Volodymyr Groysman .
(photo credit: UKRAINE CRISIS MEDIA CENTER)
When he was chosen prime minister in 2016, Volodymyr Groysman was only 38 years old. “Flexible and dependable,” commentators told local media. He had become mayor of the city of Vinnytsia at only 28, the youngest mayor in Ukraine. He has a reputation as a pro-Western modernizer and close ally of Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko. And he is the first openly Jewish Prime Minister of Ukraine.
“All my ancestors I know of from the 18th century [to this day] live in Ukraine,” he said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post in May.
He is proud of being Jewish and attended synagogue on Rosh Hashana as prime minister. He also held a minute’s silence for the Holocaust when he was speaker of the parliament. Ukraine is navigating a tough period after the Euromaidan protests in 2013-2014 that resulted in a political revolution that saw separatists take over part of eastern Ukraine. With Russian support, Crimea seceded from Ukraine. The country is embroiled in a tough war with the separatists and has had an economic crisis. Groysman says his country faces shelling daily in the east and has condemned Russia’s involvement in the conflict.
Jews sometimes face anti-semitism in Ukraine, but Groysman says that the country embraces its diversity. He has also worked closely on Israel-Ukraine relations, signing a several bilateral agreements in May. These relate to issues such as healthcare, employment, customs and discussions about a free-trade agreement. “This was a friendly and constructive visit,” he said.
Groysman is a symbol of acceptance of Jews and his high profile stature provides a positive image of Jews in Ukraine. This includes visits to Israel and the Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem. In a country that has such a rich Jewish history, but also a history of suffering during the Holocaust, these symbolic acts are important.