A Ukrainian town’s decision to rename a street after a battalion that fought alongside the Nazis during World War II is shameful, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said on Friday.
“I was shocked. It’s hard to imagine such things taking place in our country… It’s a shame for our country,” Azarov said.
Peace Street in the village of Razliv in western Ukraine’s Lvov region was renamed Nachtigall Battalion Warriors Street.
Two battalions, Nachtigall and Roland, were formed from ethnic Ukrainians in Nazi-occupied Poland in February 1941. They were among the first units to invade the Soviet Union in June 1941, but were disbanded in August after Germany failed to declare an independent Ukraine.
Shortly after Nazi troops entered Ukraine in June 1941, nationalist leader Stepan Bandera called on Ukrainians “to help the German army in defeating Moscow and Bolshevism.” On June 30 the Nachtigall Battalion entered Lvov. The documentary record shows that its members committed atrocities against the Jewish population.
The street renaming was initiated by the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party and supported by members of Yulia Tymoshenko’s party.
The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the move and said it hoped that the street’s original name would be restored.
The pro-presidential Party of Regions has already asked the Prosecutor General’s Office to study the case and give a legal assessment.
Ukrainian society is deeply divided over the wartime role of the country’s nationalists, namely the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and its militant wing, the UPA. One part, mostly residents of the eastern regions bordering Russia, believe UPA fighters were traitors who killed Soviet soldiers, while another, mainly residents of western Ukraine, regard them as patriots who fought for an independent Ukraine.
On October 14, the anniversary of the UPA’s founding, up to 30,000 Ukrainians – nationalists and communists – are expected to march in Kiev in two opposing rallies for and against the UPA.
The Ukrainian nationalist movement also demands that President Viktor Yanukovych approve construction of monuments to Cossack Hetman Ivan Mazepa and UPA leaders Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych in Kiev.
They also want October 14 to be declared a national holiday – The Defender of the Fatherland’s Day. The holiday’s name and origin are a clear reference to a national holiday in Russia, which bears the same name and marks the first mass draft into the Red Army.