Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is feeling the intense, burning heat of Russia’s unwarranted and unacceptable invasion of Ukraine. The Russian army is advancing on all fronts, despite ferocious resistance by the Ukrainian armed forces, and Kyiv, the capital, is virtually surrounded.
Apparently intent on extinguishing Ukraine’s independence as a sovereign state, Russian President Vladimir Putin appears ready to conquer and occupy Ukraine come what may.
In light of these horrific developments, Zelensky is growing increasingly desperate. So much so that he has falsely begun comparing his besieged and bleeding nation to the plight of European Jews during the Holocaust.
Addressing the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in a Zoom talk recently, Zelensky likened Russia’s destructive and seemingly indiscriminate bombardments of Ukrainian cities to Nazi Germany’s genocidal campaign to murder Jews on an industrial scale.
“This is just pure Nazism,” he said, noting that Russian missiles have landed near the Babi Yar Holocaust memorial in Kyiv. “This is just pure Nazi behavior. I can’t even qualify this in any different manner.”
Comparing Putin’s actions to Nazi Germany’s onslaught in the Soviet Union from 1941 onwards, Zelensky said, “Listen, all of this already happened in Europe. All this happened during Nazi times when the German army rolled through Europe and everyone gave the Jewish people away.”
Zelensky’s anguish is understandable. Russia had no right whatsoever to invade Ukraine. Its invasion is a malign and vicious violation of a neighbor’s sovereign territory and a horrible body blow to the established political order in Europe.
And now that Russian tanks, artillery, missiles and aircraft are raining death and destruction on Ukraine on a daily basis and on a level that has not been seen in Europe since World War II, the Ukrainian government fears that Putin seriously wants to conquer Ukraine and absorb it into Russia.
The brute force that Putin has deployed to subdue Ukraine is utterly deplorable. Yet Putin is not Adolf Hitler, whose diabolical objective was to murder Jews and Slavs in racial warfare. Nor is Russia comparable to Nazi Germany, whose invading armies were pulverized by the Soviet Union’s Red Army over a four-year period in the costliest battles of the war.
Putin may be committing war crimes in Ukraine, but his intention is not to kill Ukrainians, whom he has described as Slavic blood brothers. Russia’s invasion, unlike Germany’s aggression eight decades ago, is not underpinned by genocidal goals.
So when Zelensky invokes Nazi Germany and the Holocaust to denounce Russia he is skating on extremely thin ice. He is distorting and mangling history for his own ends. And he knows perfectly well that Russian gunners did not deliberately intend to bombard the area around the Babi Yar Holocaust memorial, but rather a nearby television tower.
Putin is equally guilty of exploiting the Holocaust. His claim that the invasion was launched to “deNazify” Ukraine — a democratic country which has every right to statehood — is facile, cynical, misleading and self-serving.
Truth is always the first casualty of war. And in this war, which is roiling Europe tremendously, a similar pattern of deceit and deception has emerged.
It is very unfortunate that Putin has mischaracterized the war as a struggle against fascism, when, in fact, it is brazen imperialist attempt by Russia to subjugate a peaceful neighboring state. And it is lamentable that Zelensky has resorted to inaccurate Holocaust analogies to bolster Ukraine’s case against Russia.
Both sides should respect the unvarnished truth and desist from politicizing the Holocaust.