Taylor C. Noakes
Ukrainian Nazi Schutzmannschaft Battalion 201 with Roman Shukhevych (sitting, second from left), 1942. A monument in Edmonton, Canada, commemorates Shukhevych, who was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands in genocidal campaigns during the Holocaust era.
A journalist in Edmonton is the most recent Canadian to be charged with vandalizing a Nazi monument. How Canada came to be home to so many monuments dedicated to Ukrainian Nazi collaborators is rooted in some dark chapters in the country’s history.
On October 14, 2022 the Edmonton Police Service filed a mischief under $5,000 charge against journalist Duncan Kinney, claiming he spray-painted the words “actual Nazi” on a bust of Roman Shukhevych, a World War II–era Ukrainian ultranationalist and Nazi collaborator. The charge relates to an August 2021 incident in which the monument, located on the grounds of the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex in North Edmonton, was found to have been vandalized.
Kinney is an independent journalist and the editor and primary contributor to the Progress Report, a media project of Progress Alberta that includes a weekly podcast, a newsletter, and regular investigative reporting. Kinney has reported on the Shukhevych monument, including the vandalism against it, several times in recent years.
This is not the first time the Shukhevych monument has been vandalized with graffiti pointing out that the man was a Nazi collaborator: in December of 2019 it was tagged with the words “Nazi scum.” Kinney reported in 2020 that representatives of the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex and the League of Ukrainian Canadians’ Edmonton Branch had contacted Progress Alberta to indicate their belief the Edmonton police were investigating the incident as a possible hate crime, though this was not confirmed at the time.
In a statement issued on October 31, 2022, Kinney explained that he was arrested by a constable from the Edmonton police’s Hate Crimes and Violent Extremism Unit, accompanied by three other offices.
The Shukhevych monument is not alone among commemorations to World War II Ukrainian collaborators in Canada. The monument is located near a cenotaph in Edmonton’s St. Michael’s Cemetery which is dedicated to the veterans of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, also known as the Galicia Division, a volunteer division composed of Ukrainian nationalists. That monument was vandalized in 2021 with the words “Nazi Monument 14th Waffen SS.” Jewish and Polish groups in Canada have been calling for the monuments’ removal for decades and, in the wake of recent incidents, have renewed their demands.
Canada’s Ukrainian Monuments to Nazis Problem
Shukhevych was the leader of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), the armed wing of the Stepan Bandera faction of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). During World War II Shukhevych commanded various military units composed of Ukrainian ultranationalists serving in the German army. He was one of those responsible for a genocidal campaign of ethnic cleansing carried out to against the Polish population of Volhynia and Eastern Galicia, in pursuit of the goal of creating an ethnically homogenous Ukraine. The death toll from that campaign is estimated to range from sixty thousand to one hundred thousand.
The historical consensus is that Shukhevych was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands, including Poles, Jews, Belarusians, Russians, and even other Ukrainians (particularly communist partisans allied to the Red Army). In his role as a Nazi collaborator and leader of the UPA, Shukhevych was directly responsible for the Holocaust in Ukraine. According to historian John-Paul Himka, through the winter of 1943–44 Shukhevych’s UPA forces lured Ukrainian Jews from their refuges in the forests of Western Ukraine to be murdered.
The St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery in Oakville, Ontario is home to a memorial to the 1st Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army. The Ukrainian National Army was created by the Nazis with some of the personnel who had fought with the 14th Waffen SS Division. When the Oakville monument was defaced with the words “Nazi war monument” in 2020, Halton Regional Police initially opened a hate crime investigation. The same cemetery also has a separate monument to the UPA.
Shukhevych was also listed — along with other Nazi collaborators, assorted fascist groups, and war criminals — on a list of hundreds of individuals who were supposed to be commemorated at Ottawa’s as yet incomplete $7.5 million “Memorial to the Victims of Communism.” The Edmonton branch of the League of Ukrainian Canadians has purchased several “virtual bricks” in tribute to Shukhevych as part of a “buy-a-brick” campaign meant to help finance the construction of the memorial.
Photos of Shukhevych and Stepan Bandera can be found in Ukrainian cultural and community centers across Canada. They are considered heroes amongst Ukrainian ultranationalists today, both in Ukraine and among the Ukrainian diaspora community. Shukhevych and Bandera feature prominently in commemorative demonstrations, such as the “Embroidery Marches” which have been held in L’viv and Kyiv.
The marches earned condemnation from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, in no small part for the overt displays of Nazi symbols. The resurrection of Bandera and Shukhevych, in the form of monuments, place names, and the renaming of streets and stadiums, has caused diplomatic crises between Ukraine and Poland and Israel.
Rooting Out Communists With Fascists
How there came to be so many monuments dedicated to Ukrainian Nazi collaborators in Canada is rooted in some dark chapters in Canadian history. After Russia, Canada has the world’s second-largest Ukrainian diaspora community, with approximately 1.36 million Canadians claiming full or partial Ukrainian descent, roughly 4 percent of the national population. Initial waves of Ukrainian immigration began in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Ukrainians, among other Central and Eastern European ethnic groups, were incentivized to settle and farm the prairies of Western Canada, which had at the time been recently cleared of their indigenous inhabitants by force.
As with many cultural minority communities who were trying to establish their roots in Canada, particularly around the turn of the twentieth century, Ukrainians faced discrimination and, as a consequence, formed fraternal and benevolent organizations. Some of these groups evolved into more overtly socialist organizations, including the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party of Canada, which was shut down and had its leadership arrested by the Canadian government in 1918.
Because Ukrainians were considered by the Canadian government to be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time of World War I, about eight thousand Ukrainian Canadians were forced into slave labor and interned in concentration camps. In some cases, this forced labor continued into 1920, nearly two years after the war had ended. Roughly eighty thousand Ukrainians were required to register as “enemy aliens” during the same time. Though many were paroled circa 1916–17, Ukrainians were then rearrested after the Russian Revolution, part of a Red Scare in Canada at the time.
After World War II, Canada received another wave of Ukrainian immigration. This wave included displaced persons found in Germany and Allied prisoner-of-war camps at the conclusion of the conflict. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, rumors that high-ranking Nazis and Nazi collaborators had found refuge in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia began to circulate. This prompted investigations by the respective governments.
In 1985, a commission of inquiry was called by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, headed by the justice Jules Deschênes. The inquiry was set up in the wake of the publication of None Is Too Many, a landmark historical examination of Canada’s antisemitic immigration policies. These policies, still in effect even after World War II, prevented European Jews from immigrating to Canada (partly due to misguided concerns that Jews would bring communism to Canada). Canadian authorities simultaneously allowed known or suspected Nazi collaborators to immigrate because they could be considered “reliably anti-Communist.”
Ukrainian Ultranationalist Lobbyists
The Deschênes Commission was severely constrained. Its scope was limited and it failed to consult Soviet and Eastern European archives — a failing that was largely due to pressure from Eastern European diaspora groups, who insisted without evidence that any Soviet or Eastern Bloc documentation would be unreliable.
The commission also suppressed and censored other documentary evidence and failed to consult the findings of the Nuremberg Trials and other historical precedents. The Mulroney government also pressured the ostensibly independent commission to conclude quickly, irrespective of what it discovered. In the end, the commission’s findings — it concluded that the number of suspected war criminals in Canada had been greatly exaggerated — was dubious.
The inquiry stirred up considerable animosity between Canada’s Jewish community and its postwar Eastern European émigré communities. The latter claimed that allegations of Canada harboring war criminals or collaborators were nothing but Soviet attempts to destabilize Canadian society. Similar statements have been made by representatives of Canada’s Ukrainian community over the course of the last few years, as the issue of these monuments and concerns over the wartime record of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland’s maternal grandfather (who edited a pro-Nazi newspaper) have been raised by Russian diplomatic officials.
In March of 2022, Freeland was photographed holding a scarf with the black and red colors of the UPA, which was embroidered with the slogan “Slava Ukraini, Heroyam Slava”(Glory to Ukraine, glory to the heroes), their wartime slogan. The image, along with the slogan, appeared on Freeland’s twitter account only to be deleted shortly thereafter. When the Canadian Press reached out to Freeland’s office for comment, they received a response from the president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
According to journalist and researcher Moss Robeson, Canada’s two primary Ukrainian organizations — the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) and the League of Ukrainian Canadians — are strongly influenced by followers and admirers of Stepan Bandera. As reported by Robeson, former UCC president Paul Grod “requested Canadian recognition of the OUN and UPA as ‘designated resistance fighters,’ proposing that Canadian taxpayers should pay pensions for its veterans.” Furthermore, he “vehemently and categorically deni(ed) Ukrainian nationalist involvement in the Holocaust.” Grod sat on the board of Tribute to Liberty, which raised funds and lobbied the government for the construction of the Victims of Communism memorial in Ottawa.
Ultimately, additional research carried out by Canadian Jewish groups determined that more than two thousand members of the Galicia Division settled in Canada after the war, at the request of the British government. This was in addition to another thousand or so collaborators from the Baltic states who had served the SS in a similar capacity. Despite the evidence, no additional actions were taken by the Canadian government to investigate.
When Defacing Nazi Monuments Is a “Hate Crime”
Though the Shukhevych monument in Edmonton is the private property of the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex, the complex was partially funded, in the early 1970s, by the government of Alberta to the tune of $75,000 in grant money. In 2020, the complex received a $35,000 grant from the federal government for a security system to protect it from “hate crimes.” Most of the other applicants to the grant program included mosques and synagogues.
A Public Security Canada spokesperson stated that the complex had “sufficiently demonstrated in their application that their community and project site was at-risk of hate-motivated crime to qualify for funding under the Program.” It did not, however, provide any further details concerning what hate crimes had been directed at Edmonton’s Ukrainian community or its youth center.
Coverage of the incident has largely focused on the possibility of a journalist committing an act of vandalism to then report on it, and the possible ethical breach such an alleged action would entail. That there is a monument to a Nazi collaborator and war criminal responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands was not the primary focus of much of the coverage. Kinney is a particularly vocal critic of the Edmonton Police Service, to the extent that they refuse to recognize him as a journalist.
Not everyone is concerned about the alleged ethical breach: the Canadian Anti-Hate Network tweeted: “Duncan Kinney has been charged with accurately labelling a Nazi statue and being super cool. We have no idea if it was him. If we ever find out who actually did it, we’ll buy them lunch. The stunt was an amazing public service.”
Taylor C. Noakes is an independent journalist and public historian.