DONETSK, Ukraine — Ukraine’s pro-Russian rebel chief on Monday branded the country’s leaders “miserable” Jews in an apparent anti-Semitic jibe.
Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, claimed that Kiev’s pro-Western leaders were “miserable representatives of the great Jewish people.
“I can’t remember a time when Cossacks were led by people who have never held a sword in their hands,” Zakharchenko told a press conference in the eastern rebel stronghold of Donetsk, in a reference to Ukraine’s nationalist forebears, the Cossacks.
Zakharchenko said that the country’s historical nationalists “would turn in their graves if they could see who is running Ukraine.”
Anti-Semitic sentiment remains widespread in Ukraine, where leaders are commonly labelled as Jewish by those seeking to discredit them.
The comments by Zakharchenko, who was flanked by the leader of the neighboring rebel-held region of Lugansk, Igor Plotnitsky, were carried live by Russian news channel Rossiya-24.
The rebels leaders on Monday announced a mass call-up, aimed at bolstering their forces to 100,000 troops.
Fighting between Ukrainian forces and the pro-Russian rebels, which has claimed 5,100 lives since April, has surged in recent weeks after the collapse of a tenuous ceasefire deal.