March 19, 2010 / 4:22 PM / 9 years ago

Ukraine's Yanukovich to repeal Bandera hero decree

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich will scrap in early May a decree by his pro-Western predecessor that conferred national hero status on a World War Two nationalist leader, a source in his camp said on Friday.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovich addresses the audience in the Crimean city of Simferopol March 18, 2010. The plate reads: "The President of Ukraine". REUTERS/Andriy Mosienko/Pool

Former President Viktor Yushchenko’s posthumous honoring of Stepan Bandera, a leader of Ukrainian nationalist forces which fought both the Nazis and Soviet forces in the war and after, angered Russia, EU member Poland and Jewish rights groups.

Yanukovich, seen as more pro-Moscow than Yushchenko, promised on a visit to Moscow this month to repeal the decision and also cancel a similar honor earlier conferred on Roman Shukhevych, Bandera’s right hand man.

But the issue is a sensitive one in Ukraine and since Yanukovich’s visit to Moscow, some aides have suggested he might back-track on his promise.

A veteran of the wartime Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) holds a portrait of UPA leader Stepan Bandera during skirmishes which broke out during rallies in central Kiev October 15, 2005 devoted to the 63rd anniversary of the founding of UPA. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Bandera, who fought Soviet rule well into the 1950s and was assassinated by a KGB agent in 1959, is regarded as a hero by many in western Ukraine where wariness of Moscow is strong.

Most people living in the Russian-speaking east of the country, however, adopt the Soviet view that he was a terrorist.

A source in Yanukovich’s camp said on Friday: “He will go ahead with this decision on the eve of May 9. He will go ahead with it. That is certain.”

May 9 is when Russia marks the World War Two victory over Nazi Germany.

Some historians say Bandera’s nationalist followers initially cooperated with Nazi invaders of western Ukraine, then part of Poland, and took part in the killings of Jews and Poles.

The Simon Weisenthal Jewish human rights center has expressed “revulsion” at Yushchenko’s award to Bandera and condemned it as a “travesty.”

Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Elizabeth Fullerton

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