Photo Credit: Igor Faberov
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaking directly to Hebrew U students, June 23, 2022.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday addressed the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in a live speech from Kiev. The speech was broadcast on the university’s social media channels and followed by Q&A with students and staff.

Speaking from his war-torn country that has seen 4 months of fierce fighting since the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022, Zelenskyy said to the assembled students: “When the war will end, and I believe it will, we will have to look into one another’s eyes for many generations to come—that’s why I wanted to speak with you, the current generation, today.”

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The president did not mention the earlier generation of Ukrainians who rejoiced in turning in their Jewish neighbors to the Nazis and participated in their mass murders. In fact, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk who attended the talk, once claimed that his people saved Jews during the Holocaust, for which Israelis owe his people a favor. But in a country packed with Holocaust survivors, the ambassador received multiple corrections. It wasn’t fun. So much so that at the Jerusalem get-together on Thursday he stuck with, “We appreciate the support we’ve received from the citizens of Israel and now ask for support from Israel’s government, as well. Please help the Ukrainian people in their distress.”

Much better.

But Zelenskyy, who claims to have Jewish roots (although he baptized both his children from his Christian wife), singled out Israel for not doing more to help Ukraine, “This is about values. Anyone who seeks to destroy another country needs to be held accountable. Unfortunately, we have not yet seen Israel join the other countries that are boycotting Russia.”

And thank God for that, seeing as Israel’s neighbor to the north, for all intents and purposes, is the Russian army, which controls Syria and can cause a great deal of damage if Israel makes it too unhappy. Perhaps the president of Ukraine should not meddle openly in Israel’s foreign policy. Don’t poke the bear, you know?

During the Q&A, several HU students asked what can be done to keep news of the war in Ukraine front and center. Another student, born in Kharkov, proudly told Zelenskyy that her father is currently in Ukraine fighting against the Russians. Moved by this news, Zelenskyy shared that “Ukraine’s warriors and civilians need medication, drinking water, fuel. People forget that there is a war going on in Ukraine. No matter where you are, or where you study, you can help those that are fighting. We have many student volunteers who are collecting donations online to send food and medication to our cities under attack. We also have student volunteers writing on social media to make sure the word doesn’t forget about the war and to spread the truth to the world.”

Over the past few months, the Hebrew University has taken in several Ukrainian researchers and students who managed to escape the horrors of war. They, too, were in the audience.

Zelenskyy spoke of his and his nation’s ties to the Jewish people, noting, “My office is located in the very center of Kiev. Nearby is the house where Golda Meir grew up. Not far is where Sholem Aleichem lived. This is the heritage of Ukraine… it isn’t just historical facts. It’s real human life that has brought our cultures together.”

Yes, except for that lull in the general joy, from 1939 to 1945. Earlier, in 1648-49, Ukrainians carried out the bloodiest pogroms against their Jewish neighbors, slaughtering them in the tens of thousands in cruelty that remains forever in infamy. So, yes, our cultures have been brought together, but only one culture got to go home afterward.

Zelenskyy lamented the impact that the war has had on national sites in Ukraine, including the monument at Babi Yar honoring Jewish victims, “The Russians even bombed Babi Yar… We all remember and treasure these sites. This is all under threat. How can you preserve memorial places during an all-out war?” he asked.

Well, they weren’t aiming for the Babi Yar memorial, but for an adjacent TV antenna, as has been explained multiple times by independent experts, which didn’t stop Zelenskyy from milking the story anyway.

Zelenskyy couldn’t help noting the difference between the calm HU auditorium where HU students and faculty assembled for his address and the current state of Ukraine’s universities. “2,000 academic institutions in Ukraine have been destroyed,” he said. “Can you imagine it, sitting in your lovely auditorium at Hebrew University?”

He added, “Week after week… the Russians are trying to hide the fact that they’ve been burying dead Ukrainian civilians in unmarked graves. They’re killing and raping and torturing innocent civilians along the way… By our estimates, more than 12 million Ukrainians have been displaced. We haven’t seen these numbers since World War 2. How can you not help the victims of such aggression?”

We’re helping, we’re helping, we’re just not going to send you the attack weapons you’re demanding because, you know, the bear?

HU President Professor Asher Cohen welcomed Zelenskyy, saying, “President Zelenskyy’s address to the Hebrew University community today is a seamless continuation of our policy to not remain indifferent when innocent people are killed, families are destroyed, and life is put on hold by an unjust and unnecessary war. We, as individuals, and certainly as Israel’s leading academic institution, cannot afford to remain passive in the wake of Russia’s invasion of a sovereign country. We must do everything in our power to reach out and help the people of Ukraine.”

Looking ahead, Zelenskyy was optimistic about Ukraine’s candidacy for European Union membership: “We’re moving towards a new future, closer to the European family. Soon we will be part of that family. This is for our children—to become a European state that will be part of the EU. This will provide us with strong protection.”

Good luck, and in the future try to keep those pogroms to a minimum. And on Rosh Hashanah, maybe cut down on the beatings of visiting Chasidim in Uman. It’ll be appreciated. It’ll make both Shalom Aleychem and Golda Meir happy.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.