LVIV, Ukraine, April 13 (Reuters) - He's been dead for more than 50 years, but the flawed legacy of Ukrainian World War Two nationalist Stepan Bandera still torments Ukrainian society and complicates ties with friends and neighbours.
Controversy has raged since former President Viktor Yushchenko conferred the status of Hero of Ukraine posthumously on Bandera in January in the dying weeks of his presidency.
He, in effect, tossed a grenade into the lap of his successor, Viktor Yanukovych.
And it may fall soon to Yanukovych to try to defuse the furore -- without further dividing public opinion or alienating powerful partners like Russia and Poland.
Inside Ukraine, Yushchenko's move touched off an impassioned debate on the nature of the Ukrainian resistance which fought for independence in western Ukraine during the turbulence leading up to World War II and beyond, well into the 1950s.
Much of western Ukraine was Polish territory before the war and the region became a massive battlefield involving opposing Nazi and Soviet forces, with Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) fighters often swopping sides between the two.
Apart from Ukrainians, tens of thousands of Poles and Jews died in the slaughter.
Yushchenko's award prompted howls of anger from Russia, where Bandera is regarded as a fascist, and from Poland, where he is blamed for being behind the mass killings of Poles.
The Simon Wiesenthal centre expressed "revulsion" and denounced Bandera and his followers as Nazi collaborators responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews. The European Parliament deplored the award.
Bandera's wartime role as ideological leader of the nationalist fighters, who became known as the "Banderivtsi", has divided east from west in Ukraine and complicates Yanukovych's task of uniting the country after a bitterly-fought election.
Yanukovych's power base is in the Russian-speaking east near the border with Russia. Many Ukrainians there view history through a Soviet prism and, so, see Bandera as a terrorist.
But in western Ukraine, where his followers opposed Soviet rule well into the 1950s after the defeat of Nazi Germany, he is lionised as a hero of Ukraine's independence struggle.
A popular tourist haunt in Lviv, western Ukraine's regional capital, is an underground restaurant called the 'Kriyivka' -- the Hideaway -- which is constructed entirely on the UPA motif.
The walls are plastered with UPA wartime insignia. One poster, applauding Yushchenko's award, shows Bandera's thin, pinched face peering out, above the words: "At last, it's come!"
"These stories of him killing Jews and Poles. I think it is propaganda. I think the decision (Yushchenko's decree) was the right thing to do," Valentina Mironyuk, a Lviv housewife said.
"There is no figure in Ukraine who divides Ukrainians like Bandera does. If you want to have a controversy, just mention his name," local Lviv historian Yaroslav Hrytsak said.
Yanukovych may feel he is under pressure from his own political lobby to rescind Yushchenko's decree after a regional court in Donetsk, his stronghold, ruled on April 2 that Yushchenko's award was illegal and should be rescinded.
That would suit Russia, with whom Yanukovych wants to smooth relations and secure cheaper gas, and European Union member Poland whom Ukraine values as the patron for its aspirations to join the EU.
But for Yanukovych's critics, it has become a touchstone issue of his real values.
He is conscious of the pro-Moscow label that has been attached to him in the past. If he tries to scrap Yushchenko's decree, he will be accused by his critics of compromising Ukrainian values in the interests of appeasing Moscow.
A recent survey of people suggested they would be ready to take to the streets in Lviv and surrounding areas and protest any such decision by Yanukovych.
Hrytsak, the historian, is divided on his judgment of Bandera, who was killed in Munich by a KGB assassin in 1959.
He points out that Bandera was in a German prison-of-war camp throughout the war and could not have played a direct part in mass killings attributed to him.
But, describing Bandera "as a product of very violent times" he added: "This does not mean he would not have behaved in the same way if he had known because his concept of Ukraine was mono-ethic without any special minorities."
Those who hail Bandera as a national hero see only his record as a life-long fighter for independence, he said. "They don't see the collaboration, the Holocaust, the extermination of the Poles because for them Bandera is an indisputable hero."
Some sources close to Yanukovych say he will take the bull by the horns and repeal Yushchenko's decree by May 9 -- the day that officially marks the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.
That would certainly please Moscow ahead of a scheduled trip to Ukraine by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in mid-May.
There is still the possibility that, because of the risk of a sharp reaction in western Ukraine, Yanukovych might take cover behind the Donetsk court ruling and take no further action.
Steve Bandera, Canadian grandson of the nationalist leader, received the award on his grandfather's behalf.
He agreed that a way out might be for Yanukovych now simply to do nothing and "let it be left in a kind of limbo that is open to interpretation to whatever, and by whomever, it suits."
Speaking by phone from Toronto, he said he had been officially informed of the Donetsk's court ruling but "I've not had a letter saying 'Please give it (the award) back'".