A Canadian man suspected of being a Nazi war criminal who participated in a 1943 massacre of villagers in Belarus has died, his lawyer says.
Vladimir Katriuk, 93, an avid beekeeper of Ukrainian ancestry, had been ill for a long time, Orest Rudzik said on May 28.
"He passed away, I think it was last Friday," Rudzik said. "It was a stroke or something do with a stroke."
Katriuk had been living in the French Canadian town of Ormstown, south of Montreal near the U.S. border.
The Toronto Globe and Mail said Katriuk had been singled out recently to become a pawn in Canada-Russia relations, which have been frosty due to Canada's comdemnation of Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Canada has suspended all but low-level diplomatic relations with Russia, and Moscow’s leadership has told Prime Minister Stephen Harper to butt out of Ukraine, the ancestral homeland of more than 1 million Canadians, the newspaper said.
On May 8, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, a law enforcement body that reports only to Russian President Vladimir Putin, called on Canada to deliver Katriuk to Moscow so he can be tried for alleged war crimes.
The Canadian government ignored the request, citing an investigation in 1999 that found no evidence the elderly beekeeper committed atrocities.
But Katriuk was also sought by Jewish and Israeli groups, which cited recent scholarly research that appeared to implicate him in a March 1943 massacre in Khatyn, Byelorussia, now Belarus.
"Sadly, Katriuk's death in Canada points out the exact concern that we repeatedly raised, that justice delayed is justice denied," said David Matas, legal counsel of B'nai Brith Canada.
“While we are supportive of Canada’s position on the integrity of Ukraine," said Shimon Koffler Fogel, head of the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, "this must be separated out from the imperative to ensure justice is served with respect to Nazi atrocities perpetrated against Jews and others during World War II."
A former member of a Ukrainian battalion of the elite Waffen SS, Katriuk when he was alive contended he was forced to join the SS and did not participate in operations with the Germans.
He said that while in Belarus, he guarded villagers, livestock, and resources from other partisan forces.
Katriuk deserted his SS unit when it moved to France from Eastern Europe in 1944, according to court documents. He lived in Paris before immigrating to Canada in 1951, and later became a Canadian citizen, living there for 60 years with his French-born wife.
Rudzik said his former client was the victim of unfair persecution.
"Mr. Katriuk has passed away, after years of unwarranted harassment," he said. "I'm glad he's at peace."
Katriuk also got backing from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, a lobby group with significant influence in Canada. That group urged Ottawa to ignore Russia’s demands.
"Canada’s cabinet refused to strip Mr. Katriuk of Canadian citizenship" when it investigated allegations of atrocities in 1999, said Taras Zalusky, executive director of the Ukrainian group.
Moscow’s investigation of Katriuk was "an obvious attempt to distract attention away from Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, invasion of, and war against Ukraine," he said.
With reporting by AP and The Toronto Globe and Mail