The University of Alberta has closed an endowment fund and returned its donation to the family of a man who fought with a Nazi unit during the Second World War.
The university’s Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies is returning the $30,000 to the family of Yaroslav Hunka, the 98-year-old man at the centre of a political storm on Parliament Hill that led to the resignation of House Speaker Anthony Rota. Hunka was celebrated by the Canadian Parliament Sept. 22 after being invited by Rota and introduced as a “Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero” during the visit of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who addressed Parliament. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also apologized on behalf of all parliamentarians.
Shortly after Hunka was honoured by Parliament, it was unearthed that Hunka was a member of Waffen-SS Galica Division, renamed in the latter stages of the war as the First Ukrainian Division. This division was a voluntary unit that fought for Hitler’s forces and committed atrocities against Jews and Poles. Rota had applauded Hunka for fighting against the Soviet Union, which was an ally of Canada during the Second World War.
The money was donated in their parents name by Hunka’s sons in 2019. The fund was designated for research on Cardinal Josyf Slipyj and Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, two underground leaders of the Ukrainian Catholic Church when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union.
The University of Alberta, in a statement signed by Verna Yiu, interim provost and vice-president (academic), said “after careful consideration of the complexities, experiences and circumstances of those impacted by the situation, we have made the decision to close the endowment fund and return the funds to the donor. The university recognizes and regrets the unintended harm caused.”
The school made its announcement Sept. 27 and by the next day the endowment’s web page had been removed.
Yiu added that “the university is in the process of reviewing its general naming policies and procedures, including those for endowments, to ensure alignment with our values.”
Russia, which has been at war with Ukraine since February 2022 in what it says is a special military operation to “de-Nazify” Ukraine, has used the events surrounding Hunka’s celebration in Parliament for propaganda purposes. On Sept. 27, the Russian Embassy in Canada posted to X (formerly Twitter) information on the endowment, asking, “Any comments, University of Alberta?”