Last year, Volodymyr Groysman became the first openly Jewish prime minister of Ukraine.
Born in 1978, he grew up after the worst strictures of official Soviet anti-Jewish policies, and rose to be mayor of the city of Vinnytsia.
“All my ancestors I know of from 18th century [onward] lived in Ukraine,” he said in an interview with the ‘Post’ on Tuesday.
Groysman speaks with pride of Ukraine as a multi-ethnic country. “Ukrainian citizens have good will and are nice people. Ukraine is my country; it’s a great honor to be a citizen and born in Ukraine.”
He describes the relationship between Ukraine and Israel as close and friendly, and one that goes beyond just state relations. “It [Israel] is a holy land for Ukrainians, and we see an ongoing stream of pilgrims of different faiths to see holy places.”
Ukraine has experienced antisemitism, but Groysman says that he would never hide his ethnic origins. “I believe it would be humiliating to hide someone’s roots, to hide someone’s family or last name, and once again for all these reasons, we view the relations with Israel as very important.”
Groysman attended synagogue on Rosh Hashana and Hanukka, according to an article in the JTA last year. In January 2016, Groysman, then-chairman of the parliament, held a minute of silence to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.
He visited Yad Vashem on Sunday, and in conversations with President Reuven Rivlin, he spoke of the 2,500 Ukrainians recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.
Antisemitism in today’s Ukraine is a contentious issue, amid accusations that populists seek to commemorate nationalists such as Symon Petliura or Stepan Bandera, the latter of which was recently honored with a street name in Kiev. For some, these past leaders are antisemites or Nazi collaborators, but history is not so simple.
Bandera was sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp by the Nazis after initial warm relations. According to an article in Tablet, Bandera’s brothers were murdered in Auschwitz. For some Ukrainians, the Soviet mass murder during the 1930s famine is as much a crime as the Holocaust. Ukraine’s current leaders prefer to present the country as diverse. Certainly Groysman is an example of that image of Ukraine.