Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has fired his ambassador to Germany a week after the diplomat gave an interview defending the legacy of the World War II nationalist leader who collaborated with the Nazis.
Andriy Melnyk, Ukraine’s ambassador to Berlin since 2014, has been one of the most prominent spokesmen for the Ukrainian cause in Germany, has never shied away from scathing what many saw as Germany’s slow response to the Russian invasion, and has often drawn the ire of the country’s political elite.
But in an interview with Jung & Nai, which aired on YouTube on June 29, Mr. Melnyk defended the memory of Stepan Bandera, leader of the far-right Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists during World War II. A nationalist group that espoused a fascist ideology collaborated with German forces when they occupied Ukraine, and some of these forces contributed to the massacres of Poles and Jews.
mr. Bandera was not directly involved in the killings because he was arrested in Ukraine in 1941 and placed in “honorable internment” by the Nazis in a concentration camp near Berlin for trying to create an independent Ukraine. Killed by a Soviet spear in Munich in 1959. Bandera is still revered by part of the Ukrainian population for his leadership in the nationalist cause, especially in the west, where there are statues of Mr. Bandera and streets named after him.
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. Melnik already a few years ago caused surprise in Germany because of his visit to Mr. Bandera’s Grave in Munich. When told in a June 29 interview about the history of the OUN’s role in the massacres and that Mr. Bandera’s anti-Semitic views, Mr. Melnyk said there was no evidence for claims that were not disputed in academic circles.
“This is a narrative that the Russians are promoting to this day and that has support in Germany, Poland and also in Israel,” he said.
mr. Melnik’s comments immediately drew condemnation from German officials as well as the Israeli embassy in Germany. Two ministers in Poland, one of Ukraine’s staunchest supporters since the Russian invasion, also condemned the statements. This prompted Kyiv to distance itself from the master. Melnyk, stating that his views do not reflect the position of Ukraine.
Fluent in German, Mr. Melnyk was known in Germany for his impassioned call for more weapons for Ukraine to defend against Russian invasion. He did not shy away from vehement criticism, such as calling Chancellor Olaf Scholz an “insulted liverwurst” for postponing a visit to Kyiv in the spring. The German expression, loosely translated as prima donna, has outraged much of Germany’s political establishment. But it won him a fervent supporter in Germany among those who were frustrated by their country’s lackluster support.
Despite the frequent controversy raised by G. Melnyk, it was seen as a way to draw attention to Ukraine in a country where pacifist sentiments within the political establishment led to indecision in the supply of weapons.
mr. Mr. Zelensky announced Mr. Melnyk’s resignation along with the ambassadors of India, the Czech Republic, Norway and Hungary. mr. Zelensky later called this change a rotation that is part of normal diplomatic practice.