BERLIN — Ukraine’s top diplomat in Germany is not one for being diplomatic.
And in one of his most headline-grabbing insults, he called German Chancellor Olaf Scholz an “offended liverwurst” for refusing to visit Kyiv amid a spat over the German president’s ties to Russia.
But Melnyk, who has held the position of Ukraine’s ambassador in Berlin since 2014, is unapologetic.
“I don’t give a damn what they think. I’m not here for a beauty competition,” he said in an interview at his residence last week, wearing a yellow tie and crisp blue shirt that echoed the Ukrainian flag fluttering over the lawn.
“If anyone feels offended, I don’t really care,” he said. “My only task is to tell people the truth of what is happening and this catastrophic situation in my country.”
Melnyk’s outspokenness has made waves in the staid world of German politics, but his friction with the German political establishment also reflects broader tensions in the relationship between Ukraine and Germany.
Ukraine has maintained a tough stance toward its allies in the fight against Russia, challenging them — rather than begging them — to do more. And even as Berlin has acted as a key partner, it also has emerged as Kyiv’s frenemy No. 1.
From the pace of its arms deliveries to its reluctant position on oil and gas embargoes, Germany has repeatedly fallen short of Ukrainian expectations.
And the 46-year-old ambassador in Berlin has emerged as one of Germany’s most vocal critics.
Melnyk sees public pillorying as the most effective way to get assistance, amid what he describes as political inertia even as Russia gains Ukrainian territory on the ground.
“Germany, at least when it comes to Ukraine, makes decisions only under pressure,” he said. “Only when you demand publicly, and when you try to explain publicly, and when there’s a debate going on for some time, only then you have a decision.”
In April, after weeks of fraught debate over whether to send heavy weapons to Ukraine, Scholz finally approved deliveries of German-made antiaircraft vehicles. But two months later, heavy weaponry from Germany has yet to arrive in Ukraine, Melnyk said. He doesn’t miss an opportunity for a dig.
“Germany is the world champion in announcements and then doing nothing,” he said, picking up a strawberry from the bowl in front of him.
So he has sought to ramp up pressure in the news media. By his office’s count, before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, he’d done about 800 media interviews. Now, his aides have simply lost track.
But in playing the role of persistent critic, and in dispensing with the usual diplomatic niceties, he has become a target of criticism, too.
Appearing on Germany’s top political talk show last month, he clashed with the public intellectual Harald Welzer, who had called for an end to arms deliveries to Ukraine.
Welzer called him “incredibly offensive with interlocutors.”
Germany’s history influences sentiments in the country over weapons deliveries, Welzer said. “The war we experienced has affected every generation.”
“Do you know how many people Nazi Germany killed in Ukraine?” Melnyk interjected. “Your ancestors killed 10 million people in my country.”
And then there was the “liverwurst” episode, which prompted calls for an apology from a broad spectrum of German politicians.
The chancellor had said he would not travel to Kyiv after Ukrainian leaders snubbed a visit by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who advocated a soft line on Moscow before the invasion. The cold shoulder was inappropriate, Scholz said during an interview with the German public broadcaster ZDF.
Melnyk, in response, said Scholz was “playing an offended liverwurst” — a common insult in Germany for someone who is easily offended.
“The tone is inappropriate,” Johann Wadephul, a lawmaker with the Christian Democrats, told Germany’s RND news network. “Even in a special situation, diplomatic representatives should behave appropriately toward government officials.”
And while Melnyk’s blunt style may have made him a media favorite, it has rankled parts of the political establishment.
“I think he’s overdoing it a little now,” said one German politician, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment of the ambassador. “He’s regularly behaving beyond the capacity and demands of an ambassador. You can’t, as the ambassador, attack the head of government or state on a daily basis.”
Melnyk says he’s not been able to get a meeting with Scholz’s foreign policy and security adviser, Jens Plötner, despite multiple requests. “That’s his decision,” Melnyk said, saying also that he still has a good working relationship with the chancellery. “I look for other ways.”
Plötner declined to comment. A German official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic relations, said Melnyk has visited the chancellery several times recently.
The ambassador said he’d still like to see Scholz visit Kyiv. The chancellor could make that trip this week alongside French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
A trip by the chancellor would be “symbolic” to soldiers on the ground, Melnyk said, “because now the question is: Is Germany on our side?”
Scholz, known for an extremely cautious public style, is in many ways the opposite of Melnyk. He shies away from direct statements and, for the most part, has not stuck his neck far out on Ukraine.
In one of his boldest of moments, three days into the war, Scholz declared a “Zeitenwende” — or turning point — for Germany as Russia’s aggression reshaped the continent’s security reality. He announced a vast increase in Germany’s defense spending and abandoned a red line on weapons deliveries to conflict zones.
“That was one of the very few days in the past days where I felt happy,” Melnyk said.
But now, the ambassador worries that Scholz can’t even bring himself to say that Ukraine should win the war. Instead, the chancellor has said Russia should not win — a small, but some say significant, difference.
Germany could demonstrate who should prevail through deliveries, Melnyk said.
Ukrainian soldiers have been in Germany training on Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzer systems after Berlin pledged to send seven. But Melnyk argued that Ukraine needs 800 to 1,000 to turn the tide.
The IRIS-T air defense system pledged by Germany this month? “Not a game changer,” he said. “A game changer would be when Germany decides, because of its own rational national interests, to help with everything they could.”
While Germany has pledged to phase out Russian oil by the end of the year, Melnyk said a moratorium on Russian gas would be the key to pressuring Moscow, as painful as it might be for Europe. If Germany stopped the gas for three months — and the payments that go along with it — “let’s see whether Putin is going to change his course or not,” he said. “I’m sure that he would.”
While Melnyk’s detractors accuse him of never being satisfied, the ambassador points to the momentum on the battlefield and the need for urgency, as dozens of Ukrainian soldiers die every day.
“Russia is winning,” he said. “Not just by taking new territories, but by destroying everything which is there, killing people, sending people out, making whole areas like a moon landscape.”
Of the criticism he’s received, he said: “I don’t enjoy the s---storms or the trolls. But for me, what counts: Is Germany going to help or not?”
Frederik Seeler contributed to this report.