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Ukraine war: Man, 96, survived four Nazi death camps but was killed by a Russian missile

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By Aleksandar Brezar  with Reuters, AP
Former Buchenwald prisoner Boris Romanchenko
Former Buchenwald prisoner Boris Romanchenko   -   Copyright  Credit: Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Foundation via Twitter

He survived being interred at not one, but four World War II Nazi death camps.

The 96-year-old Boris Romanchenko — who lived through the horrors of the likes of Dora-Mittelbau and Bergen-Belsen — was killed by a Russian missile strike on his flat in the war-ravaged Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Friday.

The news of his death was confirmed by the Buchenwald concentration camp memorial foundation on Monday after his granddaughter Yulia called the institution.

“It is with horror that we report the violent death of Boris Romanchenko in the war in Ukraine,” the memorial for the Buchenwald survivors said in a statement.

"The multi-storey apartment building where Romanchenko lived was shelled and caught on fire,” said the statement.

Yulia Romanschenko told the local outlet Suspilne Novini that the apartment was directly struck by a missile, leaving only the metal mesh of the bed where he slept intact.

"He lived in that apartment in [the neighbourhood of] Slativka for 30 years," she said. "He couldn't walk or hear well, but he didn't want to leave."

A spokesperson for the Anne Frank Museum told Euronews the institution was deeply sorry to hear of  Romanchenko's death.

"It’s very tragic that he again had to experience war and that he lost his life in a Russian strike on his home," the statement said.

The museum dedicated to commemorating Frank, a Bergen-Belsen prisoner and one of the most widely-known Holocaust victims, also expressed their condolences to Romanchenko's relatives.

"We wish them — as we wish all the people in Ukraine — much strength during this terrible war and anxious times."

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, has been under heavy fire from Russian artillery throughout the invasion, which Russian President Vladimir Putin calls a “special operation” necessary to disarm and “denazify” its neighbour.

'Survived Hitler, killed by Putin'

Romanchenko was born on 20 January 1926, in Bondari, near the city of Sumy, some 185 kilometres from Kharkiv.

After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Romanchenko was taken to Dortmund as a forced mining labourer in 1942 and was sent to the concentration camps after an escape attempt in 1943.

He was first sent to Buchenwald, where more than 53,000 people were killed during World War II.

From there, he was transferred to Peenemünde on the Baltic Sea island of Usedom, where he worked as a forced labourer on the V2 rocket programme.

Romanchenko was also interned at the Dora-Mittelbau and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, until the British military liberated the latter, right before the inmates were to be poisoned by food.

“Please think about how many things he has come through,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late on Monday.

“But [he] was killed by a Russian strike, which hit an ordinary Kharkiv multi-storey building. With each day of this war, it becomes more obvious what denazification means to them.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba was more direct in his condemnation, calling it an "unspeakable crime." "Survived Hitler, killed by Putin", Kuleba said on Twitter on Monday.

Romanchenko 'dedicated his life to peace and freedom'

According to the Buchenwald memorial, Romanchenko had served for many years as the vice president of the Buchenwald-Dora International Committee, devoting himself to documenting the Nazi crimes.

In 2012, he read an oath in Russian devoted to "creating a new world where peace and freedom reign," the institution stated.

By 2018, he was one of only two remaining camp survivors in Ukraine, local press reported.

Germany's parliament on Tuesday paid tribute to Romanchenko when deputy speaker Katrin Goering-Eckardt opened the session by reminding the lawmakers of his life path.

“His death reminds us that Germany has a special historical responsibility toward Ukraine,” Goering-Eckardt said.

“Boris Romanchenko is one of thousands of dead in Ukraine. Every single life that has been taken reminds us to do everything we can to stop this cruel war that violates international law and to help people in and from Ukraine.”

Finance Minister Christian Lindner added that “[Romanchenko's] fate shows both the criminal character of Russian policy and why Germany is showing solidarity with Ukraine, why we must show solidarity.”

Lawmakers held a moment of silence in memory of Romanchenko and other victims of the war.