MINNEAPOLIS -- David Rising, an Associated Press reporter based in Berlin, said Monday he stands behind the war crimes investigation leading to an aging Minneapolis man.
Rising first reported in June that a 94-year-old retired carpenter named Michael Karkoc had been the the leader of a Ukrainian unit of the German SS that attacked a Polish village in1944, killing dozens of civilians.
In the latest development Rising uncovered a 1968 statement made by Private Ivan Sharko, a member of the same unit. Sharko, who died 20 years ago, told Ukrainian investigators that Karkoc ordered the attack on the village of Chlaniow.
"Sharko specifically testified that Karkoc not only was at scene of the massacre in 1944 but also ordered his troops to attack the village," Rising told KARE.
"He did not specify that they'd been ordered to kill men, women and children. But what we do know is that they did in the end kill more than 40 civilians in the massacre."
He conceded that defense attorneys often question the validity of statements given during the Cold War era when the Soviets still controlled Ukraine and other eastern bloc countries in Europe.
But Rising said based on years of combing through war records, and eye witness accounts, he had confidence in the statement given by the late Ivan Sharko.
"Even though this was testimony given in the former Soviet Union, there's no indication that Sharko was in custody, or under investigation himself when he gave these statements."
Rising also reported on Monday that Thomas Will, one of the lead investigators in Germany's war crimes office, is recommending murder charges for Karkoc.
"This is an investigative body, so they can't file charges themselves," Rising explained.
"But they can make a recommendation, and that recommendation carries a certain amount of weight."
He said it could take several weeks for German prosecutors to decide whether to press formal charges.
In his own memoir Karkoc detailed the war of resistance waged against the Soviets, while a member and leader of the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion during the war years.
He did not mention the attack on the village in his memoirs, but did speak of the killing of a major. Witnesses to the attack alleged it was in retaliation for the murder of the major.
Andrij Karkos of Minneapolis, one of Michael Karkoc's sons, continued to deny that his father was involved in any war crimes against civilians.
"Until and unless The Associated Press can provide their alleged evidence and their witness, we will not respond to your defamatory and slanderous allegation," Karkoc told the AP.
When reached by phone Monday, Karkoc said he stood behind what he told the AP, asserting that his quote was the only accurate part of the article.
Prior to World War II the Soviets had oppressed and systematically starved the people in Ukraine. The Germans held out the promise of independence to the people of Ukraine, as they enlisted their support.
Some members of the unit became involved in the suppression of Polish resistance fighters, and some joined Germans in the crushing the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto.
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