On Friday, during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s address to Canada’s House of Commons, Yaroslav Hunka, a 98-year-old veteran, received a standing ovation from the parliamentarians after being introduced by House Speaker Anthony Rota. Rota presented Hunka as a Canadian-Ukrainian war hero from his own political district.
“We have here in the chamber today a Ukrainian-Canadian veteran from the Second World War who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians and continues to support the troops today, even at his age of 98,” Rota said Friday, followed by a lengthy round of applause and a wave by Zelenskyy. “He’s a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service. Thank you.”
One problem: Hunka was shown to have fought on the side of the Nazis.
The Associated Press identified the man as Yaroslav Hunka, who “fought with the First Ukrainian Division” before immigrating to Canada.
The First Ukrainian Division, however, was previously known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the Nazi Party’s Schutzstaffel (SS) military branch, according to The Forward, a New York-based newspaper geared toward Jewish readers.
“Formed in 1943, SS Galichina was composed of recruits from the Galicia region in western Ukraine. The unit was armed and trained by the Nazis and commanded by German officers,” the outlet reported. “In 1944, the division was visited by SS head Heinrich Himmler, who spoke of the soldiers’ willingness to slaughter Poles.’”
According to The Forward, units of the SS Galichina were responsible for burning alive between 500 and 1,000 Polish villagers in Huta Pieniacka, a center of resistance to German occupation in what is now Ukraine. The attack took place in February 1944.
The prominent Canadian parliamentarian issued a formal apology to Jewish communities worldwide for a regrettable incident during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit.
In a statement late Sunday afternoon, Rota said he recently became “aware of more information which causes me to regret my decision” to recognize Hunka. He said he takes full responsibility for the seismic gaffe.
“I wish to make clear that no one, including fellow parliamentarians and the Ukraine delegation, was aware of my intention or of my remarks before I delivered them,” he said. “This initiative was entirely my own, the individual in question being from my riding and having been brought to my attention.”
Conservative opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre called it an “appalling error of judgment” by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and demanded he apologize and refrain from “passing the blame to others as he always does.”
It also appears that Poland will likely be calling for the extradition of Hunka.
Poland is seeking to extradite 98 year Yaroslav Hunka who fought in the Waffen SS on behalf of the Nazis to face trial in Poland for war crimes. Hunka was given a standing ovation in the House of Commons a few days ago as a Canadian and Ukrainian "war hero for fighting against… https://t.co/UaoyIJ0pf1
— Rupa Subramanya (@rupasubramanya) September 26, 2023
“In view of the scandalous events in the Canadian Parliament, which involved honoring, in the presence of President Zelenskiy, a member of the criminal Nazi SS Galizien formation, I have taken steps towards the possible extradition of this man to Poland,” the Polish Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek wrote with an attached document on X.
Following this incident, Canadian Jewish organizations have called for an apology, which has prompted members of Parliament from various political parties to express remorse.