Did the Holocaust contribute to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? It seems that Volodymyr Zelensky’s connection to the Holocaust may have cost him a chance to sit down with Vladimir Putin. Here is the full story.
Zelensky Beat COVID to Israel
Back in January of 2020, before the global pandemic took hold, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky traveled to Israel.
Personal Ties to the Region
In office for less than a year at that point, Zelensky’s visit was as much personal as it was diplomatic.
All Eyes on Israel
That month, the whole world was commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Jews at the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Much of the focus was on Israel, where several world leaders had gathered.
A Winter Powwow
Zelenky was among those who made the trip, and he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on January 24.
Nazis Shaped His Family
As the two men spoke, Zelenksy shared the story of how the Nazis had impacted his own family in Ukraine.
The War Almost Wiped Them Out
Zelensky’s great grandparents were shot dead by German soldiers invading Ukraine. And, of their four sons fighting in the war, only one returned alive.
Direct Line to the Past
That surviving son went on to have a son of his own, who then gave the former soldier a grandson in 1978.
That young child was President Zelensky himself.
Evacuation Saved the Bloodline
In a separate interview with the Times of Israel, Zelensky related that his grandmother fled to Kazakhstan during the Nazi invasion.
Once the war was over, she returned to Ukraine.
War Shaped His Worldview
Right after he was elected, in May of 2019, Zelensky was photographed laying flowers on his grandfather’s grave.
He noted on a Facebook post at the time that he was giving thanks to those who fought to end Nazism.
He Couldn’t Stay Away
With that family background and his strong identification with Jews and their torment and persecution at the hands of the Nazis, the Israel trip was a natural fit for Zelensky.
He Wasn’t Alone
But Zelensky wasn’t alone in making a pilgrimage to Israel that winter, just months before the global lockdown.
The Whole World Showed Up
Instead, leaders from around the globe converged on Jerusalem for the 5th World Holocaust Forum.
Each country had a seat at the table, with Zelensky set to represent Ukraine.
Even Putin Was There
Another prominent seat was reserved for Russian president Vladimir Putin.
They Had a Chance to Talk
It was widely assumed that the neutral and somewhat somber setting would provide a natural backdrop for the two leaders of neighboring countries to sit down and talk.
Tensions Were high
Tensions had been escalating between Russia and Ukraine for years, with Putin illegally invading and annexing the Crimean Peninsula early in 2014.
They Had a Chance
But with Zelensky the newly-minted leader of Ukraine, the two had met in Poland late in 2019.
The gathering in Jerusalem provided another chance for the men to try and ease some of the animosity around the ongoing border war.
Zelensky Bowed Out
Instead, Zelensky forfeited his seat to the forum, giving it to a holocaust survivor.
A Puzzling Move
A statement from Yad Vashem, the museum that hosted the event, called the move “puzzling.”
They noted the intention was for world leaders to get together, not to hold a public memorial ceremony.
A Near Miss
In the end, Putin and Zelensky ended up as two warships passing in the night.
Worth a Shot
Would one more meeting have made the difference in holding off the eventual Russian invasion?
Almost certainly not. After all, Putin decided to invade despite months of world leaders – including Zelenskyy himself – calling for dialogue and peace talks.
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The post Did Zelensky’s Sympathy for Holocaust Survivors Cost Him a Chance to Avoid the Russian Invasion? first appeared on Career Step Up.
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Yanosh Nemesh. The people shown in the images are for illustrative purposes only, not the actual people featured in the story.