A video of a Ukrainian opposition lawmaker saluting Adolf Hitler made its way online this weekend, only days after his country’s president apologized for Ukrainian collaborators’ role in the Holocaust during a state visit to Israel.
In the video, Artyom Vitko, the former commander of the government backed Luhansk-1 Battalion and now a member of Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party, can be seen sitting in the back of a car wearing camouflage fatigues and singing along to a song by a Russian neo-Nazi band extolling the virtues of the Nazi dictator.
“Adolf Hitler, together with us, Adolf Hitler, in each of us, and an eagle with iron wings will help us at the right time,” Vitko sang, saluting the camera with his water bottle as the car’s sound system blared “Heil Hitler.”
Vitko’s pro-Nazi sentiments emerged immediately on the heels of party leader Lyashko’s denunciation of President Petro Poroshenko for his recent apologizing for Ukrainian complicity in the Holocaust.
Speaking before the Knesset last week, Poroshenko said “we must remember the negative events in history, in which collaborators helped the Nazis with the Final Solution.
“When Ukraine was established [as an independent state in 1991], we asked for forgiveness, and I am doing it now, in the Knesset, before the children and grandchildren of the victims of the Holocaust... I am doing it before all citizens of Israel,” he added.
Lyashko lashed out at the president on Facebook on Thursday.
“This kind of humiliation of Ukrainians has not been recorded in our history yet.
During a visit to Israel, President Poroshenko apologized for the ‘Ukrainian participation in the Holocaust,’” Lyashko posted.
“This is exactly [the] situation if we would accuse Georgians and Jews in the Holodomor, appealing to the atrocities of Dzhugashvili, Beria, Kaganovich, etc,” he said, referring to a massive famine, and those responsible for it, that resulted from the forced collectivization of farms in the Soviet Union during the 1930s.
The Holodomor, as it is known in Ukraine, killed millions and is seen by many in that country as a genocide on par with the Holocaust.
“The Knesset has not recognized the Holodomor as the genocide of the Ukrainian people. That is a goal for Ukrainian authorities visiting the Holy Land rather than belittling Ukrainians [and] proclaiming inferiority of his people on the international level,” Lyashko added.
Poroshenko’s comments were laudable and he “acted correctly and courageously when he spoke in the Knesset about the Holocaust the Jewish people endured on Ukrainian soil,” Colette Avital, chairwoman of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post.
“Even though we are not surprised by the comments of the radical leader, Oleh Lyashko, we are nonetheless shocked by the kind of strange and irrelevant comparisons he brings up and by his negation historical facts.
By now even leaders like Mr.
Lyashko should understand that the tragedy which befell the Jewish people in Europe in general, in Ukraine in particular, should be condemned by all, including by him.”
“I would say that this is the reason Poroshenko is president and not Lyashko. Lyashko is a populist only saying what he thinks people want to hear,” said Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich.
The Jewish community, Bleich said, disagrees with the populist politician’s definition of humiliation, seeing disgrace as when “one cannot face up to history.”
“Pride is to look back, and learn from mistakes. No one accused the Ukrainian people of causing or creating the Holocaust. However, the fact is that there were Ukrainians who participated in the murder and persecution of Jews.
They are worthy of condemnation.”
“The sight of a member of the Ukrainian parliament singing a song praising Hitler, underscores the extremely deep problem in today’s Ukrainian democracy regarding the ongoing efforts in that country (and elsewhere throughout post-Communist Eastern Europe, especially in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Hungary) to rewrite the narrative of World War II and the Holocaust,” said Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
“The fact that the Ukrainian authorities honor groups which actively participated in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust and glorify their leaders sends a message that delegitimizes the accurate historical narrative, and paves the way for disgusting scenes like this one. The Ukrainian leadership should not feign surprise or astonishment, they’re the ones at least partially responsible.”
Earlier this year Ukraine’s parliament has extended official recognition to a nationalist militia that collaborated with the Germans during World War II.
However, many Ukrainian Jews have appeared rather sanguine, explaining that they believe that such moves are more likely the result of a need to build up a national ethos and raise up heroes during a time of conflict rather than a celebration of such figures’ anti-Semitic attitudes.
Despite that, such moves have been widely panned by Jewish organizations worried about the long term effects of the glorification of anti-Semites.
Asked about the decision to honor such groups, Poroshenko told the Post that the government was paying tribute to those who fought for national independence.
“Let’s not try to find the black cat in the black room, especially if there is nothing there,” he said.