In another worrying indication of Ukraine’s unsteady lurch towards right-wing nationalism since the revolution of 2014, the country last month launched a murder enquiry into the killing of a Nazi collaborator that took place 65 years ago.
Neil Hasievich (Нил Хасевич), a Ukrainian citizen, was a fascist propagandist and a district judge during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine, responsible for sentencing Ukrainians who resisted the occupation, some of them to execution. An artist by trade, Hasievich designed patriotic images and printed anti-Soviet literature for a group known as the UIA, which comprised nationalist fighters who collaborated with the Nazis and participated in the mass slaughter of Jews and Poles.
Hasievich was killed during a standoff in the district of Rivne in western Ukraine in 1952. The operation in which he died was directed by a then senior officer in the KGB, Boris Steckler, who was charged with tracking down former Nazis and Nazi collaborators in the region.
Steckler, who is Jewish, accepts that he directed the mission against Hasievich, but gave an interview in 2013 in which he claimed Hasievich shot himself during the encounter, having been offered a chance to surrender. The action also claimed the lives of two other nationalist fighters. If charged, Steckler could face a prison sentence.
Steckler received numerous medals for bravery for his efforts during the war. Now aged 94 and regarded locally as a war hero, he frequently participates in parades and other victory celebrations marking the defeat of Nazi forces.
The investigation into Steckler’s actions was launched on 18 April, but was only made public last week. It is the first prosecution of its kind in Ukraine and is being seen as a sign of Ukraine’s growing nationalism and anti-Semitism. It falls within the country’s campaign for ‘decommunisation’, which celebrates nationalist groups that fought the Soviets. Wartime insurgents such as Hasievich are increasingly being feted as heroes in Ukraine. Nationalists have been trying to prosecute Steckler for years.
Keeping stories alive
This blog aims to discuss historical events relating to the Jewish communities of Ukraine, and of Eastern Europe more widely. As a storyteller, I hope to keep alive stories of the past and remember those who told or experienced them. Like so many others, I am deeply troubled by the war in Ukraine and for the foreseeable future, most articles published here will focus on the war, with an emphasis on parallels with other tumultuous periods in Ukraine's tragic history.