MAY 29, 2015
Vladimir Katriuk, Ukrainian-Born Beekeeper Accused of War Crimes, Is Dead at 93

Vladimir Katriuk, a Ukrainian-born beekeeper and former butcher who was No. 2 on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list of most wanted Nazi war criminals, died this month in a hospital in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec, near where he lived. He was 93.

The cause was a stroke, his lawyer, Orest Rudzik, said.

Mr. Katriuk died just two weeks after Moscow demanded his extradition, which the Canadian government, vexed by Russian aggression in Ukraine, frostily rebuffed. On Thursday, before Mr. Katriuk’s death became public, Canada’s Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs urged Ottawa to review the case and to “take the necessary steps to ensure that, if guilty, Katriuk be held accountable for war crimes committed in collaboration with the Nazi regime.”

The Russians had accused Mr. Katriuk of genocide in connection with the 1943 murder of civilians in Khatyn (not to be confused with the Katyn Forest in Russia in 1940, where the Soviets massacred Polish officers), in what is now Belarus.

At the time, Mr. Katriuk was a sergeant in a Ukrainian battalion attached to Nazi storm troopers who rampaged eastward in a brutal campaign against Soviet partisans, overrunning villages like Khatyn. The troopers were accused of herding nearly 200 civilians into a barn in Khatyn, burning them alive and machine-gunning those who tried to flee.

The Swedish scholar Per Anders Rudling wrote in the journal Holocaust and Genocide Studies in 2012 that the troopers, whether motivated by ambition, anti-communism, nationalism or a desire “to save their own skin,” “enabled, or participated in, some of the most gruesome episodes in modern European history.” His article, derived from Soviet interrogation files that were declassified only in 2008 and were unavailable during earlier proceedings against Mr. Katriuk in Canada, implicated a trooper identified as Volodymyr Katriuk as a “particularly active participant in the atrocity.”

Professor Rudling said Friday that Mr. Katriuk served in “a Ukrainian punitive battalion in German uniform, taking orders from the SS,” which, he said, “was involved in one of the most brutal acts of violence carried out against the civilian population in occupied Belarus during World War II.”

“The most famous is the March 1943 Khatyn massacre,” he said, “but Katriuk was also an active participant in the ‘pacification’ of the Jewish partisans of the Naliboki forest.”

Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, which was established to find and punish Nazi war criminals, said in an interview on Friday that the stumbling block to bringing Mr. Katriuk to justice was that “the most damning evidence against him was discovered relatively recently.”

“Of course, Katriuk’s death ends the case,” he said. “Because Russia asked for his extradition, finally there was a country that was willing to bring him to justice, but that didn’t happen because of contemporary politics.”

Mr. Katriuk was born on Oct. 1, 1921, in what was variously Ukraine and Romania.

According to Mr. Rudzik, his lawyer, Mr. Katriuk went to Kiev in 1941 to enlist in a Ukrainian Army unit and was later posted to Belarus as part of a civil auxiliary unit after Germany had abrogated its nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union and attacked it.

“His main task was to keep livestock from being snatched away,” Mr. Rudzik said. “The worst that could be said was that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

In his 2012 article, however, Professor Rudling, of Lund University in Sweden, found that “when Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union, it had no shortage of willing collaborators,” including Mr. Katriuk. Mr. Katriuk, he said, was among the battalion members who, armed with a Czech-made machine gun, mowed down villagers who tried to escape from the burning barn. Mr. Rudzik said that after the battalion was transferred to the Western Front, Mr. Katriuk deserted, joined the Free French, was wounded in Alsace and was decorated.

“The irony was, in France he was a hero and in Canada he was a war criminal,” Mr. Rudzik said.

After the war, while running a meatpacking business in Paris and still without citizenship in the West, Mr. Katriuk worried about being deported to the Soviet Union. He then joined the French Foreign Legion, only to learn that he would be deployed to war zones in Algeria or Indochina.

In 1951 he defected and immigrated to Canada, entering under his brother-in-law’s name — not to hide his wartime past, Mr. Katriuk contended, but to conceal his defection. He married a Frenchwoman named Marie, who survives him. Further information about his survivors was not available.

In response to allegations by Nazi-hunters, the Canadian government began proceedings against Mr. Katriuk in the early 1990s to strip him of Canadian citizenship as a first step toward deportation. In 1999, a court ruled that while he had obtained citizenship under false pretenses, there was no evidence that he had committed atrocities. In 2007, the government, citing his age, decided not to revoke his citizenship.

Since 1959, Mr. Katriuk had lived in Ormstown, between Montreal and the New York border. He sold honey and rented his bees to neighboring farmers who grew fruit. In 2012, he told The Toronto Star that he was not scared of bees and that he had been stung only a few times.

“You have to go softly,” he said. “You can’t agitate them.”