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Ukrainian Court Rejects 'Hero' Status For Nationalist Leaders

Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera, whose official "hero" status in Ukraine has been annulled.
Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera, whose official "hero" status in Ukraine has been annulled.
KYIV -- Ukraine's High Administrative Court has ruled that former President Viktor Yushchenko illegally bestowed "hero" status on two Ukrainian independence leaders from the World War II era, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.

The ruling in Kyiv on August 2 supports verdicts by two lower courts in Donetsk that Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists leader Stepan Bandera and underground Ukrainian insurgent army head Roman Shukhevych should not have been designated "heroes" by Yushchenko in 2007 and 2010, respectively.

Bandera and Shukhevych fought against the Nazis and the Soviet Army during World War II and for several years afterward. Considered heroes by many Ukrainians, others consider them traitors for fighting against Soviet soldiers.

Opposition organizations expressed anger at the latest court decision and said they will appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

Some supporters of Bandera and Shukhevych said that even though the two were stripped of official hero status, they will nevertheless be considered heroes by Ukrainians.

The High Administrative Court's ruling was based on the argument that neither Bandera nor Shukhevych were Ukrainian citizens.

Western Ukraine -- where both Shukhevych and Bandera were active during World War II -- was then part of Poland, hence the citizenship issue.

About 100 supporters of Shukhevych and Bandera gathered in Kyiv on August 2 in front of the court house to show their support for the two men to be allowed to maintain their official hero status.

Yushchenko executive orders granting the "hero" designation to Shukhevych and Bandera were challenged in Donetsk appellate courts, which ruled that the two men were ineligible for the state honor because they did not have Ukrainian citizenship.

Parliament member Andriy Parubiy called the court decisions "political."

He told RFE/RL he had hoped the hero status would be upheld by the administrative court, which had previously supported another of Yushchenko's executive orders regarding the Ukrainian insurgent army's struggle for Ukrainian independence.

"Unfortunately, today we were very disenchanted with this decision," Parubiy said.

Political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko agreed that the court decision was political.

He said the government doesn't want to upset western Ukraine -- which largely supports the hero status for the two men -- by directly overruling that designation.

"They would much rather have the courts do their work for them," Fesenko said. "If there are any protests they can always say: this wasn't us, this was a court decision and we must respect it."