At the invitation of Anthony Rota, Canada’s then Speaker of the House of Commons, Yaroslav Hunka went to Ottawa on Sep. 22, 2023 to witness the visit of President Volodymyr Zelensky.

When The Jewish Daily Forward subsequently reported that Hunka had served in the 14 Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (galizische Nr. 1) – more commonly referred to as the Galicia Division – a controversy erupted. It continues to fester.

Criminal vandalism against cemetery monuments to veterans of the Division has jacked up, even as Russia’s genocidal war against Ukraine and Ukrainians has escalated. That is not a coincidence.

Deplorably, some Canadians have bought into Soviet-era propaganda about the Galicia Division, as regurgitated by operatives of the Russian Federation and their fellow travelers in the West. That has only furthered the goals of a KGB campaign, known as Operation Payback, orchestrated to provoke tensions between the Jewish, Baltic and Ukrainian diasporas over what happened in eastern Europe during the Second World War.

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I do not know Mr. Hunka. However, I was around as the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals, headed by Mr. Justice Jules Deschênes, investigated the alleged presence of “thousands” of “Nazi war criminals” in Canada. And I was in the “lockdown” when the Minister of Justice, Raymon Hnatyshyn, revealed the Commission’s findings to the Baltic, Jewish, and Ukrainian Canadian communities.

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Along with Irwin Cotler, then representing the Canadian Jewish Congress, I welcomed those results on CBC TV’s The Journal, hosted by Barbara Frum (March 12, 1987). So, I find his community’s current forgetfulness about the Commission’s conclusions rather puzzling.

And how could Mr. Cotler, himself a former minister of justice, brand Mr. Hunka “a notorious Nazi war criminal?” A person is innocent until proven guilty. When, where, and by whom was Mr. Hunka ever judged and found to be a “Nazi war criminal?”

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The principled position taken by the Ukrainian Canadian community has always been that if credible evidence of wrongdoing by any person is presented then the alleged war criminal, regardless of his/her nationality, “race” or ideology, should be brought to justice in a Canadian criminal court of law.

To this, I might add that my teenaged mother, Maria, was kidnapped in western Ukraine and sent to the Third Reich as a forced laborer, one of millions of Ukrainians enslaved. I have no interest in defending Nazi Germany or any Nazi who may still be alive.

Now the truth is that no Ukrainian could ever be a “Nazi” because the real Nazis, so-called “Aryans,” denigrated all Ukrainians and other Slavs as sub-humans (Untermenschen).

And while Mr. Hunka swore an oath to Adolf Hitler, so did everyone who served in the Third Reich’s armed forces. Taking that pledge did not transform millions of Germans into Nazis, including about one-quarter of a million Germans who emigrated to Canada in the years following the war’s end.

Indisputably, Mr. Hunka served in the Galicia Division. Why?

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In a letter dated Sep. 22, 2015 (years before he became the subject of public controversy), he recalled how family members were deported to Siberia during the first Soviet occupation of western Ukraine, adding:

“In my childhood and later [I] saw terrible atrocities committed on my people by ALL occupants, especially Soviets! Especially when in ‘41 they ran from [the] Germans. In [a] local prison they left hundreds+ dead. They were not just killed – they were savagely mutilated! Inhumanly! Most of them had some parts of body cut off – like women’s breasts were missing. All that horror was put out for all to see, and I was 16 years old...I hated everything Russian – and I still do! So I volunteered to [the] Division! I was called up in September ‘43...for training in anti-aircraft artillery, where I served to the end of the war.”

After considering this unit’s wartime record, the Deschênes Commission concluded:

“(1) The Galicia Division should not be indicted as a group.

(2) Members of the Division were individually screened for security purposes before admission to Canada.

(3) Charges of war crimes against members of the Division had never been substantiated, either in 1950 when they were first preferred, or in 1984 when they were renewed, or before the Commission.

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(4) In the absence of participation in, or knowledge of specific war crimes, mere membership in the Galicia Division was insufficient to justify prosecution.”

The Commission also confirmed that:

“(5) No case could be made against members of the Division for revocation of citizenship or deportation since the Canadian authorities were fully aware of the relevant facts in 1950 and admission to Canada was not granted because of any false representation, or fraud, or concealment of material circumstances.”

So, when Mr. Hunka arrived in Canada in 1954, he did so legally. His war record was known in Ottawa. Like many other of the Division’s soldiers, he was screened by British, Canadian, US and Soviet interrogators while held as a prisoner of war (POW) in Italy from 1945-1947. No evidence of wrongdoing on his part has ever been produced.

Quite understandably, given the horrors of the Second World War, the Canadian Jewish Congress protested against any immigration of Galicia Division veterans.

Investigating, the High Commissioner for Canada in the UK, L. Dana Wilgress, dismissed allegations about the Galicia Division as “Communist propaganda.” In his 1950 report to Cabinet, he observed: “It is interesting to note that no specific charges of war crimes have been made by the Soviet or any other government against any member of this group.”

That astute assessment seems to have been forgotten.

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Let us return to the known facts of Mr. Hunka’s life. As a teenager, he fought in defense of Ukraine. He had nothing to do with the persecution of any minority community. At the war’s end, he became a POW, later an immigrant, and finally a naturalized Canadian citizen.

He served in the Canadian Army (1963-1965, Militia), swearing an oath to Her Majesty the Queen. He worked hard, raised a family, paid taxes, broke no laws, and contributed for 70 years to the general welfare of his adopted country.

Yet, disregarding the principle of natural justice, members of parliament joined an execrable chorus of zealots and prats who gibbeted Hunka for being something he never was – “a former Nazi.” I’d say the House owes our fellow Canadian, and an innocent man, a public apology.

Lubomyr Luciuk is a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada. He appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedures and House Affairs on 21 March 2024. Excerpts from his booklet, The Galicia Division: They Fought for Ukraine, and from his brief, Cui Bono? were incorporated into this commentary. See his previous interview on this subject for Kyiv Post here.

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The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.

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