June 12, 2022
He has spoken to the U.S. Congress, members of the Knesset, the audience at the Grammy Awards, and now American Jewish Committee (AJC).
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to AJC Global Forum 2022 from the frontlines on Sunday for additional help as Russian forces continue to occupy parts of the country and commit mass murder.
Later, in his address to the Ukrainian people, Zelensky noted the importance of his appeal to AJC, saying that "this is one of the most influential structures that helps promote decisions for our protection.
"I called on them to redouble their efforts so that we could get more modern weapons, and more financial support for our state, so that we could end this war sooner."
AJC has a long history of supporting Ukraine’s democracy. In 1991, AJC became the first Jewish organization to call on U.S. President George H.W. Bush to recognize Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union. Since then, the organization has staunchly supported a free and democratic Ukraine and its territorial integrity. AJC was the only group in the world to set up a temporary office in Kyiv during the Maidan Revolution in 2014.
Here are three takeaways from Zelensky’s appeals and why he spoke directly to AJC.
1. ‘Your substantive help for our state’
“I am aware of your substantive help for our state, but I ask you to redouble your efforts to stop Russian hatred. Hatred for humanity,” Zelensky said, talking low into the camera. “Yes, it is hatred that is the driving force of this ongoing Russian war against Ukraine and against freedom in Europe.”
AJC is the only advocacy organization to have sponsored two Jewish Agency for Israel flights for Ukrainian Jews to Israel, one from Budapest, Hungary, and the other originating in Warsaw, Poland. Sponsorship was made possible by AJC’s Stand with Ukraine fund, which raised more than $2 million for organizations providing direct humanitarian relief to Ukrainian refugees and to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukraine following Russia’s unprovoked, violent invasion.
2. ‘What will be left?’
“Despite all of the horrors of the past, Ukraine has remained a kind and open country … for different cultures…What will be left of this openness of this peaceful coexistence of different peoples?”
Zelensky was elected in 2019 as Ukraine’s first Jewish president. His landslide victory was hailed as evidence of a robust democracy in the former Soviet Union country, but also a significant feat in a country that is redeeming itself after a history of Jewish persecution.
Since the Russian invasion in February, Russian missiles struck the Babyn Yar memorial in the capital of Kyiv, Russian artillery damaged a menorah in Drobytsky Yar near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told an Italian journalist that "the biggest antisemites are the Jews themselves" and that like Zelensky “Hitler also had Jewish blood.”
3. ‘Let’s defeat Russian hatred’
“Tell me. Why is this happening in 2022? This is not the 1940s. How could mass killings, torture, burned cities, and filtration camps set up by the Russian military in the occupied territories [in eastern Ukraine], which resemble Nazi concentration camps, become a reality? And yet Russia hopes that it will not bear responsibility for all this evil, for all these barbaric strikes at houses, hospitals, and churches. Russia still has the power to hope to continue the war against Ukraine, against people, and ignore the world reaction.”
Zelensky is not the first Ukrainian leader to appear at AJC Global Forum. Ukrainian Jewish and political leaders have participated in the annual AJC Global Forum for many years, including Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in 2015. At that meeting, Yatsenyuk also pointed out that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine was a battle for freedom.
“Today, Ukraine is the only country in the world fighting against the regular Russian army,” Yatsenyuk said then. “This is a war not just between Ukraine and Russia. This war is between the past and the future, between day and night, between freedom and dictatorship.”
In his address to AJC Global Forum, Zelensky commended AJC for its efforts to support Ukraine and urged the audience to continue to defend democratic values.
“But it is really not the 1940s now. Therefore, defend the need to enhance sanctions against Russia - you are capable of it,” Zelensky said. “I know that your help is already significant, but you can use even more of you influence because we now have a historic opportunity to defend our common freedom, our common security, our common cultural diversity from the greatest wave of hatred that has threatened the world in recent decades. So, let’s end this war. Let’s defeat Russian hatred.”
To watch more videos from AJC Global Forum 2022, go to AJC.org/GlobalForumNews