war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Ukrainian Jewish leaders demolish Putin’s lies about Zelensky and 'denazification'

Halya Coynash
Vladimir Putin’s new attempt to call Ukraine’s President a “disgrace to the Jewish people” has been dismissed, like all his efforts since 2014 to justify Russia's aggression against Ukraine

Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman Photo Ukrainska Pravda

Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman Photo Ukrainska Pravda

Russian president Vladimir Putin really does not learn.  Since 2014, his attempts to use false claims about ‘fascism’ or ‘anti-Semitism’ as excuse for his war against Ukraine have been roundly condemned by Ukraine’s Jewish leaders, yet he still comes back for more.

Speaking at the St Petersburg Economic Forum on 16 June, Putin claimed to be quoting unnamed “Jewish friends” in saying that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky “is not a Jew, but a disgrace to the Jewish people”. He also suggested that Zelensky “supports neo-Nazi scum”.

Reaction was swift and damning from, among others, the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine.  Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman told UNIAN: “I can personally say that I am proud of President Zelensky.  He did not run away and is doing everything to help the Ukrainian people. And I am not alone.  I believe that the entire world is proud of him.”

The Rabbi also dismissed Putin’s claim about suppose neo-Nazis in Ukraine, saying that “in Ukraine there are decent people who are defending their homeland.”

The Menorah of the Drobytsky Yar Memorial near Kharkiv, where the Nazis murdered 20 thousand Ukrainian Jews. The photo was taken after it was shelled by the Russians on 26 March 2022

The Menorah of the Drobytsky Yar Memorial near Kharkiv, where the Nazis murdered 20 thousand Ukrainian Jews. The photo was taken after it was shelled by the Russians on 26 March 2022

The message from the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine was equally unequivocal. 

“Volodymyr Zelensky is the leader who has shown an example of courage to his people and to the world.  [He] is a hero not only to the Jewish people, but to the entire political Ukrainian nation, which of course includes Jews. We are proud of the unwavering resilience of our President, who defends the democratic values, freedoms and peaceful rights of Ukraine and our citizens.”

The Confederation also dismisses any claims of neo-Nazism in today’s Ukraine and points out that “everyday anti-Semitism, already one of the lowest in Europe, became virtually non-existent in Ukraine after February 24, 2022.

Prominent Ukrainian businessman, oligarch and philanthropist Viktor Pinchuk also condemned Putin’ whom he referred to as “the Russian fascist [‘рашистський’] dictator”  Pinchuk stressed that he is both a citizen of Ukraine and Jewish.  If, back in 2019, when Zelensky was elected (with a huge majority), the Jewish people from all over the world that he spoke with were simply proud of his victory, much more is now involved.  “When Zelenskyy led the struggle of the people of Ukraine for their independence and freedom, when his courage and inexorability made him the moral leader of the free world, I began to hear from Jews of different countries their real admiration for this man”.  “<> “the election of a Jew as the President of Ukraine vividly demonstrates the fundamental difference between a free, democratic Ukraine and an antisemitic Russian fascist empire. The Jews of Ukraine are a part of the Ukrainian people. They fight bravely on the front lines, sacrificing their lives and contributing to Ukraine’s impending victory. Regardless of what unnamed "Jewish friends" of our enemy say. But their names can probably be found in all international sanctions lists

Back in 2014, Putin tried to claim “a rampage of reactionary, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces” in Kyiv in his attempts to justify Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea and aggression in Donbas.   Ukraine’s religious leaders, including Rabbi Yaacov Dov Bleich (also considered by many Ukrainian Jews to be  Chief Rabbi of Kyiv and Ukraine), signed an open letter, calling upon Russia to stop its aggression against Ukraine and withdraw its army from Crimea.

It was the Russian invasion that drove Rabbi Misha Kapustin from Crimea. As he explained to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: “I am a Ukrainian citizen and want to live in democratic Ukraine. The government has always provided protection for the Jews, and all the talk of anti-Semitism is exaggerated. The Russians have invaded illegally and that must be opposed.

Moscow continued to make unjustified claims about supposed anti-Semitism in Ukraine and to produce a series of fakes, often exposed as such by the Jewish community

Even more incredibly, Putin claimed on 24 February 2022 that Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine was aimed at “the denazification and demilitarization of Ukraine”. If Russian lies had needed to be publicly debunked back in 2014 by Ukraine’s Jewish letters, in 2022, they aroused open bemusement and condemnation far beyond Ukraine.  That did not stop top Russian figures, like foreign minister Sergei Lavrov from disgusting Israel’s leaders and Jewish communities in other countries through his response to questions about Moscow’s claim that its aim is to ‘denazify’ a country with a democratically elected Jewish President.  Lavrov said that he might be wrong, but he thinks Adolf Hitler had Jewish blood, and that “wise Jewish people say that the most ardent anti-Semites are usually Jews”.

In March 2014, Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich had spoken out both individually, and through his endorsement of the above-mentioned open letter, against Moscow’s false narrative aimed at justifying its aggression against Ukraine.

A day after Russia’s full-scale invasion began, the Rabbi issued a statement affirming the Ukrainian Jewish community’s solidarity with Ukraine’s government and armed forces in defending Ukraine. 

In an interview to the Odesa-based publication, Rabbi Avraham Wolf, Chief Rabbi of Odesa and Southern Ukraine, stated that the Jewish community in Odesa is a source of envy for his fellow rabbis from other countries. He said that “Ukraine for a Jewish person is the safest country in the world”, and explained that  even though he has a beard, wears a hat and, what he describes as, Jewish clothing, he walks around Odesa, feeling totally free and safe.  Never, in all the years that he has been in Odesa, has he encountered hostility towards him because he is Jewish. He added that he did not have such a sense of safety anywhere else in the world, not even in Israel.

Asked if his attitude to Ukraine has changed since the beginning of the war Rabbi Wolf answered: “if previously I loved and respected the Ukrainian people, now, after the beginning of the war, I revere them!. I could never have imagined how strongly people can unite, how full of determination they can be to defend their Motherland."

Further examples of condemnation, both within Ukraine and from international Holocaust organizations, can be found here.

It is worth noting also that one of Russia’s chief propagandists, Margarita Simonyan claimed that Russia’s killing on 31 July 2022 of 75-year-old grain tycoon and Ukrainian patriot Oleksiy Vadatursky and his wife was “denazification in action.”

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