One of the arguments of Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine is that the Kyiv regime is the “fascist heir” of Stepan Bandera, a last-century Ukrainian nationalist leader killed in Munich by the Soviet KGB under Nikita Khrushchev. In March this year, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov declared that the main enemy of the Russian people was Stepan Bandera, and some of his men took this for granted.
Some Chechen and Russian soldiers really believe that, although he was pronounced dead in 1959, when he was 50 years old, Stepan Bandera is still alive and leading the Ukrainian “neo-Nazi” movement. Others say that the president of Ukraine is Volodymyr Zelensky, but in reality the state is led by Stepan Bandera.
Ukrainian journalists made various jokes about statements by Kadyrov and the Chechen military, inviting the country’s wizards to revive Bandera, and the Ukrainian Parliament’s Telegram channel wrote that “Bandera is willing to meet with Kadyrov on its territory.” that is, the other world.
“Dad is the Flag, Ukraine is Mother”
One of the most popular Ukrainian nationalist songs is “Dad is the Flag, Ukraine is Mother”, which has reached millions of views on various YouTube channels.
The song appeared during the fighting of the Ukrainian Insurrectionary Army and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in World War II, recounting the situation of a wounded soldier, without a hand and a leg, who dies and is mourned by his mother.
The words of this song say a lot about the visions of the patriots-nationalists in Ukraine, some of whom heroically defend the city of Mariupol at the moment: “ Dad is the Flag, Ukraine is his mother / For Ukraine we will always fight! / In the forest, under the green oak, / There lies the very seriously wounded rebel… ”
The Ukrainian military, which is currently fighting Russian aggression, considers the song to be an anthem of national resistance. The creed of the Ukrainian nationalists, cemented by this song, is a fatalistic one: even if the military loses a hand or a leg, “The flag is the father, and Ukraine is the mother” and it is something sacred to give your life for the country.
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Stepan Bandera – Russia’s scarecrow
Stepan Bandera has always been the sublimation of evil in the Soviet Union, but also in the Russian Federation.
The flag is the reason why Ukrainians are a priori guilty in front of the Russians. The Soviet regime created Stepan Bandera a symbol of Ukrainian evil and Nazism.
Soviet historiography only mentions Stepan Bandera’s collaboration with Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime, and all those who fought in the Ukrainian Insurrectionary Army were accused of collaborationism.
Considering that the Soviet narratives of that time, but also the Russian ones of today, had Nazism as a symbol of the external enemy, which could be defeated, everything related to the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists was considered an absolute evil, an anti-Soviet element.
Collaboration with Nazi Germany for an independent Ukraine
In fact, Stepan Bandera did not fight much in the wars, and during the Second World War he spent more time in prison, but unlike his colleagues in the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, he was a supporter of the idea of proclaiming the independence of the Ukrainian state at any cost.
He was the initiator of the proclamation of an independent state in Lviv on June 30, 1941. He was not a supporter of Nazism, but believed that he could collaborate with Nazi Germany, which would have promised support to the Ukrainians to create a Ukrainian state.
The Ukrainian nationalist military even fought in two battalions “Nachtigall” and “Roland” alongside Hitler’s army. Stepan Bandera’s friendship with Adolf Hitler did not last long. The Ukrainian nationalist leader was arrested for not being loyal to Nazi leaders after Ukraine was occupied by Germany.
Bandera spent several years in prison for “founding an independent Ukraine”. Despite this, the Bandera-Hitler conjunctural friendship was presented in Russian historiography as an alliance of vassalship and lasting friendship.
For some – hero, for others – enemy
Until 1959, the Soviet Union fought with Ukrainian nationalists in the Carpathian Mountains. They did not recognize the Soviet occupation, and the communist regime created the myth of the Ukrainian “flag bearers” who are descendants of the German Nazis.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, pro-Russian regimes in Ukraine tried not to mention Stepan Bandera and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, instead glorifying the “liberating” Soviet military.
The pro-Ukrainian, nationalist regimes, on the other hand, made Bandera a hero, provoking outrage in the east and south of the country. On January 22, 2010, the President of Ukraine, Victor Yushchenko, posthumously decorated the Flag with the title of Hero of Ukraine, and already the pro-Russian regime Yanukovych has done everything possible to cancel this title.
Thanks to Bandera, Russia and Poland sometimes protest in unison
As soon as Stepan Bandera officially became Ukraine’s post-mortem hero, two states, which usually had differing views on the political situation in the Eastern European region, protested together. Russia has repeatedly accused Kiev of failing to make the “Nazi Flag” a national hero, and Poland recalled an “ethnic cleansing” campaign known as the Volyn Massacre, in which Ukrainian nationalists were allegedly involved.
These are sad pages in the history of Poland and Ukraine that cannot be forgotten. Bandera is also accused of anti-Semitism and xenophobia.
In fact, the Ukrainian nationalists of Stepan Bandera’s time believed that their enemies were the Russians and the Poles, who in their opinion controlled the secular Ukrainian territories.
After the disintegration of the USSR, every time the Ukrainian authorities tried to return to the subject of the “Flag – hero”, both Warsaw and Russia expressed their dissatisfaction together.
Myths of Russian propaganda
Russian propaganda has actively returned to the “Stepan Bandera” symbol around the outbreak of the war in Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Many Soviet myths have been revived, especially about the “flag bearers” in western Ukraine, who are neo-Nazis and have a single purpose – to kill the Russian-speaking population of Donbas, Odessa and Crimea.
The Russian press, as well as high-ranking officials, argue the war in Ukraine as a necessity to defend the Russians from “Bandera’s neo-Nazis.”
The myth of the “terrorist flag”, which killed children in the past and whose followers are full of hatred, is revived. Moreover, the Russians are told that Bandera’s descendants could come to Russia to carry out terrorist attacks, similar to those of Islamist fundamentalists in Asian states.
“We will have no common language with the Muscovites”
After Russia invaded Crimea and the Donbas region in 2014, the Stepan Bandera symbol became relevant again, especially in western and central Ukraine. Now, in 2022, after the start of Russia’s large-scale war against Ukraine, a large number of Ukrainian fighters with nationalist convictions see the Flag as a symbol of national resistance.
Bandera’s anti-Russian thesis – “We will have no common language with the Muscovites” – is being quoted when discussing the Istanbul peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.
The Kremlin understands that Moscow’s symbolic enemy, the Bandera, is a true icon for some. Monitoring Grozny TV in Chechnya for Freedom , I watched a series of shows about re-education and ideological training courses taught by the Chechen military to Ukrainians who laid down their arms. The Chechen military praised the surrendering Ukrainians and told them to forget once and for all the Flag, which is “a Satan of Ukraine”, and Zelenski, which is “a Nazi of all Ukrainians.”
Zelenski, the war and the flag
The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, neither criticized nor encouraged the cult of Bandera, present in western and central Ukraine. Two years ago, Zelenski, a native of southeastern Ukraine, a Russian-speaking area, was asked if he considered Bandera a hero.
Zelenski said he grew up in a region where Bandera was considered an enemy , but then people learned that he was fighting for independence.
Zelensky said that the choices and sympathies of all citizens must be respected: “All the people who defended Ukraine’s independence and are its sons are its true heroes.” Zelensky’s balanced position was perceived as ambiguous, being criticized by all: the nationalists expected a more patriotic response from him, and those in the east of the country did not understand why the president did not mention the crimes of the “flag bearers”.
Being a controversial historical figure, assimilated in different ways by both Russian propaganda and Ukrainian state myths, the Flag symbol unites part of Ukrainian society and cements military resistance in the context of the war with Russia. We are dealing with an axiom of the war in Ukraine, even if, looking at the past, we see several pages of Bandera’s work that for many European observers would not be a model to follow.
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