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Demjanjuk Looks to Native Ukraine for Refuge : Israel: Barred by U.S., retiree acquitted of being ‘Ivan the Terrible’ turns to land he left 51 years ago.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Demjanjuk, acquitted by the Israeli Supreme Court of being the Nazi war criminal “Ivan the Terrible,” will seek refuge in his native Ukraine next week unless the United States allows him to return to his family in Ohio, Ukrainian officials said Friday.

“If Mr. Demjanjuk appeals for temporary stay in Ukraine, his appeal will be carefully, and positively, considered by Ukrainian official bodies,” Ukrainian Ambassador Yuri Shcherbak said in Tel Aviv.

John Demjanjuk Jr. met Friday with officials of the Ukrainian Embassy in Tel Aviv to seek temporary residence for his father, according to embassy officials, and was told it could be granted within a day of formal application because he was born there.

Alexander Maidammyk, an embassy counselor, said after meeting with Demjanjuk’s son that Ukraine is the “fast-track option” in getting the 73-year-old retired auto worker out of the Israeli prison where he has been held for 7 1/2 years, including five years awaiting execution.

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After his acquittal Thursday, Demjanjuk was rearrested, returned to Ayalon Prison outside Tel Aviv and served with a deportation order.

Yoram Sheftel, Demjanjuk’s lawyer, said Demjanjuk would leave Israel within a few days. But the attorney pointedly refused to confirm plans for Demjanjuk’s repatriation to Ukraine, which he left in 1942 as a German war prisoner at the age of 22.

“He will find refuge in a place that we will disclose after he is there physically--and not a moment before,” Sheftel told a news conference. He expressed concern that a premature announcement would lead to international pressure that would make even temporary residence politically impossible.

“We have had discussions with many, many countries,” said Ed Nishnic, Demjanjuk’s son-in-law and family strategist in the case. “Ukraine is an option, maybe.”

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Demjanjuk’s strong desire, however, is to return to the United States. “I miss my beautiful country America; I miss my beautiful family, children, everybody,” Demjanjuk said in an interview shown on Israel Television taped before his acquittal and aired Friday. “I want to return home.”

Nishnic conceded that while a return to Cleveland is Demjanjuk’s goal, the family faces a lengthy struggle.

“After being accused of being ‘Ivan the Terrible,’ there’s a stigma attached to him,” Nishnic said, “and regardless of where he wants to go, people aren’t going to want to touch him. With the acquittal, though, I would think that stigma would be less.”

In Kiev, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk said his country would consider an application from Demjanjuk for citizenship as well as a request for temporary residency. With distant relatives in eastern Ukraine, Demjanjuk could remain there indefinitely as a temporary resident.

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Now stateless, Demjanjuk had told Shcherbak in April that he wanted Ukrainian citizenship if acquitted. Ukrainian law normally requires a person to live there five years before being granted citizenship, but it provides as well for the restoration of citizenship to Ukrainians returning from abroad.

But Demjanjuk could face prosecution, and possibly the death penalty, as a war criminal under stringent laws from the Soviet era that are still in force in Ukraine.

Although Demjanjuk was found innocent on appeal of being Treblinka’s “Ivan the Terrible,” substantial evidence from Soviet archives that he served as a guard at another Nazi death camp leaves him open to prosecution in Ukraine. The Soviet Union continued its prosecution of suspected war criminals and Nazi collaborators until its collapse in 1991.

“The possibility of a Ukrainian trial still exists,” Sergei Holovaty, a lawyer and member of the Ukrainian Parliament, said in Kiev. “However, the issue now is political rather than legal: Would we want to use a discredited law against an acquitted man?”

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Any Ukrainian group insisting on a trial, however, would probably be criticized as anti-Ukrainian, a strong charge at a time when nationalism is rising. A trial, moreover, could inflame the anti-Semitism that has taken such a high toll there over the centuries and serve as a rallying point for ultranationalists. It thus might also be opposed by Ukraine’s half-million Jews.

Kravchuk praised the Israeli Supreme Court for its judicial integrity in overturning Demjanjuk’s 1988 conviction as the brutal gas chamber operator “Ivan the Terrible” at the Treblinka camp in eastern Poland during World War II.

The Israeli Supreme Court determined that new evidence raised serious doubts that Demjanjuk was “Ivan the Terrible” at Treblinka, where 850,000 Jews were killed in gas chambers. The evidence suggested that “Ivan” was actually another Ukrainian, Ivan Marchenko, who was last seen in 1944. Demjanjuk had been convicted largely on the basis of dramatic testimony by five Treblinka survivors that he had operated the gas chambers there.

The court accepted evidence placing Demjanjuk at Sobibor, another Nazi death camp in eastern Poland, rather than Treblinka. The court might have convicted him of war crimes on this basis--250,000 Jews died at Sobibor. But the five justices ruled that he had not had sufficient opportunity to defend himself against those charges and that it would be unreasonable to retry him.

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From the day U.S. Nazi hunters found him 16 years ago, Demjanjuk insisted that he was a victim of mistaken identity, and his family and attorney said Friday that this remains their contention.

In Cincinnati, lawyers for Demjanjuk filed a motion Friday in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seeking his immediate return to the United States, although he was stripped of U.S. citizenship in 1981.

On Thursday, the Justice Department said in Washington that the order deporting Demjanjuk stands and that, as a suspected guard at Nazi concentration camps during World War II, he would not be allowed to re-enter the United States.

Times special correspondent Robert Seely, in Kiev, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

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