Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy offers Russians citizenship

Counter offer on citizenship to Putin offers Russian citizenship to Ukrainians in separatist-held areas:

President-elect Volodymyr Zelenskiy has offered Ukrainian citizenship to Russians, but combined the proposal with criticism of the Kremlin.

“We will provide Ukrainian citizenship to representatives of all peoples who suffer from authoritarian and corrupt regimes. In the first place — the Russians, who today suffer probably the most,” Zelenskiy wrote on Facebook on Sunday.

Zelenskiy’s offer came in response to a Kremlin decree last week that would fast-track Russian passports for residents of eastern Ukraine, with Russian President Vladimir Putin even saying on Saturday he was considering giving all Ukrainians easier access to Russian citizenship if they wanted it.

Moscow’s move condemned

Zelenskiy said Putin should not expect many Ukrainians to take up the offer, saying they had “freedom of speech in our country, free media and internet,” in contrast with Russia.

Moscow’s move has angered many politicians in Kyiv, which has been at war with Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine since 2014. The conflict, which began after the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, has so far killed 13,000 people.

Ukraine: Displaced and disadvantaged

Outgoing President Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday accused Moscow of crossing a “red line” with the passport offer, saying Moscow wanted to create a Russian enclave in Ukraine.

The European Union also condemned the move, with European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic describing it as “another attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty by Russia.”

‘New conditions’ for living together

Zelenskiy, who won the second round of presidential elections a week ago, on Sunday also expressed a willingness to discuss the conflict in eastern Ukraine with Moscow. But he warned the Kremlin not to use “the language of threats [and] military and economic pressure.”

“This is not the best path to ceasefire and unblocking the Minsk process,” he said, referring to a peace deal sealed in the Belarusian capital in 2015 that has so far failed to bring about an end to the conflict.

“We are prepared to discuss the new conditions for how Ukraine and Russia can live together,” he said, but stressed that normalizing ties depended on Russia ceasing its occupation of both Donbass and the Crimean Peninsula, which it annexed in 2014.

Zelenskiy, who is likely to be inaugurated in early June, is a newcomer to politics, having previously only played a president in a comedy on television.

Source: Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy offers Russians citizenship

Ukraine’s Newly Elected President Is Jewish. So Is Its Prime Minister. Not All Jews There Are Pleased.

Interesting dynamics:

When Volodymyr Zelensky, the Jewish comedian recently elected the president of Ukraine, announced that he was running, the chief rabbi for the eastern Ukrainian region where Mr. Zelensky grew up was shocked by the hostile reaction.

But the opposition, Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki said, did not come from the Orthodox Church, a bastion of anti-Semitism in the past, or from a Ukrainian nationalist movement that collaborated with the Nazis during Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union. They could not seem to care less that Mr. Zelensky was a Jew, the rabbi recalled.

Instead, the hostility came from Mr. Zelensky’s fellow Jews, both secular and religious, for whom painful memories of czarist-era pogroms and the Holocaust are still very much alive.

“They said, ‘He should not run because we will have pogroms here again in two years if things go wrong,’” said Rabbi Kaminezki, the chief rabbi in Dnipro, the capital of Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region.

Despite its scarred history, Ukraine today is no hotbed of anti-Semitism. It already has a Jewish prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman, and if he stays on after Mr. Zelensky is sworn in, Ukraine will be the only country outside of Israel where the heads of state and government are Jewish.

Religion barely came up during the campaign.

The reason, said Igor Shchupak, a Holocaust historian in Dnipro, is that past persecution of Jews was carried out mostly when Ukraine’s territory was under the control of foreign states, principally Russia and Germany, that made anti-Semitism official policy.

“We have anti-Semites today, but we have no anti-Semitism as a state policy,” he said.

A survey by the Pew Research Center found that only 5 percent of Ukrainians surveyed would not accept Jews as fellow citizens, compared with 18 percent of Poles, 22 percent of Romanians and 23 percent of Lithuanians. Ukraine now has the world’s third- or fourth-largest Jewish community, but estimates of its size vary wildly, ranging from 120,000 to 400,000 people, depending on who is counting.

“The times of pogroms are over,” Rabbi Kaminezki said. “This is not on anybody’s agenda here.”

The rabbi has known Mr. Zelensky for years and has joined him at birthday parties in Switzerland for a self-exiled Ukrainian billionaire, Ihor Kolomoisky, who is Jewish. He said he had been appalled that his own community, in its initial alarm over the Zelensky candidacy, was in effect siding with a small group of supporters of the incumbent president, Petro O. Poroshenko, and far-right nationalists who were trying in vain to make an issue of the comedian’s non-Christian roots.

Aside from a few posts on social media, which included a comment on Facebook by an adviser to Mr. Poroshenko that “the president of Ukraine must be Ukrainian and Christian,” Mr. Zelensky’s background played “zero role” in the election campaign, said Mr. Shchupak.