An amended bill on the legal status of war veterans and their social protection in Ukraine came into effect on March 26, nearly three months after it was approved.

The law grants official veteran status to former combatants in a number of Ukrainian irregular nationalist armed groups that were active during World War II and the first decade after the war.

Now,  almost 70 years after the end of the nationalist guerrilla campaign against the Soviet Union authorities, which was fought primarily in western Ukraine, all such former combatants will qualify for all veteran benefits,  including free public transport, subsidized medical services, annual monetary aid, and public utilities discounts.

According to the law, which was signed by President Petro Poroshenko in late December, these benefits are to be provided to members of the following armed formations:

  • Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), led by Stepan Bandera, active in 1942-1956
  • Ukrainian Insurgent Army “The Polissia Sich”, led by Taras Bulba-Borovets, active in 1941-1944, which became the Ukrainian People’s Revolutionary Army in 1943
  • Armed formations of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), active in late 1920s-1950s.

According to the bill’s explanatory note, up to 1,201 such former fighters were still alive as of May 23, 2018. Most of the former combatants are now in their late 80s or 90s.

The bill states that all of them shall be recognized as “fighters for independence of Ukraine in the 20th century” who fought against both the Nazi and Soviet regimes.

The move is controversial, as the groups at times cooperated with Nazi Germany, or were involved in bloody clashes with Polish groups in 1943-1945 in western Ukraine, and the mass murder of Jews in the same period.

Now members of the groups will receive the same social benefits as the few still living former Ukrainian soldiers of the Soviet Red Army and security forces of the time who fought the Nazis during World War II from 1941 until 1945.

Demonized by Soviet propaganda for decades, members of the Ukrainian nationalist guerrilla movements achieved wider recognition only after 1991, when Ukraine regained independence.

There have been several previous attempts to provide these former fighters with official veteran status, especially during the administration of late President Viktor Yushenko in 2005-2009, but all failed.


However, interest in the Ukrainian nationalist guerrilla movements of the 1940s-1950s surged after Russia’s launched its war against Ukraine in 2014.

The legacy these and other guerrilla forces has significantly influenced the new traditions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. A number of nationalist volunteer battalions fighting against Russian forces in the Donbas, such as the Right Sector, or its later offshoot the Ukrainian Volunteer Army, led by Dmytro Yarosh, are inspired by thenationalist movements of the mid-twentieth century.

Ukraine, according to various estimates, now is home to over 1 million living veterans of various conflicts starting from World War II, with a large part of them being veterans of the Soviet-Afghan War of 1979-1989.

According to Ukraine’s State Service for Veteran Affairs, up to 362,095 Ukrainians have received veteran status for their service in the Donbas war zone since 2014, as of March 1.

In November 2018, in an attempt to create a new national veteran care system to replace the previous one, which has for decades been ineffective, over-bureaucratic, and corrupt, a new separate Ministry for Veteran Affairs was created to replace up to 22 government departments and agencies.


The new minister, Iryna Friz, a lawmaker and long-time loyal ally of President Poroshenko, vowed to modernize the list of benefits and privileges available for war veterans, and to create a E-Veteran system — an online service that would enable a veteran to manage his or her allowances and benefits, such as various education courses,  by using them or claiming their monetary equivalent.

The ministry also plans to back national programs to provide war veterans with cheap loans to start businesses, or free education at the country’s top universities.

However, there is little data on how many war veterans there actually are in the country, so parliament, at the request of the ministry, in early February voted to create a single unified register of war veterans .

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