Ukraine asks Israel to mediate with Russia

"We always look to Israel as one of the most prominent possible intermediaries for Mr. Putin," Ukraine's Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk said.

 Ukraine's Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk in Tel Aviv (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Ukraine's Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

Ukraine wants Israel to use its tight ties with Moscow to help sway Russian President Vladimir Putin to halt the invasion of Ukraine that began on Thursday morning.

"We are looking more for the Israeli diplomatic effort, as an intermediary," Ukraine's Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk said. "We always look to Israel as one of the most prominent possible intermediaries for Mr. Putin."

Korniychuk paused Friday from an intense round of behind-the-scenes diplomatic activity to speak with reporters, including The Jerusalem Post, from his small white stucco embassy in Tel Aviv, located just a few blocks from the beach.

He had been in touch with ambassadors from the European Union and with US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides.

On Friday, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky spoke with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. 

 A view shows a destroyed building after shelling in the town of Starobilsk in the Luhansk region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released February 25, 2022. (credit: Press service of the Ukrainian State Emergency Service/Handout via REUTERS) A view shows a destroyed building after shelling in the town of Starobilsk in the Luhansk region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released February 25, 2022. (credit: Press service of the Ukrainian State Emergency Service/Handout via REUTERS)

"We are knocking on every single door," Korniychuk said.

The Ukrainian ambassador's worried thoughts have been focused on the guns of war in his country, where his daughter, relatives and friends live. He and his staff members receive constant updates and photographs on their phones.

Israelis have been focused on their country's public support for Ukraine and the extent to which its leaders are willing to denounce Russia's military attack against its embattled neighbor.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid condemned Russia on Thursday, but Bennett spoke only of his support for the Ukrainian people in their hour of need. 

"Lapid condemned it [Russia's attack]. We are glad to hear that," Korniychuk said. But what is more critical is the extent of the behind-the-scenes diplomacy that Israel can accomplish on behalf of Ukraine by speaking to Moscow on its behalf, he explained.

"That is what we value most from Israel. This is something that we believe Israel is good on," Korniychuk said.

"You are a unique country," he said. "You are the only democracy that has great relations with both, with the Russian leadership and the Ukrainian leadership."

In the past, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Russia on behalf of Ukraine, Korniychuk said, adding that Bennett had done so as well when he met with Putin in Sochi last October.

The desire to halt the hostilities is not a sign of weakness but a sign of respect for the value of human life, the ambassador said. 

"Whatever we can do to stop the bloodshed, we must do," he said. Ukraine wants "Putin to stop, to sit over the table and to speak instead of killing our people."

"When military operations start that means that diplomacy is weak," he explained.

"It is always good if diplomacy will win over the military aggression," he said, adding that "there is always a compromise that can be reached."

If not, "then we will fight, that is all we can do."

Korniychuk said he was grateful that Israel had offered to send humanitarian assistance, particularly medical aid and field hospitals.

In his conversation with Zelensky, Bennett spoke about the scope of humanitarian aid. According to the Prime Minister's Office, Bennett "reiterated his hope for a speedy end to the fighting and said that he stands by the people of Ukraine in these difficult days."