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Hundreds March In Kyiv Honoring Controversial Nationalist Leader

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Ukrainian Nationalists Honor Controversial WWII-Era Leader
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Ukrainian nationalists march in Kyiv on January 1.

KYIV -- Hundreds of Ukrainian nationalists marched through downtown Kyiv in a torchlight parade to mark the birthday of the controversial nationalist mid-20th century leader Stepan Bandera.

The January 1 march to commemorate the birth of Bandera included an estimated 1,000 participants who hailed him as a hero.

The march started at the statue of Ukrainian bard Taras Shevchenko at a park named after the 19th-century writer and walked down the hill to Kyiv’s city hall.

“I come here every year because Stepan Bandera is a leader of the Ukrainian people. He raised Ukraine [from its knees] and is respected by the Ukrainian people,” Roman Lishchynskiy, a march participant, told RFE/RL. “Stepan Bandera doesn't divide Ukrainians, that's just what Moscow propaganda says. The fifth column wants us to argue with other peoples, but we are Ukrainians and we can withstand it. Our goal is to be united.”

People carried the national blue-and-yellow flags as well as the red-and-black flags that are associated with Ukrainian Cossacks and nationalists. Also seen were flags of the nationalist Svoboda party and participants from different regions of Ukraine.

Bandera is revered as a hero by many Ukrainians for leading the political wing of the anti-Soviet independence movement, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). Its military wing -- the Ukrainian Insurgent Army -- waged partisan warfare during and after World War II.

But Bandera -- who was killed by a Soviet assassin in Munich in 1959 -- is regarded as a traitor by others for leading an insurgent war against Soviet forces and collaborating with Nazi Germany. His forces also fought against the Nazis at times during the war, and are accused of carrying out murderous campaigns against Poles and Jews.

Police said the march ended peacefully and there were no arrests.

Similar marches also took place in the city of Dnipro located some 500 kilometers southeast of Kyiv and in Lviv, a city of nearly 800,000 people in western Ukraine.

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