Ukraine's Berlin Envoy Draws Israeli, Polish Ire With Comments on WWII Leader

Outspoken Ambassador Andriy Melnyk argued that Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera was not a 'mass murderer of Poles and Jews,' in comments the Israeli embassy said 'belittle the Holocaust'

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Activists of Svoboda, a Ukrainian nationalist party, holding a banner with the portrait of Stepan Bandera, in a rally commemorating the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), led by Bandera, in Kyiv in 2013.
Activists of Svoboda, a Ukrainian nationalist party, holding a banner with the portrait of Stepan Bandera, in a rally commemorating the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), led by Bandera, in Kyiv in 2013.Credit: Gleb Garanich/REUTERS

Ukraine's outspoken ambassador to Germany, a talk show staple who was central to the public debates that pushed Berlin to step up its weapons deliveries to Kyiv, is under fire for defending World War II Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera in an interview.

Andriy Melnyk is easily the best known ambassador in Berlin, known for robust social media exchanges in which he condemned politicians and intellectuals who opposed arming Ukraine for its fight against Russian invaders.

But an interview with journalist blogger Tilo Jung published on Thursday, in which he said Bandera was not a "mass murderer of Poles and Jews," caused uproar and drew condemnation from both the Polish government and the city's Israeli embassy.

"The statement made by the Ukrainian ambassador is a distortion of the historical facts, belittles the Holocaust and is an insult to those who are murdered by Bandera and his people," the embassy wrote on Twitter.

Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany Andriy Melnyk in Berlin, in April.Credit: FABRIZIO BENSCH/ REUTERS

Though he spent much of World War Two in a Nazi prison, Bandera headed the radical wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists which killed tens of thousands of Polish civilians during the war.

Living in Munich in exile after the war, he was a figurehead of Ukraine's anti-Soviet insurgency which fought Moscow in partisan actions into the 1950s. He was assassinated by the Soviet KGB in 1959.

Even Ukraine's foreign ministry distanced itself from Melnyk's remarks, saying they did not reflect its views. Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau thanked his Ukrainian counterpart for his intervention over the "false statements".

Melnyk, 46, has become a central figure in debates over Germany's obligations to Ukraine, credited with using his pulpit as envoy of a nation fighting foreign invasion to keep up the pressure on Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who despite initial reluctance has kept boosting arms deliveries to Ukraine.

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