We Jews cannot forget millennium-long atrocities and persecutions, and we shall never forget about the Holocaust. But we also remember our struggle for freedom and independence. Zionism is a Jewish national movement that proved to be able to revive the Jewish national state on its biblical land. In the time of trials, not many states and politicians favored our national idea. Although almost alone, we fought for our future, our children and our freedom, and we succeeded. Support of a few nations in the War of Independence in 1948 was of utmost importance. The post-Holocaust Jewish nation enduring enormous difficulties prevailed. The State of Israel is an everlasting proof of the implementation of a national idea.
Nowadays, Ukraine is in flames. Its capital, Kiev, resembles a war zone. Ukrainian people rose up on Nov. 21, 2013, being deceived by their own government. This government was to sign an Agreement of Association with the European Union. A week before the Euro-integration summit in Vilnius, the government withdrew from the agreement. Political analysts regard this decision to have been a dictate from President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. Instead of Euro-integration, an association with the Russian-led Custom Union came up as an alternative plan. Ukraine is an important factor in Russia’s geopolitical games of reviving the empire. Without Ukraine, Russia, in political terms, is reduced to an Asian power. For Putin, an image of Ukraine as a member of European Union equates with a geostrategic failure of retaining the former Soviet borders intact. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych accepted the Russian monetary credit in the amount of $15 billion that has negated a prospective Euro-integration.
A new generation of Ukrainians gathered at the Independence Square in Kiev in peaceful protest against the betrayal of their dreams to become part of Europe and no longer be politically and economically subordinated to the Russian Federation. During the protests, known as Euromaidan, the riot police brutally attacked and dispersed young people, using inadequate force. Many were severely beaten and ended up in hospitals. The violent force by the authorities only caused a rising resistance.
Peaceful protesters ultimately lost patience on Jan. 16, when the government enacted laws resembling martial law. These laws were adopted with all possible violations of parliamentary procedures and regulations and by its very nature are unconstitutional. People took the protests to the streets. They began building a barricade in the government quarter and open clashes with riot police and military interior forces commenced. Since then, there have been at least five dead and many wounded on the protesters’ side.
Ukrainian people in the regions followed suit and started taking over the governmental administrative building, forcing the governors of the ruling political party (the Party of Regions) to resign. The government answered with unleashing the war-like police and internal military forces.
The world must realize that Ukrainian nationalists or Ukrainian radicals initiated the conflict. They are not seeking the power. It is true — they are in the first rows, confronting the riot police and internal military forces. However thousands of ordinary Ukrainians from all over the country are on the front lines as well. They are fighting for a free and democratic country; they are against the corrupt Russian government; they want to build a nation and an independent state. They want a secure future for their children.
The time has come to forget the old Soviet propaganda myths about the Ukrainian nationalists and Ukraine in general. Ukrainians, like Jews, want to live in a country of their own where they can freely speak the Ukrainian language, where they can make a European choice and ultimately live in a country no longer under Russian dictate.
We, the Jews, care about Ukrainian independence and Ukraine people. We can say, in the time of trials, the Jews are on the side of a free and democratic Ukraine.
Dr. Vladimir Melamed is Director of Archive, Library and Historical Curatorship at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust