Interpretation of Ukraine’s History Collides With Ukraine’s Present

Partisan or traitor? Freedom fighter or spy? These diametrically opposed labels may speak to the interpretation of the country’s history during World War II but the argument is far from settled, the answers far from definitive. Ukraine has always been a country of controversy from the time of the Cossacks but these days the argument is predicated on financial and moral recognition.

Earlier this month, nearly 2,000 Ukrainian Nationalist fighters who battled both Soviet and German armies during the Second World War rallied in Kiev demanding comparable financial compensation and moral respect accorded Red Army veterans. Pro-western Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko whose father spent four years in a Nazi camp as a Red Army soldier, has been striving to win recognition for nearly 100,000 partisans and draw attention to their sacrifice.

Ukraine has always been a land of many masters. During the early years of the war, anti-Soviet partisans banded together and made a Faustian choice between the government that had persecuted, imprisoned and murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and Nazi Germany. Viewing Germany’s invasion of western Ukraine as a means to destroy and Soviet regime and gain Ukrainian independence, partisans cast their lot with the Third Reich.

After the Nazis rejected calls for Ukraine’s independence, the partisans turned their fire on Germany as well. An estimated 7 million Ukrainians died fighting the Nazis and another 2.4 million were sent to Nazi concentration camps.

Hostility toward the partisan fighters runs as deep as blood in Ukraine. Memories are not quick to fade either even though the number of partisans believed to still be alive, approximately 10,000, is miniscule compared with the 3.8 million Red Army veterans living in Ukraine. Yet, the protest this month was competitive. Counteracting the 2,000 partisans were about 1,000 supporters of the communist and socialist parties still functioning in Ukraine. Waving red flags and blaring Soviet war songs, the streets of Kiev were awash with history’s old scores still waiting to be settled ensuring that Ukraine has yet to turn its back on its own history.