In the past seven years, Ukraine has had two ambassadors in Germany. Both were called Andriy Melnyk. The first ambassador served until about 2020, he was a picture book diplomat. Perfectly fitting suit, neatly trimmed beard, handkerchief, this is how Melnyk moved in the background when top Ukrainian politicians visited Berlin – or gallantly greeted every single guest at concerts by Ukrainian musicians in the Philharmonie and spoke a few nice words in a gentle voice. What is expected of ambassadors.
Only gradually did the Leisetreter representative of his country transform into a pugnacious public figure and finally into the only ambassador in Germany with prominent status, whose words became so powerful that they ultimately brought him down himself.
The transformation began well before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February of this year. Even before that, Melnyk had to learn that if Ukraine is quiet, it will simply be overlooked in Germany. In May 2020, around the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, the ambassador publicly burst his collar for the first time. The then Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) had spoken of the dead in the Soviet Union in World War II – and made no distinction between Russians and Ukrainians.
There is a “huge blind spot” in Germany’s historical memory when it comes to the Nazi crimes against Ukrainians. “To this day we have very politely, perhaps too politely, asked our German friends and partners to erect a memorial for the eight million Ukrainian Nazi victims in the center of Berlin,” Melnyk said in one of his first major interviews. “From now on we will no longer ask, but demand that these Ukrainian victims of the German war of enslavement are finally honored with dignity.”
From then on, Melnyk did everything in his power to ensure that Ukraine would no longer be ignored in Germany. His most important tool: undiplomatic provocations.
From then on, when his superiors came to visit Berlin from Kyiv, some German politicians would quietly complain about the ambassador and his behavior. But in the Ukrainian capital, it was easy to understand why he was doing this in a political Berlin that remained soft on Russia, a country that has been at war with Ukraine since 2014.
At the latest when the Ukraine invasion began in February, Melnyk was omnipresent in the republic’s media. He accused Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of having spun a “spider web” of contacts with Russia over the years. He called Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) an “offended liverwurst” because he didn’t want to travel to Kyiv. Throughout the months of the war, Melnyk relentlessly fought what he described as “deaf ears” in Berlin in an interview in April.
Especially against a chancellor’s office, some of which deliberately turned a deaf ear. Scholz said in his “Zeitenwende” speech that Germany would “stand by” Ukraine. But Melnyk soon had to discover that the SPD politicians in the government in particular kept a great distance from Ukraine even after February 2022. And that the Chancellery did everything possible to deliver arms to Ukraine as slowly as possible.
Melnyk exerted public pressure and at some point began buying from German armaments companies himself because nothing came from the federal government. “I’m Ukraine’s arms dealer here,” he said half-jokingly, half-bitterly, in an interview.
Andriy Melnyk changed in his demeanor, but not in his convictions. And some of these views were very absolute. In an interview after the beginning of the war, when asked if he had any Russian friends, he said: “No, never had. For one reason only: Because what we are experiencing today was planned for many decades.” The Russians wanted to destroy Ukraine and are now indoctrinated. “That’s why it’s clear to me, probably even after the war, that Russia will remain an enemy state.”
Melnyk was convinced that the existence of the Ukrainian state was threatened long before 2022. Shortly after taking office in 2015, Melnyk laid flowers at the grave of Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera in Munich. He fought for a Ukrainian nation during World War II, but was also responsible for the murder of Poles and Jews in this fight.
In an interview, Melnyk now defended Bandera and downplayed his role in ethnically motivated expulsions and murders. Even when he was a speaker, Melnyk always knew exactly when it was better to remain silent. In this case not.
The reactions from Israel and Poland were massive. And it must have been clear to Melnyk that Poland is currently his country’s most important ally alongside the United States. The Foreign Ministry in Kyiv quickly distanced itself from Melnyk’s statements. But the pressure from Warsaw remained massive.
Now the Ukrainian President has dismissed the ambassador to Germany. It is still unclear how Melnyk will continue. It remains to be seen whether Kyiv will find a successor who represents Ukraine in the land of “deaf ears” anywhere near as vehemently and fearlessly as Melnyk.