By Itamar Eichner, YNet News, April 30, 2017
In an unprecedented move, Ukrainian authorities are opening a criminal investigation into 94-year-old Jewish WWII hero, Col. Boris Steckler, who is accused of having killed a Nazi collaborator in 1952. Steckler was a senior officer in the Soviet Army and after the war was appointed as an officer in the KGB. He was responsible for capturing Nazis and collaborators in western Ukraine.
During a battle in the Rivne Oblast in western Ukraine, Steckler was involved in a confrontation with nationalists who cooperated with the Nazis. During the confrontation, a man by the name of Neil Hasiewicz [Nil Khasevych], who was a propagandist and district judge during the war, was shot and killed.
Local nationalist groups recently filed a complaint against Steckler, accusing him of responsibility for the assassination of Hasiewicz—a fact that Steckler does not deny.
In an unprecedented move, this is the first time Ukrainian authorities have sought to arrest a person who worked against Nazi collaborators during and after the Second World War.
Steckler was recognized as a local war hero and is regularly invited to the parades commemorating the victory over the Nazis. He was wounded during the war and received countless medals for courage.
Alex Tantzer, whose family was murdered in the Holocaust in the Rivne region, said that it was nothing less than a sign of cultural decline for Ukrainians. “I do not know whether this is anti-Semitism or not. In Ukraine, there are occasional complaints from nationalist organizations, and it’s a shame that the authorities take it seriously … It’s a shame that the government in Ukraine does not stop these horrific things. Now when we celebrate victory over Nazi Germany, we are persecuting this Jew who fought against Nazis.”
Ukraine investigates Jewish former Soviet officer, 94, for 1952 death
Boris Steckler accused of throwing grenade into bunker, killing nationalist in hiding
Prosecutors in Ukraine have initiated a murder investigation against a Jewish former Soviet officer who is suspected of killing a nationalist in 1952. The General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine opened the probe against 94-year-old Boris Steckler on April 18, the Ist Pravda news website reported last week based on documents it obtained from the National Advocacy Center, a nationalist and anti-Russian not-for-profit group.
Steckler is accused of killing Neil Hasevych, an artist who was a member of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, or OUN, which fought during the first half of the 20th century against Soviet domination. Leaders of OUN briefly collaborated [sic] with Nazi occupation forces before turning against them.
Steckler is accused of throwing a grenade into a bunker where Hasevych and several other underground fighters were hiding. His accusers claim he was working for the feared NKVD security service, which later became the KGB.
Nationalist groups in Ukraine have for years tried to prosecute Steckler. Last year, the Rivne District Administrative Court began reviewing a lawsuit connected to Steckler that nationalists brought against Ukraine’s SBU security service. The petitioners wanted the SBU to release old classified files about Steckler.
Steckler declined to show up at the hearing in Rivne and appealed to the court to dismiss the plaintiffs’ petition. Steckler has declined to comment on the allegations made against him, the news website said.
Following a bloody revolution in 2014 that unleashed a wave of nationalist sentiment in Ukraine, the state has celebrated the legacy of various personalities from OUN and its military wing, the UPA, including commanders who are accused of responsibility for the murder of thousands of Jews and Poles.
One such leader was Stepan Bandera, who has a large statue of him in the city of Lviv and streets named after him in several cities, including Kiev. Another is Roman Shukhevych, whom the director of the state-operated Ukrainian National Memory Institute recently praised as “one of five eminent personalities who have changed the course of history.”
Advocates of nationalist leaders like Bandera and Shukhevych claim their vision of Ukraine extended to Jews, some of whom served in UPA’s ranks. Some UPA militants also rescued Jews from the Holocaust.
Ukraine investigates 94-year-old Jewish veteran over nationalist’s death in 1952
Soviet army veteran Boris Steckler faces murder inquiry over his role in death of Ukrainian insurgent and could be jailed
Ukraine’s prosecutor general has opened a murder investigation against a 94-year-old Jewish Red Army veteran over the 1952 killing of a nationalist insurgent who has been accused of collaborating with Nazis.
The case comes amid a “decommunisation” campaign by the Ukrainian government, which has celebrated nationalist groups who fought the Soviets. If charged, the veteran could face a prison sentence.
The prosecutor general opened the investigation into the “intentional killing of two or more people on the territory of Rivne region in March 1952 by members of the administration of the state security ministry”, according to a copy of a letter posted on the website of the National Human Rights Centre, an organisation which has assisted nationalists facing prosecution.
The website said the case was that of Nil Khasevych, a member of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UIA) who, along with two other fighters, was killed by Soviet security forces in a standoff at that place and time.
Khasevych has been accused of collaborating with the Nazis during the second world war. The National Human Rights Centre website called him an “independence fighter” and said the prosecution of his killer would give “appropriate legal appraisal to the crimes of the communist epoch”.
The operation that killed Khasevych was headed by Boris Steckler, now a 94-year-old Jewish veteran who was decorated numerous times for bravery in the war and later served in the KGB.
Steckler confirmed in a 2013 interview that he had directed the mission against Khasevych, but claimed the insurgent had shot himself before Soviet soldiers threw grenades into the bunker where he was hiding. They had given him a chance to surrender, Steckler said.
Last year, the head of the Ukrainian government’s National Memory Institute, Volodymyr Vyatrovych, asked the state security service to open its files on Steckler under a new package of decommunisation laws introduced to parliament.
In addition to opening the archives, the laws made it a criminal offence to question the actions of the UIA and another nationalist group, a move condemned by international scholars as an attack on free speech. Steckler appealed to a Rivne court to block access to the files.
A trained artist, Khasevych was known for creating patriotic images and printing anti-Soviet literature for the UIA, a group of nationalist fighters who on some occasions collaborated with the Nazis and took part in genocide of Jews and Poles.
According to a passage attributed to Steckler in the 1985 book Chekists Talk, Khasevych was appointed as a local judge by the invading German forces and sentenced Ukrainians who resisted the occupation to punishment or execution.
But Khasevych and other wartime insurgents have been increasingly celebrated as early freedom fighters after nationalists played a key role in the street demonstrations that brought a pro-western government to power in Kiev in 2014.
Eduard Dolinsky, director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, called the murder investigation an “injustice” and said Khasevych’s actions, not Steckler’s, should be condemned. “He was an active fighter when they destroyed Jews and Poles,” Dolinsky said. “It’s the Ukrainian Insurgent Army that committed a war crime.”
Although cases more than 15 years old are not typically prosecuted, a court can make an exception if the crime is serious enough to bring a lifetime sentence, according to lawyer Markiyan Halabala. That means Steckler could be sent to prison, but Halabala said that outcome was unlikely in this case, which would be the first of its kind in Ukraine.
The prosecutor’s letter announcing the murder investigation was addressed to Denis Polischuk, a controversial far-right activist at the National Human Rights Centre.
After fighting with a nationalist battalion against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, Polischuk and another man were detained in 2015 on suspicion of killing pro-Russian journalist Oles Buzina in Kiev. They were later put under partial house arrest, and a lawyer representing Buzina’s family said this month the investigation has stalled.
My research on Nil Khasevych’s wartime record
By Ivan Kartchanovski (University of Ottawa), published on his Facebook page, May 4, 2017[The Guardian article by Alec Luhn] is another case where mainstream Western media turns undeniable evidence into “alleged” evidence when it comes to reporting about the OUN and the UPA and other politically inconvenient issues in Ukraine which are incompatible with Western liberal democratic values.
I personally researched for my research project Nil Khasevych’s numerous decisions, which he issued when he was a judge in the Nazi-occupied Rivne region. These decisions are held at the State Archive of the Rivne Region. He sentenced many people, including local Ukrainian peasants, for a variety of “crimes” invented by the Nazi authorities. I did not see any capital punishments issued, and the cited book does not state this.
Such a position in the local administration and his decisions qualified him as a Nazi collaborator, and I defined him as such in my forthcoming study of the OUN, the UPA, and the Nazi-led genocide in Ukraine.
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