The Ukrainian nationalist leaders embody the democratic and indomitable spirit of the Ukrainian people who are fighting for their freedom today.


April 9, 2024

The Jerusalem Post


Over two years after Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainians are still fighting valiantly. Two years on, Russian President Vladimir Putin is still spewing baseless propaganda that my country, a country with a Jewish president and a thriving Jewish community, is a Nazi state.

There is no more profound symbol to counteract this false portrayal than the recent completion of the Torah scroll of solidarity between Ukraine and Israel, with letters inscribed by their presidents Volodymyr Zelensky and Isaac Herzog. This scroll will be a motivating force for the Ukrainian and Jewish communities to unify, closer than ever, to counter the old Soviet playbook and ensure that freedom prevails. But more must be done.

Putin has repeatedly pushed forward the abhorrently false narrative that Ukraine must be “denazified,” declaring that Ukraine is a Nazi state led by neo-Nazi aligned Ukrainian nationalists, thereby justifying his unprovoked and unwarranted war. These claims are not new.

For decades, Russian authorities, formerly Soviet, have called the Ukrainian nationalist movement a Nazi movement in an effort to discredit Ukrainians who want to live in a free and democratic Ukraine. They have focused their energy on the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, a political party that was established in 1929, dedicated to the establishment of an independent Ukrainian state.

The OUN played a central role in the establishment of a Ukrainian state and continues to play an increasingly crucial role in Ukrainian society today.

During World War Two, there were instances of Ukrainian nationalists partnering in crimes against Jews. But these acts were rare exceptions and absolutely not official policy or a reflection of OUN’s position. Much of the “reporting” today on the party’s purported crimes during the Holocaust stems from KGB propaganda aimed at discrediting Ukrainian nationalists.

In fact, there were many instances of Ukrainian nationalist leaders risking their lives to save Jews from the Nazis in Ukraine. And now, as Putin’s Russian propaganda proliferates globally with supporters like Tucker Carlson doing his bidding, it is more important than ever for the Ukrainian and Jewish communities to come together to highlight their own stories, and push back against Russian myths about Ukrainians and Ukrainian Nationalists.

It is the stories of these individuals that must be brought to the public’s attention. They embody the democratic and indomitable spirit of the Ukrainian people who are fighting for their freedom today. And they underscore the need to strengthen Ukrainian-Jewish relations, and to not let Putin undermine them.

One of these Ukrainians was Ivan Vovchuk.

Vovchuk, a native of Nikopol and a leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, used his position to save Jewish families, including Sara Bakst and her children, from Nazi terror.

His actions, and those of his courageous wife, Yelizaveta Shkandel, are poignant reminders of the shared history and mutual support between the Ukrainian and Jewish communities, debunking the vile narrative propagated by the Kremlin. “Vovk” was honored by Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to victims of the Holocaust, as a Righteous Among the Nations for his heroism.

His story is a beacon of humanity and courage, countering the baseless Russian propaganda that seeks to paint Ukraine as an antisemitic, Nazi state.

Russia’s current propaganda campaign is not only historically inaccurate, but deeply offensive. It is an insult to the memory of Holocaust victims and the bravery of individuals like Vovk who stood against real antisemitism and Nazism. And it is an insult to the modern Jewish community in Ukraine.

Unfortunately, this narrative has resonated among a select few segments of American and European society. This is why I am working with the Vovk Foundation on a new book, detailing the history of Ivan Vovchuk, to dispel the fictitious lies propagated by Putin and his anti-Ukraine allies in the West.

This book, utilizing a raft of unreported primary sources and documents, will push back against Putin’s castigations of Ukrainians and Ukrainian Nationalists like Ivan Vovchuk, and bring the Ukrainian and Jewish communities closer together as the Russian war machine attempts to deliberately insert a rift between them.

The importance of the Ukrainian and Jewish communities standing together against aggression cannot be overstated. This alliance is a testament to our shared commitment to justice and mutual respect. Our solidarity is a potent force against the misinformation and hatred spread by our adversaries.

The struggle we face today is not just Ukraine’s fight; it is a battle for the very soul of Europe and the principles of freedom and humanity that are essential to the entire world. Just as Vovk and others like him rose to the challenge of their time, we too must stand firm against the distortion of history and the malign intent of Russian aggression. The international community, particularly the West, must continue to support Ukraine, ensuring that the sacrifices made are honored and that the aspirations for a peaceful and just future are realized.


The writer is president of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine.