Polish officials outraged after Ukraine appoints deputy foreign minister who praised WWII-era nationalist responsible for killing tens of thousands of Poles

Ukrainian Ambassador Andrij Melnyk, center right, and his wife Svitlana attend commemorations to celebrate the end of World War II 77 years ago, at the Soviet War Memorial in Tiergarten, in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, May 8, 2022. (AP Photo)
By Grzegorz Adamczyk
4 Min Read

The appointment of Andrij Melnyk as deputy minister for foreign affairs in Ukraine has been met with a negative reaction in Poland, with Andrzej Dera, a senior aide to Polish President Andrzej Duda, stating that Poland “could not accept politicians who used the (Stepan) Bandera narrative in the public space.”

Melnyk had recently condoned crimes committed by the Ukrainian ultra-nationalist Bandera, who is said to have been involved in the killing tens of thousands of Poles during the Second World War.

During an interview on Polsat News TV, Dera added that Poland does not interfere in the internal government appointments of other countries, but following the move, other Polish officials have called it an insult to the victims of the Volhynia massacre and a slap in Poland’s face given the fact that a Ukrainian missile had recently strayed into Poland, killing two people. 

Stepan Bandera was a Ukrainian Nazi collaborator who signed up to the Nazi genocide of Jews; he also used his paramilitary nationalist army to commit atrocities on Poles in Volhynia and eastern Lesser Poland.

Deputy Interior Affairs Minister Błażej Poboży said that it was not a fortunate outcome.

“It’s a bad choice regardless of the moment in which it has been made,” and it will not be helpful in Polish relations with Ukraine. However, he conceded that it was a junior post and that foreign policy was going to continue to be directed by someone else, namely the current Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba. 

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Piotr Zgorzelski, from the opposition Polish People’s Party (PSL), called the appointment a “stab in the heart of the families of the victims of Volhynia.” He found Melnyk equating the Volhynia massacre with Polish actions during the war totally unacceptable, saying it called into question whether the exhumation process in Volhynia and the restitution of Polish churches in Ukraine would indeed happen. 

Another deputy speaker of parliament, Włodzimierz Czarzasty from the Left party, also felt that the appointment of Melnyk was a serious mistake. The leader of the radical right Confederation party, Krzysztof Bosak, reminded that Poland had already intervened against Melnyk in Kyiv, and therefore the Ukrainians were well aware of Poland’s objections towards him. He feared that the appointment was no accident and represented “a slap in Poland’s face” for failing to take up the Ukrainian narrative over the explosion of the rocket that killed two people in the east of Poland earlier in the week.

Melnyk was appointed deputy foreign affairs minister on Friday. He achieved notoriety for his stinging criticisms of Germany during his stint as Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, but he came under heavy fire for his comments condoning the massacre of Poles in Volhynia during World War II and was recalled from his post as ambassador shortly after making those comments in July.

Back in the summer, Melnyk told a German journalist that Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera was a freedom fighter struggling for Ukrainian independence in the face of Soviet and German totalitarianism. Bandera also happened to be an ally of Nazi Germany. 

Melnyk defended Bandera’s antisemitic and anti-Polish stances and seemed to deny the slaughter of Polish civilians in Volhynia by questioning the historical sources. He also said that Poles had massacred Ukrainians just as much as Ukrainians had Poles and this was all an unfortunate part of war; he also said that Bandera was not a mass killer of Poles or Jews. 

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