In a live streamed address to students, faculty and staff at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Israel to join the network of countries around the world that have placed sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
“We are grateful to your great nation. But we would like to also get support from your government,” Zelensky said. “Tell me, how can you not help the victim of such aggression?”
In his address, Zelensky recognized the connected histories of Ukraine and Israel, noting the Ukrainian origins of Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, Zionist leader Zev Jabotinsky and many others.
He also noted that the Russian shelling of Ukrainian cities has affected many Jewish historical sites, such as the memorial at Babyn Yar, where at least 33,000 Jews were murdered by Nazis and their Ukrainian collaborators in 1941. At least five people were killed in the Russian shelling at Babyn Yar in March.
“The occupiers are not discretional in how they fight,” Zelensky said, adding that more than 2,000 schools have been targeted by Russian missiles and shelling, according to the Ukrainian government.
“This is about values and general security. Everyone who is willing to destroy another nation has to be held accountable,” he said. “Many European countries act together with us against Russian aggression. And unfortunately, we have not yet seen Israel join the sanctions regime.”
In a question and answer portion after Zelensky’s prepared speech, a student born in Ukraine asked whether Ukraine has received any support from international Jewish organizations to address the destruction of historic Jewish sites.
“We have received support from the Jewish Congress and U.S.,” Zelensky said. “I did want to have more of that support from the government of Israel on that particular question, because this is our joint sorrow, and that’s what it is. Just simply wanted to have more of it. But I’m not trying to hint at anything. It’s just as painful to us here in Ukraine as it is to Israel. This is a big tragedy. And I think I have nothing to add here.”
During the Q&A, another student told Zelensky that her father was fighting in the war. She asked whether the government of Ukraine would consider adopting a mandatory military service in the future, similar to the one that exists in Israel.
“This is one of the models that we are considering,” Zelensky said. “I’m not sure that this will be the exact model that we will follow, but it will be on the table and it will be discussed with the civil society.”
He added that even without a draft, Ukrainians already know how to fight. “They have been defending our country with no weapons, with bare hands — but now with weapons.”
Yishai Fraenkel, vice president of the university, asked what the future of Ukraine might look like when the war ends.
Zelensky said there are plans for post-war reforms and improved military defense systems, and emphasized a future with the European Union.
“We are moving towards a new civilization,” he said. “And we have sacrificed a lot for that. But the most important is that this is our choice.”
“Of course, we’re still very young, but first and foremost, this is for our children,” he continued. “So we will be building a European state, which will be part of the European Union.”
He added that Ukraine and Israel have “a great future” together.
“Please remember how much we are linked, how close our ties are,” he said. “I do care about our future relations between our states and our people. This is why I’m being sincere. And I’m sure that the war will end and we will win. And we do have a joint future. A great future.”