June 9, 2023

Indifference kills. That was Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy’s message to the world Friday as Ukraine’s first ever Jewish head of state marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“Today, as always, Ukraine honours the memory of millions of victims of the Holocaust. We know and remember that indifference kills along with hatred. Indifference and hatred are always capable of creating evil together only,” Ukraine’s leader said, addressing U.S. and European diplomats who attended the memorial service amid Russia’s ongoing war against his country.

Friday marked the 78th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi Germany’s Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, and Zelenskyy spoke at the Babyn Yar memorial near Kyiv — the site of one of the deadliest atrocities committed by the Nazis during the Second World War.

An image provided by the Ukrainian government shows President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attending a memorial service at the Babyn Yar memorial to Jewish victims of a German Nazi massacre on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, 2023.

Handout/Office of the President of Ukraine

“We repeat it even more strongly than before: never again to hatred; never again to indifference,” Zelenskyy said. “The more nations of the world overcome indifference, the less space there will be in the world for hatred.”

Zelenskyy’s message stood in stark contrast to that of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who’s war on Ukraine has entered its twelfth month.

On Friday, Putin repeated a false claim that he has long used to justify his invasion of the neighboring nation, suggesting that “neo-Nazis” allied with Zelenskyy were committing crimes in Ukraine’s eastern regions.

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“Forgetting the lessons of history leads to the repetition of terrible tragedies,” Putin said. “This is evidenced by the crimes against civilians, ethnic cleansing and punitive actions organized by neo-Nazis in Ukraine. It is against that evil that our soldiers are bravely fighting.”

Supporters of Putin’s military operation have claimed Ukraine’s treatment of Russian speakers in the country is comparable with the actions of Nazi Germany. The claims have been refuted by the Ukrainian government, its foreign partners, and Ukraine’s own Jewish community, of which Zelenskyy himself is a member.

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The Auschwitz Museum in Poland, citing Russia’s ongoing assault on Ukraine, chose not to invite Russian representatives to their official ceremony Friday marking the day that the then-Soviet Union’s Red Army liberated prisoners at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp.

“Russia will need an extremely long time and very deep self-examination after this conflict in order to return to gatherings of the civilized world,” Piotr Sawicki, a spokesman for the museum, said at the site of the former camp.

“For us,” Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar told AFP, “this is clearly a humiliation, because we perfectly know and remember the role of the Red Army in the liberation of Auschwitz and in the victory over Nazism.”

“These political games have no place on Holocaust day,” Lazar added.

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