Jewish groups call for removal of vandalized Ukrainian WWII memorial

The vandalism, including Nazi slogans, was seen on Monday night but it's not known when it happened.

Monument in northeast Edmonton cemetery defaced with red paint

Vandals painted messages on a memorial honouring the 14th Waffen SS Division at St. Michael's Cemetery, located in northeast Edmonton. (John Shypitka/CBC News)

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) is calling for the removal of two Ukrainian monuments considered racist, one of which was recently vandalized.

A memorial honouring the 14th Waffen SS Division in St. Michael's Cemetery, located in northeast Edmonton, was covered with red paint. The words "Nazi monument" were painted on one side and "14th Waffen SS" on the other.

The statue of Roman Shukhevych was also vandalized with the words "actual Nazi" outside of the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex. It has since been cleaned up. 

The vandalism was seen on Monday night but it's not known when it happened.

In a news release sent Thursday, Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, director of policy at FSWC, said the memorials honour "Nazi collaborators and war criminals" and urged that they be removed.

"It is beyond shameful to have monuments here in Canada," Kirzner-Roberts said in the release. "These monuments are nothing less than a glorification and celebration of those who actively participated in Holocaust crimes as well the mass murder of Polish civilians."

Abe Silverman, B'nai Brith Canada's manager of public affairs and a Holocaust survivor, said the organization has been working with the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex to remove the bust of Shukhevych.

Shukhevych was known for leading an anti-Soviet nationalist uprising in Ukraine. B'nai Brith has described him as a Nazi collaborator who oversaw mass atrocities against Jews, ethnic Poles, Belarussians and others.

"It's a disservice to our community when we put up statues that honour people who have a history that may be very acceptable to some and offensive to others," Silverman said. 

He said these types of discussions are emotional on all sides but added, "We do have to overcome the barriers that exist for the sake of harmony."

The Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton called the graffiti "disturbing" and reported it to police. 

"This vandalism is part of the decades-long Russian disinformation campaign against Ukraine and Ukrainians to create a false Nazi image of Ukrainian freedom fighters," it said in an emailed statement. 

"The translation of the Ukrainian message on our vandalized monument is 'For those who fought for Ukraine's Freedom.'"

The Ukrainian Youth Unity Council said in a statement that recent accusations against its community have been "riddled with disinformation."

"As for those who presume a right to dictate to us about whom we should honour, we invite them to reflect upon whom they are serving when publishing divisive 'fake news,'" the statement read. 

Jars Balan, the director of the Ukrainian Canadian Studies Centre at the University of Alberta, said the history of the monuments is complicated.

The memorial in St. Michael's Cemetery was put up to honour the people who fought against both the Soviet army and the Nazis for the independence of Ukraine during the Second World War.

"There's all this history behind this. And in history, context is everything. Horrible things happened in the Second World War," he said. "Difficult decisions, and decisions that may be regrettable in retrospect, were made. But it's hard to put yourself in the shoes of those people who had to make them then."

He said it's easy to refer to them as Nazis, but as a historian, he needs to be objective. 

"Some of these people who ended up fighting in German uniforms were simply not Nazis. They were fighting for Ukrainian independence," he said. "And that was the best way to achieve it, as far as they were concerned. They didn't have any options."

The graffiti still remains on the memorial in St. Michael's Cemetery.

Edmonton police have not confirmed whether they are investigating.