The Canadian Bandera Network
Unearthing what remains of the OUN-B in Canada
2017 Convention of the League of Ukrainian Canadians and League of Ukrainian Canadian Women, Ukrainian Cultural Center, Etobicoke, Ontario. Sitting front and center (wearing the blue tie) is Stefan Romaniw, international leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists-Bandera. On the far-right is a portrait of the World War 2-era Ukrainian fascist leader and Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera.
The other day, I was informed that Oksana Prociuk-Ciz, the CEO of the Buduchnist Credit Union (BCU) Financial Group, is allegedly the present-day leader of the underground Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists-Bandera (OUN-B) in Canada, and that before her, it was Oleh Romanyshyn. The latter is the nephew of Stepan Bandera’s longtime deputy Yaroslav Stetsko, a Nazi collaborator and fascist war criminal who led the OUN-B’s international apparatus from 1968 until his death in 1986. At first when I received this information about Prociuk I didn’t know enough to judge whether or not it sounded plausible to me. I do now, and it does, so I think it’s about time I map out the basics of what remains in Canada of the secretive, crypto-fascist cult of personality centered around the long-dead Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera.
The foundation of the OUN-B network in Canada is the League of Ukrainian Canadians (LUC), formerly known as the Canadian League for the Liberation of Ukraine, founded in 1949 by Bandera followers who took orders from the OUN-B leadership in Europe. The Canadian branch of the international OUN-B affiliated Ukrainian Youth Association (Спілка української молоді, CYM, established in 1946) is essentially the youth group of the LUC. Homin Ukrainy, or “Ukrainian Echo,” is the Banderite newspaper in Canada, and began publication in 1948, by which time the OUN-B “had an organized if modest nationalist network in place” in Canada, according to Ukrainian Canadian nationalist historian Lubomyr Luciuk. (Romanyshyn was for years the editor-in-chief of Homin Ukrainy.) In addition to the Society of Veterans of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and the League of Ukrainian Canadian Women (LUCW), this LUC-led coalition is today known as the Canadian Conference in Support of Ukraine (CCSU).
The CCSU is itself a branch of the so-called “International Council in Support of Ukraine” (ICSU), the global coordinating body of OUN-B affiliated organizations. Its real name is the “World Council of Ukrainian State Organizations,” but it is only called that in Ukrainian (Ради Українських Державницьких Організацій Світу, RUDOS). It was originally called the “Organizations of the Ukrainian Liberation Front” during the Cold War, and it has had numerous names since then, but I will use the first one I mentioned.
Like the Ukrainian World Congress (UWC), the ICSU is currently headquartered in Toronto, as is the LUC. I outlined this much and more about three and a half months ago in an article for The Grayzone. There is, however, more to the story. For starters, the largest Ukrainian financial institution in Canada and the self-described “heart of the Ukrainian-Canadian community,” Oksana Prociuk’s BCU Financial Group, was a “platinum sponsor” of the “Tribute Gala” I’ve already written about that was held in Toronto this past February in honor of the LUC, LUCW, and Homin Ukrainy, at which the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper (wittingly or not) praised the Canadian Banderite network and received the ICSU’s “Pinnacle Award.” BCU Financial, a division of BCU Financial Group, issued a statement regarding the event that identified the LUC, LUCW, and Homin Ukrainy as “among the founding organizations of Buduchnist Credit Union.”
Harper was introduced by Ihor Kozak, the first vice chairman of BCU Financial and the external affairs director of the League of Ukrainian Canadians. Proceeds from the gala were donated to the LUC’s Friends of Ukraine Defense Forces Fund, which at least used to be coordinated in large part by a leader of “Free People,” a member organization of the ICSU set up by the official youth group of the OUN-B in Ukraine, the militant Youth Nationalist Congress (MNK). “Free People” is a political project apparently trying to spearhead a new “Maidan” revolution in partnership with Ukraine’s far-right, but was originally organized as an MNK-led “volunteer network” to provide Ukrainian soldiers with various supplies, with much (if not most) of its aid made possible by the Friends of Ukraine Defense Forces Fund. Andriy Levus, the leader of “Free People,” attended the BCU-sponsored “Tribute Gala” and got his photo taken with Stephen Harper.
The BCU sponsors many Ukrainian organizations, events, and causes in Canada, among them the Defense Forces Fund. A quick look at the leadership of BCU Financial and the BCU Foundation reveals them to be led by Banderites, whether or not it’s true that the BCU Financial Group CEO is the Canadian leader of the OUN-B. That however seems plausible, all things considered. In 2008-13, Oksana Prociuk served as the treasurer of the ICSU, and the latter’s website listed the BCU Foundation as one of its international partners in 2014-18, that is, for the entirety of the existence of the now-defunct “icsu.info.”
The BCU-sponsored ForumTV, a “television news magazine” founded in 2012, is another arm of the Banderites in Canada. Its managing director is none other than Steve Bandera, who “has steadfastly maintained for years that his grandfather, and the Ukrainian nationalist movement in general, are innocent of perpetrating war crimes against Jews,” according to journalist Sam Sokol. ForumTV appears on Omni Television, Canada’s multilingual and multicultural television broadcaster, and seems principally concerned with promoting the activities of the Banderite organizations affiliated with the “Canadian Conference in Support of Ukraine.” The first video it uploaded to Youtube was a commercial for BCU Financial Group.
Oksana Prociuk as well as Michael Szepetyk, the chairman of BCU Financial, graduated from the Yuri Lypa Ukrainian Heritage Academy, a Ukrainian Saturday school in Toronto affiliated with the Ukrainian Youth Association (CYM) named for a principal ideologue of the pro-Nazi Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists who joined the OUN-B’s Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which ethnic cleansed tens of thousands of Poles and massacred untold numbers of Jews. It goes without saying, but the school’s students are taught to glorify the OUN-UPA. Szepetyk, who is also at least formerly a member of the LUC National Executive, was in the Yuri Lypa School’s first graduating class. The Buduchnist Credit Union, “a long-time partner” of the school, sponsored an event “close to their hearts” in October 2016, to honor its 60th anniversary. The celebration included the presentation of a $10,000 check to the Yuri Lypa School from the BCU Foundation. The following year, Stefan Romaniw, the Ukrainian Australian international leader of the OUN-B, paid the Saturday school a visit—the website of which says it is a member organization of the “State Front” (Державницького фронту). In the 1990s, the ICSU was known as the “Organizations of the Ukrainian State Front.”
Before moving on, let’s take a look at some internal developments in the Canadian Banderite network that occurred in 2017, the year Romaniw visited the Yuri Lypa School. First, in January or February, Borys Potapenko replaced former Canadian Member of Parliament Yuri Shymko as the leader of the ICSU. Both had history with the Cold War-era Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations (ABN), which Scott and Jon Lee Anderson aptly described in their book about the World Anti-Communist League as the “the largest and most important umbrella for former Nazi collaborators in the world.” Bandera’s deputy and indirect successor Yaroslav Stetsko—uncle of Oleh Romanyshyn, who among other things is a board member of the BCU Foundation—chaired the Central Committee of the ABN for life.
Although born and raised in the United States, Potapenko was previously the executive director of the LUC before he became the “interim president” of the ICSU. In the late 1970s he led a campaign against the television movie, “Holocaust,” starring Meryl Streep and James Woods. About two months after Potapenko took the helm of the international coordinating body of OUN-B affiliated NGOs, which he continues to lead today, Anton Sestritsyn was out as the executive director of the ICSU and the executive coordinator of the LUC, according to his LinkedIn page. (In 2019, Sestritsyn went on to manage Conservative politician Ted Opitz’s unsuccessful campaign to retake his seat in Canada’s Parliament, and is now the Manager of Community Relations for Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party.)
In May 2017, according to her LinkedIn account, Lisa Shymko, daughter of the replaced ICSU leader, either quit or lost her two jobs as the managing director of ForumTV (to be replaced by Steve Bandera) and the public relations director of BCU Financial Group. Like her father, she too has history with ABN-Canada, having co-coordinated its 1986 conference in Toronto. Five years later, she became executive director of a new organization, Canadian Friends of Ukraine, and by the end of the 1990s, played a leading role in the creation of the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Resource Center as a project director for the Canadian International Development Agency. In the 21st century, she has “advised successive Canadian governments on foreign policy,” traveled with Stephen Harper to Ukraine three times during his tenure as Prime Minister, been a board member of the ICSU, and served as the president of the LUCW, among other things. As the LUCW president, she spoke at a ceremony held at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in the summer of 2014 as the first shipment of Canadian military aid arrived in Ukraine.
It appears as if the Shymkos were purged from their respective positions in the Banderite network because they fell out of favor with the OUN-B (for whatever reason), and presumably Sestritsyn as well because he was tied to them. Evidently none of them attended the May 2017 national convention of the LUC and LUCW, which took place the same month that Lisa Shymko, the outgoing LUCW president, parted ways with BCU Financial Group. The following summer, a now-defunct, obscure, and admittedly rather dubious “news and media website” called The Peel Spec alleged that she sued BCU and Oksana Prociuk for wrongfully terminating her.
The 2017 convention, attended by the international OUN-B leader Stefan Romaniw and held in the Taras Shevchenko Ukrainian Cultural Center in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke, elected new presidents for both the LUC and LUCW. The venue features multiple framed portraits of OUN-B leaders such as Bandera and Stetsko, as well as Roman Shukhevych, a captain in a German auxiliary police battalion turned Supreme Commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Roman Medyk, chairman of the BCU Foundation and executive producer of ForumTV, became the new president of the LUC. He previously served as the president of the Etobicoke branch of the Ukrainian Youth Association (CYM) and the treasurer of its Canadian leadership; he is sitting two to the left of Romaniw in the picture seen above at the Yuri Lypa School. The elderly outgoing LUC president, Orest Steciw, several decades ago the leader of ABN-Canada, sat next to Romaniw in the front row of the 2017 convention photo. Stefan Steciw, presumably a relative of his, joined the board of directors of BCU Financial that November.
1986 ABN-Canada conference, Toronto, co-coordinated by Lisa Shymko. Slava Stetsko was Yaroslav Stetsko's wife and successor, who founded the far-right Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists in Ukraine in 1993, which spawned the aforementioned Youth Nationalist Congress (MNK) in 2001 two years before her death.
The Etobicoke branch of CYM, the Banderite youth group in Canada, is named for Symon Petliura, the military leader turned dictator of the World War 1-era Ukrainian National Republic, the military forces of which were responsible for a plurality of the pogroms that ravaged Ukraine during the Russian Civil War. The Etobicoke CYM’s old website incorrectly identifies Sholom Schwartzbard, Petliura’s anarchist assassin, as a “Jewish NKVD agent”—the NKVD being the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs of the Soviet Union. As told by Alexander Motyl, a historian and political scientist sympathetic to the OUN and the contemporary Ukrainian far-right, practically overnight, “Petliura underwent an immediate transformation from one of the most reviled of Ukrainian statesmen to a national martyr and hero.” Dmytro Dontsov, one of the leading ideologues of the OUN, who emigrated to Canada after World War 2 and became a frequent contributor to the ABN Correspondence, declared after Petliura’s death, “Jews are guilty, terribly guilty.”
Many members of CYM-Etobicoke undoubtedly attend the Yuri Lypa School, which is currently housed in the Holy Angels Catholic School, but used to be located in Toronto’s Ukrainian Cultural Center, which was sold in 2012-14. This site which doesn’t exist anymore had a gymnasium, which might have been where CYM-Etobicoke took the photos posted on the homepage of its old website depicting a rather creepy ceremony of Ukrainian Canadian youth honoring the extremely problematic Yaroslav Stetsko, leader of the ABN and OUN-B. Stetsko, who all but explicitly called for the United States to launch a surprise nuclear strike on Soviet Russia during the Cold War (believing World War 3 to be “inevitable” and necessary), wrote an article that appeared in an OUN affiliated Canadian publication in 1939 in which he prided Ukrainians as “the first people in Europe to understand the corrupting work of Jewry.” Two years later, he endorsed “the expedience of bringing German methods of exterminating Jewry to Ukraine.”
The Canadian Banderite network, of course, extends well beyond Toronto and Etobicoke in Ontario. It is perhaps strongest in Edmonton and Calgary, the two largest cities in the western province of Alberta, where the Canadian government has contributed tens of thousands of dollars over the years to their respective CYM youth centers. As told by historian Per Rudling, the government of Alberta footed 10% of the bill for the 1972-73 construction of the “massive” Ukrainian Youth Complex in Edmonton, which cost $750,000 in total, including the erection of the city’s “first Ukrainian public memorial”—a “larger-than-life bronze bust” of UPA commander Roman Shukhevych at the building’s entrance, “in front of which the [Banderite] believers can perform their nationalist rituals.”
Richard Sanders, a Canadian anti-war activist, recently tabulated that the Canadian government has awarded over $100,000 in grants to the OUN-B affiliated League of Ukrainian Canadians since 2013, and over $140,000 to CYM since 2010. That includes $70,000 from a federal agency called Western Economic Diversification Canada to “Revitalize the Ukrainian Youth Centre in Calgary,” awarded in 2015. The Calgary branch of CYM is named for the OUN founder Yevhen Konovalets, and its revitalized youth center features portraits of him and Stepan Bandera, which are also the site of nationalist rituals. Sanders also discovered that in 2015 the Canadian government awarded a grant of $279,138 to repair the Banderite Youth Complex in Edmonton at which the Shukhevych bust can be found.
The Banderites play a leading role in the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) and the Ukrainian World Congress (UWC). The past two presidents of the UWC were former UCC leaders who were before that in CYM. According to Per Rudling, as the president of the UCC, Paul Grod “requested Canadian recognition of the OUN and UPA as ‘designated resistance fighters,’ proposing that Canadian taxpayers should pay pensions for its veterans,” and that he “remain[ed] as committed as ever to the cult of the OUN and UPA, vehemently and categorically denying Ukrainian nationalist involvement in the Holocaust.” Grod is now a board member of Tribute to Liberty, the charity behind the construction of the Memorial to the Victims of Communism in Ottawa, on behalf of which Etobicoke’s Ukrainian Cultural Center hosted a “Benefit Luncheon” in 2012 organized by the LUC. Grod is today also the leader of the Ukrainian World Congress, with international OUN-B leader Stefan Romaniw as his first vice-president.
As I illustrated in my article for The Grayzone, the Canadian Banderites are particularly supportive of the Conservative Party—and vice versa—but they also exert influence in the Liberal Party. Whereas Conservative Party politicians are apparently proud to be associated with the Canadian Banderites, their counterparts in the Liberal Party seem more wary, usually dealing with them as members of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, which they are enthusiastic supporters of.
As the Minister of International Trade, Chrystia Freeland, herself of Ukrainian descendant, delivered the keynote speech at the 2016 Triennial Congress of Ukrainian Canadians, at which she concluded her remarks, “it’s a tremendous honor and opportunity for all of us to be able to work together… Slava Ukraini.” (Glory to Ukraine.) The audience finished the Ukrainian Nationalist call and response, which was mainstreamed in Ukraine by the 2013-14 “Revolution of Dignity,” but originally performed with a fascist salute by the OUN-B and UPA in World War 2. “Heroyam Slava,” they answered (Glory to the Heroes). “Slava Ukraini!” she said louder as she threw her arms up. “Heroyam Slava!” they yelled. “Slava Ukraini!” she said loudly again. “Heroyam Slava!” they roared. The Deputy Prime Minister since November 2019, Freeland could very well be Justin Trudeau’s successor if the Conservatives don’t take back power.
The federal electoral district of Etobicoke Centre has only been represented by a Conservative in Parliament for four years in the 21st century, but the Ukraine-Canada Parliamentary Friendship Group (UCPFG) has been chaired by the Etobicoke Center MP since 2005, starting with the Liberal Ukrainian Canadian politician Borys Wrzesnewskyj. In 2010, he hired Steve Bandera as part of an effort to improve Ukrainian-Jewish relations in Canada, two years after contributing money for the reprinting of a Ukrainian nationalist revisionist memoir, “Into Auschwitz, for Ukraine.” First elected to Parliament in 2004, Wrzesnewskyj was re-elected in 2006 and 2008, but lost in 2011 to Ted Opitz by just 26 votes, who became the new UCPFG chairman. Opitz, who is of Polish descent, soon proved himself to be one of the Banderites’ most enthusiastic allies in Parliament, but served just one term, losing by over 9,500 votes in a 2015 rematch with Wrzesnewskyj.
Opitz ran again in 2019, his campaign managed by a former high-level staff member of the ICSU and LUC, but lost to the Liberal candidate, Yvan Baker, a Ukrainian Canadian who today chairs the UCPFG. Baker previously served as the head of the Ontario branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and represented Etobicoke in Ontario’s Provincial Parliament. In the latter capacity, he spoke at a 2015 banquet organized by the Banderites in Toronto at which the retired U.S. four-star general Wesley Clark (former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Forces in Europe) became the first recipient of the ICSU’s Pinnacle Award.
Canadian memorials dedicated to Ukrainian Nazi collaborators have recently come under scrutiny as problematic monuments are being torn down by protesters around the world. Just over two weeks ago, a memorial to the Ukrainian division of the Waffen-SS in a cemetery in Oakville, Ontario was spray-painted with the words: “Ukrainian Nazi Monument.” (Regional police are reportedly investigating the incident as a “hate motivated offense,” but declined to publish a picture of the vandalism in order to “prevent further spreading of the suspect’s message.”) Progress Alberta’s newsletter had a great headline a few days ago: “Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex denies that statue they have of a Nazi collaborator war criminal is a Nazi collaborator war criminal.” That same day, an article about CYM’s bust of Roman Shukhevych also appeared in the Canadian Jewish Record by Paula Kirman, who was part of the team that made a documentary short film last year, “Monumental Secret,” about two friends’ attempt to “grapple with a controversial monument sitting close to home,” also in Edmonton.
Hopefully this momentum will generate some important, long over-due conversations about Ukrainian nationalist memory politics in Canada and the outrage of it all. Maybe, even, some of the aforementioned monuments will come down. But more importantly, Canadians should be made aware of the continued existence of the OUN-B in their country and its indoctrination of Canadian youth, as well as its pernicious influence on Canadian politics and Canadian relations with Ukraine and Russia. The Ukrainian nationalist diaspora’s support for the OUN-B in Ukraine plays a role in the rise of the Ukrainian far-right, because the sworn followers of the OUN-B in Ukraine are not neo-Nazis, but neo-Nazi collaborators and enablers, which in turn can result in blowback in Canada. The Toronto branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress recently provided a small example of this when it posted an image made by the National Corps, the political wing of the neo-Nazi Azov movement, in observance of Roman Shukhevych’s birthday.