Once an underground network of fascist ideologues shunned by the Ukrainian Canadian community for “criminal ideas,” Canada’s ultra-nationalist Bandera lobby is today a major political player. It recently rubbed shoulders with former PM Stephen Harper and top contenders for the leadership of his Conservative Party.
By Moss Robeson
A month ago in Toronto, former Canadian Prime Minister and Conservative Party heavyweight Stephen Harper called out to an audience of Ukrainian Canadians, “Slava Ukraini!”
Harper’s audience responded to his cry of “Glory to Ukraine!” by compleing the salutation of the Ukrainian Nationalist movement once led by the notorious fascist Stepan Bandera: “Heroyam Slava!” In other words, “Glory to the Heroes!” who, in fact, collaborated with Nazi Germany during its occupation of Ukraine in World War Two.
Harper spoke as the keynote guest at a gala organized to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the League of Ukrainian Canadians (LUC) and its newspaper, Homin Ukrainy (“Ukrainian Echo”), as well as the 65th anniversary of the League of Ukrainian Canadian Women (LUCW). The event capped off a three day, tri-annual convention of the Leagues.
Held on February 22, the gala took place six years and one day after the Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fled his country following the Euromaidan “Revolution of Dignity” in Kyiv, which saw pro-EU protesters and hard-right street fighters topple their Russian-oriented government.
Through the so-called “Canadian Conference in Support of Ukraine” (CCSU), many of Canada’s leading Conservatives have befriended a historically criminal, fascist network of Ukrainian nationalists that has remained dedicated to pushing the West to the brink of war with Russia since before World War Two ended. Today, followers of the long dead Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera are vying with Ukraine’s neo-Nazis to lead another “revolution” – this time, against Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his moves to peace with Russia.
During the Cold War, the Banderivtsi agitated for the declaration of a U.S.-led “holy war of liberation” against Soviet Russia – a World War Three – placing their faith in the United States government to free the Soviet “prison of nations” by force, and to do so without obliterating them in the process with nuclear weapons. Similary, during World War Two, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists led by Bandera (OUN-B) initially counted on Nazi Germany to “liberate” Soviet Ukraine, although Adolf Hitler had no intentions of doing so.
The LUC is the Canadian spearhead of the CCSU and an international coalition of NGOs affiliated with the decades-old, highly secretive cult of personality centered around Stepan Bandera. The League of Ukrainian Canadians plays a leading role in the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the Ukrainian World Congress, the first vice president of which (from Australia) is the present-day leader of the OUN-B. “At the Forefront of Ukrainian Issues” is the LUC’s slogan.
Bandera’s OUN-B, an extremist “revolutionary” fascist organization, carried out numerous brutal pogroms against Jews throughout western Ukraine in 1941 before infiltrating Nazi auxiliary police units that served at the frontlines of the “Holocaust by Bullets.” Bandera aspired to be the Führer of a pro-Nazi Ukrainian dictatorship, but was rejected by Hitler and later the CIA. He was drifting into irrelevance when his 1959 assassination by the KGB in Munich turned him into a beloved ultra-nationalist martyr.
Over the course of the Cold War, the CIA attempted to incubate a rival, so-called “democratic” faction of the OUN-B – which also happened to be led by former Nazi collaborating war criminals. But the more radical, fascistic Banderites eventually hijacked Ukrainian communities around the world in the name of an anti-democratic “Ukrainian Liberation Front.” The OUN-B sought to establish a “dictatorship in exile,” as told by historian Per Anders Rudling, “intended to be re-exported to Ukraine, following its ‘liberation.’”
In 1956, the CIA collected from its Ukrainian collaborators a “set of complaints” made against Stepan Bandera and “a list of his anti-American acts,” however, “we were not interested in the specifics or evidential details related to the complaints or acts since these were already known to Headquarters.” That included the existence of an “illegal underground Bandera organization” of “blindly loyal” cadres mobilizing in the United States, taking orders from the fascist OUN-B leadership then located in Munich.
Meanwhile, according to a book by Lubomyr Luciuk, a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, the OUN-B’s “rezident” in Canada “had an organized if modest nationalist network in place by the fall of 1948 … [and] was in regular communication with the nationalist provid (or leadership) in Europe.”
Furthermore, “everything possible was being done to ensure that nationalist cadres were spread out ‘in a planned way’ across Canada, to ensure that the Banderivtsi would have some of their people in every centre where they might be able to work on behalf of the liberation movement.”
At the third national convention of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in 1950, Stepan Bandera’s followers “were harried and jeered out of the meeting hall,” writes Luciuk, “accompanied by a stern reprimand from the podium … [denouncing] those whom he accused of trying to ‘take over’ Ukrainian Canadian organizational life.”
By the 1960s, some in the CIA were convinced that the KGB had infiltrated the OUN-B at high levels, perhaps to the point of controlling it through double agents. The OUN-B and its supporters in the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America eventually denounced the US-backed ex-Banderites based in New York City as “CIA tools” who were “soft on Communism.” The New York-based nationalist clique responded by accusing the former of colluding with ex-Nazi West German officials.
Despite all this, there is no evidence that Western governments took measures to suppress the OUN-B. Instead, well-connected anti-communist political interests from around the world nurtured the Banderites, ensuring that their apparatus would live on not just in the US, but in Great Britain, Australia, Canada, and Western Europe. All parties abided by the OUN-B’s whitewashed, distorted script when it came to the Ukrainian Nationalists and World War Two.
“You have to understand,” a member of the OUN-B told journalist Russ Bellant, “we are an underground organization. We have spent years quietly penetrating positions of influence.”
Today, the transnational crypto-fascist network of Banderite NGOs once known above board as the “Organizations of the Ukrainian Liberation Front” operates in the open and with the full-throated support of Western politicians like Stephen Harper. Its global coordinating body is called the International Council in Support of Ukraine, or ICSU, which in turn looks to the OUN-B for leadership.
The ICSU and the Ukrainian World Congress are presently headquartered in Toronto. And it’s there that the LUC – the group that hosted Harper – presides over the ICSU’s Canadian branch, the CCSU. Oksana Prociuk-Cyz, CEO of the largest Ukrainian Canadian credit union, is a former treasurer of the ICSU, the present-day leader of which, Borys Potapenko, is from Detroit, but a former executive director of the LUC.
Over forty years ago, Potapenko chaired a “Committee in Defense of Ukraine” that “conducted a major campaign in protest against the showing of the  television movie ‘Holocaust’” starring Meryl Streep and James Woods.
Several nationalist subsidiary groups function under the CCSU’s umbrella. They include the Ukrainian Youth Association of Canada, Homin Ukrainy, and the Canadian Society of Veterans of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). The UPA was responsible for the ethnic cleansing of tens of thousands of ethnic Poles and an unknown number of Jews from 1943 through ‘44.
According to Lubomyr Luciuk, a Canadian academic and Ukrainian nationalist historian, Homin Ukrainy had been “an unflagging advocate of revolutionary nationalist principles,” and the Canadian “press organ of the movement headed by the Banderivtsi.” In an email, Luciuk told me that he was unaware of any OUN-B activity in Canada “anymore,” but declined to specify when he believed it ceased to operate in the country. Luciuk’s downplaying of the Bandera network in Canada might have something to do with “his continuous…cooperation with various OUN-B institutions,” including the ICSU.
The recent gala in Toronto demonstrated how far an underground network once held in suspicion by the CIA and the Ukrainian Canadian community has come. Besides Stephen Harper, the 2020 LUC gala featured both Peter McKay and Erin O’Toole, contenders for the leadership of Canada’s Conservative Party.
A Conservative Party pilgrimage to Ukraine’s Holocaust-distorting museum
The contest for leadership of Canada’s Conservative Party is in full swing. Erin O’Toole and the more moderate Peter McKay are the top candidates to succeed Andrew Scheer as party head. In February, the two rubbed shoulders with Ukrainian Nationalist lobbyists at the LUC gala and participated in a VIP reception with leaders of the CCSU – the Canadian coalition of Banderite organizations.
Stephen Harper was clearly the star of the show. The former prime minister’s photo ops showed him beside ICSU president Borys Potapenko; Andriy Levus, an OUN-B affiliated leader of the so-called “Capitulation Resistance Movement” in Ukraine; and Orest Steciw, former longtime president of the League of Ukrainian Canadians.
During the Cold War, Steciw chaired the Canadian branch of the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations (ABN), a crypto-fascist coalition of “national liberation movements” led by the OUN-B that claimed to speak for the “captive nations” of the Soviet Union. The ABN, believing World War Three to be “inevitable” and even necessary, all but called for a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Soviet Russia.
According to journalists Scott and Jon Lee Anderson, the ABN was “the largest and most important umbrella for Nazi collaborators in the world,” and a central component of the World Anti-Communist League. The three most recent leaders of the ICSU were all formerly affiliated with the now-defunct ABN.
In 1963, a leading Catholic Ukrainian Canadian weekly, Ukrainski Visti, condemned the extremism of the figures behind the ABN. In an editorial, the Visti slammed the “criminal ideas – ‘WE WANT WAR’ –” of the ABN leader Yaroslav Stetsko and the “Bandera Mafia”: “We believe that the uncompromising influences of the Banderaites [sic] are very strong,” the paper declared, “but the Ukrainian people and the peoples of the world want peace!”
The ideological heirs to this “we want war” movement were on stage with Harper at the recent LUC gala in Toronto. There, Andriy Shevchenko, the Ukrainian Ambassador to Canada, awarded the former Prime Minister the Order of Liberty – Ukraine’s highest honor for a non-citizen. Next, Borys Potapenko presented Harper with the “Pinnacle Award” on behalf of the ICSU. (The latter has only one prior recipient: former NATO Supreme Commander of Europe Gen. Wesley Clark in 2015.)
“What Prime Minister Stephen Harper has done for Ukraine during his time in office can only be compared to what Ronald Reagan did for the demise of the Soviet Union,” Potapenko effused. In 1995, following the USSR’s collapse, Potapenko wrote in the ABN’s newsletter that Russia should next be broken up into 21 independent states.
In his own speech, Harper concluded with a remarkable statement of support for the neo-Banderites: “I greatly admire the work you’re all doing as part of the International Council in Support of Ukraine, and all the organizations that it embraces… God bless all of you. God bless Canada. Slava Ukraini!”
“Glory to the Heroes!” they answered. Originally performed with a fascist salute during World War Two, the Nationalist call and response was popularized in Ukraine by the anti-Yanukovych “Euromaidan,” or 2013-2014 “Revolution of Dignity,” supported by Western governments and hijacked by the far-right.
This was far from the only public engagement between leaders of the Banderite network and the Conservative Party. Harper made several visits to Ukraine during his time in office, often accompanied by ICSU representatives.
In 2010, Harper visited the “Lonsky Street Prison Museum,” an ICSU partner and possibly an OUN-B front, located at 1 Stepan Bandera Street in Lviv. In 1941, the prison was one of several sites where Jews were tortured and killed during a major pogrom largely carried out by OUN-B militiamen following Germans’ orders that left hundreds if not thousands of Jews dead.
The prison museum does not acknowledge this history, however, and instead glorifies the OUN-B. It paints a decidedly revisionist picture that primarily memorializes the Ukrainian victims of the Soviet secret police murdered there, and erases Ukrainian collaboration with Nazi occupiers and its Jewish victims.
Ruslan Zabily has directed the Holocaust-distorting museum for over a decade. In 2012, the organizations of the CCSU organized an extensive Canada-wide lecture tour for him culminating in photo ops between Zabily and then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper, during which the Canadian leader praised his museum.
Harper’s Conservative colleagues deepened their ties with the Banderites in October 2018 by meeting with visiting “youth leaders” from Ukraine who were, in fact, exponents of the OUN-B’s international apparatus.
Joined @jamesbezan & @TedOpitz for a dinner meeting with visiting Ukrainian Youth Leaders to discuss Russian hybrid warfare in #Ukraine and efforts to combat it. Thank you to leaders from @LeagueUkrCdns for organizing. 🇨🇦 🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/d4mPtQ2hZA
— Erin O'Toole (@ErinOTooleMP) October 21, 2018
The meeting was designed by the ultra-nationalist activists as a forum for marketing their nascent “Stop Revanche” campaign to sympathetic Canadian politicians.
Sabotaging peace in eastern Ukraine
The right-wing slogan, “Stop Revanche,” was developed in response to fears that pro-Russian politicians might achieve electoral success in Ukraine’s 2019 elections. The slogan picked up steam in response to the ascent of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his “Servant of the People” party. So did others such as “No Capitulation” and “Protect Ukraine.”
As a nationally beloved comedian with no political experience who nonetheless gained mass appeal with his call to resolve the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, and his depiction of an anti-corruption president on a fictional TV show (“Servant of the People”), Zelenskiy easily defeated the deeply unpopular, corrupt incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, who drifted hard to the right after taking office in 2014. Poroshenko’s nationalist base, exposed to represent a small minority of Ukrainians, fumed at the results.
As the US-funded RFE/RL reported last summer, “Revanche has emerged as one of the buzzwords of this extraordinary election cycle. Those posting, protesting, and pronouncing the word come from nationalist and right-wing political camps… and also from some pro-Western activists…”
From behind the scenes, the OUN-B aspires to lead a new Maidan-style revolution supported by “some pro-Western activists” but inevitably powered in large part by the neo-Nazi led Azov movement and other militant far-right groups. Through a wave of national demonstrations, Ukraine’s ultra-nationalists hope to drive Zelenskiy and all other pro-peace (“capitulationist”) elements from the government. In turn, they plan to recharge the proxy war in eastern Ukraine.
The political forces that launched the “Stop Revanche” slogan and visited Toronto in October 2018 played a prominent role in launching the anti-Zelenskiy “Resistance Movement” a year later.
The February 2020 LUC gala in Toronto represented the latest leg of this anti-peace campaign in the West. On hand for the event was Andriy Levus, the leader of an ICSU-affiliated NGO called Vilni Liudy, or “Free People,” that is a central engine of the “Capitulation Resistance Movement.” According to the latter’s Facebook page, both entities have an office in the OUN-B’s headquarters building in Kyiv.
In July 2019, following Zelenskiy’s friendly meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa, Conservative members of parliament O’Toole and James Bezan made an ominous public promise to all but militarily confront Russia if brought to power: “A Conservative government … will advocate for, and lead, a peacekeeping mission along the Ukraine-Russia border,” the two hardliners promised.
By pursuing a relationship with the Bandera lobby and apparently the Capitulation Resistance Movement as well, the Conservative Party leadership is effectively working to sabotage the roadmap to peace Zelenskiy is traversing to end the “frozen conflict” in eastern Ukraine.
As the League of Ukrainian Canadians’ closest allies in Ukraine are demanding that their government retake control of separatist territory and its eastern border with Russia before any elections take place in the rebel-held Donbas region, Conservative officials have proposed stationing Canadian troops there.
Although the Conservatives lost the 2019 Canadian national election, their cozy relationship with the transnational Banderivtsi could still drive a wedge between Ottawa and Kyiv, and prolong or even escalate the ongoing armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Considering its historic enthusiasm for a cataclysmic showdown with Russia, the OUN-B’s persistent presence in Western halls of power is no small cause for concern. Today, this crypto-fascist network is working to unite the right from Ottawa to Kyiv, bringing sympathetic Western officials in line with Ukrainian neo-Nazis to destabilize the Zelenskiy government and sabotage its bid for peace.
Moss Robeson is an independent researcher working on a book about the OUN-B Banderite lobby in the US.