German Journalist Implicated in Ukrainian Firebombing Attack

The location of Zakarpattya Oblast colored in yellow (Wikimedia Commons).

The location of Zakarpattya Oblast colored in yellow (Wikimedia Commons).

Three Polish nationals firebombed a Hungarian cultural center in Ukraine in February 2018. In his testimony on January 14, one of the suspects accused alt-right German journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter of directing the attack. As the full details come to light, they reveal a complex web of causality.

In February 2018, Ukraine enacted an education law that drew backlash from Hungary, which claimed the law infringed on the rights of ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine. Around 100,000 ethnic Hungarians reside in Zakarpattya, Ukraine’s westernmost region. The arson attack occurred precisely at this moment of heightened tension between Kiev and Budapest.

That February, the Zakarpattya Hungarian Cultural Center was firebombed not once, but twice. The arsonists failed to set fire to the center on their first try; two weeks later, they were successful. Security footage at a nearby gas station caught them purchasing gasoline for the attack. When police arrested them, it turned out that they were not Ukrainian but Polish.

Many guessed that the attack was an attempt to further fuel tensions between Ukraine and Hungary. On January 14, Michal Prokopowicz, one of the Polish suspects, told a Krakow court that he had received instructions for the attack from German journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter.

Prokopowicz claims that he was instructed to frame Ukrainian ultra-nationalists for the attack and received payment from Ochsenreiter to do so. Furthermore, he testified that he had filmed the attack for Ochsenreiter and sent the video to him via WhatsApp.

Ochsenreiter is the editor of Zuerst!, a far-right newspaper in Germany, and has ties to Polish alt-right groups. Known for his pro-Russian views, he often appears as a commentator in Russian media and is vocal in his support of Russia-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine. For this reason, news outlets have questioned whether Ochsenreiter was acting in the interest of Russian intelligence services. Since its 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea, Russia has consistently sought to destabilize Ukraine and isolate it from its EU neighbors.

Ochsenreiter denies the accusations against him and claims to have no knowledge of the attack.