Canada’s House of Commons gave a rousing standing ovation to a Ukrainian veteran who fought in the Second World War – unaware he had served in a Nazi SS unit.
However, leaders were left red-faced when House speaker Anthony Rota subsequently apologised after it emerged that Hunka served in the 14th Waffen-SS Grenadier Division, a voluntary unit made up mostly of ethnic Ukrainians under Nazi command.
In a statement, Mr Rota said that on 22 September “in my remarks following the address of the president of Ukraine, I recognised an individual in the gallery.
“I have subsequently become aware of more information which causes me to regret my decision to do so.”
Mr Rota said that “no one, including fellow parliamentarians and the Ukraine delegation, was aware of my intention or of my remarks before I delivered them. This initiative was entirely my own, the individual in question being from my riding [district] and having been brought to my attention.”
“I particularly want to extend my deepest apologies to Jewish communities in Canada and around the world. I accept full responsibility for my actions,” the speaker added.
The Canadian Jewish group CIJA said it was “deeply troubled” that a Nazi veteran had been celebrated, and said “proper vetting is imperative to ensure such an unacceptable incident does not occur again”.
Mr Rota then hailed Hunka as “a Ukrainian Canadian war veteran from the Second World War who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians” and “a Ukrainian hero and a Canadian hero”.
Following the address, Mr Zelensky, who is Jewish and lost family members during the Holocaust, raised his fist in acknowledgement as the veteran saluted.
Hunka’s Nazi unit are accused of killing Polish and Jewish civilians, and were visited by SS leader Heinrich Himmler in 1944 who said his men would be “eager” to “liquidate the Poles”.
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre said Mr Rota's remarks ignore “the horrific fact that Hunka served in the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, a Nazi military unit whose crimes against humanity during the Holocaust are well-documented”.
Since his invasion in February 2022, Russian president Vladimir Putin has repeatedly made unsubstantiated claims that Ukraine “harbours neo-Nazis”.