ukrainse protest 88.
(photo credit: AP)
Thousands of Red Army veterans and supporters on Saturday clashed with Ukrainian nationalists who rallied in downtown Kiev to demand that partisans who fought against both Nazis and Soviet soldiers also be recognized as World War II veterans.
Riot police and regular officers moved in to separate the groups gathered on the capital's main artery, Kreshchatyk, which is closed to traffic on weekends.
A day before, the aging partisans had celebrated the 63rd anniversary of the founding of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, whose aim was to create an independent Ukraine.
There did not appear to be any major injuries or arrests made. No one answered the phone at Kiev police headquarters.
The partisans held their big celebrations in western Ukraine, where support is higher. But, Saturday morning, some insurgents and hundreds of young Western Ukrainian nationalists also gathered in the capital to demand the partisans be formally recognized, a move that would also entitle them to social and financial benefits.
â€œThey died for Ukraine, and we must recognize it and honor them as heroes,â€ said protester Vasil Kokoyda, 55.
The Red Army supporters waving red flags and chanting â€œGet out!â€ and â€œShame!â€ marched in protest, as Soviet war songs played over loudspeakers. â€œHow can we recognize them ... They killed our soldiers, shot them in the back,â€ said 80-year-old veteran Svetlana Yarova.
After the partisans finished their rally, Orest Vaskul, who heads their Kiev branch, criticized the Ukrainian government for failing to prevent the mild skirmishes. â€œWe are glad that we did it, despite the hostile rally of rivals who blocked our march,â€ he said.
Hostility toward the partisans runs deep because they initially sought support from Nazis, believing the Germans would grant Ukraine independence. Under the Soviets, Ukrainian school children were taught that the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and its partisan force were enemies of the people, committing horrific atrocities alongside Nazis.
Ukraine was overrun by the German Army before the Soviets drove them out. An estimated 7 million Ukrainians died, and 2.4 million people were sent to Nazi concentration camps.
Last year's election of President Viktor Yushchenko, who won strong support in Ukraine's nationalist west, raised hopes among the partisans that they would finally win recognition. But Communists and Red Army veterans, who far outnumber them, say such a move would be a mockery of the Red Army dead.
â€œI hate these partisans, they spilled our blood,â€ said World War II veteran Oleksandr Shchutskiy, whose green jacket shone with medals.
The insurgents argue they fought to liberate Ukraine. â€œWe just struggled against invaders for a free independent Ukraine,â€ said elderly partisan Oleksiy Polishchuk, who wore his military insurgent uniform. â€œI came to Kiev to demand just honors.â€
On Friday, a governmental commission recommended parliament approve social benefits for partisans. But Vaskul countered that they â€œneed official recognition, not benefits.â€