Poland’s Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek said Tuesday he has “taken steps” toward extraditing Yaroslav Hunka, a 98-year-old Ukrainian Nazi veteran who was honored by Canadian parliamentarians last week.
During Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to Canada last Friday, House Speaker Anthony Rota introduced Hunka as a Canadian-Ukrainian war hero, prompting a standing ovation from parliamentarians.
But the tribute triggered a wave of criticism from Jewish organizations, advocacy groups and leaders across the world, because Hunka fought with the First Ukrainian Division — also known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division, which served under command of the Nazis in Adolf Hitler’s World War II fight against Russia’s Red Army.
“In view of the scandalous events in the Canadian Parliament, which involved honoring, in the presence of President Zelenskyy, a member of the criminal Nazi SS Galizien formation, I have taken steps towards the possible extradition of this man to Poland,” Czarnek said on X, formerly Twitter.
In a letter to Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance, a body that researches and investigates past crimes against the Polish nation, Czarnek asked it to “urgently examine” whether Hunka is wanted for crimes against Polish people of Jewish origin, adding that “signs of such crimes are grounds to apply to Canada for his extradition.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told media the situation was “extremely upsetting” and “deeply embarrassing” for Canada. Rota has since apologized and said he took “full responsibility” for the incident, but has so far refused to step down from his role.
“What happened on Friday is completely unacceptable,” Canada’s Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly added Tuesday. “It was an embarrassment to the House and to Canadians, and I think the Speaker should listen to members of the House and step down.”
Canada’s Attorney General Arif Virani said he has not been contacted by the Polish government over the extradition request yet and that “commenting on early stages of an extradition process is not appropriate.”
“What I would say to you is that an extradition process is a sensitive matter that ultimately comes across my desk for a final decision,” Virani added. “Apropos of that, I can’t be commenting on an extradition matter until it actually appears in front of my desk because that would jeopardize the investigation.”