Anti-Soviet WWII Partisans In Ukraine Call For Recognition By Presidential Decree

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainians who fought as anti-Soviet partisans called Tuesday on President Viktor Yushchenko to recognize them as World War II veterans by decree, saying that their hopes of winning recognition in parliament had dimmed under the new governing coalition.

WWII partisans capture German soldiers

"As Communists are participants in the new coalition, recognition will be blocked," said lawmaker Oleksiy Ivchenko, who heads the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists. "In any case we will struggle for it."

About 100,000 Ukrainians fought both the Nazis and the Soviets during the war in a bid to create an independent homeland. In the Soviet era, Ukrainian schoolchildren were taught that they were enemies of the people.

But with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the creation of an independent Ukraine, the partisans launched a new fight to change views — and win financial and moral recognition similar to what Red Army veterans have long enjoyed.

The issue has divided Ukraine, with the more nationalistic west supporting recognition, and the Russian-speaking east opposing it. The main opponents, however, have always been the Communists.

The Communist Party, which has seen its number of supporters decrease, got a major boost this summer when it joined the governing coalition headed by Premier Viktor Yanukovych, whose support base is in the more pro-Russian eastern Ukraine.

In August, Yushchenko tried to get the new coalition members to agree to recognize the partisans by including such a provision in a Memorandum of National Unity that he and Yanukovych both signed, but the provision was dropped.

Lawmaker Taras Chornovil, a Yanukovych ally, said he personally supports recognizing the partisans but that many political forces in Ukraine are not yet ready. He said parliament should hold a conference dedicated to the issue.

Supporters of giving the partisans recognition say that it can be done through a parliamentary bill or via a presidential decree. If parliament refuses to act, as many expect, "recognition by presidential decree will be the only one way out," said lawmaker Yevhen Hirnyk.

About 10,000 partisans are believed to still be alive, while there are 3.8 million World War II veterans still living.

Hostility toward the partisans runs deep in Ukraine because in the war's early years, the anti-Soviet partisans aligned themselves with the Nazis, seeing the invasion as a way to get rid of the Soviet regime. But after the Nazis rejected their calls for an independent Ukraine, the partisans started fighting against both the Nazis and the Soviets. The Red Army drove out the Nazis in 1944, and the partisans continued their struggle until 1951.

An estimated 7 million Ukrainians died in the fighting against the Nazis, and 2.4 million people were sent to Nazi concentration camps. Yushchenko's father was a Soviet Red Army soldier who spent four years in a Nazi camp.

Yushchenko has repeatedly urged Red Army veterans and anti-Soviet guerrillas to forgive each other for the sake of national unity, but his attempts have sparked protests by Communists and other pro-Russian parties.

"I feel sorry that for 15 years of its independence, Ukraine failed to recognize partisans which struggled for our independence, for our freedom," said 82-year-old former partisan Mikhaylo Zalenchuk.

Former partisans plan to mark the 64th anniversary of the creation of their army with a march in downtown Kiev on Sunday.

Source: AP