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Ukraine's Zelenskyy dismisses ambassador to Berlin

July 10, 2022

The Ukrainian president said restationing Andriy Melnyk was a "normal" part of diplomatic practice. But it comes after Melnyk defended Ukrainian ultranationalist Stepan Bandera, angering Poland and Israel.

Andrij Melnyk
Melnyk is expected to return to Kyiv for a post at the Foreign MinistryImage: Susanne Hübner/Imago

Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Melnyk will be removed from his post in Berlin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a decree published on Saturday. Ukraine's envoys to the Czech Republic, India, Norway, and Hungary were also dismissed.

Zelenskyy and his aides did not provide reasons for the moves, with the president later saying decision was "a normal part of diplomatic practice."

However, the 46-year-old Melnyk has been increasingly at odds with politicians in Germany, where he openly slammed leaders over their Russia policy. Most notably, in May, he called Chancellor Olaf Scholz an "offended liver sausage" — a German term roughly equivalent to "snowflake" in English.

Zelenskyy dismisses ambassador to Germany Melnyk: DW’s Nick Spicer reports

Why did Melnyk clash with Scholz?

The controversial comments about the chancellor were prompted by an earlier dispute with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Melnyk criticized Steinmeier for his "web of contacts with Russia" and said that the German president saw his ties with Moscow as "fundamental — even sacred."

"No matter what happens, even the [Russian] invasion doesn't play a big role," Melnyk told the Tagesspiegel paper. The Ukrainian ambassador also called out an adviser to Scholz and the state secretary in Germany's Foreign Ministry for their ties with Russia.

A week later, Steinmeier said his plans to visit Kyiv had been rebuked by the Ukrainian leadership in a move Scholz called "irksome."

Melnyk said the chancellor himself should visit Kyiv. After Scholz said he would not make the trip because Steinmeier's visit was denied, Melnyk fired back at Scholz with the "offended liver sausage" comment.

Melnyk went on to say that it would be even better for the German government to "quickly fulfill the request from the parliament about sending heavy weapons." His comments were widely criticized by senior politicians in Germany.

How did the dispute end?

In early June, Melnyk told the Kyiv Post that — while he loved Germany — "What I hate here in Germany is hypocrisy, arrogance, and that many German politicians used to tell fairy tales and give empty promises. You wouldn't expect Germans to be like that. They're regarded as honest, hardworking and reliable, but my modest experience has not always confirmed that."

The German chancellor and the Ukrainian ambassador seemed to only bury the hatchet in mid-June after Scholz visited Kyiv alongside France's Emmanuel Macron and Italy's Mario Draghi. Less than a week later, Melnyk said he regretted his remarks and promised to personally apologize to Scholz.

Scholz shakes hands with Zelenskyy
Scholz made a visit to Kyiv in June for talks with ZelenskyyImage: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/ Getty Images

What did Melnyk say about Stepan Bandera?

But Melnyk's latest controversy, the one that may have been too much for Kyiv, relates to Ukrainian WWII ultranationalist Stepan Bandera. While Bandera is praised as a hero by far-right extremists in Ukraine, others see him as a Nazi collaborator whose militants massacred thousands of Jews and Poles.

In an interview 10 days ago, Melnyk said Bandera "was not a mass murderer of Jews and Poles" and there was no evidence to support the claim. The Ukrainian ambassador blamed the Soviet Union for allegedly demonizing Bandera and he tried to minimize his collaborations with the Nazi regime.

The interview was quickly condemned by Israel and Poland.

"The statement made by the Ukrainian ambassador is a distortion of the historical facts, belittles the Holocaust and is an insult to those who were murdered by Bandera and his people," the Israeli Embassy said.

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz wrote on a local online platform that "such an opinion and such words are absolutely unacceptable."

Uncharacteristically for Melnyk, the ambassador did not immediately respond to the controversy. Days later, he posted a tweet saying he "DECIDEDLY rejects" the "absurd allegations" posted by the Israeli Embassy.

"Everyone who knows me, know that I have always condemned the Holocaust in harshest possible terms," Melnyk said.

By then, however, it was too late.

The outrage had already prompted a response in Kyiv, where the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry quickly announced that Melnyk's opinion was "his own and does not reflect the position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine."

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy did not say where Melnyk would be stationed next. According to media reports, he is expected to take up a position in the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry.

dj/sms (DPA, AP, AFP, Reuters)