Speaking before the Israel Council on Foreign Relations of the World Jewish Congress in Jerusalem, Yushchenko said Ukrainian nationalist leader Roman Shukhevych was posthumously named a Hero of Ukraine last month for his role in fighting for his country's independence.
Holocaust researchers and Jewish groups have charged that a force under the command of Shukhevych took part in pogroms in 1941 in which 4,000 Jews were killed.
Yushchenko had this reply: "I have materials, documents, saying that in the course of grander context of Ukrainian rebellion, Shukhevych signed a petition that prohibited massive persecutions (of civilians)," he said, adding that no Ukrainian nationalist movement targeted Jews.
...At Yad Vashem a top museum official confronted Yushchenko, saying he has documents implicating Shukhevych as the leader of squads who massacred thousands of Jews.
"Sometimes you can be both a hero of Ukrainians and a murderer of Jews," said Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, a former Israeli justice minister and a Holocaust survivor from Yugoslavia.
We really shouldn't be so surprised; after all, plenty of people in the Ukraine still think of Petlyura as a hero and martyr. And put Chmielnicki on their money. And don't forget that Russia canonized Nicholas "My favorite book is the Protocols of the Elders of Zion" II a few years back.
Obviously, history is relative. Is Columbus a great guy, or a bastard? Is Caesar? Napoleon? State leaders, especially back in the day (when leaders seemed to get more things done, whether good or ill), cannot help but be controversial in the light of history, when different sides all have access to media and (in theory) scholarship. At the end of the day, Jews can't tell the Ukrainians who they can and can't have as their heroes.
But I think we do owe it to the victims to tell their stories. There is a trend in Eastern Europe to shrug off atrocities by nationalists, especially against Jews, by pointing out that the Communists, some of whom were Jews, were also brutal. And that is true, and that's something the Jewish community needs to own up to itself.
But saying no Ukranian movements targeted Jews? Read your history, Mr. President. Read about the nationalists in the 1920s. Read about Babi Yar in the 40s. You can call Shukhevych a hero. I don't agree but I can understand. It's relative.
But facts aren't.