Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, has expelled his ambassador to Germany, a week after the diplomat gave an interview in which he defended the legacy of a World War II nationalist leader who collaborated with the Nazis.
Andrei Melnik, Ukraine’s ambassador to Berlin since 2014, has been one of the most well-known faces of the Ukraine issue in Germany, and has never shied away from sharply criticizing what many saw as Germany’s slow response to the Russian invasion and often angered the Ukrainian people. The country’s political elite.
But in an interview with Jung & Nai, which was broadcast on YouTube on June 29, Melnyk defended the memory of Stepan Bandera, the leader of the far-right organization of Ukrainian nationalists during World War II. The nationalist group, which espoused fascist ideology, cooperated with German forces when they occupied Ukraine and aided some of those forces in the mass murder of Poles and Jews.
Mr. Bandera was not directly involved in the killings, because he was captured in Ukraine in 1941 and placed in an “honorable detention” by the Nazis in a concentration camp outside Berlin for trying to establish an independent Ukraine. Assassinated by Soviet spies in Munich in 1959, Mr. Bandera is still respected by part of the Ukrainian people for his leadership of the national cause, particularly in the West, where statues of Mr. Bandera and the streets named after him are located.
But in Germany, which prides itself on its commitment to recognizing Nazi crimes and commemorating the victims of the Holocaust, questioning this chapter in history is a red line.
Mr. Melnyk raised eyebrows already in Germany several years ago when he visited Mr. Bandera’s grave in Munich. When confronted by Mr Melnyk in an interview on June 29 about the history of OUN’s role in the massacres, and Mr. Bandera’s anti-Semitic views, he said there was no evidence for the allegations, which are indisputable in academia.
“This is the narrative that the Russians are pushing to this day, and that has support in Germany, Poland and Israel as well,” he said.
Mr. Melnik’s remarks prompted condemnation from German officials, as well as from the Israeli Embassy in Germany. Two ministers in Poland, one of Ukraine’s strongest supporters since the Russian invasion, also denounced the remarks. This has prompted Kyiv to distance itself from Mr Melnik, saying his views do not represent Ukraine’s position.
Mr. Melnyk is fluent in German, and was known in Germany for his enthusiastic support for providing more weapons to Ukraine to defend itself against the Russian invasion. He did not shy away from colorful criticism, such as calling Chancellor Olaf Schultz a “liver-cursing” for postponing his visit to Kyiv in the spring. The German expression, loosely translated as being a prima donna, angered much of Germany’s political establishment. But it earned him hungry supporters in Germany among those frustrated with their country’s sluggish support.
Despite the frequent controversies raised by Mr Melnik’s comments, it has been seen as an asset in drawing attention to Ukraine in a country where pacifist tendencies within the political establishment have led to reluctance to provide arms.
Mr. Zelensky announced the dismissal of Mr. Melnik along with the ambassadors of India, the Czech Republic, Norway and Hungary. Later, Zelensky described the change as a rotation that was part of normal diplomatic practice.
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