Ukraine Legislation Would Honor Anti-Soviet Fighters as War Veterans

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Ukraine's government said Wednesday it had drafted a bill offering anti-Soviet guerrillas the same privileges currently provided to World War II veterans — a measure likely to meet a strong opposition in parliament.

Deputy Prime Minister Vyacheslav Kyrylenko said the measure, which is subject to approval by parliament, would apply to members of militant groups that fought against the Soviets in 1939-1956. The bill would require additional spending of about $9.9 million, he said in a statement.

Since Western-leaning President Viktor Yushchenko came to power last year, his government has been striving to win recognition for the 100,000 partisans who fought both the Nazis and the Soviets as Ukrainian patriots who struggled to create an independent homeland.

Communists and war veterans say such a move would be a mockery of the Soviet Red Army dead.

About 10,000 partisans are believed to still be alive, while there are 3.8 million World War II veterans still living.

Hostility toward the partisans runs deep in Ukraine because in the war's early years, the anti-Soviet partisans aligned themselves with the Nazis who overran the country before the Red Army drove them out in 1944.

During Soviet times, Ukrainian schoolchildren were taught that the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and its guerrilla force, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, were enemies of the people who committed horrific atrocities alongside Nazi troops.

An estimated 7 million Ukrainians died in the fighting against the Nazis, and 2.4 million people were sent to Nazi concentration camps. Yushchenko's father was a Soviet Red Army soldier who spent four years in a Nazi camp.

Yushchenko has repeatedly urged Red Army veterans and anti-Soviet guerrillas to forgive each other for the sake of the national unity, but his attempts have caused several protests by Communists and other pro-Russian parties.

The new bill is likely to meet strong resistance from the majority coalition in the Ukrainian parliament consisting of the pro-Russian Party of Regions, Communists and Socialists.

Communist lawmaker Petro Tsybenko strongly criticized the government's move. "These people supported the Nazis. It is immoral and criminal to give them the same status and benefits the Red Army veterans have," he told The Associated Press.