Jewish advocacy groups are demanding an apology and explanation after members of parliament gave a standing ovation to a Ukrainian veteran who served in a Nazi military unit during the Second World War.
On Friday, MPs applauded when Yaroslav Hunka was recognized in the House of Commons during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s address to Parliament. Hunka fought with the First Ukrainian Division, formerly the 14th SS Division Galicia, a Nazi unit made of Ukrainian soldiers.
Speaker of the House Anthony Rota rose after Zelenskyy’s address to Parliament to recognize Hunka.
“We have here in the Chamber today, a Ukrainian Canadian veteran from the Second World War who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians and continues to support the troops today even at the age of 98. His name Yaroslav Hunka,” Rota said to a standing ovation from MPs of all party stripes.
“I am very proud to say that he is from North Bay and from my riding of Nipissing—Timiskaming. He is a Ukrainian hero, Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service,” Rota continued.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), a Jewish advocacy group, posted on X that it was “deeply troubled and disturbed” to learn that MPs gave Hunka a hero’s welcome.
“We are deeply troubled & disturbed that a Ukrainian veteran of the infamous 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the Nazi SS – which actively participated in the genocide of Jews – was celebrated with a standing ovation in the Canadian Parliament,” CIJA posted.
“Canada’s Jewish community stands firmly with Ukraine in its war against Russian aggression. But we can’t stay silent when crimes committed by Ukrainians during the Holocaust are whitewashed.”
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC), an advocacy group dedicated to educating Canadians about the Holocaust, said it was “appalled” to learn about the incident and demanded an apology and explanation.
“FSWC is deeply disturbed over the Canadian Parliament’s recognition of a Ukrainian veteran who served in a Nazi military unit during the Second World War implicated in the mass murder of Jews and others. FSWC is further outraged that parliamentarians in the House of Commons gave a standing ovation to the former soldier on Friday,” FSWC said in a statement.
“An apology is owed to every Holocaust survivor and veteran of the Second World War who fought the Nazis, and an explanation must be provided as to how this individual entered the hallowed halls of Canadian Parliament and received recognition from the Speaker of the House and a standing ovation.”
Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman, the Jewish daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, called the reports about Hunka’s history “very troubling.”
“The Liberal government should explain why he was invited and honoured,” she wrote.
Rota apologized in a statement Sunday afternoon, saying the decision to invite Hunka was his alone.
“I have subsequently become aware of more information which causes me to regret my decision,” Rota said. “I particularly want to extend my deepest apologies to Jewish communities in Canada and around the world. I accept full responsibility for my actions.”
The Soviet Union fought against Nazi Germany in the Second World War and was part of the Allied forces comprising the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. The Soviet Union suffered the largest number of casualties during the war.