Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.
They say that the first casualty in war is the truth. That has certainly been the case with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as the Kremlin has become the world leader in dissemination of disinformation. Moscow’s most outrageous falsehood is that it has invaded Ukraine to eliminate the “Nazi” leadership including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who happens to be Jewish. What has given this lie the greatest traction is social media. In this digital age catchwords and two second soundbites are picked up without question and massively circulated.
That is what has happened with the fallout from former Speaker Anthony Rota’s irresponsible recognition of Galicia Division veteran Yaroslav Hunka in the House of Commons. The mass media jumped on the one word “Nazi”, oblivious to any objective historical analysis. As we have stated previously that label is incorrect.
All of this indicates the critical need for scholarly historical analysis as opposed to education by Twitter. Which is why the University of Alberta’s decision to return the $30,000 donation by the Hunka family is not only unjustified but detrimental to the cause of scholarly research. In the first place it is a knee jerk reaction to the one-sided and inaccurate campaign initiated to discredit in one fell swoop the centuries’ long and complex history of Ukraine’s national liberation struggle and undermine the valiant efforts of the Ukrainian people in their current battle against the latest instance of Russian imperial and colonial aggression aimed at the complete annihilation of their nation. In the second, it is an abrogation of the university’s mission to engage in “the pursuit of truth” and “push the boundaries of knowledge”. So, what was the mandate of the Hunka Foundation? It was “designated to support research that will enhance understanding of the life and deeds of two twentieth-century leaders of the underground Ukrainian Catholic Church, Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky and Cardinal Josyf Slipyj.”
Now, based on unsubstantiated charges, the world will be denied knowledge and understanding about a church that kept the flame of faith alive at a time of extraordinary repression against of millions of believers by the totalitarian Russian/Soviet regime. It also will prevent a better understanding of the role Metropolitan Sheptytsky played in rescuing hundreds of Ukrainian Jews from the Holocaust. This is a point that was also made by renowned Jewish scholar Dr. Henry Abramson, noted for his teachings on Jewish history, especially that of Jews in Ukraine and Judaism as a religion, in an October 4 interview with CBC Edmonton Radio. (https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-17-edmonton-am/clip/16013560-the-role-ukrainians-fought-division-ss-second-world?onboarding=false}
But the Hunka Foundation is only the tip of the iceberg. Russian propagandists and fellow travellers are now targeting many other foundations set up with funds donated to the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS). Were the university to bow to all the demands now being made of it, CIUS’s role as a global leader in the field of Ukrainian Studies would be imperilled, and the study of a still relatively unknown and untold part of 20th century Eastern European history would suffer no small measure on account of it.
That would be a significant loss for all seekers of truth and an immense boon to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. It will greatly encourage Putinist sycophants in the West who want to cut off aid to Ukraine and doom the country to a terrorist occupation followed by the genocide of the Ukrainian nation. This, after all, is precisely what Putin, Medvedev, and a chorus of bloodthirsty underlings, together with Russia’s legions of foreign and domestic propagandists have been clamouring for since the war began with the seizure of Crimea and parts of the Donbas in 2014.
The Washington Post has a slogan. “Democracy dies in darkness.” That is most applicable in this case. The University of Alberta, which should be a beacon of light, is instead succumbing to pressure that is based upon ignorance and darkness. Now, more than ever, is it imperative for the university to stand up for its principles and pursue the truth of a long-occupied, oppressed, and colonized nation’s history, that for too long has been misrepresented, if not outrightly falsified, by its enemies, and inadequately researched, analyzed, written about in peer-reviewed journals and scholarly texts by independent and impartial scholars from around the world.