a museum in Ukraine last month jumped the gun, according to the museum's former director.

Volodymyr Viatrovych, a historian popular with Ukrainian nationalists in both his own country and in Canada, was ousted from his job after Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine's pro-Moscow president, took office earlier this year.

He was responding, at the request of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, to historians' complaints that Harper was only shown exhibits focusing on atrocities committed in June, 1941 by Soviet secret police against Ukrainians, Poles and Jews.

They complained that the museum, once a prison where more than 1,000 political prisoners were murdered, doesn't mention the anti-Jewish pogrom that immediately followed in Lviv after the Nazis routed Soviet forces.

"It's premature at this time, to assess this museum because it is a work in progress," he said, through a translator, to Postmedia News.

"The plans are to work at developing a full picture of all the tragedies that took place in this prison, including tragedies against Jews."

He said he hoped Harper's visit will put pressure on the Yanukovych regime to allow the museum to execute those plans.

A number of historians, most recently Yale University Prof. Timothy Snyder, have asserted that Ukrainians linked to the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists took part in anti-Jewish pogroms and later helped the Nazis round up and kill Jewish civilians during the 1941-43 period.

After the Nazi defeat at Stalingrad, the Ukrainian police officers who assisted the Nazis in rounding up and killing Ukrainian Jews "helped form a partisan army in 1943, which under the leadership of Ukrainian nationalists cleansed the former southwest Poland -- which it saw as Western Ukraine -- of remaining Poles," Snyder wrote in Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin.

The partisan army "murdered tens of thousands of Poles and provoked reprisals from Poles upon Ukrainian citizens," he wrote.

Viatrovych said anti-Jewish pogroms, such as the one right after the Soviets fled and in which numerous Lviv Jews were rounded up, beaten, humiliated and sometimes killed, are the subject of "much academic controversy" due to the level of Ukrainian involvement.

"Individual members of the population did take (part) in the German-initiated repressions," said the historian, who had access at the museum to documents by the Soviet-controlled Ukrainian security services.

"The participants in the repressions from the general population included criminal elements who wanted to benefit materially by participating in the repressions. Some took part relying on German propaganda, which was put forward at that time that Jews were responsible for, as the Germans called it, Jewish Bolshevism."

But "no Ukrainian political movement advocated the participation in these repressions or anti-Jewish pogroms," he said.

"The fact that some members of the police force organized by the Germans ultimately ended up in various military formations, such as the . . . Ukrainian Insurgent Army (the military wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) does not establish proof that these particular formations were involved in perpetrating the Holocaust."

He acknowledged that the Ukrainian Insurgent Army did commit war crimes against Poles, but said it was in the context of a 1942-47 "war" between Polish and Ukrainian "underground movements" in the disputed territory.

"There was also citizen participation in this war by people who were not involved formally in any military formation. As a result a great number of people died, both Poles and Ukrainians, who resided in Polish villages and Ukrainian villages," he said. "It could be argued that in this Polish-Ukrainian war, both sides committed acts which could possibly be termed as war crimes," he said.

"But you have to remember that during the Second World War, there is no army which is not accused of war crimes."

Viatrovych, who spoke last week at a gathering of Ukrainian Canadian Congress members in Alberta, said he is confident newly released material will prove that the Soviet Union's KGB secret police concocted evidence to suggest members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists were complicit in the Holocaust.