Prime Minister Naftali Bennett refused a request by Ukraine to cancel or bring forward ceremonies marking Victory Day in Israel, Channel 12 News reported on Saturday.
Victory Day, marked in Russia on May 9, is the country’s most important secular holiday, commemorating the Soviet Red Army’s determination and losses in World War II.
Israel also holds events on that day for immigrants from Russia and former Soviet countries, military veterans among them. The UK, the US, France and other countries hold Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day) on May 8, when Germany officially surrendered to the Allied forces.
The main ceremony for Victory Day in Israel is held at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl National Cemetery, an event to which envoys for the former Soviet republics and other countries who participated in WWII are always invited.
Both Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky relayed messages to Bennett asking to hold the event on May 8, with other countries, or scrap it altogether so as to not appear to align with Russia, Channel 12 said.
The Prime Minister’s Office denied the request, according to the report.
Early on in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Israel sought to walk a diplomatic tightrope between Moscow and Kyiv, preserving relations with both of its allies and offering to broker talks. More recently, Jerusalem has turned toward stronger support of Ukraine, denouncing Russia for alleged war crimes as well as sending helmets and flak jackets to Ukraine, reversing an earlier policy of not supplying military aid.
Ties between Jerusalem and Moscow also became tense this past week following Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s claim Sunday that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler had Jewish blood.
Israel strongly denounced the top diplomat’s claims, meant to justify the invasion of Ukraine, a country Russia has claimed is led by Nazis, but whose president is Jewish. Russia initially doubled down on the claim, but President Vladimir Putin has since apologized in a call with Bennett.
The Israeli Absorption Ministry said earlier this week that the ceremony at Mount Herzl and all other events will take place as scheduled on May 9 amid reports that no foreign dignitaries were invited this year.
About 1.5 million Jews fought in Allied armies during World War II, including 500,000 in the Red Army, 550,000 in the US army, 100,000 in the Polish army and 30,000 in the British army, according to Yad Vashem.
Some of those who fought in the Red Army served in the highest levels of command. About 200,000 Soviet Jewish soldiers fell on the battlefield or into German captivity. Those who survived built families and careers in the Soviet Union, until the Communist regime collapsed and many of them ended up in Israel.