Soldiers in 'cinemas, supermarkets, and people with weapons' is Ukraine's future, Zelenskyy tells reporters, as the country's leaders begin to imagine what a precariously post-war Ukraine might look like
Ukrainian servicemen carry the baby of a displaced family to help to cross a river, on the outskirts of Kyiv last week.
Ukraine will become a “‘big Israel' with its own face,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared on Tuesday, indicating that his country intends to emulate the Israeli security state in the wake of Russia’s invasion.
“Ukraine will definitely not be what we wanted it to be from the beginning. It is impossible. Absolutely liberal, European – it will not be like that. It [Ukraine] will definitely come from the strength of every house, every building, every person,” Zelenskyy told members of the Ukrainian media during a briefing.
"We will become a ‘big Israel’ with its own face. We will not be surprised if we have representatives of the Armed Forces or the National Guard in cinemas, supermarkets, and people with weapons. I am confident that the question of security will be the issue number one for the next 10 years. I am sure of it.”
However, such measures would not serve to undercut Ukrainian democracy, he added, declaring that “an authoritarian state is impossible in Ukraine.”
“An authoritarian state would lose to Russia. People know what they are fighting for,” he said.
Such language is “not new,” Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky told Haaretz, stating that the Jewish state has “always been a role model for Ukraine, at least in terms of security and self-protection.”
“Israelis have lived surrounded by enemies for all of their history and Ukraine will be doing the same,” Ukrainian Ambassador Yevgen Korniychuk told Haaretz following Zelenskyy’s comments, declaring that Kyiv did not feel that it could rely on international security guarantees, such as those it received from the West after its 1994 nuclear disarmament.
“Now we have to retain much bigger armed forces against our two neighboring states and that's why our leadership currently sees that, no matter what happens next, [things] in Ukraine will be similar to the security situation in Israel. You will see more armed people in the streets, even when things become more peaceful than they are now."
Last December, as Russia was massing troops on the Ukrainian border, Zelenskyy more explicitly compared his nation’s current struggle against Russia to Israel’s decades-long conflict with its Arab neighbors.
In a pre-recorded address at the Kyiv Jewish Forum, an annual conference organized by the Ukrainian Jewish community, Zelenskyy, who is Jewish himself, said that Israel is “often an example for Ukraine” and that “both Ukrainians and Jews value freedom,” working “equally for the future of our states to become to our liking, and not the future which others want for us.”
Zelenskyy had 'higher expectations' of Israel
Zelenskyy has been highly critical of Israel’s approach to the war, his ambassador to Israel telling reporters several days into the invasion that the president, as a Jew, “has much higher expectations of Israel than Israel can deliver.”
Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Israel has carefully walked a diplomatic tightrope in an attempt to comply with American demands to speak out against Russia’s actions while simultaneously avoiding alienating Moscow – which allows the Israeli Air Force to carry out strikes against Iranian targets in Syria.
Zelenskyy brushed aside those concerns during a remote address to the Knesset last month, demanding that Israel arm his country and remove limits on Ukrainian immigration imposed since the invasion.
“What is this? Apathy? Calculations? Or mediation without taking a side? I’ll let you answer that question, but I want to point out that apathy kills, calculations can be incorrect. You can mediate between countries, but not between good and evil,” he said.
Zelenskyy’s speech drew a harsh condemnation from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who objected to his Ukrainian counterpart’s use of rhetoric comparing Russian actions to those of the Nazis, stating that “it is forbidden to compare anything to the Holocaust.”
Ukrainian leaders have described Russian attacks on Ukrainian civilians as genocide but, until recently, Israel has been reluctant to speak out against Russian actions.
Civilian killings in Bucha
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett condemned on Tuesday the "terrible sights in Bucha," though refused to mention Russia specifically.
Asked by an interviewer at the Israeli public broadcaster Kan whether he "calls the massacre in Bucha a war crime" or whether "he sees Russia as responsible," Bennett replied: "We are of course shocked by the harsh sights at Bucha, terrible sights and we strongly condemn them."
On Monday afternoon, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid condemned the killings in Bucha revealed after Russian troops retreated from the capital region.
"It is impossible to remain indifferent in the face of the horrific images from the city of Bucha near Kyiv, from after the Russian army left. Intentionally harming a civilian population is a war crime and I strongly condemn it,” Lapid tweeted, several hours after a spokesman said that a previous statement by Ambassador Brodsky accusing Russia of war crimes did not represent the foreign ministry’s official position.
While Moscow denies targeting civilians and rejects war crimes allegations, locals said the dead in Bucha were civilians killed by departing Russian soldiers without provocation. According to Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk, more than 300 residents had been killed.
A video uploaded to Twitter by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, which termed the city the “new Srebrenica,” showed bodies strewn across Bucha’s streets.
Asked for comment, a spokesperson for the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv pointed Haaretz to a Telegram post by the Russian Defense Ministry denouncing “fake" reports of civilian casualties in Bucha and claiming bodies in one video —which it deemed "staged footage”— "seem to have been deliberately laid out to create a more dramatic picture.”
Despite this claim having been debunked by several media outlets, including Bellingcat and the BBC, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said Monday that Russia and Ukraine have been exchanging "mutual accusations," but that Israel condemns "all war crimes.”
The United Nations said on Monday that it has recorded 3,527 civilian casualties in Ukraine as of April 3, although the “actual toll is much higher.”
(c) 2022, Haaretz Daily Newspaper