The world watched last Friday as the entirety of Canada’s parliament, including Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, delivered a grandiose standing ovation to First Ukrainian Division World War II (WWII) veteran Yaroslav Hunka. He was there to watch a speech before the House of Commons by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Ivan Katchanovksi, a political scientist at the University of Ottawa, first noticed the grave error. “These are photos of SS Galicia Division veteran who was given standing ovation by Canadian parliament, Prime Minister of Canada and president of Ukraine. He published these photos of himself in in this division during training in Germany,” the post read.
The scandal gathered momentum from there, culminating in the resignation of House Speaker Anthony Rota on Tuesday after a rushed convening of party leaders. Rota had been tasked with introducing the special guest seated in the gallery during Zelenskyy’s historic visit.
Rota had described Hunka to the parliamentarians in his speech as a “veteran from the Second World War who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians,” further adding that he was “a Ukrainian hero.”
Hunka, a 98-year-old still active in the Ukranian community, received a thunderous round of applause from the Commons.
Hunka, as it would be revealed, fought in the First Ukrainian Division, or the First Galicia Division - previously known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the Schutzstaffel (SS) of the Nazi party.
The First Ukrainian Division was crafted in part by Heinrich Himmler, the chief architect of the Holocaust. “Your homeland has become more beautiful since you have lost - on our initiative, I must say - the residents who were so often a dirty blemish on Galicia’s good name - namely the Jews,” said Himmler to his Ukrainian troops in a 1944 speech. “I know that if I ordered you to liquidate the Poles, I would be giving you permission to do what you are eager to do anyway.”
And they did.
Nuremberg trials later deemed that simply belonging to a volunteer SS unit was a criminal act.
Canada curiously received an outsized proportion of First Ukrainian Division soldiers following the end of the war – in part because it was not a signatory of the Nuremberg Charter. While official Canadian immigration policy was to reject the applications of former SS members, the Canadian Commission of Inquiry on War Crimes conducted its tribunals in 1986 and decided to honour a cabinet-level exemption extended to the Ukrainian unit in 1950, concluding that “Charges of war crimes against members of the Galicia Division have never been substantiated.” This spectacular foreign policy failure understandably resulted in Canada becoming a haven for war criminals and an influx of Galician war veterans with questionable histories.
The decision to extend exemptions to the First Galicia division was controversial and fiercely opposed, particularly by Jewish groups. Still, the soldiers were given a pass, painted by sympathizers as nothing more than loyal separatists dedicated to fighting the Soviets. They therefore were not to be thought of as true Nazi collaborators, or that was the argument anyways, but instead as proud Ukrainian nationalists, despite their avid widespread participation in the Holocaust.
Indeed, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland ironically referred to them as heroic “freedom fighters” in her early writing years, as noted by journalist Richard Saunders in an article describing his demoralizing battle against domestic Nazism. “I spread the Russian virus by exposing how Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland’s journalism career began with jobs for publications promoting the WWII Ukrainian Waffen SS Galicia as heroic ‘freedom fighters,’” he quipped at the time.
A footnote in a book by Dr. Myroslav Shkandrij, titled ‘In The Maelstrom: The Waffen-SS “Galicia” Division and Its Legacy’ vigorously defends Freeland. Shkandrij stresses in it that he feels the statements against Freeland made by author Richard Saunders in the military magazine ‘Espirit de Corps,’ were “malicious” and “defamatory” in intent. He also assumes in his writings that the Galicia Division veterans volunteered under the assumption that it was the only way they could possibly defeat Russian Bolshevism and achieve true independence.
Shkandrij, in reality, is Chrystia Freeland’s uncle by marriage.
The stunning display of seeing an “actual Nazi” – a term that was trending for days on social media – embraced and celebrated in unison in the House of Commons, remains shocking to the public, parliamentarians, advocacy groups, even prompting extradition calls from a senior Polish government official
Chrystia Freeland’s familial ties to the Nazi party have been well-documented in many articles, most notably by journalists David Pugliese and Robert Fife.
The Chomiak-Freeland connection was vehemently denied by Chrystia, who suggested the claims were part of a Russian disinformation campaign. “Freeland knew her grandfather was editor of Nazi newspaper,” blasted one Globe and Mail headline.
A post on social media surfaced several days after the Nazi scandal first broke, by Moss Robeson, a writer based in New York, claiming that the author of the book above, Dr. Myroslav Shkandrij, was Chrystia Freeland’s uncle.
Another post stated that “Minister of Foreign Affairs @cafreeland is in #Raddison riding tonight to help honour her uncle Dr. Myroslav Shkandrij w/ #OsvitaFoundation.” Freeland is pictured in the message, and an additional one shows her uncle Shkandrij at the same event with members of the Osvita Foundation, being celebrated at a dinner as a guest of honour.
Obituary notices for Halyna Chomiak-Freeland, Chrystia Freeland’s mother, also detail that Halyna’s sister (therefore Chrystia’s aunt) was Natalka Chomiak, who then married a Myroslav Shkandrij, making him the now-Deputy PM’s uncle.
Robeson claimed that Shkandrij’s father himself was a veteran of the Ukrainian Galicia Division.
“Listening to Chrystia Freeland's uncle Myroslav Shkandrij lecture Canadian Banderites on "The Myth - The Legend - The Reality" of the "Galicia Division" (Ukrainian Waffen-SS), which his father enlisted in,” it reads.
University of Manitoba archives hold limited records of the Shkandrij lineage. A Myroslav Shkandrij is listed as being born in 1950 and fathered by Borys Shkandrij in England after he was released from a prisoner-of-war (POW) camp in Italy in 1949. Myroslav’s biography, given on the University of Manitoba’s website, details that Dr. Shkandrij was born on March 17, 1950, in England. He holds the title of a distinguished Professor Emeritus for the Department of German and Slavic Studies as an expert scholar in his field and the author of several books and many papers. And it would appear, according to the same files, that his father was for a time a POW for serving in the Ukrainian Division Galicia.
The clue to cementing the ties come from Myroslav’s own writings.
“My father volunteered for the [Galicia] Division and was sent for officer training before he joined the force in Slovakia in late 1944. While in a British internment camp in Rimini he began publishing poetry under the pseudonym Bohdan Bora. My mother Olga (née Poloziuk) was from a part of the Donetsk oblast that is presently under Russian occupation. As a teenager she was sent as an Ostarbeiter (slave labourer) to work on a German farm for two years. My parents married in the UK in 1949. The Division is a contentious topic that has been the subject of polemics for several decades. Debates have taken place over what motivated individuals to join the Waffen-SS, war crimes they may have committed, their relationship to the Holocaust, and their release from POW camps in 1949.”
Bohdan Bora, the pseudonym used by Myroslav’s father to write Ukrainian poetry while serving time in a POW camp, is listed as the pen name for Borys Shkandrij on the rare book sites that still sell his works.
The same Borys that, according again to the University of Manitoba documents, volunteered for the Ukrainian Galicia Division. The archives confirm Myroslav’s preface: that his father had married Olga (née Poloziuk) before joining the Waffen-SS and training in Germany; afterwards, being held in POW camps in Rimini until 1949 before passing away in Leeds, England.
Another son, Myroslav’s sibling, Oleh, is mentioned, but there is no note of what became of him.
According to historical and archival records, Freeland’s family member served in the Waffen-SS division, which committed unspeakable acts upon Jews, Poles, Roma and other so-called undesirables.
She must have known who Yaroslav Hunka was. It’s impossible that she didn’t. Yet, she still beamed and clapped away.