PAUL GROD AND SHIMON FOGEL
Contributed to The Globe and Mail
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The moment went unnoticed by much of the world’s media, but it underlined the long-standing constructive relationship that has existed between Ukraine’s Jews and Ukrainians, an alliance that has only strengthened since last month’s downfall of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.
At a recent wreath-laying ceremony in Kiev commemorating the bicentennial of the birth of Ukraine’s bard, Taras Shevchenko, a crowd of several thousand abruptly started cheering, “Long live the Jews! Long live Israel!” The chant was in honour of Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman, who the day before had individually blessed ten Ukrainians who were critically wounded by pro-Yanukovych forces during last month’s protest near Kiev’s Maidan before being airlifted to Israel for treatment. Many at the ceremony eagerly hugged the rabbi and shook his hand.
This encounter reflects the paradox facing Ukraine and its new government. One the one hand, the Russian media, aided by some Western observers, launched a campaign accusing Ukraine’s new government of anti-Semitism, fascism and extremism. They note that several ministerial posts are filled by individuals representing nationalist parties.
On the other hand, many in Ukraine, including members of the Jewish community, claim the situation on the ground is quite different. They accuse Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, of instigating a propaganda campaign geared to discredit Ukraine’s Maidan and the principles of democracy, freedom, ethnic and human rights for which millions stood, and for which more than a hundred died.