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11 June, 2014

The Truth for History

The invitation of Ukraine to the D-Day anniversary is not only commemoration of the heroes and martyrs, as well as those who survived WWII, but commitment to truth which we must introduce to our peers, and to our children

François Hollande invited the newly-elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to the D-Day ceremony on June 6, 1944. 2014 is especially important to that end because it is the 70th anniversary of that event.

2014 is also particularly important to Ukraine which gained independence over two decades ago but is now struggling to fully implement it by shedding the remains of Sovietism. This invitation ended the anomaly that had been in place since 1991. Ukraine and Belarus as the key parties to the war against the Nazi Germany are, just like others, fully entitled to be present at the commemoration of all allies against the Axis powers. Moreover, Ukrainians were directly involved in the Normandy landings: 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers fought in Canadian uniforms; 84 are buried at one cemetery in Normandy. Clearly, we know that Russia’s claims about being the successor of the Soviet Union and thus being the sole legitimate representative of the fighters, heroes and martyrs of the Eastern Front (who were all “Soviet”) are far from undeniable. A historical mistake does not turn into truth even after it becomes a banality.

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I have written about the myths of the “Great Patriotic War”, the muted facts and the lies that distort the history of Ukraine, historical memory and the mind of the entire Europe. Today, I would like to focus on convincing arguments in favour of Ukraine’s participation in the D-Day events. The most obvious one is the huge number of Ukrainian soldiers who died or demonstrated courage in the fight against the Nazis in 1941-1945. The time count for them usually begins with 1941, not with 1939, and the French find this surprising. They remember the 1939-1945 war. In 1939-1941, the Soviet Union was Germany’s ally. It entered the war only after Germany’s attack. Therefore, the Soviet Union, followed by Russia later, stuck to its separate chronology. Unlike them, the whole world knows the war in 1939-1945, and these are the dates used for commemoration, including by the US which stepped in in December 1941.  

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The generally excepted chronology of World War II fits today’s Ukraine much better than the Soviet-Russian one. 1939-1945 fit the participation of Ukrainians in that war better, and their experience in it, too. Within 1941-1945, when the Nazi occupants were the enemy, Ukraine saw huge bloody losses measuring from 16.3% to 18% of its total population of 1940. Belarus lost 25% of its population, while Russia did 12.7%. Despite the fluctuations that are typical of the official Soviet Union history (from 7 million dead under Stalin’s rigged post-war estimates to 20 million mentioned by Khrushchev when he revealed Stalin’s “mistakes” in 1961, and to 26-27 million victims under the latest estimates), historical research and recognition of historical memory have evolved for decades.

The figures are more accurate now, and different categories of victims by circumstances of their death are distinguished more accurately than they were right after the war when all “victims of fascism” were mixed together, for the lack of knowledge or propaganda purposes, while overlooking the nationality of soldiers, murdered civilians, devastated villages, the particularly terrible fate of European Jews (9.5 million, including over 5.5 million in the USSR and Poland, doomed to death by the Nazis), and the fate of 3 million Red Army war prisoners who died of manmade famine.

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Each category has a huge, terrifying number of Ukrainians. These numbers push us to recognize Ukraine’s role in that war. According to estimates by historians, from 6 to 8 million Ukrainians died in it. If we take 6.85 million Ukrainian victims, they will include 1.65 million soldiers and over 5.2 million civilians, including 1 million war prisoners killed by famine, and 1.5 million Ukrainian Jews. All of those 5.2 million civilians – men, women and children who were the victims of mass murders and manmade famine because they were hiding Jewish neighbours, their villages supported guerillas, or because they were Jews; all these people treated as Untermenschen by the Nazis – have to be present in the memory of the living on June 6.

And that will happen thanks to Ukraine’s presence in the commemoration ceremony through its top officials.

The peoples of Central and Eastern Ukraine went through terrifying sufferings in World War II, while Western countries accepted approximate estimates, mistakes and lies which cannot be presented without a pang of conscience today, too easily. We now know the figures we did not know then. We have evidence we did not have then. And our ignorance is no longer an excuse for us. Quite on the contrary, in the time when the last witnesses and participants of the war are passing away, new generations are even more obliged to stick to the truth and accuracy. And this is something not just intellectuals and professors, but average citizens should be committed to. The invitation of Ukraine (and Belarus) to the D-Day anniversary is not only commemoration of the heroes and martyrs, as well as those who survived World War II, but commitment to truth which we must introduce to our peers, and to our children. To me, as a French citizen, it is important to see Ukraine represented at the ceremony so that my children could hear the name of this country on TV, find out what had happened in that land, and learn about the struggle of Ukrainians in other battles, including the Invasion of Normandy.

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