Anti-Soviet Fighters Rally in Ukraine

The Associated Press
Saturday, October 14, 2006; 2:29 PM

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian nationalist fighters who battled both Soviet and Nazi forces during World War II rallied in their country's capital on Saturday, demanding the same financial and moral recognition as Red Army veterans.

Western-leaning Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on Saturday praised the guerrillas for fighting for Ukraine's independence, but the issue of how to recognize the nationalists in Ukrainian history _ as freedom fighters or traitors _ has polarized Ukraine.

The divisions were apparent at Saturday's rally, as some of the 2,000 nationalists briefly scuffled with socialists holding a counter-rally. Police detained about 20 people.

During Soviet times, schoolchildren were taught that members of the insurgent army were enemies of the people who committed atrocities alongside Nazi troops. Since the 1991 Soviet collapse, the former guerrillas have sought financial and moral recognition similar to what Red Army veterans have long enjoyed.

The "best sons of Ukraine gave up their lives for our Motherland. Unfortunately we have not been recognized yet. It is a shame," said Orest Vaskul, an ex-partisan.

The western part of the nation is pro-U.S. and strongly supports the nationalist veterans. In the Russian-speaking east, support for the Soviet fighters and longings for closer ties to Russia are prevalent.

"They are our enemies, they shot our soldiers in the back," said Volodymyr Protstenko, a 69-year-old teacher who noted that he tells his students "about crimes of partisans."

Red Army veterans in the Ukraine receive additional payments and social benefits added to an average monthly pension of $80; the partisans want similar benefits in addition to political recognition of their sacrifices.

Yushchenko signed a decree calling for more studies of the partisans' history and for drafting a law that would give them official recognition to combat their stigma as enemies of Ukraine.

Since Yushchenko _ whose father was a Red Army soldier who spent four years in a Nazi camp _ came to power last year, his government has been striving to win recognition for some 100,000 partisans. His efforts, however, have met resistance from Communists and Red Army veterans.

On Saturday, about 1,000 supporters of the communist and socialist progressive parties held competing rallies in Kiev to denounce the former guerrilla fighters as enemies of the Ukraine, waving red flags as Soviet war songs played over loudspeakers.

Hostility toward the partisans runs deep in Ukraine.

During the early years of World War II, the anti-Soviet partisans aligned themselves with the Nazis, seeing Germany's invasion as a way to get rid of the Soviet regime.

After the Nazis rejected their calls for an independent Ukraine, they started fighting against both the Nazis and the Soviets. The Red Army drove out the Nazis in 1944, and the partisans continued their struggle against the Soviets until 1951.

About 10,000 partisans are believed to still be alive, while there are about 3.8 million Red Army World War II veterans living in the country.

An estimated 7 million Ukrainians died in the fighting against the Nazis, and 2.4 million people were sent to Nazi concentration camps.

© 2006 The Associated Press