Volodymyr Zelenskiy
Volodymyr Zelenskiy Reuters

Celebrating 30 years of relations between Ukraine and the State of Israel, Ukrainian, Israeli, American, and European leaders spoke today at the third-annual Kyiv Jewish Forum, about the historic relations between the Jewish and Ukrainian peoples, the rise of global antisemitism, and the looming threats to both nations.

“We know what it's like not to have an own state,” said Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, referring to both Ukrainians and Jews. “We know what it means to defend one’s own state and land with weapons in hand, at the cost of our own lives. Both Ukrainians and Jews value freedom, and they work equally for the future of our states to become to our liking, and not the future which others want for us. Israel is often an example for Ukraine.”

Th two-day virtual Forum was co-hosted by the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, the Center for Jewish Impact, the Combat Antisemitism Movement and the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.

In his remarks, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog spoke about the increasing threat of antisemitism, which according to CAM’s statistics has risen by almost a third in recent months and spoke about the impact of his recent trip to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Babyn Yar massacre.

“My visit to Babyn Yar few just a few weeks ago will remain with me forever. It is the most compelling reminder that we cannot allow ourselves or the international community to disregard the deep destructive power of antisemitism,” President Herzog said. “That we can never become complacent when it comes to threats of violence or hateful assaults against our sisters and brothers or against any human being. We must also reiterate that this is not just a Jewish issue. If allowed to fester, antisemitism ultimately lurks into other forms of intolerance and hate. It poisons our society and damages us all.

Boris Lozhkin, President of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine and founder of the Kyiv Jewish Forum, who has been at the forefront of expanding bilateral relations between Israel and Ukraine, laid out the importance of the event itself and the growing relations between the two countries.

“The main reason for holding this forum is the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the State of Israel and Ukraine, which will be celebrated in a few days,” Lozhkin said. “Around 500,000 people from Ukraine live in Israel today. During the 30 years since the establishment of relations, our countries have agreed on a visa-waiver program, established a free-trade zone, have become reliable partners in many sectors, from agriculture and the information technology spheres to culture and medicine. The volume of trade has already reached $800 million a year, and this is just the beginning.”

Concerns over the geopolitical situation, especially the ongoing tensions between Ukraine and Russia, were raised by many of the speakers.

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal shared a clear message of Ukraine’s right of self-determination as well as a strong identification with Israel.

“I’d like to give Israel special thanks for its ongoing support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Prime Minister Shmyhal said. “The voice of civilian and religious organizations on this matter is equally as important in letting the world know that Ukraine is currently fighting for its independence.”

Senator for Maryland Ben Cardin, who is also Chairman of the U.S. Government Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) reinforced his nation’s support for Ukraine: “These are challenging times for Ukraine, as it confronts Kremlin instigated war and occupation within its borders. The looming threat of ever more direct military aggression by Russia, and a constant barrage of propaganda demonizing Ukraine and its aspirations for western integration.”

While the 30 years of economic, social, military and diplomatic relations were at the center of the forum, Natan Sharansky, Chair of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial and Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) Advisory Board Member, reiterated the important historic cooperation and common yearning of both Jews and Ukrainians for independence and freedom from his time as a Soviet dissident.

“During my time as a dissident in the former Soviet Union, I met with many Ukrainian democratic dissidents in the gulags, and we had a mutual dream how our peoples will live freely in their countries, and how we will cooperate together,” Sharansky recalled fondly.

Robert Singer, Chairman of the Center for Jewish Impact, said: "With recent polls showing that 44% of European Jews have experienced antisemitism, and 81% view antisemitism in their home countries as a serious problem, the Kyiv Jewish Forum is more important than ever before. This forum brings together world leaders and prominent figures from Ukraine, Israel, the US as a united front against manifestations of Jew hatred, while also recognizing Ukraine’s Jewish past and contemporary relations with the State of Israel.”

The event also featured an array of Israeli and Ukrainian leaders, including Israel’s Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Housing and Construction Ze’ev Elkin, Minister of Education Yifat Shasha-Biton, and Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba and Minister of Internal Affairs Denys Monastyrsky. Other international speakers included European Commission Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life Katharina von Schnurbein, Canada's Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism Irwin Cotler, US Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Aaron Keyak and Commissioner for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism of the Organization of American States Fernando Lottenberg, all of whom spoke on panels dedicated to studying the challenges of Antisemitism and finding solutions.

A large number of Jewish leaders from around the world also participated in the event, including World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris, President of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress Mikhail Mirilashvili and Chair of Yad Vashem Dani Dayan.