Zelenskyy recalls outspoken Ukrainian ambassador in Germany

Andrij Melnyk made his frustration known at Germany's handling of the war with Russia

Ambassador Andrij Melnyk waded into a sensitive historical issue by defending Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera. Photo: EPA
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has recalled his outspoken ambassador to Germany, who relentlessly needled Berlin over its handling of the war with Russia and crossed a line by defending a Nazi collaborator.

A prolific tweeter and regular talk-show guest, Andrij Melnyk divided opinion in Germany by shunning diplomatic courtesies and savaging what he saw as a feeble response to the war by Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

At one stage he accused Mr Scholz of behaving like an “offended liver sausage” for stalling over a visit to Kyiv, although he later apologised when the German leader did visit Ukraine.

Mr Melnyk was one of several ambassadors to be dismissed via decree by Mr Zelenskyy, who said it was a "normal part of diplomatic practice” and that replacements would soon be appointed.

But Mr Melnyk had been under pressure for defending the Second World War-era Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera, who collaborated with the Nazis — touching a nerve in postwar Germany.

The issue is an especially sensitive one because Russia likes to seize on pro-Bandera sentiment to bolster its narrative that Ukraine is in the grip of neo-Nazis, a claim rejected as spurious by Kyiv's allies.

Mr Melnyk’s claims that Bandera was not involved in the deaths of Jewish civilians led to a rebuke from Poland and from Israel, which said his remarks trivialised the Holocaust and were a “distortion of historical facts”.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said Mr Melnyk was speaking in a personal capacity and did not represent its views, and a petition was launched to have him removed.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz, right, sought to put German-Ukrainian tensions behind him on a visit to Kyiv last month. Photo: Getty

Despite his frequent verbal sparring with the government, some German MPs paid tribute to Mr Melnyk – who had been in post since 2014 – after his departure was announced.

“He represented Ukrainian interests here in an unconventional, sometimes painful way,” said Michael Roth, an MP from Mr Scholz’s party, but “fought with all his strength for the survival of his country and for us not to look away”.

Till Steffen, a senior Green MP, said Mr Melnyk was wrong over Bandera but said the ambassador had hammered home hard truths about the war in Ukraine: “That often hurt, and it needed to hurt.”

Mr Melnyk was far from alone in criticising a German government he saw as too slow to send weapons to Ukraine and too scared of antagonising Russia to give full-throated support to his country.

Relations have been cool between the two governments, especially after Germany took offence at President Frank-Walter Steinmeier not being invited to see Mr Zelenskyy.

They later resolved to put the dispute behind them, and Mr Scholz visited Kyiv last month with the leaders of France, Italy and Romania, but Mr Zelenskyy is still demanding more weapons shipments to Ukraine.

The Ukrainian president said overnight that talk of a pause in the Russian onslaught was mistaken since 34 air strikes had hit the country in the past day.

He said 15 people died in a Russian strike on the town of Chasiv Yar, in the Donetsk region which Moscow’s forces are trying to occupy after all but capturing neighbouring Luhansk.

Russia’s Ministry of Defence said it had destroyed ammunition depots for some of the US-made weapons donated to Ukraine, such as Himars multiple-launch rocket systems.

Updated: July 11, 2022, 11:23 AM