He is the best-known and most uncomfortable ambassador that Germany has seen in recent decades. Now the Ukrainian diplomat Andrij Melnyk has to leave Berlin. What will become of him is still unclear.
Ambassadors usually operate in secret, trying to discreetly represent their country’s interests. Andriy Melnyk was exactly the opposite of that. As Ukraine’s ambassador, in recent months he has openly demanded Germany’s support in his country’s fight against the Russian aggressors in an exceptionally sharp manner. In the federal government and coalition, he was notorious for being the nation’s nuisance. The diplomat, who speaks excellent German, was a welcome guest on the talk shows as the voice of Ukraine.
However, he came under pressure two weeks ago when he defended Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera against allegations that he was responsible for the mass murders of Poles and Jews during World War II. At first, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry distanced itself from Melnyk. President Volodymyr Zelenskyj has now ordered his dismissal.
Reasons were not given in the brief decree published on the Internet on Saturday. It is also not yet clear when Melnyk will leave Berlin. But his days in the capital are numbered.
Andriy Melnyk: Ambassador in Berlin for more than seven years
The 46-year-old comes from Lviv in western Ukraine, where he also studied law before joining the diplomatic service. Melnyk was ambassador to Austria and consul general in Hamburg, but also held various posts in the presidential office and foreign ministry in Kyiv before becoming ambassador in Berlin in January 2015.
Melnyk had already taken on the German government long before the war in Ukraine began. He attacked Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in early 2021 because Nord Stream 2 was one of the last bridges between Germany and Russia to be defended.
His demands for weapons for Ukraine also predate the Russian troop deployment in eastern Ukraine last fall. Many representatives of the governing coalition reacted annoyed – but only behind closed doors. When Chancellor Olaf Scholz gave his “Zeitenwende” speech in the Bundestag on February 27, Melnyk was greeted with standing applause. Former Federal President Joachim Gauck hugged him in the stands.
Most frequent talk show guest in the first months of the war
In the months that followed, Melnyk became the most frequent guest on German talk shows. The way he presented his criticism went against the grain of many. Nevertheless, there was no public criticism of him, at least not from the first or second tier of Berlin politics – because that would have been criticism of Ukraine, whose official representative in Germany was Melnyk.
It was only when the ambassador called Chancellor Scholz an “offended liverwurst” that criticism of Melnyk became socially acceptable. Even opposition politicians called it “out of the question” and “inappropriate”. “Olaf Scholz is not a sausage, he is the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany,” said FDP Vice Wolfgang Kubicki.
Criticism of Bandera’s statements silenced Melnyk
Melnyk’s resentment of the government only subsided after the delivery of the first heavy weapons to Ukraine, the chancellor’s trip to Kyiv and his support for Ukraine’s EU candidate status. It was at that moment that he became involved with Bandera, the controversial Ukrainian nationalist whom historians accuse of collaborating with the Nazis and being partly responsible for the murder of Poles and Jews. In Melnyk’s homeland of western Ukraine, however, Bandera is also revered by many as a freedom fighter.
In an interview with journalist Tilo Jung, the ambassador defended Bandera against accusations that he was a mass murderer. He was sharply criticized for this not only by his own foreign ministry, but also by the Polish government and the Israeli embassy. Only days later did Melnyk react to this and reject the accusation on Twitter that he had downplayed the Holocaust. Since then he has been silent again.
Melnyk’s future uncertain
It is unclear what will become of the 46-year-old. In any case, his diplomatic career is not necessarily over with his dismissal. The “Bild” reported a week ago that the ambassador could return to Kyiv and become deputy foreign minister. He himself did not initially respond to requests for comment on Saturday.