The territory of today’s Ukraine in the XX century inter World War period was split essentially between a repressive Polish dictatorship and a savage and genocidal Soviet Russian regime. Small portions were under Czechoslovakian and Romanian control. In the case of the Soviets, some 7-10 million Ukrainians were starved to death in the 1932-33 years alone. The Molotov Ribbentrop Pact between Berlin and Moscow of September 1939 changed the political map but did not mitigate the dire conditions governing the indigenous Ukrainian population. When Poland was ousted, its repression was replaced by Soviet savagery.

In 1939 the Soviets brought their genocidal policies into Western Ukraine, populated primarily by Ukrainians in the villages and Poles and Jews in the cities. The Ukrainians and Poles were fiercely persecuted. Jews in great numbers served their new masters. When the Germans reneged on their Soviet pact in June 1941, the Soviets chose to retreat employing a scorched earth policy. Many Ukrainians and Poles were simply slaughtered. The Nazis initiated a genocidal policy against Jews, the Final Solution, at first experimental and sporadic and then officially sanctioned by the Wannsee Conference in January 1942. Poles attempted to restore their former positions in local administrations. Taking advantage of the chaos, Ukrainian nationalists proclaimed an independent Ukrainian state. The Germans were furious at the brazenness of the Untermensch Ukrainians and began arresting Ukrainian nationalists, sending many to concentration camps or simply executing them at such locations as Babyn Yar in Kyiv where earlier in September 1941 they had executed more than 30,000 Jews.

The Germans drove east. The Ukrainians, realizing that they would have to fight for their independence, in the fall of 1942 formed the Ukrainian Insurgent Army to battle the Germans. By the middle of 1943, the Germans had suffered defeat in Russia (Stalingrad, February 1943) and began enlisting support in Eastern Europe to fight the Soviets, just as they had in Western Europe in Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, to defeat the Allies. Having already experienced Moscow’s policy of genocide. the Holodomor, the Eastern Europeans saw this as an opportunity to train, form military units, and arm themselves against the inevitable return of the Soviets.

That is how the Ukrainian “Halyschyna” Division came into being, blessed for its mission by such Righteous Gentiles as Metropolitan Andrey Sheptycky. The Division was a military unit formed to fight exclusively against the Red Army, but no other Allies. The SS appellation added to its name simply meant that it reported to the SS. It had no mandate against any civilian population. Eventually, it was displaced to Italy, disarmed, investigated, cleared of war crimes, and its members released primarily to the United Kingdom.

Ultimately and primarily at the insistence of Jewish groups who were seeking justice for the millions of victims of the Holocaust, but often at the prodding of Moscow, the Division was thoroughly investigated by the Nuremberg tribunal, by the United Kingdom, by the Office of Special Investigations in the United States and the Deschenes Commission in Canada. In each instance, no evidence of war crimes or complicity was found. The Division was exonerated officially or by the lack of a single successful prosecution against a Division member.

As the world is beginning to recognize, Moscow has historically perpetrated acts of aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity and attempted genocides. The Russians have adeptly diverted attention from their crimes by accusing others of what they themselves had done. The recent bizarre events at St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Cemetery in Philadelphia and the Canadian parliament in Ottawa are an old, tried and true Russian canard and are as ridiculous as the Russian President’s justification for his war in Ukraine “against the Nazis.”

Complicity is often a result of convenience and opportunity. Incited by Russian active measures, some Jewish groups have availed themselves of this chance to allegedly keep the memory of the Holocaust alive despite the fact that there isn’t a scintilla of evidence that the Division had any role in the Holocaust. History is replete with thousands of examples of Ukrainian victims of both the Nazis and the Soviets during World War 2. Wittingly or unwittingly they have been instruments of Russian disinformation. In 2023 suggesting that such behavior is unwitting is a stretch. Ukraine’s president is Ukraine’s greatest hero. He was elected democratically with 73 % of the popular vote. He is of Jewish extraction.

The irony here is that when the most recent phase of the Russian war in Ukraine started in February 2022 spokesmen for the Russian regime and even clerics of the state-controlled, so-called Russian Orthodox Church clearly manifested a genocidal intent to “wipe Ukrainians off the face of the earth.” The result has been kidnapping, torture, rape and castration of Ukrainian men, women, and children, the execution of thousands of Ukrainian civilians, the abductions of thousands of Ukrainian children, the destruction of Ukrainian cultural sites and historical artefacts, the burning of Ukrainian language books. The Russians are adhering simply to their old playbook of savagery while accusing others of being Nazis in an attempt to distract from their own crimes.

Ukrainian groups in the diaspora including highly positioned clergy who have decided to diplomatically or conveniently defer to Russian disinformation attacks and Jewish manipulation of history, or have taken shameless steps to allegedly appease the manipulators, should remember that there is a moral right and a wrong. They should understand that being politically astute or sensitive to others’ concerns does not mean deviating from the truth and so, shredding your own nation’s dignity. Being diplomatic is one thing. Shameless disregard for one’s dignity is quite another.

September 27, 2023                                       Askold S. Lozynskyj

The writer is a New York City based attorney at law and former President of the Ukrainian World Congress.