Did Ukraine issue an official stamp to celebrate Waffen-SS veteran Yaroslav Hunka?

You might have thought there was sufficient substance to the scandal over Waffen-SS veteran Yaroslav Hunka’s recent appearance in the Canadian parliament without anyone needing to promote fake news about it. But no. Social media have been inundated with claims that the Ukrainian postal service Ukrposhta has issued a stamp honouring Hunka. (Try searching hunka stamp on Twitter/X or Facebook.)

Volodymyr Zelensky’s strategy in response to the Hunka scandal is evidently to keep his head down and hope it blows over. So a moment’s thought would indicate that there’s no way the Ukrainian government would be so stupid as to stoke up the furore over Hunka’s rapturous reception from Zelensky and the Canadian parliament, by issuing a stamp celebrating the occasion. Yet that didn’t stop thousands of people sharing the story.

The stamp has been denounced as a Russian forgery, but the accusation is unconvincing. Although the Russian embassy in London did promote the story, calling on the UK government to “unequivocally condemn this display of Nazism”, they later had second thoughts and deleted the tweet. Most likely this is what philatelists call a cinderella stamp. That is, it’s not officially issued for postage purposes. You can tell by the fact that it has no denomination. (If the Russians had forged the stamp, wouldn’t they have taken the trouble to ensure that it did?) There is a long tradition of the Ukrainian far right putting out cinderella stamps, although they are usually more sophisticated productions than this rather crude digital mock-up. Either way, it’s obviously not a genuine Ukrposhta stamp. (The barcode is reportedly from an entirely different product.)

Here’s another example of Ukrainian cinderella stamps, from 2018. They depict figures from the same SS Galician Division that Hunka joined. These stamps were produced to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the division’s foundation. Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova denounced them at a press briefing early this year, claiming that they were “official postage stamps”. Of course, that wasn’t true. But neither were they Russian forgeries. The stamps were produced by far-right admirers of those Ukrainians who had served in the Waffen-SS, and designed by a nationalist artist from Ternopil named Oleh Kinal.

The Hunka case wouldn’t be the first time a twitter storm has been generated due to cinderella stamps being mistaken for the real thing. Last year there was a similar uproar over a stamp supposedly issued by Ukrposhta commemorating Nachtigall Battalion commander Roman Shukhevych. (See my article “More disinformation on Ukraine: How fake news about a Shukhevych stamp went viral”.) Trying to be charitable, I suppose you could argue that lack of familiarity with the Ukrainian cinderella stamp tradition partially explains why people are so ready to swallow such nonsense. Less charitably, you could see it as the result of a culture of sharing false information on social media without making the slightest attempt to check for accuracy.

First published on Medium in July 2023