US embassy in Kiev criticized for praising for Ukrainian nationalist

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — A Ukrainian Jewish leader criticized the U.S. embassy’s praise for a writer who allegedly worked for an anti-Semitic newspaper.

The embassy celebrated the legacy of Olena Teliha Wednesday in a Facebook post that designated her one of the “women who inspire Ukraine” in connection with ‪Women’s History Month in March.

Teliha was an activist for the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, or OUN, which fought during the first half of the 20th century against Soviet domination. Leaders of OUN briefly collaborated with Nazi occupation forces before turning against them. Teliha was executed at the age of 35 at Babi Yar in Kiev, where the Nazis also murdered tens of thousands of Jews.

“Very sad that the U.S. Embassy is posting such stories,” Eduard Dolinsky, the director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, wrote on Facebook in response, adding: “Teliha worked obligingly in the anti-Jewish newspaper ‘Free Ukraine’ that called for the destruction of Jews and venerated Nazism.”

Last month, a monument honoring Teliha was unveiled at Babi Yar despite the Ukrainian Jewish Committee’s objections. The disagreement is part of a larger dispute between some leaders of Ukraine’s fractious Jewish community of 350,000 people and government authorities and historians over the veneration of nationalists from OUN and its military wing, the UPA.

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Following a bloody revolution in 2014 that unleashed a wave of nationalist sentiment in Ukraine, the state has celebrated the legacy of various personalities from those groups, including military commanders who are accused of responsibility for the murder of thousands of Jews and Poles.

One such leader was Stepan Bandera, who has a large statue of him in the city of Lviv and streets named after him in several cities, including Kiev. Another is Roman Shukhevych, whom the director of the state-operated Ukrainian National Memory Institute recently praised as “one of five eminent personalities who have changed the course of history.”

Advocates of nationalist leaders like Bandera and Shukhevych claim their vision of Ukraine extended to Jews, some of whom served in UPA’s ranks. Some UPA militants also rescued Jews from the Holocaust.