A building burns during the first Warsaw uprising in 1943 (Getty)
A building burns during the first Warsaw uprising in 1943 (Getty)

A great-grandfather living in rural Lancashire served in a notorious Nazi SS unit responsible for murdering hundreds of Jewish and Polish civilians during the second world war, it is claimed.

Documents discovered by a Holocaust historian suggest that retired coalminer Mychajlo Ostapenko, 88, who has lived in the UK for more than 65 years, served in the 31st Punitive Battalion.

The unit carried out atrocities including the murder of more than 100 prisoners in 1944 and the destruction of the Polish village of Chlaniow, where 44 civilians, including five children, were killed, reports the Mail on Sunday.

When contacted by the newspaper, Ostapenko said he did not remember joining the unit, and had done nothing wrong.

Ostapenko was born in Ukraine and moved to the UK in 1947, with no questions asked by authorities about his wartime record. He married an English woman and fathered two daughters.

Military rosters, payment lists and other documents found by British historian Dr Stephen Ankier in Polish and German archives state that Ostapenko had the rank of rifleman in the unit and that in 1945 he was captured by British forces and transferred to a PoW camp at Rimini in Italy.

He was granted British citizenship in 1956 and his certificate of naturalisation said he was a miner from Accrington.

The 31st Punitive Battalion, also known as the Ukrainian Self Defence League, comprised Ukrainian volunteers and was led by SS officers.

It was involved in operations including the brutal suppression of the 1944 Warsaw uprising.

Former Labour MP Andrew Dismore said: "Even if people like Ostapenko were not directly involved in war crimes, they may have a great deal of first-hand knowledge.

"If they have a clear conscience, there is no reason why they should not co-operate [with police]."

Ostapenko, who speaks ungrammatical English with a strong Ukrainian accent, confirmed to the Mail that he was in Poland during the war but said he never harmed civilians. "I don't know nothing about what was going on. I was in hospital in Poland for about nine months with appendicitis.

"Then I was at home. I was in an army but I never fought anyone. I haven't done anything wrong. I haven't killed anybody. I was in the Rimini camp. The British looked after us well. I can't remember anything else. I'm sorry."

Ankier said he had passed Ostapenko's name on to Scotland Yard, which is responsible for investigating war crimes suspects.