On January 1, something like 20,000 people marched by torchlight through the center of Kiev to celebrate the 105th anniversary of the birth of the Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera. Some of the older participants even wore their old uniforms from the Ukrainian National Army.
In Western Ukraine, Bandera is regarded as the founder of the nation, memories of his assassination by the KGB stiffening the understandably anti-Russian sentiments in these marches of Eastern Europe. As a story, Ukrainian nationalism is very old, even though there are several different and indeed competing versions. One of the country’s modern oligarchs likes being called Mazepa, after Ukrainian Hetman Ivan Mazepa, who was driven into exile after the battle of Poltava in 1709.
There was a brief and confused independent Ukrainian government between 1917 and 1922. But this is little remembered outside Wikipedia.
It’s impossible now to separate the founder and the foundation myth of Ukraine from the terrible years of 1939-45, when Bandera signed a Faustian bargain with Nazi Germany. Bandera paid for his conjuring with two years in a concentration camp. But he was let out in 1944 and renewed his pact with a collapsing Third Reich. Western Ukrainian nationalism and fascism had been fused.
This has structural political consequences today,...