Ukrainian prosecutors have caused dismay among the country’s Jewish organisations by opening an investigation into a 94-year old ex-Soviet Jewish officer alleged to have killed a Ukrainian nationalist 65 years ago.
At the time, Ukraine’s insurgent underground members included Nil Khasevych, an artist actively involved in anti-Soviet activities after the war, but in 1952 he was killed in the Rivne region by state security personnel, who threw a grenade into his bunker.
Jewish Soviet officer Boris Steckler, who later went on to work for the KGB, confirmed in a 2013 interview that he was involved in the mission against Khasevych, but maintained that the national icon shot himself first.
Khasevych, along with other Ukrainian nationalists fighting during the Second World War, is alleged to have collaborated with the Nazis, including in the murder of Jews, but to Ukraine’s resurgent nationalist movement, who have long called for Steckler to be investigated, Khasevych is seen as a hero.
This week Ukrainian Jewish representatives said the national prosecutor’s newfound interest in Steckler’s involvement was “an injustice,” adding that it was Khasevych, not Steckler, who had blood on their hands.
“He [Khasevych] was an active fighter when they destroyed Jews and Poles,” said Eduard Dolinsky, director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee. “It’s the Ukrainian Insurgent Army that committed a war crime.”
Although Steckler could theoretically be found guilty and imprisoned, this course of events is thought to be extremely unlikely. Nevertheless the investigation is significant, since crimes that occurred more than 15 years ago are seldom prosecuted in Ukraine.