In the month since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has become a global icon. Zelensky, who was elected in 2019 and chose to remain in his country during the assault, is Ukraine’s first Jewish president. His Jewishness, already notable given the nation’s history of antisemitism, has taken on new symbolic importance in light of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that the assault is justified by its goal of “denazification.” Many Jews around the world, some of whose ancestors once lived in Ukraine, have come to identify with Zelensky, who embodies many of the contradictions of post-Soviet Jewishness, and whose attempts to lobby on behalf of his nation—including in a recent speech before the Israeli Knesset—have highlighted questions about the politics of post-Soviet Holocaust memory. On today’s episode, Newsletter Editor David Klion speaks with a panel of writers and contributors to the new Soviet Issue of Jewish Currents—Julia Alekseyeva, Linda Kinstler, and Helen Betya Rubinstein—about Zelensky’s Jewishness and the meaning of Jewish identity in post-Soviet Russia and Ukraine.
Books, Articles, TV Shows, and Podcasts Mentioned:
“Our Oligarch” by David Klion
“The Many Oblivions of Babi Yar” by Linda Kinstler
Soviet Daughter: A Graphic Revolution by Julia Alekseyeva
Thanks to Jesse Brenneman for producing and to Nathan Salsburg for the use of his song “VIII (All That Were Calculated Have Passed).”