Zelenskyyy calls upon Israel to recognize Holodomor as genocide

Netanyahu places a small wheat basket at a monument the victims of the Holodomor, Kyiv, August 19, 2019. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Marco Levytsky, with files from Interfax-Ukraine, Maariv, The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, RFE/RL.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyyy has called upon Israeli Prime Minister, reported Interfax Ukraine.

“Our peoples survived all the tragedies of recent history – the Holodomor and the Holocaust, World War II, the totalitarian Soviet regime… I appealed to the Israeli side to recognize the Holodomor as an act of genocide of the Ukrainian people,” Zelenskyyy said in a press statement on Aug. 19 in Kyiv after meeting with Netanyahu, who placed a small wheat basket in front of the Holodomor monument.

According to the Israeli daily newspaper, Maariv, which quoted an unnamed source in the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv, Moscow, which rejects blame for the famine, tried to convince Netanyahu not to attend the ceremony during his state visit. The source claimed that while Netanyahu did not accede to that request, he did agree not to speak at the ceremony.

The Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv later denied the report.

“Russia does not interfere in the bilateral ties between Israel and Ukraine,” the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv told The Times of Israel.

Zelenskyyy and Netanyahu also laid wreaths at the monuments to the unknown soldier and at Babi Yar, where approximately 34,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis in 1941.

By the end of World War II, some 100,000 people considered “undesirables” or regarded as a threat to German authority, including Soviet prisoners of war, partisans, Ukrainian nationalists, and Roma, were executed at the site.

Netanyahu praised Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian government for preserving the memory of the Holocaust, and for its continued efforts against antisemitism. He contrasted the state of the Jews then – when it was a people who wandered from place to place, only to be slaughtered – to the situation of the State of Israel today.

Netanyahu’s official trip got off to a clumsy start when his wife, Sara, who was unfamiliar with the “korovai” ceremony, was caught on camera dropping a piece of bread that her husband handed to her after he was ceremoniously given the morsel by women in traditional dress who greeted them when they landed at Boryspil International Airport, reported The Jerusalem Post.

Some in the Israeli media highlighted the incident and reported that the prime minister’s wife had thrown the bread to the ground. This was then picked up by some in the Ukrainian media as a sign of disrespect.

Netanyahu dismissed this as “complete nonsense” and told reporters that he raised the issue with the head of the Ukrainian president’s office, whom he quoted as saying, “it was clear that there was no intention of Mrs. Netanyahu to show disrespect to Ukraine.”

And Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine, Joel Lion, addressed the issue in a tweet: “Just talked with the Head of the President’s Office, Andriy Bohdan, he told me that the whole bread incident was clearly unintentional and unimportant, and certainly not media-worthy.”

Zelenskyy stressed after talks with Netanyahu that Israel was his country’s main economic and trade partner in the Middle East and he called on Israeli companies to work and invest in Ukraine.

During his visit Netanyahu stressed the importance of Ukrainian-Israeli relations. Aside from Israel, Ukraine is the only country in the world where both the President and Prime Minister are Jewish.

The two countries signed a free-trade pact in January aimed at canceling duties for approximately 80 percent of Israeli industrial goods and 70 percent of Ukrainian industrial products. It has been ratified by Ukraine but not by Israel.

Trade turnover between the two countries last year equaled US$1.34 billion, consisting mostly of grain, ferrous metals, chemicals, and mineral fuel.