July 15, 2024

(Bloomberg) — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country is “deeply sorry” for putting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in the position of unknowingly applauding a veteran who served in a Nazi unit.

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“This was a mistake that has deeply embarrassed parliament and Canada,” Trudeau told reporters on Wednesday.

“I also want to reiterate how deeply sorry Canada is for the situation this put President Zelenskiy and the Ukrainian delegation in,” he said. “It is extremely troubling to think that this egregious error is being politicized by Russia and its supporters to provide false propaganda about what Ukraine is fighting for.”

The veteran, 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka, had been invited to sit in the parliamentary gallery during Zelenskiy’s speech on Friday. Anthony Rota, the speaker of the House of Commons, issued the invitation and introduced Hunka as a Ukrainian Second World War veteran “who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians.”

It was later revealed Hunka served with the 1st Galician division, a unit of the German military’s Waffen-SS.

The story was quickly pounced on by Russian diplomats and state-controlled media. Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to justify his invasion of Ukraine as aiming to “de-Nazify” the country, even though Zelenskiy himself is Jewish.

Rota profusely apologized for the invitation, stressing that neither Trudeau nor Zelenskiy was aware of it ahead of time. On Tuesday, Rota announced he would resign as speaker over the fiasco.

Trudeau said everyone who stood and applauded Hunka “did so unaware of the context.”

“It was a horrendous violation of the memory of the millions of people who died in the Holocaust, and it was deeply, deeply painful for Jewish people.”

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