Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ukraine, a nation divided ahead of vote

BILOGORSHCHA, Ukraine — It is an unlikely location for a major monument and debate over national identity. A field next to a quiet road outside Ukraine's western city of Lviv where only the crows disturb the peace. But it was here on March 5, 1950 that Ukrainian nationalist leader Roman Shukhevych, perhaps the single most controversial Ukrainian figure of World War II, was shot dead by Soviet secret police after years in hiding. In March 2009 the local authorities opened a statue of the rebel commander (1) that has served not just to commemorate his death but also to create another symbol of deep divisions that still fracture Ukraine. And its east-west divide will be shown up again on Sunday when Ukraine goes to the polls to elect a new president. Commander of the Nazi-trained Nightingale Battalion and then of pro-independence Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), Shukhevych is regarded with adulation in Ukraine's west and equally impassioned dislike in its east. He led a rearguard insurgency against the Soviets after this region -- the former Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia -- became part of the USSR after the war. Costing tens of thousands of dollars, the statue shows Shukhevych in military uniform emblazoned with Ukraine's trident symbol and draped in a cloak like a Roman Emperor staring out over the hills.
Inhabitants of the western region's main city of Lviv, whose beautiful civic architecture betrays its Austro-Hungarian past, boast that it was the first Soviet city (aside from the Baltic states) to dismantle a statue of Lenin. Rather than Lenin, Lviv can now claim a new statue of Stepan Bandera (2), another wartime nationalist leader whose controversial legacy is underlined by the 24-hour police guard the monument receives. By contrast, a larger-than-life statue of the USSR's founder still proudly dominates Lenin Square in the centre of the eastern city of Donetsk, the heartland of Ukraine's coal mining industry.
"There will always be regional differences in Ukraine. This is a peculiarity of the country which has both its negative and positive sides," said Ilko Kucheriv, director of Ukraine's Democratic Initiatives Foundation. "What now is one of the main tasks for Ukraine is to formulate our national identity, to formulate our interests as a nation and what the Ukrainian dream is.

By Agence France-Presse