Although both peoples were once part of the Soviet Union, trouble between Ukrainians and Russians is nothing new. In the late 1940s and 1950s, during the Cold War, the American CIA secretly supported the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), a group which operated inside the Soviet Union. The OUN included a range of ideologies, from politically moderate to outright fascist, but united in their determination to achieve Ukrainian independence. That meant fighting the Russian-dominated Soviet Union.

In that context, the Soviet KGB ordered a 20-something agent named Bohdan Stashynsky to visit West Germany and assassinate two Ukrainian agitators residing there. Germany, you may recall, was once two countries: a democratic West and a Communist East. Berlin was divided too, although no Berlin Wall yet existed. It was relatively easy for East Germans to defect — and many did, just by riding Berlin’s subway from east to west. Once in West Berlin, you contacted the authorities and asked for transit to West Germany.   Expensive for the West, but more expensive for the Communists because they were hemorrhaging so many talented people to West Germany.   Embarrassing too.

Using two separate trips, Stashynsky located his victims in West Germany and killed each of them with a tiny poison gas sprayer. Both deaths looked like heart attacks. Earlier, Stashynsky saw the weapon demonstrated on a hapless dog. The dog collapsed immediately, but still withered in pain until death.

Stashynsky slipped back into East Germany and spent some time there before returning to Moscow. His KGB bosses were ecstatic. But then they learned that their trained assassin was in love. He wanted to marry an East German girl named Inge. They tried to talk him out of it, offering him pretty escorts to travel with, all of them KGB-vetted. But they could not dissuade Bohden — for he was in love — and so they arranged for Inge to visit Moscow, hoping she would settle there.

Inge hated Moscow. Matters weren’t helped when Bohdan discovered that their KGB-owned apartment was full of secret microphones. Inge told him the KGB didn’t care about him as a person but only as their killing machine. Now his personal feelings were making him “inconvenient” for them, perhaps even dangerous. Might Bohdan and Inge both get assassinated? Increasingly suspicious, they worried about everything they did in Moscow — and everything they ate. When she returned to East Germany, the KGB ordered Bohden to stay behind.

But not before yet another “inconvenience” became known: Inge was pregnant. She gave birth in East Germany while Bohden was stuck in Moscow. Then something worse occurred: their newborn baby choked on something and died. It was a genuine accident, explained by a grief-stricken Inge to Bohdan. What now inconvenienced the KGB is that Bohdan wanted to attend the funeral. They let him visit East Germany in 1961.

Reunited, Bohdan and Inge decided to defect. Leaving some money behind for others to pay the funeral costs, they managed transportation to East Berlin, rode the subway into West Berlin, and Bohdan surrendered to the police. They just missed the erection of the Berlin Wall.

Most defectors going to the West expected freedom. Stashynsky, in defecting, expected prison — but a future he still considered safer than as a KGB malcontent in Moscow. In West Germany he was tried for murder, convicted, and sentenced to eight years; his relatively light sentence was due to the Court assigning most of the guilt to his KGB superiors. He served some time and was released.

It is a fascinating story. But is it true?

In 2011, an elderly man calling himself Stashynsky met a journalist — and told a very different story.

In my next post: the other story.

John G. Heidenrich