The story of Ukrainian Bogdan Stashinsky’s rise from an agricultural student to a KGB assassin who defected to the West in 1961.
Stashinsky’s career as a member of the Soviet secret police did not have an auspicious beginning. As an aspiring university student during the postwar Soviet occupation of Ukraine, he had family ties to the nationalist underground and was sympathetic to anti-Soviet groups. Local Soviet officials knew this well and blackmailed Stashinsky by giving him an ultimatum: betray his loyalties or watch the Soviets persistently harass and potentially assassinate his family members. He chose to collaborate with his occupiers. However, Stashinsky was quickly outed and shunned by his family; with nowhere else to turn, he accepted an offer to join the MGB, a precursor to the KGB. So began his rise as a professional assassin. With gusto and verve, Plokhy (Ukrainian History/Harvard Univ.; The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine, 2015, etc.) details Stashinsky’s intelligence work in East Germany, where he eventually received assignments to assassinate dissident journalist Lev Rebet and Stepan Bandera, leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. To complete the deed, he was given a novel device that shot untraceable poison directly into the face of his victims. However, Stashinsky was a reluctant assassin and was eager for reassignment to the West. Upon being recalled to Moscow with his wife—and much KGB meddling with their personal affairs—he decided to make a daring escape and defect to West Germany. Ironically, Stashinsky had to prove that he had killed Rebet and Bandera in order to save himself, though that was easier said than done. More than just the story of Stashinsky’s involvement with the KGB, the book wonderfully details the entire intelligence milieu of postwar Germany, Russia, and much of Eastern Europe, including the paranoid atmosphere created by the legions of secret police that had taken hold throughout the region.
A thrilling, well-researched tale of espionage that has all the spycraft hallmarks of a blockbuster movie.