Ukrainian president says Russian strike that damaged Holocaust memorial complex underlines Moscow’s threat to Ukrainian identity
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky in a video address posted to Facebook, March 2, 2022 (Screen grab)
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday urged Jewish people around the world to speak up as he accused Russia of of seeking to “erase” Ukrainians, their country and their history.
“I am now addressing all the Jews of the world. Don’t you see what is happening? That is why it is very important that millions of Jews around the world not remain silent right now,” said Zelensky, who is himself Jewish.
“Nazism is born in silence. So shout about killings of civilians. Shout about the murders of Ukrainians.”
In a video address, the Ukrainian leader said a Tuesday missile strike on a target at the site of a Holocaust massacre shows that “for many people in Russia our Kyiv is completely foreign.”
The attack on Tuesday night damaged Kyiv’s main television mast, which was built at Babi Yar, the site of World War II’s biggest slaughter of Kyiv Jews and a place of memorial and pilgrimage.
Five people were killed in the strike itself, according to Ukrainian authorities, and for Zelensky the symbolism of the location underlined the Russian threat to Ukrainian identity.
“They know nothing about our capital. About our history. But they have an order to erase our history. Erase our country. Erase us all,” he said of President Vladimir Putin’s invasion force.
“What will be next if even Babi Yar [is hit], what other ‘military’ objects, ‘NATO bases’ are threatening Russia? St. Sophia’s Cathedral, Lavra, Andrew’s Church?” he asked, referring to sites in Kyiv held sacred by Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox believers around the world.
Under Soviet rule, the Ukrainian president charged, authorities had built the TV tower and a sports complex on a “special part of Europe, a place of prayer, a place of remembrance.”
“Outbuildings. They built a park there. To erase the true history of Babi Yar… This is beyond humanity,” he declared.
“Such a missile strike shows that for many people in Russia our Kyiv is completely foreign. They know nothing about our capital. About our history,” he said.
“But they have an order to erase our history. Erase our country. Erase us all.”
Israeli and Jewish officials have sharply denounced the Russian missile attack that killed five people and also struck the the Babi Yar Holocaust memorial site.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Israel “denounced the damage” to the Babi Yar memorial and the Jewish cemetery, but pointedly refrained from identifying Russia as having caused it.
Israel has been noticeably reticent in blaming Moscow for the invasion of its neighbor due to concerns over security cooperation with Russia in Syria.
Russian officials have frequently repeated the false claim that Ukraine requires “denazifying,” using the unsubstantiated allegation as a pretext for the invasion.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.