President Isaac Herzog said it is important to commemorate the Holodomor as Ukrainians on Saturday mark the 1932-1933 famine that killed millions blamed on Soviet leader Josef Stalin.
In a letter sent Friday to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, first reported by the Walla news site, Herzog said the world must learn its lesson as Ukraine once again faces food scarcity in its war with Russia.
“It is important to commemorate the memory of the victims of the Holodomor, and I recall how moved I was to lay a wreath during my visit one year ago at the memorial site in honor of those who perished,” Herzog wrote.
“This memorial serves as a stark reminder of the vital importance of fighting hunger and standing united to ensure food security, as we must never forget that it is the innocent who will suffer the harshest consequences when food becomes scarce,” he said.
Ukraine’s memorial day for the Holodomor, as the famine is known, falls on the last Saturday in November each year.
The Holodomor — Ukrainian for “death by starvation” — is regarded by Kyiv as a deliberate act of genocide by Stalin’s regime with the intention of wiping out the peasantry and trying to crush independence hopes.
BREAKING: Israeli president Herzog wrote Ukraine's president Zelensky: "It is important to commemorate the memory of the victims of the Holodomor". Ukrainian officials see this as Israeli recognition of Holodomor as genocide by the Stalin regime. Herzog's office says its not pic.twitter.com/5EqFJbBOGg
— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) November 25, 2022
Russia has rejected designating the disaster a genocide, arguing there is no proof the famine was directed at Ukrainians.
Herzog’s remarks, however, did not go as far as several other countries, and the Pope, which declared the Holodomor a Genocide.
Germany is to declare the Holodomor a “genocide”, adopting language used by Kyiv, according to a draft text seen by AFP on Friday.
The joint resolution by deputies from Germany’s centre-left-led coalition and the opposition conservatives is also intended as a “warning” to Russia as Ukraine faces a potential hunger crisis this winter due to Moscow’s invasion.
Pope Francis this week also condemned the historical famine as a “genocide” as he expressed sympathy for the “suffering of the dear Ukrainian people” in the face of the current war.
“We pray for the victims of this genocide (in the 1930s) and for so many Ukrainians — children, women and the elderly, babies — who today suffer the martyrdom of aggression,” he said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Romanian MPs approved a resolution the same day recognizing “the Holodomor as a crime against the Ukrainian people and humanity.”
And the Irish senate on Thursday carried a motion to recognize the Holodomor “as a genocide on the Ukrainian people.”
The Holodomor has long been a source of hostility between Russia and Ukraine.
Moscow rejects Kyiv’s account, placing the events in the broader context of famines that devastated regions of Central Asia and Russia.
Herzog’s letter to Zelensky, came a day after the two spoke, with the Ukrainian leader lamenting the dire energy situation there with winter about to set in and inviting Israel to join a program to purchase Ukrainian grain for the hungry.
As its forces suffer setbacks on the battlefield, Russia has been launching devastating strikes on Ukraine’s power infrastructure. The situation is becoming more dangerous as snow begins falling in the country and citizens are left without power for heat.
In a tweet after his conversation with Herzog, Zelensky also said that he had invited Israel to join the Grain from Ukraine program, in which countries buy the Ukrainian crops and send them to African nations to alleviate hunger.
An Israeli official told The Times of Israel it was too early to say whether Israel would be joining the new initiative.
During Thursday’s conversation, Zelensky offered Israel condolences on the previous day’s bombing attack in Jerusalem and underscored the solidarity of the Israeli and Ukrainian people.
He also said he hoped the new government Benjamin Netanyahu is working to establish will cooperate with Ukraine.
Herzog told Zelensky that the Israeli people want peace in Ukraine and are working to alleviate the suffering of its people in a variety of ways, according to a readout of the conversation provided by the president’s office.
The president added that Israel wants to keep channels open on humanitarian issues, especially with winter approaching.
Israel’s ties with Ukraine have been strained since the war started. While providing humanitarian assistance and expressing solidarity with Kyiv, Israel has maintained a strict policy of not giving military aid to Ukraine, including systems that could help it intercept Russian missile and drone attacks.
Israeli officials regularly cite the strategic need to maintain freedom of operations in Syria, whose airspace is largely controlled by Russia, as part of its efforts to prevent Iranian entrenchment on its doorstep.
Kyiv’s requests for air defense systems — and its public criticism of Israel’s refusal to provide them — grew more strident in recent weeks, as Iranian-made drones played an increasingly central role in Moscow’s aerial attack on Ukrainian cities and infrastructure.
Last week, Ukraine’s envoy to Israel sharply condemned the country’s restrictions on the entry of Ukrainians during a meeting at the Foreign Ministry.
In a Facebook post after the meeting with senior Israeli diplomats, Yevgen Korniychuk said he “forwarded the indignation of the Ukrainian side regarding the entrenched practice of unjustifiably denying Ukrainian citizens entry to the territory of Israel.”
It is not clear whether Netanyahu will change course on the war, in the event that he takes office again, as expected.
Though a scathing critic of the outgoing coalition, Netanyahu praised its “prudent” approach toward Ukraine during an interview last month, highlighting Israel’s absorption of refugees and other humanitarian initiatives while refraining from supplying weapons.
Zelensky spoke with Netanyahu at some point last week, and said that the presumed incoming prime minister had agreed to look at supplying Ukraine with air defense systems.
Lazar Berman contributed to this report