Ukrainian Nationalist’s Death Was No Suicide

With tension once again rising between Russia and Ukraine, it is worthwhile to take a look back at the some of the stormy history of relations between the two nations.

One major incident involves Stepan Bandera, a leader of the Ukrainian nationalist movement, which opposed Soviet annexation of the Ukraine during World War II. Bandera was found dead outside his Munich apartment in 1959. His death was ruled a suicide until 1961 when Soviet agent Bogdan Nikolaevich Stachinsky defected to the West and confessed to the murder of Bandera and a second Ukranian nationalist, Lev Rebet.

Stachinsky, while an agent for the Soviet secret police, assassinated both Ukrainians with a new Soviet-made weapon — a double-barreled pistol that fired cyanide pellets. Stachinsky explained to German authorities that he murdered Bandera and Rebet, although Rebet’s murder was just a test to see if the cyanide gun would work, and that Bandera was his main target.

Following his assignment to East Berlin after the murder, Stachinsky’s German girlfriend became pregnant, and they secretly married. Stachinsky’s Soviet superiors were infuriated by his actions, and he fled to West Berlin fearing for his family’s safety, knowing that he faced life imprisonment in West Germany for the assassinations.

Stachinsky served only a few years in prison, then bounced around from Washington to Panama to Paraguay. He also had stops in Moscow, Africa and Kiev. Throughout his travels, Stachinsky remained unrepentant about the assassinations. “I expressed my opinion about Bandera in 1959. I haven’t changed my position since then,” he said.

Bandera is widely condemned as a Nazi collaborator, and his movement is accused of involvement with the murder of Ukrainian Jews during World War II.

In 2010 Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko honored Bandera by posthumously bestowing on him the state honor “Hero of Ukraine.” Many Ukrainians, including Ukrainian émigré groups, pressed Yushchenko to grant the honor, which, according to one statement, “would restore justice and truth about the Bandera and the … struggle for liberation that he headed.” To this day, many Ukrainians view Bandera as a martyred freedom fighter.

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