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'The coming genocide is similar to your Yom Kippur War'

Ukraine envoy thanks Bennett for shuttle diplomacy, pleads for helmets, flak jackets

Yevgen Korniychuk says Israel’s peace efforts are more important than military aid, says Jerusalem could host talks; elaborates on Russian strike in Babyn Yar ravine

Ukraine's ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, pleads with Israel at a press conference to provide protective equipment such as helmets and flak jackets for Ukraine, in Tel Aviv, March 7, 2022.(Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)
Ukraine's ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, pleads with Israel at a press conference to provide protective equipment such as helmets and flak jackets for Ukraine, in Tel Aviv, March 7, 2022.(Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)

Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk told reporters on Monday that he appreciated Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s ongoing efforts to engage Russian President Vladimir Putin, days after Bennett made a surprise trip to Moscow to try and broker ceasefire talks.

Officials in Kyiv and the West have criticized Israel’s insistence on keeping ties with Putin intact at the expense of full-throated backing for Ukraine, but Korniychuk said Kyiv views Jerusalem as a potential host of talks between Russia and Ukraine, and expressed understanding for Israel’s reluctance to sell offensive weapons, while remaining nonplussed at its refusal to send helmets and flak jackets.

Korniychuk, who has previously criticized Israel’s refusal to send military aid, said Bennett’s peace efforts are more “important” than the weaponry Israel was not providing to Ukraine.

“We thank your government for its effort and hope it’ll help us [come to a resolution],” Korniychuk said in press conference hosted at the Ukrainian Embassy’s Tel Aviv Cultural Center, referring to Bennett’s trip to Moscow on Saturday and subsequent phone calls with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “Our government sees Jerusalem as a possible location for negotiations with Russia,” he added.

“The peace effort is priceless for us,” Korniychuk continued. “This is much more important than sales of weapons or munitions, which we are still fighting about with the Israeli government as a side issue.”

Korniychuk added that “because of your limitations, we do understand [why Israel hasn’t provided military aid].” Israel has sought to avoid antagonizing Russia, which maintains a military presence in Israel’s northern neighbor Syria, and tacitly allows Israel to strike Iran-backed targets.

“But this [peace] effort is much more important, if it will lead to a result. Even if tomorrow Israel would decide to sell us weapons, you can’t compare those things,” said the ambassador.

Korniychuk added that “we are not sure whether it is successful or not at the moment, but the fact itself that the prime minister left during the Shabbat to talk about peace is unprecedented.”

Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, gives a statement to the media on the Russian invasion to the Ukraine, in Tel Aviv, March 7, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)

On Saturday, Bennett and Housing Minister Zeev Elkin made a lightning trip to Moscow, where they met with Putin to discuss the ongoing war in Ukraine, the safety of Jews in Ukraine and Russia, and the Iran nuclear deal. Bennett and Elkin — a Ukraine native who translated for the two leaders — are both observant Jews, for whom traveling on Shabbat is reserved only for life-saving activities.

“We thank your government for its effort and we value it a lot. We hope it’ll help bring us to the end of the bloodshed and to peace,” said Korniychuk.

He nevertheless reiterated Ukraine’s plea to the Israeli government to provide helmets and flak jackets, items that Israel considers dual-use and refuses to provide.

“We have long talks about munitions and equipment and self-defense with the Israeli government, including helmets and safety vests, and we did not reach an agreement,” Korniychuk said.

Dramatically highlighting his point, Korniychuk stood up in front of reporters at the press conference and put on a black military helmet.

“I hope you can explain to me as a human being … how you can kill with this thing. This is simply not possible. So I don’t know what these people are afraid of,” the ambassador said.

While he would not provide specific details of the request, Korniychuk said that Ukraine is asking for “thousands” of units of the equipment.

Stressing the gravity of the situation, Korniychuk said “the coming genocide is similar to your Yom Kippur War,” and called out that weapons in play today are more advanced and that the fighting may be more drawn out than what Israel experienced when fighting its Arab neighbors in 1973.

A view of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center in Kyiv on March 2, 2022. (Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP)

The ambassador also said that the media should focus on reports that a family of 5 were killed in the Babyn Yar ravine, and not just emphasize the fact that the Holocaust memorial was not damaged.

“The [Russian] propaganda [focuses on saying that] the monument was not ruined completely. We are encouraging you to understand that they shot into the same grave again and again and a whole family of 5 people died there and that is true,” said the envoy.

Kyiv’s Babyn Yar ravine was the site of one of the Holocaust’s bloodiest massacres, in which Nazis and their Ukrainian collaborators murdered 34,000 Jews in two days in 1941.

“Anyone who has ever been in Babyn Yar knows it’s a huge place and the size of the grave is kilometers long,” said Korniychuk.

“The Nazis brought people, not just Jews, [but also] Gypsies, Soviet army officers, and killed them. This territory is very long and we’re not just talking about monuments, we’re talking about a grave where people have been buried.”

Korniychuk also thanked the Israeli public for its overwhelming response in sending humanitarian aid, but asked people to not send more items because his staff is overloaded. He said that about 400 tons of humanitarian aid — much of it occupying every corner of the Ukrainian Cultural Center’s first floor — has been donated by Israelis, including diapers, food and warm clothes, and that Israel is arranging its transportation to Ukraine.

Embassy workers and volunteers sort through donations provided by Israelis for Ukraine, at the Ukrainian Embassy’s Tel Aviv Cultural Center, March 7, 2022. (Carrie Keller-Lynn/Times of Israel)

Speaking on Monday, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called Israel’s attempt to mediate between Russia and Ukraine “a mockery of international politics.”

“It’s a mockery of international politics that Israel, an occupying state, is attempting to be a mediator to end the crisis in Ukraine,” Shtayyeh told cabinet ministers during their weekly meeting.

Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the two main Palestinian factions, have avoided taking any stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Many Palestinians identify with the Ukrainians and have sought to draw parallels between the invasion and Israeli rule over the Palestinians.

“We hope that the war will come to end in a way that ensures international security and safety, and protects civilians, who are the victims of wars,” Shtayyeh said, avoiding accusing Russia of invading Ukraine.

Last week, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that Israeli leaders should be quiet on Ukraine and focus their efforts instead on the burgeoning Iran deal — sentiments he repeated during comments in the Knesset on Monday.

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