Ukrainian ambassador Melnyk to leave Germany

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Andriy Melnyk is currently the best-known foreign diplomat in Berlin. But most recently, he caused opposition with controversial statements about fascism in Ukrainian history. Is he leaving Germany soon?

Kiev's man for seven years in Berlin: Andrij Melnyk

In Berlin, he is the voice of the militant Ukraine, which is desperately defending itself against Russia. Ambassador Andriy Melnyk impresses many people in Germany, but he also outrages others. The “Bild” newspaper, citing several sources in Kyiv, is now reporting that the 46-year-old top diplomat will return to the Ukrainian capital from Berlin before the fall. There he should take over the office of deputy foreign minister. 

Just a few days ago, Melnyk caused widespread opposition – not only in Germany, but also in Poland and Israel. The government in Kyiv also clearly distanced itself from him on one point. “The opinion” that Melnyk expressed in an interview with a German journalist “is his own and does not reflect the position of the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine”. Well, three days later, a message about his presumed imminent recall. The Ukrainian embassy in Berlin could not immediately be reached for a statement. 

The reason for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry to distance itself was a video interview with Melnyk by the German journalist Tilo Jung. Jung brought up Melnyk's assessment of the Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera (1909-1959). The ambassador denied that there was any evidence of mass murder of Jews by Bandera supporters.

“Not a mass murderer”

“Bandera was not a mass murderer of Jews and Poles,” said Melnyk . The Ambassador compared Bandera to Robin Hood as a “freedom fighter”; but with the allegations of the past decades, “everything is blamed on him”. 

But Bandera was no Robin Hood. Various scientific works have recently dealt with his person. He led and shaped the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), and his followers were notorious for their anti-Semitism. The OUN fighters from western Ukraine fought at times alongside the Nazis and were responsible for ethnically motivated expulsions in 1943, in which tens of thousands of Polish civilians, including many Jews, were murdered. From 1941 until his release in 1944, Bandera himself was imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin. After World War II, Bandera fled to Germany and lived in Munich. There he was murdered in 1959 by an agent of the Soviet secret service KGB. Ukrainian nationalists still worship him to this day.

A Bandera picture at a nationalist parade in Kyiv in early 2021

Poland's Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz called Melnyk's comments “completely unacceptable” on Friday. “We know exactly how Polish-Ukrainian relations were and what happened in 1943 and later in Volhynia and eastern Galicia,” he added, referring to the massacres committed by Ukrainian ultranationalists. However, Warsaw is “interested in the position of the Ukrainian government, not in that of individuals”.

Sharp criticism came from the Israeli side. Melnyk's statements are “a distortion of historical facts, a trivialization of the Holocaust and an insult to those who were murdered by Bandera and his people”. The Israeli embassy in Germany went on to say: “You are also undermining the courageous struggle of the Ukrainian people to live according to democratic values ​​and in peace.”

Accusation of historical distortion

Pianist Igor Levit

In Germany, representatives of science in particular were critical or dismayed. Munich-based Eastern Europe historian Franziska Davies called Melnyk's statements “hard to bear.” The Jewish pianist Igor Levit accused the diplomat of playing “the ignorant” on Twitter. “What a denial of history. What a tampering with history. What hypocrisy. Shame on you.” The author Alice Bota called Melnyk's explanations “unacceptable” with reference to historical references. At the same time, the process escalated – as is often the case in social media – quite detached from the factual debate.

The debate is already fierce in view of the historical context with many thousands of murders and displacement. But it is exacerbated by the figure and appearance of Melnyk. The diplomat, who speaks almost perfect German, has been a committed critic of the German government in Berlin, and not just since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. When at the beginning of May he called Chancellor Olaf Scholz an “insulted liverwurst” because of his no to a trip to Kyiv at the time, it caused widespread discussion. Now thoughtful voices like the historian Davies warn. “Criticizing the worship of Bandera while showing solidarity with Ukraine belongs together,” she wrote.  

An unusual praise

Criticism of Melnyk also came from the federal government

The federal government also registered Melnyk's statements. The deputy government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann retweeted Tilo Jung's official tweet about the interview early on with the prefix “Worth seeing!”. Such tweet recommendations from the federal government's spokesperson team are rare. The federal government's anti-Semitism commissioner, Felix Klein, also criticized the ambassador on Monday.

At 46, Melnyk, who speaks English and German, is a diplomat with many years of experience. He has been in his country's diplomatic service for almost 25 years.  From 2007 to 2010 he was Consul General of his country in Hamburg, after which he headed a department at the Federal Foreign Office in Kyiv. Since January 2015 he has been the ambassador in Berlin. According to “Bild”, the Kiev Foreign Ministry is now proposing that he become Deputy Foreign Minister there.