Poroshenko: 'UPA are heroes,' will consider giving veterans legal status

President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko believes that now is a good time to address the question concerning the status of the wartime Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) & Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA).

During a press conference in Kyiv on Thursday, when asked about his position on whether UPA soldiers deserved recognition, Poroshenko said it is worth considering giving the veterans legal status as combatants in World War II.

“In Galicia, Ivano Frankivsk, Ternopil, Rivne, and Volyn this issue was already resolved by the local councils. Across the country it was not,” said the president. Poroshenko recognized that earlier the topic was divisive in the country, and because of this it was not addressed first hand. Instead, he said now was “the right time.”

“What is a warrior who defends his state, who protects it in the same way the soldiers of the UPA did…this is a good time to raise the issue,” said Poroshenko. He then added that he sees Ukrainian insurgent fighters as an example of heroism.

On Twitter, he repeated this sentiment, saying: “UPA soldiers – an example of heroism and patriotism to Ukraine.”

Poroshenko’s statements come nearing the UPA’s anniversary on October 14. Former president Yushchenko made similar inroads to define the UPA as war veterans, and bills have been proposed in the past to grant UPA veterans government benefits on par with their Soviet army counterparts, including higher pensions and public transportation discounts.

A controversial topic in Ukraine, The UPA fought against the Soviet Union, Poland, and Nazi Germany for Ukrainian independence from 1942-1956. Their history is particularly reviled among some in eastern Ukraine, Russia, and Poland, but extremely popular in western Ukraine to this day. Because of Ukraine’s Soviet legacy, the group never managed to attain state recognition.

The battle flag of the UPA became a popular symbol during the Euromaidan protests and current conflict with Russia, and is adorned by many Ukrainians as a “sign of the stubborn endurance of the Ukrainian national idea even under the grimmest conditions.”

The UPA has been described as “the most important example of forceful resistance to Communist rule,” and the mortality rate for Soviet troops fighting Ukrainian insurgents in Western Ukraine is said to be higher than the mortality rate for Soviet troops during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. In turn, Russian propaganda has continued to this day to discredit its veterans and supporters as “Nazis” and “fascists” despite fighting both German and Russian fascism in World War II.