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Six months after Russia’s invasion of their homeland and amidst Russia’s ongoing war of aggression, yesterday Ukrainians marked the 31st anniversary of their independence not with planned commemorations but with the defiant patriotism the world has come to know and admire.
Despite this year’s ban on mass gatherings and warnings that Russia might unleash a new wave of attacks, people had been making their way to Khreschatyk Street, a major thoroughfare in Kyiv. There they strolled around captured Russian military equipment, taking photos of each other atop tanks or writing the names of destroyed towns on them. In some photos the tanks appeared so close together and occupied so much of the road, it almost seemed like time had come to a standstill during a military parade. But of course, time had not stopped. In the evening came news of a rocket attack on a train station in central Ukraine; 25 people were killed and dozens more wounded. Missile fire was reported in other areas of the country as well.
Anniversaries can be markers of important events: historical, cultural or personal. They can also arbitrarily focus our attention—a spotlight that can prove dangerous—and then allow us to forget once the date has passed. Today it seems apt to focus on the ongoing war in Ukraine and to look back as well—for example, at the violent history and transformation of Jewish life in a country where some 43,000 citizens identify as Jewish and closer to 200,000 qualify as Jews under Israel’s Law of Return.
In March, Moment Institute Senior Fellow Nathan Guttman wrote about Israel’s difficult position in terms of security concerns arising from a break with Russia, as well as its prioritization of Jewish refugees from Ukraine—a controversy further detailed by Israel Editor Eetta Prince-Gibson. Columnists Shmuel Rosner and Gershom Gorenberg weighed in on this as well. In July, we looked into the U.S. State Department report detailing persistent attempts by the Kremlin to delegitimize Ukraine’s government as a “gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis” and how the Russian propaganda machine had targeted Volodymr Zelensky’s Jewishness ever since he was elected president in 2019. Expanding the scope of thought on acts of war, the Ask the Rabbis feature in our summer print issue examined whether Jewish law offers any guidance on how to fight a war.
Through it all, Moment readers have been provided a uniquely personal lens into wartime life in Ukraine through “The Kyiv Diaries.” In regular entries since early March, a Jewish former fashion executive named Helen (last name omitted for her safety), who was born in Ukraine and moved to Kyiv from the United States with her venture capitalist husband a decade ago, has shared many moving details—from harrowing accounts of atrocities committed by Russian soldiers, to the fate of abandoned pets and other animals, to navigating safe celebrations of Jewish holidays, to an absurdly Byzantine process of “rebirth” she had to navigate in order to renew her residency permit.
When the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) declared independence three decades ago, it did so “In view of the mortal danger surrounding Ukraine in connection with the state coup in the USSR on August 19, 1991.” Continuing “the thousand-year tradition of state development in Ukraine,” as well as “Proceeding from the right of a nation to self-determination in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and other international legal documents,” the nation declared itself indivisible and inviolable. In view of the mortal danger surrounding Ukraine today, we at Moment will continue following its course and hope for the day when the nation’s Jews and non-Jews alike feel so unassailed.