Israel should take a side in the Ukraine-Russia conflict, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in his address to the Knesset on Wednesday.
“When evil wins in one place, it will try to continue to another,” Poroshenko warned. “We need to act in cooperation, and Israeli politicians should make their stance towards Ukraine very clear.”
Poroshenko said that over the last 21 months, 9,000 Ukrainians were victims of “Russian-funded terror,” and warned that the 17,000 Jews in Crimea may find themselves in danger.
“The occupiers have started encouraging anti-Semitism,” he stated.
Poroshenko compared Ukraine to Israel, saying his country is “a stronghold of democracy in Eastern Europe, just like Israel is a stronghold of democracy in the Middle East.”
“We are a free country and fighting against the Russian aggression and defending our democratic government. We want to decide our future on our own,” he added.
Poroshenko also warned against Russia’s involvement in Syria, accusing Moscow of killing innocent civilians, and hinting that Russian weapons may fall into the hands of those who seek to harm Israel.
“Russia supplied systems to Syria that can change the balance of power in the region.”
The president also talked about Jewish history in his country – the good and the bad.
Poroshenko apologized for the Ukrainians’ role in the Holocaust.
“We must remember the negative events in history, in which collaborators helped the Nazis with the Final Solution. When Ukraine was established [in 1991], we asked for forgiveness, and I am doing it now, in the Knesset, before the children and grandchildren of the victims of the Holocaust... I am doing it before all citizens of Israel,” he said.
He called the massacre at Babi Yar, in which the Nazis killed over 100,000 Jews, “a shared wound that has not yet healed.”
Poroshenko said he ordered an official memorial ceremony to take place next year on the 75th anniversary of the massacre, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would participate in it.
“The tragic events of the past require us to educate our children on the principles of human dignity, tolerance and freedom. That is what we are fighting for in Ukraine,” Poroshenko said.
After a wave of protests and street battles swept pro-Russian president Victor Yanukovych from power in early 2014, Moscow has vociferously accused the post-revolutionary government of fascism and anti-Semitism, and Kiev has made the same claim of the pro-Russian forces in Crimea.
Netanyahu expressed hope that “an appropriate solution” will be found for Ukraine’s conflict with Russia.
The prime minister told Poroshenko he appreciates his efforts to combat anti-Semitism.
“We cannot forget the times when we were persecuted and our blood was shed, including in Ukraine,” the prime minister stated, mentioning the joint ceremony in Babi Yar.
Both Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) discussed Jewish history in Ukraine, mentioning writer Shalom Aleichem, poet Haim Nachman Bialik, and Likud ideological forebear Ze’ev Jabotinsky; Rabbis Nachman of Breslov and Menachem Mendel Schneerson; and leaders, like former prime ministers Moshe Sharett and Golda Meir, all of whom were born in Ukraine.
“The world is a narrow bridge,” Herzog said, quoting Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.
“You and your nation are on a narrow bridge, at the height of a territorial conflict and an impressive effort to rehabilitate your democracy.”
Herzog praised Poroshenko for working to improve the economy and create stability.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who was born in what is now Ukraine, shared something that he and Poroshenko had in common.
“I heard that when you were young, after you finished your studies, you tried to open a small school for languages, and the KGB closed it,” Edelstein said. “When I was young, I tried to teach Hebrew, including in Ukraine, except in my case, the KGB did not think stopping my activities was enough and they sent me far away from there.”
Edelstein told Poroshenko that he hopes the conflict in his country will come to an end soon.