Russian investigators on Friday charged 98-year-old Ukrainian war veteran Yaroslav Hunka, mistakenly honored by Canada last month, with genocide for serving in a German Nazi division fighting the Soviet Union in World War Two.
Moscow seized on the incident, for which Canada apologized, as further justification for a full-scale invasion that Russian President Vladimir Putin said was needed to “demilitarize and denazify” Ukraine and thwart the aggression of its Western allies.
Russian state and military archives have “received documentary evidence of the places of deployment and the conduct of hostilities by the SS Galicia division, in which Hunka served,” the federal Investigative Committee said in a statement, adding that he had been charged in absentia.
“Currently, the issue of putting Y.Hunka on the international wanted list and ordering his arrest in absentia is being decided.”
The Wafen SS
The Waffen SS was an autonomous military corps of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party that recruited hundreds of thousands of non-Germans as World War Two advanced.
Among them were thousands of Ukrainian nationalists who saw the Germans who had invaded the Soviet Union, including Ukraine, as liberators from Moscow’s oppression.
The predominantly Ukrainian Galicia Division has been found guilty of war crimes by commissions in Germany and Poland, and historians say its members took part in several massacres.
The Investigative Committee accused Hunka of being one of the members of a unit that took part in the slaughter of at least 500 people at Huta Pieniacka/Huta Penyatska, a village west of Lviv that belonged to Poland before the war and is now in Ukraine.
The Committee said it had sent requests for legal assistance to Canada, Poland and Belarus.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized in September after the speaker of the Canadian lower house of parliament, Anthony Rota, praised Hunka with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy present in the chamber. Rota said he had made a mistake and resigned.
Putin called the standing ovations given to Hunka “disgusting” and said they showed Moscow was right to “denazify” Ukraine.
Kyiv and its Western allies say Russia’s actions in Ukraine constitute an unprovoked war of aggression designed to grab territory. Zelenskiy, who is Jewish, says claims that his administration is run by Nazis are absurd.