The foreign ministry has claimed that its diplomat was not aware that Yaroslav Hunka fought with a notorious WWII Ukrainian-based battalion
Germany's Foreign Office has shrugged off the participation of its ambassador to Canada in last week's embarrassing standing ovations for a Ukrainian veteran of the Waffen SS, saying she was unaware that he was a Nazi when she joined with Ottawa lawmakers in applauding him.
Foreign Office spokesman Sebastian Fischer acknowledged the gaffe for the first time on Wednesday, when asked at a press briefing about Ambassador Sabine Sparwasser's honoring of World War II Nazi collaborator Yaroslav Hunka.
Members of the Canadian parliament stood and gave long ovations for the 98-year-old Hunka when he was introduced during a visit by Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky on Friday. Zelensky and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were among the enthusiastic participants in the cheers.
Sparwasser simply didn't know about Hunka's Nazi affiliation when she joined with others in applauding him, Fischer claimed. The spokesman conceded that the incident was unacceptable, but Hunka's true identity was not known to the German diplomat or other members of the crowd because his attendance at the event was not announced beforehand.
However, when House Speaker Anthony Rota introduced his guest to the crowd, he noted that Hunka "fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians," which by definition suggested that he served on the side of the fascist Axis powers. "He's a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service," the speaker said.
Rota resigned from his position on Tuesday and apologized for his mistake in honoring Hunka. The war veteran was a volunteer in the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, a Ukrainian unit, which committed atrocities against Jews and Poles on the Eastern Front.
Asked about how Sparwasser could fail to understand Hunka's Nazi affiliation - despite being told that he fought against the Red Army - Fischer said there were other possible explanations for his role in the war. For instance, he theorized, Hunka could have been a fighter for the Polish Home Army, which fought against both German and Russian forces.
Ukrainian Nazi collaborators slaughtered thousands of Poles during World War II. Hunka was among thousands of Ukrainian fighters who were allowed to emigrate to the UK and Canada after World War II, despite their possible participation in war crimes.
Moscow called the incident a cynical abuse of the memory of the victims of Nazism and an example of blatant Russophobia, and said it may launch a probe into potential war crimes and request the extradition of Hunka. Poland, which has been among the top backers of modern-day Ukraine in its fight against Russia, has also urged a probe into potential war crimes committed by Hunka.