Ukrainian Official Slams Yad Vashem Over Zelenskyy's Speech Request

The Israeli Holocaust memorial had turned down a request by Ukraine to hold an event at the site in which Zelenskyy would speak, but sources at Yad Vashem say that the discussions are still ongoing

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center in 2020.
The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center in 2020. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

A Ukrainian official said Monday that Israel’s Yad Vashem is a “problematic” institution that has long accepted “the corrupt money of Russian oligarchs,” in response to reports that the Holocaust memorial had rejected a request by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to organize an event there, in which he would deliver a speech via video link.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, expressed strong disappointment with the institution's decision, and accused Yad Vashem of having “leaked” its decision to the media while discussions were ongoing.

“They were dealing with the corrupt money of Russian oligarchs. That’s why they are problematic. Nobody else can talk about genocide but them,” the official said.

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Haaretz reached out to Yad Vashem for comment but did not receive a direct response to these allegations. However, Yad Vashem did clarify that a mass rally on its grounds, with politicians, mayors and public officials in attendance, is not suitable for an institution dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust. Yad Vashem officials expressed concerns that during such an event, comparisons would be made between the war in Ukraine and the Holocaust, something Yad Vashem strongly opposes and has come out against two weeks ago.

Yad Vashem recently suspended a major donation by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, distancing itself from him in a statement issued late last week.

Regarding Zelenskyy’s request, Yad Vashem officials said on Sunday evening that the memorial would not allow for a political event to be held in its property, telling Haaretz that comparisons would be made between the war in Ukraine and the Holocaust, something Yad Vashem strongly opposes and has come out against two weeks ago.

Sources at Yad Vashem added that the institution’s leadership explained to the Ukrainian ambassador in Israel that it has not given a final rejection to Zelenskyy’s request, and the two sides are continuing to talk, although there is disagreement on the format of the suggested event.

The normally apolitical institution condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine; in response, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov criticized Yad Vashem earlier this month. It decried “the propagandist discourse accompanying the current hostilities,” which it said was “saturated with irresponsible statements and completely inaccurate comparisons with Nazi ideology and actions before and during the Holocaust.”

Ever since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both sides of the conflict have compared their opponents to Nazis and accused them of committing genocide. On February 24, the morning his forces first entered Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that “the purpose of this operation is to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime” and that his goal was “to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine.”

Shortly after the speech, the Ukrainian government's official Twitter account posted a depiction of Adolf Hitler caressing Putin's face of. It wrote: "This is not a 'meme,' but our and your reality right now."

Ofer Aderet contributed to this report.

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