Debunking Many Of The Most Pervasive Myths About Ukraine

To an extent greater than many realize, Russian propaganda narratives have spread throughout the Western world and risk undermining support for Ukraine. It is essential for those falsehoods to be challenged.

In February of 2022, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Expecting to make it to Kyiv in three days, and expecting Ukrainian resistance to crumble, Russia equipped many of their soldiers with parade uniforms, rather than rations or fuel.

Thus, one of the chief ‘victims’ of Russian propaganda was Russia itself. Years of Putin’s pervasive propaganda generated a negative feedback loop, where many Russian’s were convinced that Ukraine was weak, that the Russian military was unstoppable, that the West was feckless, and that the ‘special military operation’ would be easy, which was then fed back to Putin by his own cronies and further boosted his confidence.

And so, the first ‘debunking’ of Russian propaganda was the failure of Russia’s attempt to take Kyiv in three days, and the ongoing war of attrition that continues over a year and a half later.

It turns out that Ukraine wasn’t weak, the Russian military wasn’t unstoppable, and the West was far more willing to support Ukraine than anyone previously thought.

Unable to achieve a decisive victory on the battlefield, Russia is now seeking to win by undermining support for Ukraine in the Western democracies.

This means that Ukraine’s fight for survival now depends in part on ensuring that Russian propaganda is countered and defeated.

Freedom & Responsibility

For those of us in the West who value freedom of speech, it is important to recognize that everything comes with a downside.

While the upsides of free speech obviously outweigh the downsides, those downsides do exist.

A key downside is that authoritarian states like Russia (which don’t allow their own people to have free speech of course), are glad to take advantage of our openness by flooding us with propaganda.

The intention of this flood of propaganda isn’t to persuade everyone – after all Russia remains intensely unpopular in Canada, the United States, and most of the West – rather it is to confuse and demoralize. If a critical mass of people start to think “who really knows what is true and what is false?” and “everyone is somewhat corrupt and evil so we shouldn’t get involved in anything,” then that provides a tremendous advantage to authoritarian regimes who seek to invade free nations.

In the past, both the Nazis and the Soviets made heavy use of this to try and demoralize free Western nations, and Fascist Russia – as well as Communist China – continue to use those tactics today.

Now, the answer to this in the West isn’t to turn against free speech. Free speech is essential to our overall freedom, and to the innovative mindset that drives technological growth and economic prosperity.

Instead, the answer is to do everything we can to push back against Russian propaganda narratives, to fight ‘bad information’ with ‘good information’ and ensure that the truth prevails.

With that in mind, here are some of the most pervasive myths about Ukraine that Russia has tried to spread, along with the information that debunks those myths.

Myth: There is no accountability for the aid that countries like Canada and the United States have given to Ukraine.

TRUTH: Ukraine aid is well-accounted for.

We often hear that aid to Ukraine is not accounted for, and that it is supposedly just a “money-laundering” operation. Many of those who say that also simultaneously say that aid to Ukraine is ‘prolonging the war’. This incoherence is a key feature of propaganda narratives. If aid to Ukraine is ‘prolonging the war,’ then it must be providing real weapons to Ukraine. If it is a ‘money-laundering’ operation, then there would be no weapons being provided. It can’t be both. Yet, the lack of consistency doesn’t matter for Russia’s propaganda purposes. Their goal is to sow doubt and confusion, and make people just want the aid to stop.

However, aid to Ukraine is actually quite well-accounted for.

For example, here is part of a recent report by the United States Congress Congressional Research Service – accurate as of August 25, 2023:

“Since 2022, the United States has provided more advanced defense equipment to Ukraine, as well as greater amounts of previously provided equipment. According to DOD, U.S. security assistance committed to Ukraine as of August 14, 2023, has included the following:

38 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and ammunition;

12 National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS); 1 Patriot air defense battery; and other air defense systems;

31 Abrams tanks, 45 T-72B tanks and 186 Bradley
infantry fighting vehicles;

300 M113 and 189 Stryker Armored Personnel Carriers;

2,000+ Stinger anti-aircraft systems;

10,000+ Javelin anti-armor systems and 80,000+ other anti-armor systems;

Phoenix Ghost Tactical, Switchblade Tactical, and other

198 155 mm and 72 105 mm Howitzers and artillery;

182 mortar systems;

Remote Anti-Armor Mine (RAAM) Systems;

7,000+ Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, WireGuided (TOW) missiles, high-speed anti-radiation
missiles (HARMs), and laser-guided rocket systems;

35,000+ grenade launchers and small arms;

communications, radar, and intelligence equipment; and

training, maintenance, and sustainment.”

What about that $6 billion Pentagon accounting error?

Many critics of aid to Ukraine pounced on the $6 billion error by the U.S. Pentagon regarding a previously approved aid package. Some claimed that this was proof of ‘money laundering’ and that the money was ‘stolen.’

But that is not the case at all.

What many people don’t realize is that much of the aid to Ukraine is surplus military equipment, much of which – especially in the case of the United States – would have been scrapped if it hadn’t been sent to Ukraine.

So, when you hear about a “$1 billion aid package,” that doesn’t mean $1 billion worth of pallets of cash were sent to Ukraine, it means the estimated value of what was sent to Ukraine amounts to $1 billion dollars.

In the case of the $6 billion accounting error, the Pentagon accounted for the value of replacing the out-of-date equipment that was sent to Ukraine, rather than the value of the equipment itself. Since replacing an old weapon system with a new weapon system would obviously entail a higher cost, the total value of aid was drastically overestimated.

And since aid packages provide for a certain amount of spending authority, the error meant that the United States could provide further aid within an already-approved aid package.

So, money did not ‘disappear,’ it was not ‘laundered,’ and it was not ‘stolen.’

Oversight of Ukraine aid

The United States has 64 ongoing and planned oversight projects directly related to aid for Ukraine, and 14 completed projects, as you can see at this link.

In the case of Canada, our aid to Ukraine is also accounted for.

The government clearly lists the value of each aid package, and where that aid is going, breaking it down by ‘economic assistance,’ ‘humanitarian assistance,’ ‘development assistance,’ and ‘security and stabilization support.

For example, the government specifically lists where ‘Security and Stabilization Support’ is going:

“Canada has scaled up its security and stabilization programming in Ukraine, with approximately $102 million in new and planned programming in Ukraine through the Peace and Stabilization Operations and the Weapons Threat Reduction programs since February 2022, including:

$22.5 million in demining and explosive-ordnance disposal equipment for the State Emergency Service of Ukraine

$12.5 million to conduct explosive-ordnance risk education, hazard mapping and clearance of explosive remnants of war and to strengthen the capacity of Ukrainian mine-action institutions

$10 million to bolster Ukraine’s capacity to detect, prevent and respond to threats from chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons and materials

$2 million to the International Atomic Energy Agency to support safety-assessment and assurance missions to nuclear facilities in Ukraine, including the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

over $8 million to support Ukrainian security sector institutions, with a specific focus on the national police, including by providing and facilitating mission-critical equipment and supply donations to security partners

over $18 million in support for international initiatives and platforms, as well as Ukrainian domestic efforts, to advance accountability and justice in Ukraine, with a strong focus on cases of conflict-related sexual violence and sexual and gender-based violence

over $3 million to support Ukraine as it improves its strategic communications capacity and builds the resilience of Ukrainians in the face of disinformation

over $6 million to strengthen the resilience of Ukraine’s civil society in the face of Russian aggression

$13.4 million over 5 years to counter disinformation through support for the G7 Rapid Response Mechanism”

Additionally, the most recent military aid package to Ukraine featured a full accounting of where the money is going:

“A new investment of $650 million over three years to supply Ukraine with 50 armoured vehicles, including armoured medical evacuation vehicles, built by Canadian workers in London, Ontario.

$76 million for 35 high resolution drone cameras and in-service support;

$30 million for the Leopard 2 Maintenance and Service Centre in Poland;

Support for the Joint Coalition on F-16 Training to support the training of Ukrainian pilots;

A large package of NATO-standard small arms ammunition; and

$33 million for a United Kingdom-led partnership that is delivering high priority air defence equipment to Ukraine, including air defence missiles to help Ukraine defend against Russia’s missile and drone attacks, as announced earlier this week.”

Further, both the Standing Committee on Finance (overall budget oversight), and the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (foreign assistance), provide oversight that would include Canada’s assistance to Ukraine.

One feature of Western countries like Canada and the United States is that government spending is well-accounted for, which is of course a separate issue from whether people agree on how that money is spent.

Loan assistance

Canada’s loan assistance is not provided directly to Ukraine, but instead forms part of the International Monetary Fund’s Extended Fund Facility (EFF) Arrangement for Ukraine. The IMF administers a support package that compiles contributions from many IMF nations.

Ironically, the IMF is often criticized by Russian propaganda aimed at the ‘global south’ for being ‘too harsh’ towards nations reliant upon IMF support. The IMF often imposes stringent austerity conditions on countries, and demands strict enforcement of anti-corruption measures, something many recipient nations chafe against.

While recognizing the difficulty of Ukraine’s situation, the IMF has still set out performance criteria and six structural benchmarks for Ukraine to ensure accountability and ongoing support in donor countries who expect their aid to be well-utilized.

Here’s what the IMF stated in their first review of the program:

“Despite the war, program performance has been strong under the First Review. All continuous and the quantitative performance criteria for end-April 2023 were met, as well as all six structural benchmarks through end-June 2023. The indicative targets on the overall budget balance and social spending, however, were missed due to higher defense spending and changes in the methodology for effecting social payments. Estimates of program external financing gaps remain broadly unchanged, as are medium- term assumptions about growth and financing.

In the near term, fiscal policies will continue to focus on ensuring adequate resources for priority spending, sustaining strong tax revenues, including by refraining from measures that would erode the tax base, and preserving fiscal and debt sustainability. The development of the National Revenue Strategy (NRS) is critical to mobilize revenues and support reconstruction and social spending. Restoring the legal framework for medium-term budget preparation, budget credibility and debt management is also important, combined with measures to improve fiscal transparency and strengthen public investment management.

The NBU’s conditions-based strategy is an appropriate basis for moving toward normalizing the monetary and exchange rate policy frameworks. Once conditions permit, it will be important to transition from the current exchange rate peg toward a flexible exchange rate, cautiously ease emergency FX measures, and return to an inflation targeting framework. Continued evidence of sustained disinflation and stability in the FX cash market provide scope for earlier easing in monetary policy.

While financial stability has been skillfully preserved through comprehensive measures since the onset of war, risks remain elevated and could rapidly materialize. Further vigilance and preparations are needed to respond to the broad range of high-impact risks alongside implementation of the authorities’ comprehensive reform agenda envisioned in the financial sector strategy.”

The IMF also has an external audit committee, which you can read about here.

Now, does this mean that there isn’t corruption in Ukraine?

Of course not.

Like all countries – especially many former Soviet States – Ukraine has long been dealing with corruption issues.

However, Western governments have repeatedly made it clear to Ukraine that corruption would undermine Western support for the country, and Ukraine itself has a massive incentive to root out corruption given that they are in an existential war. When a country is fighting for survival, corruption isn’t just criminal, it’s treasonous. And in fact, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has asked the Ukrainian Parliament to pass legislation that would equate corruption with treason for the duration of the war.

All of this is to say that there is indeed a great deal of accounting of exactly how aid to Ukraine is dispersed, and the ‘money laundering’ narrative simply doesn’t hold up.

Putin’s corruption

In an ultimate example of how authoritarian states often project their own failings onto others (Russia accuses the West of ‘aggression’ while they invade Ukraine), corruption and misuse of government funds runs rampant in Russia.

For example, Bill Browder – who was once the largest foreign investor in Russia – estimates Putin’s net worth at $200 billion.

Putin was even linked to the Panama Papers, something that those supposedly concerned about corruption seem to conveniently leave out.

A key reason Russia’s initial assault on Ukraine failed so spectacularly was that fuel, rations, tires, parts, and more had been simply stolen by corrupt military officials, or never even purchased in the first place. Corruption runs rampant in Russia, and the lack of a free press or democratic accountability makes it far more difficult for that corruption to be confronted.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stood out among top Ukrainian politicians in that he was never a billionaire. Further, the wealth Zelenskyy does have was earned prior to his political career.

This was explained in detail by Forbes:

“Lee Stranahan, an American host on Kremlin-owned and controlled Radio Sputnik featured in the Oliver Stone documentary “Revealing Ukraine,” tweeted to his nearly 100,000 followers: “Why Is Zelensky a Billionaire?”

Forbes’ answer: he’s not. The Russian invasion has hit Ukraine’s billionaires hard. According to Forbes’ 36th annual World’s Billionaires List, there are only seven left in the country and Zelensky is not one of them (nor is former president and chocolate magnate Petro Poroshenko, who dropped from the rankings this year).

But unlike his predecessor, Zelensky never was a billionaire. He’s currently worth roughly $20 million, based on reporting by Forbes Ukraine. Additional reporting by Forbes US puts that number at less than $30 million.

His main asset: an estimated 25% stake in Kvartal 95, a group of companies that produce humorous shows, which he transferred to his partners after being elected president, though he’ll likely regain his shares after leaving office. Kvartal 95 produced and owns the Servant of the People series, a popular political comedy starring Zelensky as a Ukrainian high school teacher who is elected president. Netflix, which previously streamed the show between 2017 and 2021, snapped up the rights again in March. With estimated revenues of $30 million annually, Forbes Ukraine values Zelensky’s stake at $11 million.”

The most apt comparison to Zelenskyy would be someone like Ronald Reagan, who made a decent amount of money as a famous actor before entering politics. Reagan’s net worth was estimated at around $16 million or so, similar to Zelenskyy, and a far cry from Putin’s billionaire status.

Myth: Volodymyr Zelenskyy was ‘installed’ in office.

TRUTH: Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected in an election deemed fair by international observers.

According to international observers from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the 2019 Presidential Election (which consisted of two rounds of voting culminating in a run-off), was “competitive and held with respect for fundamental freedoms”. Here is a portion of their statement following the second round of voting:

“The 2019 presidential election in Ukraine was competitive and held with respect for fundamental freedoms. The orderly transfer of power should offer the opportunity for strengthening democratic institutions and their accountability, although the campaign for both rounds lacked genuine discussion of issues of public concern. The media landscape and campaign coverage reflected the dominance of economic interests in public and political life. The runoff was well-organized, despite operational challenges and a limited timeframe. The legal framework still contains shortcomings, and there was little will to resolve electoral complaints in a way that would guarantee effective remedy. Election day was
assessed positively, and, despite a few procedural problems, there was a marked improvement in the conduct of the vote count and tabulation compared to the first round.”

Additionally, the observers noted that “Voting was assessed positively in 99 per cent of polling stations observed”.

In the first round of the elections, Zelensky won 30.24% of the popular vote, ahead of then-President Petro Poroshenko at 15.95%. Those two candidates then faced off in the second round, and Zelenskyy won 73.22% to Poroshenko at 24.45%.

Zelenskyy won 13.54 million votes, while Poroshenko won 4.52 million votes.

So, to say Zelenskyy was ‘installed’ is simply flat out wrong.

Zelenskyy’s dominant win also serves to debunk another pervasive myth about Ukraine.

Myth: Ukraine is a far-right racist ‘fascist state’

TRUTH: Ukraine is less anti-Semitic than most Eastern European countries, is led by a Jewish President who lost family in the Holocaust, and has done far more than many of their neighboring countries to address extremism.

One of the most disgusting smears against Ukraine is that the country is a ‘nazi-state’. This has formed the backbone of Russian propaganda, as they claim to be ‘denazifying’ the country.

This propaganda unfortunately received a massive boost when the Canadian government welcomed a former Nazi fighter from Ukraine and cheered him on in Parliament, a massive error which has resulted in the resignation of the Speaker of the House and has generated an ongoing political crisis.

Russia has already put out fake propaganda images falsely claiming Ukraine honoured the Nazi fighter with a stamp:

As noted by respected Canadian democracy advocated Marcus Kolga, some people in this country spread the false image:

Earlier on, I made the point that incoherence doesn’t matter for authoritarian regimes spreading propaganda. In fact, they like to go for the ‘big lie,’ because many will think that nobody would put forth such an obvious falsehood and that there thus must be truth to it. Because most of us can’t imagine lying on such a massive scale, we assume that others won’t do so either. Authoritarian states take advantage of that assumption.

So, Russia goes on claiming that Ukraine – a country where over 70% of the voters voted for a Jewish President – is somehow a ‘Nazi state.’

What makes the Russian claims even more despicable is that Zelenskyy’s ancestors fought in the Red Army against the Nazis and were killed when the Nazis burned down their village:

“Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s great-grandparents died when the Nazis burned their village, he said in an interview on CNN Monday.

Speaking through a translator with Fareed Zakaria, Zelensky said, as he has many times before, that his grandfather and his grandfather’s brothers all enlisted in the Soviet Red Army, and only his grandfather survived.

He also offered details about what happened to his grandfather’s parents that have not previously been reported in English.

“His father and his mother were killed in a terrible fire. The Nazis set ablaze the entire village where they lived and where my grandfather was born.”

Zelenskyy’s family history shows the complexity of Ukraine’s history.

Some Ukrainians initially saw Germany as liberators when the German invasion of the Soviet Union began. Soviet Dictator Joseph Stalin had already committed a genocide against Ukrainians in the early 1930s:

The Ukrainian Genocide

“In the case of the Holodomor, this was the first genocide that was methodically planned out and perpetrated by depriving the very people who were producers of food of their nourishment (for survival). What is especially horrific is that the withholding of food was used as a weapon of genocide and that it was done in a region of the world known as the ‘breadbasket of Europe’.” – Prof. Andrea Graziosi, University of Naples.

In 1932 and 1933, millions of Ukrainians were killed in the Holodomor, a man-made famine engineered by the Soviet government of Joseph Stalin. The primary victims of the Holodomor (literally “death inflicted by starvation”) were rural farmers and villagers, who made up roughly 80 percent of Ukraine’s population in the 1930s. While it is impossible to determine the precise number of victims of the Ukrainian genocide, most estimates by scholars range from roughly 3.5 million to 7 million (with some estimates going higher). The most detailed demographic studies estimate the death toll at 3.9 million. Historians agree that, as with other genocides, the precise number will never be known.”

Of course, Germany was undertaking their own genocide and – with anti-Semitism rampant in Europe at the time, found willing collaborators in many countries, including parts of Ukraine.

Many of the most brutal battles of World War Two took place in Ukraine, thus leaving many Ukrainians trapped between the genocidal Nazi regime and the genocidal Stalinist regime.

There’s a reason Ukraine – along with Poland, Belarus, and the Baltic states – are referred to as the “Bloodlands” by eminent historian Timothy Snyder.

Indeed, at this very moment fighting rages on some of the same territory that brutal World War Two battles took place, only this time Russia is the fascist aggressor state fighting an offensive war.

To get a further sense of the complexity of the history of the region, Leonid Brezhnev – who led the Soviet Union from 1964 – 1980, was Ukrainian.

As to current attitudes towards Jewish people, Ukraine is less anti-Semitic than many of their neighbours.

According to a 2018 Pew Research survey, just 5% of Ukrainians said they would not be willing to accept Jews as Citizens of their country, less than all the other nations surveyed:

Those numbers make sense when you consider that Ukraine elected a Jewish President by a massive margin.

You’ll also note that Russia expresses more anti-Semitic views than Ukraine, which leads into the next point:

Russia has a far bigger neo-nazi problem than Ukraine does

The Wagner Group – which until Yvgeny Proghizin’s aborted ‘coup’ was heavily utilized by Vladimir Putin in Ukraine, Africa, and the Middle East – was most likely named after German composer Richard Wagner.

Wagner happened to be Hitler’s favourite composer.

As noted by the American Jewish Committee, this is no coincidence:

“The Wagner Group is a private military company with ties to Russian white supremacist and neo-Nazi far-right extremists.

The Wagner Group is led by Dmitry Utkin, a former Russian soldier, and was founded by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin. The shadowy group first emerged during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014.”

“There’s a growing body of evidence connecting leaders and members of the Wagner Group to various neo-Nazi sympathies and movements, including Dmitry Utkin, who reportedly has several Nazi tattoos.

Wagner operatives frequently spray-painted swastikas and SS lightning bolts as graffiti. Many founding members of Wagner also belong to the Russian Imperial Movement, an ultra-nationalist and white supremacist group, which the U.S. State Department has declared a terrorist organization.

A neo-Nazi paramilitary group called Task Force Rusich, which has also been fighting in Ukraine and linked to the Kremlin, is closely aligned with the Wagner Group. The U.S. Treasury Department enacted sanctions against Rusich in September, saying it is “a neo-Nazi paramilitary group that has participated in combat alongside Russia’s military in Ukraine.””

Again, this is an example of Russia’s use of projection.

While attacking a country that elected a Jewish President, Russia is utilizing a paramilitary organization with ties to neo-Nazis and likely named after Hitler’s favourite composer, while still having the gall to claim they are ‘denazifying’ Ukraine.

What about the ‘Azov Battalion’?

The Azov Battalion folded in 2014.

It was replaced by the Azov Regiment.

Now, it is true that the now-defunct Azov Battalion was formed in part by far-right elements as a militia in the wake of Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine.

However, as Ukraine’s military became more professionalized, the Azov Regiment was incorporated into the Ukrainian National Guard.

As noted by Foreign Affairs in 2017, this was part of a broader effort by Ukraine to reign in potentially dangerous far-right groups:

“When the conflict in Ukraine began in early 2014, a disturbing number of armed groups—from looting gangs to militias with ties to European white supremacy movements—sprang up from the chaos. Although the role and origin of those pro-Ukrainian militias has been hotly debated, one thing is clear: several years after the start of the conflict, the Ukrainian government has managed to stifle the independent armed groups fighting on its side. Its success offers lessons for other countries attempting to demobilize populations after a war.”

Having taken further steps to professionalize their military, Ukraine does not allow military units to be formed on the basis of ideology.

Unlike Wagner, the Azov Regiment is not named after Hitler’s favourite composer, but is rather named after the Sea of Azov – an currently occupied by Russia.

Meanwhile, unlike Ukraine – Russia has failed to rein in their extremist militias, as noted by RadioFreeEurope:

“The video, published in December 2020, showed two nattily dressed Russian men — waistcoats, pocket squares, silk ties – sipping American whiskey in brandy snifters and discussing killing Ukrainians.

“I’m a Nazi. I’m a Nazi,” said one of the men, Aleksei Milchakov, who was the main focus of the video published on a Russian nationalist YouTube channel. “I’m not going to go deep and say, I’m a nationalist, a patriot, an imperialist, and so forth. I’ll say it outright: I’m a Nazi.”

“You have to understand that when you kill a person, you feel the excitement of the hunt. If you’ve never been hunting, you should try it. It’s interesting,” he said.

Aside from being a notorious, avowed Nazi known for killing a puppy and posting bragging photographs about it on social media, Milchakov is the head of a Russian paramilitary group known as Rusich, which openly embraces Nazi symbolism and radical racist ideologies. The group, and Milchakov himself, have been credibly linked to atrocities in Ukraine and in Syria.

Along with members of the Russian Imperial Movement, a white supremacist group that was designated a “global terrorist” organization by the United States two years ago, Rusich is one of several right-wing groups that are actively fighting in Ukraine, in conjunction with Russia’s regular armed forces or allied separatist units.

According to a confidential report by Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, which was obtained by Der Spiegel and excerpted on May 22, numerous Russian right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis are fighting in Ukraine.

German analysts wrote that the fact that Russian military and political leaders have welcomed neo-Nazi groups undermines the claim by Putin and his government that one of the principal motives behind the invasion is the desire to “de-Nazify” Ukraine, Spiegel said.

This fact, Spiegel quoted the report as saying, renders “the alleged reason for the war, the so-called de-Nazification of Ukraine, absurd.””

Ukraine’s Jewish community speaks out

Now, to say Ukraine is free of anti-Semitism would be untrue. Even Canada is not free of anti-Semitism, with anti-Semitic violence having risen in recent years, and remaining one of the most-common hate crimes in this country. Anti-Semitism has also been surging in the United States, with extremist groups more emboldened to spread hateful rhetoric and commit acts of violence.

Yet – even in 2014 (before Ukraine took strong steps to rein in far-right militias), Ukraine’s Jewish Community was speaking out against Vladimir Putin’s attempt to label the country as hostile to Jewish People, as the BBC reported back then:

“Leaders of Ukraine’s Jewish community have come out strongly in support of the Kiev government in its conflict with Russia, rejecting Moscow’s accusations that their country is now a hotbed of anti-Semitism.

But some are uneasy about the far-right extremists fighting with Ukrainian volunteer battalions in the east, as well as incidents of “everyday anti-Semitism” in Ukraine.

Russian media and officials have been portraying Ukraine as a hotbed of far-right extremism, including anti-Semitism, ever since former President Viktor Yanukovych was removed from power at the end of February.

In his first public reaction to Mr Yanukovych’s downfall, President Vladimir Putin told journalists on 4 March: “We see the rampage of reactionary forces, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces going on in certain parts of Ukraine, including Kiev.”

He used similar language in his speech declaring the annexation of Crimea two weeks later, when he said that the “coup” against Mr Yanukovych was the work of “nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites”.

The Association of Jewish Organisations and Communities (VAAD) of Ukraine responded with an open letter saying that President Putin’s assertions about the rise of anti-Semitism in their country “did not match reality”.

Mr Putin’s advisers “might have confused Ukraine with Russia where Jewish organisations registered a rise of anti-Semitism last year”, it added.

Shmuel Kaminetsky, a rabbi in Dnipropetrovsk, home to one of the country’s largest Jewish communities, also rejects the idea that Ukraine is anti-Semitic.

Life is “easier and safer” for Jews in Ukraine than in Western countries such as Belgium and France, where radical Islam is on the rise, he said in a recent film about efforts to defend Dnipropetrovsk against the Russian-backed insurgency.

Ever since Mr Yanukovych’s downfall, Russian media have played up the threat from Ukrainian far-right organisations, such as Right Sector and the Freedom party.

But neither of these parties has widespread support. In the presidential election in May their leaders obtained a combined vote of less than 2%. They also failed to breach the 5% threshold in the recent parliamentary election.”

Again, this was even before Ukraine professionalized their armed forces and before Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected.

Ukraine has since done even more to combat anti-Semitism, and the nation has rallied behind a Jewish President in their fight for national survival.

Putin’s anti-Semitic rhetoric

As if to bring everything full circle, it’s now Russian dictator Vladimir Putin who is being accused of using anti-Semitic rhetoric in his remarks about Ukraine’s Jewish President.

Here’s what the Times of Israel reported early in September of 2023:

“Kyiv blasted Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday for comments about Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky’s Jewish background, calling them further evidence of antisemitism in Moscow’s leadership.

On Tuesday, Putin told Russian television that the West put “an ethnic Jew” into power in Ukraine to cover up the country’s “glorification of Nazism.”

Western powers, said the Russian president, “have put a person at the head of modern Ukraine — an ethnic Jew, with Jewish roots, with Jewish origins. So in my opinion, they seem to be covering up an anti-human essence that is the foundation… of the modern Ukrainian state.

“This makes the whole situation extremely disgusting, that an ethnic Jew is covering up the glorification of Nazism and covering up those who led the Holocaust in Ukraine at one time — and this is the extermination of 1.5 million people.”

Putin has repeatedly sought to paint his invasion of Ukraine as an effort to “denazify” the country, a claim rejected by the majority of the international community as baseless propaganda.”

Putin has also previously claimed that – according to some of Putin’s ‘friends’ – Zelenskyy is ‘not Jewish’:

“Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday claimed Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, is viewed as a “disgrace” to his faith by other members of the religion.

“I have a lot of Jewish friends,” Putin told an annual economic forum in Saint Petersburg. “They say that Zelensky is not Jewish, that he is a disgrace to the Jewish people.”

“This is not a joke and not an attempt at irony, because today neo-Nazis, Hitler’s disciples, have been put on a pedestal as heroes of Ukraine,” Putin added, according to the TASS Russian News Agency.”

Putin later noted that Zelensky was “a man with Jewish blood” before adding that “he covers for these freaks, these neo-Nazis, with his actions.”

“Why do you put Nazis on a pedestal?” Putin asked rhetorically regarding Zelensky.”

Notice how Putin completely ignores the agency of the Ukrainian People – ignoring Zelenskyy’s decisive election win – and then tries to question Zelenskyy’s own heritage and faith.

This is – yet again – total projection on Putin’s part.

Vladimir Putin is a dictator leading a heavily militarized totalitarian state attempting to wipe out an entire culture, while utilizing neo-nazi fighters and a paramilitary organization named after Hitler’s favourite composer in order to do so. Modern day Russia in many ways resembles Nazi Germany – with a big dash of the Stalin-era Soviet Union added to the mix.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is a country desperately seeking to escape their tragic history and become a fully fledged part of the free world.

Ukraine wants to become a ‘boring’ European country where free elections are regularly held, the power of the state is limited, and allies ensure security from invasion.

Russia – deep in the throes of a fascist neo-stalinist descent into madness –  is hell-bent on stopping Ukraine from doing that, seeking to destroy Ukraine rather than let it choose its own future.

Part two still to come

Given that this column is already quite long, I will leave a further debunking of myths about Ukraine for another time.

For now, I encourage you to use and share this resource to help push back against Russia’s propaganda and ensure that the truth prevails.

Spencer Fernando