Canadian court in Ukraine for hearings on alleged Nazi collaborator
Jun. 06, 1997
SELIDOVE, Ukraine (AP) _ During World War II, teen-ager Maria Krivonosova used to climb up to her attic and watch the German occupiers of this town execute people at an abandoned coal mine shaft up the street. Helping them, she said, were Ukrainian auxiliary police.
``They shot Jews, prisoners, Soviet paratroopers they caught. They would take them out of the cars one by one, stand them at the edge of the shaft, and shoot them in the back of the head,'' recalled Krivonosova, now 68.
Memories like hers brought a Canadian federal court to this run-down coal mining town last week. Witnesses testified in the case of a Toronto-area man the Canadian government wants to deport on grounds he lied about his war-time activities in Selidove to enter Canada and gain citizenship.
The government says Wasily Bogutin, 87, was an active member of an auxiliary police unit that helped the Nazis execute civilians and commit other war crimes during the occupation of the eastern Ukrainian town from 1941-43.
Bogutin, who fled westward with the retreating Germans and landed in Canada in 1951, denies the accusations.
The retired construction worker maintains he worked at a warehouse run by the police, but never wore a military or police uniform or participated in executions. He also denies accusations he rounded up locals for forced labor in Germany.
His hearing _ the first to be taken to Ukraine for on-site testimony _ is one of 12 pending in a Canadian government effort to punish war criminals by revoking their citizenship. The push comes after the failure of past war crimes trials to bring convictions.
Testimony taken on videotape in Selidove in 1996 was ruled inadmissible because there was no chance for cross-examination. So the court came to the witnesses. The ailing Bogutin did not make the trip.
Under presiding Justice William McKeown, the court met for a week and a day in the Selidove mayor's office.
Orest Rudzik, representing Bogutin, said witness accounts that were ``all over the map'' made it difficult to reconstruct events.
He said a witness in another Ukrainian town has said Bogutin was among police that brought a Jewish family to a ditch where they were shot, and that Ukrainian police did the shooting. But other witnesses made no mention of Bogutin and said only the Germans killed the family.
None of the Selidove witnesses implicated Bogutin in that execution or the ones Krivonosova recalled. But federal lawyer Christopher Amerasinghe said witness testimony strongly indicated Bogutin ``was a member of a police force that participated in atrocities against civilians.''
He said one witness who worked in the police force testified Bogutin was one of four men in the Selidove force with the high rank of investigator.
The government says the police participated in executions by rounding up victims and cordoning off execution areas. Krivonosova _ who was not called to testify _ recalled deep police involvement in a particularly horrifying civilian execution she saw from her attic.
``There was a beautiful Jewish girl with long black hair,'' she said. ``First she got out of the car by herself, then the policeman told her to take her child. She got the child out of the car. The policeman took the child from her and tossed it up in the air, and they shot it. Then they shot her.''
According to Rudzik, the fact that the family that Bogutin left behind was not persecuted by Soviet authorities indicates he was not involved in war crimes.
Another part of Bogutin's defense is that his father was Jewish, and that his mother, an ethnic Ukrainian, got him a job with the police to save him from persecution.
Bogutin's work with the police is technically enough to strip him of his citizenship. But Rudzik said a lack of evidence linking him to any specific serious crime may save him from deportation.
``My feeling is that to be able to kick out an 88-year-old man, there would have to be a degree of public opprobrium,'' Rudzik said. He said deportation ``would practically be a death sentence'' for his client, who has emphysema and heart trouble.
The hearing is scheduled to resume in Canada in September and finish by year's end. McKeown will then report to the citizenship and immigration ministry, which will make a recommendation to the cabinet on whether Bogutin should be deported.