Isaac Herzog welcomed in Ukraine on first state visit


Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Tuesday began his first state visit since taking office when he was welcomed by his Ukrainian counterpart, President Volodymyr Zelensky, in an auspicious ceremony at the presidential palace in Kyiv.

Herzog’s visit to Ukraine is centered on Wednesday’s inauguration of a project to turn the infamous Nazi killing site of Babyn Yar, which is now a verdant public park, into a commemorative site – 80 years after the atrocity.

Herzog received a gun salute and inspected an honor guard at the rococo-style Marinskiy Palace after a military band played the two countries’ national anthems.

Israel’s head of state was due to address the parliament but an internal political matter forced the address to be canceled.

A senior official traveling with Herzog told The Jerusalem Post that as the Ukrainian parliament speaker is facing a vote to remove him from his post, local politicians considered it inappropriate for the speech of a visiting leader to take place.

“It’s all because of internal political matters and we are not involved in the decision; it has nothing to do with us,” said the official.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog flying to Ukraine to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Babyn Yar massacre, October 5, 2021. (credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)

On Wednesday, Zelensky and Herzog will be joined by German President Frank Walter Steinmeier at Babyn Yar (Babi Yar in Russian) for a large, formal ceremony that will be held to commemorate the massacre there, where 33,771 Jews were systematically shot dead and buried in a ravine over a period of 48 hours on September 29-30, 1941. As many as 150,000 people – including Ukrainians, Roma and Soviets – were murdered by the Nazis there over a longer period.

“I want to thank President Zelensky, the Ukrainian Government and the Ukrainian Parliament for recently passing a tough law against antisemitism, which adopted the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism,” Herzog announced before departing for Kyiv.

“The only way to build a present and future in which atrocities and crimes against humanity find no foothold is to study the past, including the Holocaust of the Jewish people and their persecution, in the sense of ‘and you shall tell your sons and daughters,’” Herzog said.

“I welcome President Zelenksy’s invitation and his commitment to the war against antisemitism. Ukraine also boycotted the Durban Conference, and I am grateful to it for this,” the president said.

“I think that, in international relations in general in a period like [the current] coronavirus pandemic, cooperation is necessary, and we shall strive to sign and promote various agreements and understandings,” he said.

“Most importantly, we shall remember and never forget the terrible massacre at Babi Yar, in which 33,000 Jews were massacred, shot dead into pits, naked, in the terrible cold – men, children, the elderly and women,” Herzog said. “May their memory be a blessing.”