Despite a Jewish President, Ukraine keeps honoring Nazi collabos (with a bit of help from America)

Naturally, the CIA is involved.

The latest Nazi news out of Ukraine is that Kiev’s city council voted to rename a couple of streets in honor of two Nazi collaborators and perpetrators of the Holocaust. The info was put on the wire by the AP a few days ago and was then quickly picked up by all sorts of newspapers and media outlets — including the New York Times, Washington Post and ABC News.

Then, yesterday, AP updated its dispatch: turns out that Kiev is honoring only one Nazi collaborator, not two. What an improvement!

It’s great that Ukraine’s revisionist far-right politics are at least getting some attention in the press. But what you won’t read in these reports is that the U.S. government had recently sponsored a “cultural” exhibit that celebrated the Nazi collaborator who is now getting his own street in Kiev. You can’t make this stuff up!

I’m talking about Nil Khasevych, a famous Ukrainian fascist-propagandist.

You might remember his name from a letter I sent out last month — the one about the Holocaust revisionist exhibit in Kiev.

This display, which I personally saw on a reporting to trip to Ukraine last year, whitewashed and celebrated the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and its military offshoot, the Ukrainian Insurgency Army (OUN/UPA) — fascist groups that had played a central role in the slaughter of close to one hundred thousand Poles and over a million Ukrainian Jews during World War II.

As I wrote back then:

These groups were notorious for their savagery. Their goal was to create a racially pure, fascist state that was free from Poles, Jews, and Russians. To achieve their aims, their leaders pledged allegiance to Adolf Hitler and received training from Nazi Germany. Many of their members had volunteered for the Ukrainian Waffen-SS division, joined Nazi auxiliary police battalions, and helped the Nazis administer occupied Ukraine. Aside from killing Jews, the OUN/UPA organized the slaughter entire Polish villages. Survivors of their atrocities told gut-wrenching tales. They cut babies from wombs, smashed children against walls in front of their mothers, hacked people to death with scythes, flayed their victims, and burned entire villages alive. Leaders of the OUN/UPA saw all this slaughter as a necessary part of Ukrainian nation building. As one UPA song put it: “We slaughtered the Jews, we will slaughter the Poles, old and young, every one; we will slaughter the Poles, we will build Ukraine.”

That’s Nil on the left. With that beard and mustache, he wouldn’t look out of place working on a MacBook in a Blue Bottle in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, today.

Nil Khasevych was (and is) hands down the most famous and celebrated propagandist for the OUN/UPA. His iconic blocky woodcuts and posters are still circulated and used by Ukrainian nationalists and far-rightists today. So it wasn’t a surprise that a big part of that exhibit was dedicated to celebrating his agitprop — especially his post-WWII work, which tended to show the OUN/UPA in a positive light, heroic light. In his rendering, these were not antisemitic maniacs bent on racial purity but freedom fighters who wanted to liberate all the peoples of the Soviet Union from totalitarian oppression.

But aside from running feel-good propaganda for the OUN/UPA, Khasevych has other darker Nazi skeletons in his closet. For instance: During the first few years of the Nazi occupation, from 1941 to 1943, he lived in the Western Ukrainian city of Rivne, not that far from the village where he was born. There, he seems to have led the charmed life of a high-level collaborator. He served as a local judge and put his artistic skills to work pumping out antisemitic propaganda in various Nazi-controlled newspapers. According to Eduard Dolinsky, among other things, Khasevych published racist caricatures and agitprop that helped whip up campaigns of mass murder against the local Jewish population.

An example of Nil’s antisemitic work — the stuff that Ukrainian nationalists don’t want you to see. Credit: Eduard Dolinsky.

While he was pumping out this antisemitic agitprop and tending to his Nazi occupation duties as a provincial judge, Khasevych — an invalid who lost his leg in a freak train accident when he was a teen — also had time to travel around the country, including to Lvov where he had an exhibition of his art. (Lvov’s entire Jewish population was exterminated — with a lot of help from Khasevych’s patriotic OUN).

War and genocide? What war? What genocide?

The exhibit that I saw in Kiev honoring this guy had been put on by the Ukrainian government. But it had also been sponsored by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a Congressionally funded news and propaganda outfit that broadcasts to most of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. And it was not the first time that our government helped boost and celebrate Khasevych’s work. Radio Liberty, which was spun off from the CIA in the 1970s, does it all the time — whether on its Twitter feed or in its articles.

But I recently leaned that the promotion of Khasevych’s work goes back much longer than that — more than half a century.

In 1952, the same year that Khasevych was killed in a Soviet counterinsurgency raid, the CIA first helped publish a book that collected and showcased his anti-Soviet, pro-Ukrainian nationalist agitprop. It was called Ukrainian Underground Art and it came with a short whitewashed biography of his life and work.

A few pages from Ukrainian Underground Art. Prolog, 1952.

The book was printed in Philadelphia and published by Prolog, a New York group that would be “formally” set up by the CIA one year later and put to work producing anti-communist revisionist history and propaganda with a Ukrainian-fascist spin. (Apparently, this book made it all the way to the United Nations, where it was held up as some kind of proof that the Ukrainian people were still valiantly fighting for freedom against totalitarian oppression and needed to be helped.)

Prolog was a big deal in the Ukrainian emigre community in America. But it was part of a much larger psychological warfare project launched at the end of World War II that sought to weaponize Eastern European fascist movements and nationalist identity against the Soviet Union. And given the growing power of far-right movements in Ukraine and across most of Eastern Europe, I’d say this larger mission was a success. So…Congratulations!

—Yasha Levine

PS: For a short history of American meddling in Ukraine, read this.

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