Ukraine’s Jewish President Gives the Lie to Moscow’s Claim That the Country Is Run by Nazi Sympathizers

April 30, 2019 | Vladislav Davidzon
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In Ukraine’s recent election, Volodomyr Zelensky—a Jewish actor and comedian who made his name playing a hapless everyman unexpectedly elected to the presidency—was elected to the presidency by a landslide. Vladislav Davidzon, one of the few journalists granted extended access to Zelensky, describes the factors that contributed to his success, and considers what it might mean for the country’s Jews:

As has been widely and gleefully repeated by Ukrainian patriots, Zelensky’s election paves the way for Ukraine to be the only state other than Israel to have a Jewish president and a Jewish prime minister (Volodymyr Groysman) serving concurrently. If nothing else, Sunday’s electoral results should finally shatter the five-year-long Kremlin narrative of Kiev having been captured by a neo-Nazi fascist junta, [a charge Russia has used to smear efforts to fight back against its invasion of Ukraine]. Still, in private, multiple leaders of the Ukrainian Jewish community expressed worry to me about that situation not being an appealing one for the Jewish community in the long term if Zelensky fails as a political leader.

[For his part], Zelensky forcefully defended the history and contributions of Ukrainian Jews to the country [in a conversation on the day] before the first round of voting. . . .

Ukraine’s new president is the son of a Jewish intelligentsia family from Krivyi Rih, a gritty industrial city in the country’s Russian-speaking south. The symbolic location of his birthplace has served to reassure some voters that he would respect a truce between mutually hostile Russian-leaning and Ukrainian-nationalist visions of the country’s cultural future.

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