Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky for the first time in nine months on Thursday evening amid growing tensions between the two countries.
Ukraine has long complained about lukewarm Israeli support as it defends itself against Russia’s invasion of its country, a war that is now in its second year.
In recent months it has complained in particular about Israel’s treatment of Ukrainian refugees seeking to enter the Jewish state. It has warned that this could impact its handling of the thousands of religious Israelis who plan to make their annual pilgrimage to the Ukrainian city of Uman to pray at the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Bretslov.
“During our call, @Netanyahu and I discussed how to ensure that the visa-free functions fully for Ukrainian citizens, as well as how to secure the safety of Hasidic Jews on their yearly pilgrimage to Uman,” Zelensky said.
During our call, @Netanyahu and I discussed how to ensure that the visa-free functions fully for Ukrainian citizens, as well as how to secure the safety of Hasidic Jews on their yearly pilgrimage to Uman.Ukraine has always warmly welcomed pilgrims and took responsibility for…— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) September 7, 2023
“Ukraine has always warmly welcomed pilgrims and took responsibility for their safety. Given the threat of Russian missiles and Iranian drones, this year’s pilgrimage comes with high-security risks. Our bomb shelters have a capacity for around 11 thousand people. Swift joint action is required to ensure the safety of more people,” he explained.
Ensuring freedom of worship
Netanyahu said, “I raised the need to ensure as much as possible the arrival of worshipers to Uman this year in order to ensure freedom of worship.”
“We also discussed ways for Israel to support Ukraine in countering Russian aggression, as well as the international cooperation between our states,” he said.
שוחחתי עם נשיא אוקראינה וולודימיר זלנסקי. דיברנו על המשך הסיוע הישראלי לאוקראינה לרבות לפליטים מאוקראינה השוהים בישראל, ועל המשך קידום סיוע בפיתוח וקידום מערכות הגנה אזרחיות. העלתי את הצורך להבטיח ככל הניתן את ההגעה של מתפללים לאומן השנה במטרה להבטיח את חופש הפולחן.— Benjamin Netanyahu - בנימין נתניהו (@netanyahu) September 7, 2023
Israel has promised to send Ukraine an advanced early warning stem to notify its citizens of incoming missiles but has yet to deliver it. Ukraine has also pressed it to send defensive weapons to thwart the missiles, but Israel has not wanted to provide such weaponry for fear of angering Russia.
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen visited Ukraine in February and has remained the highest-level Israeli official to do so since the start of the war. Zelensky would like to see Netanyahu visit Kyiv as a show of solidarity.
Netanyahu said he spoke with Zelensky about the importance of the early alert system and the provision of humanitarian aid.
Zelensky in turn stated that, “We also discussed ways for Israel to support Ukraine in countering Russian aggression, as well as the international cooperation between our states.”
In their public comments after the meeting, they did not latest source of tension between them, over the film agreement Israel signed with Russia this week.