Yushchenko vows to nix visas for Israelis

Ukranian President acknowledges atrocities perpetrated by some Ukrainians during the Holocaust - but stops short of apologizing.

Viktor Yushchenko 224.88 (photo credit: )
Viktor Yushchenko 224.88
(photo credit: )
During his visit to Israel this week, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko took great pains to assure all of the Israeli dignitaries he met that whatever dark days there had been for Jews in Ukraine in the past were over, and that the future held promise. He did so again on Thursday at the tail end of his visit when he addressed The Israel Council on Foreign Relations on "Ukraine - Israel: A Dialogue in the Name of the Future." As things turned out, it was basically a monologue, with Yushchenko acknowledging the atrocities perpetrated by some Ukrainians during the Holocaust - but stopping short of apologizing, as he felt it did not apply to his generation or his government. However, in attempting to paint a brighter picture of the history of the Jews in his country, he noted that "good things are often forgotten, whereas bad things are remembered for years." He made no secret of the fact that the purpose of his visit was to "accelerate political and economic relations with Israel," promising to work to abolish the need for visas for Israelis. "We think there should not be visas [to the Ukraine] for Jews," he declared. A controversial decision Yushchenko had made to abolish visas for tourists from European Union member countries had resulted in an appreciable upsurge in tourism. "This is not just about finance, but human contact," he said. Following his discussions with Israeli officials, he was determined to work out a new agreement on investment protection, and he also wanted to establish a free trade zone between Ukraine and Israel to be initiated in January 2008. "We want to liberalize trade relations to the maximum," he said. He also mentioned the measures being taken to provide pension payments for Israelis who are former citizens of Ukraine. Claiming that 8,000 Ukrainians migrate to Israel each year, Yushchenko expressed the desire for a migration reversal. "I'm sure Jews from Israel will come back to Ukraine," he said. "It's a step aimed at giving people the right to choose where to live." In most of his conversations, either Yushchenko or his host mentioned Jewish national, religious and business leaders of Ukrainian origin. Yushchenko wants to commemorate such people and is also willing to preserve sacred Jewish sites. The preservation, he said, was the responsibility of (Jewish) business and religious leaders. Yushchenko has already adopted a policy of returning Jewish property to the Jewish community, and said that of 109 synagogues in Ukraine, 84 have been returned, and of the remaining 25, nine are no longer in use. Like the leaders of several of the countries neighboring the Ukraine, Yushchenko has agreed to work with Yad Vashem to create educational programs about the Holocaust "on the understanding that every fourth Jew who perished in the Holocaust came from Ukraine." Similar to Yad Vashem's policy of honoring the Righteous among the Nations, Yushchenko said that state awards have been given to people who saved Jews in World War II, and he added that the largest Holocaust museum in the world will be built in Ukraine.