When Chrystia Freeland was a young student, she contributed to an encyclopedia that played down the 1st Galician Division’s Nazi connections.
In 1986, when she was 18, Freeland worked on the second volume of the Encyclopedia of Ukraine.
The encyclopedia covers a range of subjects through a Ukrainian lens, including the Second World War. It frequently references the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, a volunteer Nazi-commanded army established in 1943 to aid the Germans’ efforts against the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front.
The 14th SS unit, which was later rebranded as the First Ukrainian Division, has been subject to renewed attention this week after one of its veterans, 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka, was recognized on the floor of the House of Commons.
House Speaker Anthony Rota has apologized and resigned after lauding Hunka as “a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero” who “fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians.”
Members of parliament gave Hunka a standing ovation, though many have later said this was because they didn’t know the details of whom they were applauding.
If there is one MP who would know this chapter of history, however, it is Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland. Freeland, whose mother is Ukrainian, lived and studied in Ukraine and has been researching the country since her youth.
The Encyclopedia of Ukraine was based largely on the original Ukrainian work of Volodymyr Kubijovyč, a Ukrainian nationalist and Nazi collaborator whose antisemitism and fondness for Adolf Hitler are well documented. Kubijovyč was one of the founders of the 14th SS unit.
While Kubijovyč died in 1985, he’s still listed as the editor of the volume to which Freeland contributed, which was published in 1988.
The encyclopedia calls the 14th SS division “Division Galizien,” referring to the Waffen’s efforts in Galicia.
While the main entry for the unit lies in the encyclopedia’s first volume, it is referenced several times in the second volume, for which Freeland wrote.
The encyclopedia opts to refer to “German” forces rather than “Nazi” forces, despite the unit being under SS command and not a regular military unit. It also attempts to frame the 14th SS as a predominantly Ukrainian effort that set the stage for Ukrainian independence. In fact, the project was spearheaded by high-ranking Nazi Otto Wächter with the support of Heinrich Himmler.
“…a Ukrainian volunteer formation, the Division Galizien, was created as part of the German armed forces on the Soviet front; it was supported by the Ukrainians not as a German unit, but as the core of the armed forces in a future independent Ukraine,” one passage reads.
“By spring 1944 the front was in Western Ukraine, and in July the Division Galizien, a Ukrainian formation in the German armed forces created in 1943 and conceived by the Ukrainian organizers as the nucleus of the future army in an independent Ukraine, was largely destroyed at the Battle of Brody,” reads another.
The encyclopedia makes no reference to Nuremberg’s finding that the SS was a criminal organization. Also absent is the accusation of 14th SS involvement in the killing of 500 Polish civilians in the village of Huta Pieniacka.
Freeland’s contributions to the Encyclopedia of Ukraine came through a summer research placement she did with the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, funded by the Government of Canada Summer Employment/Experience Development program.
A CIUS newsletter says Freeland “wrote entries” for the encyclopedia under the supervision of Prof. Bohdan Krawchenko, later the director of the CIUS. Her name also appears among dozens of contributors in the volume’s front matter.
Krawchenko told True North Freeland’s work was predominantly on “economics, education, and sociology.”
In a statement, Freeland’s spokesperson confirmed her participation in the project and rejected extremism.
“As a young woman, the deputy prime minister contributed to the writing of the Encyclopedia of Ukraine Vol. II. She worked exclusively on four entries in this text: hayfields, horsebreeding, the jute-hemp industry, and insurance,” the spokesperson wrote.
“During this time, the deputy prime minister had no interaction with Volodymyr Kubijovyc. She categorically condemns Nazism, fascism, and far-right extremism in all its forms.”
Freeland was “super bright and super skilled,” Krawchenko said from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where he’s serving as a senior research fellow at the University of Central Asia.
Krawchenko said that despite the volume being based on Kubijovyč’s work and crediting him as editor, much of its content was original and written with concern for “academic integrity.”
For his part, Krawchenko saw the recognition of Hunka in the House of Commons as a “colossal tragedy.”
“Why anybody would single out that individual to be a Ukrainian hero is beyond imagination,” he said.
He added that celebrating a veteran of this unit undermines the “historical reckoning” Ukrainians have had to undergo regarding their history in the Second World War.
“That unit in history deserves to be discussed. The legacy of the Second World War in Ukraine is something that Ukrainians appreciate,” Krawchenko said.
“Who in the world would have taken that initiative? I was active in the Ukrainian community. Nobody in their right mind would have done this.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify that Nuremberg found the SS as a whole to be a criminal organization, not the 14th Waffen specifically.