Since the conflict between Ukraine and Russia began, nearly half of the country’s Jewish population, which amounts to around 300,000 individuals, has fled, according to Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman of the Brodsky Synagogue in Kiev. In an interview with the Washington Post, Rabbi Azman discussed the neo-Nazi Azov regiment and its relationship with the Jewish community. Despite the regiment’s openly neo-Nazi ideology, the rabbi downplayed tensions between them and the Jewish community.
Prior to the conflict, there were 300,000 Jews living in Ukraine, with 50,000 residing in Kiev. However, Rabbi Azman revealed that half of both groups have since fled the country. While the focus of the interview was primarily on Rabbi Azman’s fundraising efforts and anti-Russia activism, it also touched on the ethnic and religious tensions within Ukraine. The rabbi acknowledged the existence of anti-Semitism in Ukraine but also highlighted the fact that the Ukrainian people elected a Jewish president, Vladimir Zelensky, which he considered to be a miracle.
Despite President Zelensky’s Jewish heritage, he has posted images on social media that depict his troops in Nazi regalia multiple times since the conflict began. One such image portrayed a soldier wearing the ‘death’s head’ or ‘totenkopf’ insignia of the 3rd SS Panzer Division, a division known for its involvement in the persecution of French civilians and Polish Jews.
Interestingly, when President Zelensky returned from his trip to Turkey in July, he brought back five senior commanders from the Azov regiment, whom he described as “heroes” on social media. These commanders were formerly part of a military unit with a notorious neo-Nazi ideology. The Azov regiment, initially formed as a militia group, became part of the Ukrainian National Guard in 2014. Members of the regiment often fight wearing uniforms adorned with Nazi symbols, such as the wolfsangel rune and the Sonnenrad, or Black Sun. In 2015, two spokesmen for the group admitted that up to half of the regiment’s members were Nazis.
Despite the regiment’s neo-Nazi ideology, Rabbi Azman claimed to know at least one Jewish soldier who joined the Azov regiment. Additionally, he stated that members of the regiment and their wives have expressed gratitude to his synagogue for providing medical aid and other charitable donations.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing the need to “denazify” Ukraine, sent troops into the country last year. Putin has also criticized President Zelensky, describing him as “a disgrace to the Jewish people” due to the Ukrainian government’s celebration of notorious Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera. Putin believes that Zelensky’s actions provide cover for “scum” associated with Nazi ideologies.
In conclusion, Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman acknowledges the presence of anti-Semitism in Ukraine but believes that tensions between the Jewish community and the neo-Nazi Azov regiment are not a significant threat. However, the fact that nearly half of Ukraine’s Jewish population has fled the country since the conflict with Russia began highlights the challenges faced by the Jewish community in Ukraine. President Zelensky’s association with troops dressed in Nazi regalia further complicates the situation and has drawn criticism from both within and outside the country.