Ukraine’s envoy: We could recognize Jerusalem as capital in coming months

Yevgen Korniychuk says move, which would include opening embassy branch, hinges on expanded defense ties with Israel

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gestures while speaking to the media during a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Friday, November 26, 2021. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gestures while speaking to the media during a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Friday, November 26, 2021. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk said Thursday that his country could recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s “one and only capital” soon, and hopes to open a branch of its embassy in the city in the coming year, during a visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Korniychuk told The Times of Israel that he believes that recognition is a matter of months, not years, but that Zelensky has certain preconditions in the security and defense relationship between the countries before that can happen.

The remarks came at an event marking 30 years of Israel-Ukraine ties, attended by Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who grew up in Ukraine.

During his address at the event,  Elkin expressed his hope that Zelensky would open the branch in Jerusalem, something that has been in the works since ex-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure. Elkin then presented Korniychuk with a 2,700–year-old artifact bearing the word “Jerusalem” in Hebrew, and the Ukrainian envoy took the microphone and made the seemingly off-the-cuff announcement, according to sources at the event.

The statement came as tensions are rising between Ukraine and Russia. United States intelligence officials said earlier this month that Russian planning is underway for a possible military offensive that could begin as soon as early 2022.

In the wake of 2014 protests in Ukraine that ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, a Russian ally, Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula and continues to back separatists in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas region.

Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin arrives at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, for a group photo of the president and members of the new government, on June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

Russia and Israel have maintained an ongoing de-confliction mechanism to avoid tensions in Syria, and Jerusalem has been wary of antagonizing Russian President Vladimir Putin by expanding its defense ties with Ukraine.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Alexey Reznikov visited Israel in November for the 12th meeting of the Israel-Ukraine Joint Economic Committee, where the issue of Jerusalem was raised, according to sources with knowledge of Reznikov’s meetings.

Elkin and President Isaac Herzog spoke about the recognition of Jerusalem with Zelensky in October when they were in Ukraine for a ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre, one of the largest mass murders of Jews in the Holocaust.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (left) and President Isaac Herzog attend a welcome ceremony ahead of their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, October 5, 2021. (AP/Efrem Lukatsky)

While the ambassador’s statement does not amount to official recognition, it demonstrated the direction in which ties are moving, Elkin told The Times of Israel.

“I have worked for years to have more countries open embassy branches in Jerusalem, and I hope to see this come to fruition,” he said.

“As soon as we get permission, we will do it immediately,” said Korniychuk about opening the branch office. “Clearly we have to wait for official recognition.”

The embassy branch would deal with promoting bilateral ties in trade and technology, he said.

Ukrainian soldiers walks at the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Katerinivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine, on December 7, 2021. (Andriy Dubchak/AP)

On Wednesday, at the third-annual virtual Kyiv Jewish Forum, Zelensky said, “We know what it’s like not to have our own state. We know what it means to defend one’s own state and land with weapons in hand, at the cost of our own lives.

“Both Ukrainians and Jews value freedom, and they work equally for the future of our states to become to our liking, and not the future which others want for us. Israel is often an example for Ukraine,” he said.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal thanked Israel for supporting Ukraine.

“I’d like to give Israel special thanks for its ongoing support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Shmyhal. “The voice of civilian and religious organizations on this matter is equally as important in letting the world know that Ukraine is currently fighting for its independence.”

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