Lunch with... Grandson of a national hero, Stepan Bandera
by Paul Miazga, Kyiv Post Staff Writer
Apr 20 2005, 22:27

So what's it like being the namesake grandson of one of Ukraine's most
famous nationalist leaders? I put this question to Stepan Bandera of
Toronto, Canada, while sitting in the Drum having a late lunch recently.
Bandera, who currently writes for New York City's Diaspora newspaper The
National Tribune, never knew his grandfather, who was killed by a KGB agent
in 1959. But he has an affinity with him.

"People on both sides of my family were killed in World War II by the Nazis
or Soviets. It fostered deep ties [in our family] to the country. We're very

pro-Ukrainian," Bandera says after a sip of Obolon (Hr 8 for a half-liter).
"Our family has always been very tight, very Ukrainian."

Bandera, in his early thirties, had a rather typical Diaspora upbringing. He

studied at a special school, learning the Ukrainian language for an hour
every day, and his family celebrated old holidays and sang traditional songs

like many other Diaspora families. But in other ways, his family was nothing

like typical.

Bandera's father - also a nationalist activist - died under mysterious
circumstances back in 1984, just like his grandfather. "I came to Ukraine
looking for a fight," he says.

Yet Bandera comes across as poised and collected, with no chip on his
shoulder. He's quietly proud of his progenitors' accomplishments, but sees
their activities as belonging to their own historical context. He, on the
other hand, belongs to his own.

Looking homeward

Bandera, who immersed himself in Slavic studies at the University of Toronto

in the 1980s, orders his standard, the meatless nutty rice burger (Hr 23).
Instead of French fries he goes for the grilled vegetables (Hr 15). "If
you're an Adkins diet freak," he goes on, "you should ask them for this

Then he turns the clock back to 1991. Before the 1991 referendum on
independence, Bandera visited Ukraine with a Canadian-American pro-democracy

initiative meant to encourage Ukrainians to vote for a free Ukraine. It was
a "romantic mission," he admits.

"Most of us had no idea what Ukraine was about at the time," he says.

From 1992 to 1997 Bandera crisscrossed the Atlantic looking for ways to make

a living in Ukraine and settle here permanently. He bartended and did
paralegal work back home, and then in 1997 he became a PR consultant for
Romyr Consulting, a post he held until 2002. He also has moonlighted as a
media consultant for the Democratic Initiatives Foundation. From 1997 to
2002 he fell in love with a Ukrainian girl, living illegally in New York
with her for a year until his would-be love decided to stay in the United
States. They split. He wanted to return to Ukraine.

Patchwork Career

Bandera is often in residence at the Drum, a hangout where everyone knows
his name. He used the bar as a base during the Orange Revolution, which he
described as similar to the 1991 referendum vote, but not quite.

"This time people were more politically savvy; there were no more
half-measures," he begins. "I had a ki ndofdejavufeeling.Ifin1991the
Soviet Union was the 'Evil Empire' - amorphous, a metaphysical evil with no
specific people to single out - this time it was much more concrete."

He counts off some of the abuses of power that typified the Kuchma years,
and names the men who corrupted the presidential vote.

"[Ukrainians] had a concrete leader [in Viktor Yushchenko] on whom to place
hopes, and people had more money," he says. "People themselves could
contribute to the success."

Given Bandera's lineage, it's perhaps not surprising he's met President
Yushchenko. It was on the feast day of St. Nicholas (Dec. 19) in 1999.

"He's a very calm person. He has a sense of internal strength or serenity,"
Bandera said. "He was self-assured, in charge. Yet he is this total
poker-faced kind of guy. He tended to listen more than he spoke, but when he

did speak, even in disagreement, he managed to be diplomatic and explain his

point of view."

While many have come to Bandera with offers of citizenship and high office,
he's always refused, feeling unsuited to such positions. As he sees it, his
path lies elsewhere.

"After years of being here, I think I can best work in media, healing wounds

that way," he says, adding that he was in Donetsk at the start of the Orange

Revolution with a CBC film crew. He couldn't believe the censorship that was

taking place.

"I want to go east [to Donetsk] and tell people what's really going on here.

Many can't believe that [my two great-uncles] were killed in Auschwitz by
Nazis. I started explaining the whole history of western Ukraine under the
Poles and about World War II problems.

"The divisions in this country have been artificially fed," Bandera
maintains. "If Ukraine gets its act together, it will become an economic and

even world powerhouse."

Baraban (The Drum)

4 Prorizna, 229-2355.

Open daily from 11 a.m. til the last customer.

English menu: Yes.

English-speaking staff: Debateable.

Average cost of a main dish: Hr 28