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Why Poles cheered Yushchenko's ouster

20th century Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera still divides Poland and Ukraine.

That’s because Bandera, who was a citizen of pre-war Poland, helped organize the assassination of an interior minister in 1934. Although he spent much of the war imprisoned in a German concentration camp, his idea of creating a purely ethnic Ukrainian state that was cleansed of Poles (as well as Russians and Jews) was taken up enthusiastically by his followers in the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, who were principally responsible for the massacre of as many as 100,000 Polish civilians from 1942 to 1944. Bandera lived in Munich after the war, where he was assassinated in 1959 by a Soviet agent.

Poles responded to wartime butchery by killing several thousand Ukrainians, and after the war, when Poland’s borders had been shifted hundreds of miles to the west, the communist-era military embarked on a deportation campaign against the few Ukrainians who remained within the country’s new frontiers.

Although Poland was the first country to recognize an independent Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the bloody past between the two countries has made reconciliation a delicate and difficult task, something that Yushchenko’s praise of Bandera has exacerbated.

“Shame on Bandera! Shame on Yushchenko! Shame on Polish politicians who thoughtlessly supported Yushchenko,” wrote Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski, a Catholic priest who helped lead the protests outside the Ukrainian embassy in Warsaw.

However the fuss over Bandera could make it easier for Yanukovich to forge a closer relationship with Poland. Although Ukraine’s new president had been viewed with suspicion in Warsaw because of his pro-Moscow inclinations, he has indicated he would retract Yushchenko’s Bandera decree, something that his core electorate in the east of the country would strongly support. That would also buy him credit in Poland.

Although he says he does not have much sympathy for Yankovich, Isakowicz-Zaleski noted: “What a paradox that only the election of a pro-Russian ex-Communist will create a positive turn in these issues.”