Controversy Over Canadian Monument to Ukrainian Nazi-Linked Unit Resurfaces

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A long-standing debate has once again resurfaced in relation to a monument displayed at West Oak Memorial Gardens cemetery in Oakville. The heart of the controversy is a memorial dedicated to a Ukrainian military unit, the echoes of which were recently magnified after an unexpected decision to recognize a veteran of the unit in the House of Commons.

Set within the expansive 100-acre West Oak Memorial Gardens at 1280 Dundas St. W, this monument, which has been a feature of the Saint Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery since 1988, pays homage to the First Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army. This particular operation is also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division and the SS 14th Waffen Division. This cemetery is recognized as the largest of its kind, honoring Ukrainian heritage within the borders of Canada.

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The dispute pivots around Yaroslav Hunka, a 98-year-old Ukrainian who served in the infamous military unit. This military formation, primarily composed of Ukrainian volunteers, was established in 1943. The unit, considered to be part of the Nazi German military during the Second World War, fought across Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, and the former Yugoslavia, before its dissolution in 1945.

In response to this contentious issue, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies has reiterated its strong objections associated with “monuments and memorials commemorating Nazi collaborators.” The center firmly underscores the inappropriateness of such commemorations, emphasizing their potential to misrepresent and distort history while disrespecting the memory of Holocaust victims.

The viewpoints of Dan Panneton, Director of allyship and community engagement for the organization, reflect the broader sentiments of other Canadians, who reject any association with such elements of history. The recent events at the House of Commons have sparked public outcry, reaffirming that such Memorials have no place within the Canadian societal fabric.

B’nai Brith Canada, a renowned national Jewish organization, has echoed this sentiment, strongly advocating for the removal of the memorial. CEO Michael Mostyn expressed profound disappointment in the ongoing situation, stressing that despite several assurances given to the Jewish community, there has been no discernible change and reassessment of the appropriateness of such monuments.

Several notable figures including Rob Burton, Oakville’s Mayor, and local representatives MPP Effie Triantofilopoulos and MP Pam Dankoff have voiced their desire to see the removal of this monument. However, their pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears, despite a petition calling for its removal garnering almost 850 signatures during the summer of 2020.

The issue of the wartime monument has climbed back up the ladder of public attention after a controversial decision by House Speaker Anthony Rota to honor Hunka in parliament during the recent visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has since issued an apology on behalf of the Canadian nation, following which Rota tendered his resignation.

West Oak Memorial Gardens, when contacted for a remark on the situation, has so far remained silent on the matter.