KIEV, Ukraine (Sep. 2)
For the first time since Ukraine declared itself an independent state, an Israeli ambassador has formally presented his credentials here.
In a reception ceremony Tuesday at Mariansky Palace, Zwi Magen formally met with Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk.
Although an Israeli Embassy has been open here in the Ukrainian capital since last year, no Israeli ambassador had been appointed until now.
Magen, 48, is a native Russian who immigrated to Israel in 1957 during the “thaw” following the death of Josef Stalin. Magen served in the Israeli army for 17 years and has worked in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office since 1987.
In the two years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Israel and Ukraine have developed cordial relations, warming ties between two peoples that at best had been weak.
Earlier this year, Kravchuk made an official state visit to Israel and officially opened his country’s embassy in Tel Aviv.
In June, Shevah Weiss, the speaker of the Israeli Knesset, made an official visit to Ukraine following an invitation by Prime Minister Ivan Plushch.
Weiss found himself in hot water after making a speech in which he made reference to old wounds between the two peoples, particularly those incurred by Ukrainian Nazi collaborators during World War II.
The Israelis blamed an interpreter’s gaffe in translating the speech for creating an uproar in which 18 members of the Ukrainian Parliament stormed out of the hall.
Despite an attempt by the Israeli government to assuage hurt feelings among Ukrainians, a residue of mistrust lingers.
OVER 500,000 UKRAINIANS IN ISRAEL
Interestingly, relations between the two countries have not been affected by the case of John Demjanjuk, the Ukrainian native suspected of war crimes.
The Ukrainian government has taken no action in favor of Demjanjuk, who in July was acquitted in Israel of being the brutal Treblinka death camp guard known as “Ivan the Terrible.”
Nevertheless, a Ukrainian lay church leader said Israel’s continuous holding of Demjanjuk could result in some actions by “certain elements” in Ukraine against Jews.
Referring to the Ukrainian government’s hands-off policy toward the case, Ehud Eitan, charge d’affairs of the Israeli Embassy here, said, “Some people see Demjanjuk as representing the Ukrainian people, but neither government saw it that way.”
Thousands of Jews from Ukraine have arrived in Israel since the latest wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union began in the late 1980s.
It is estimated that more than 500,000 former Ukrainian citizens have become Israelis.
Though the rate of emigration has dramatically dropped since its high point two years ago, the Jewish Agency and other Israeli organizations involved with facilitating aliyah still maintain offices in several Ukrainian cities.
Trade relations between the two countries have grown considerably in the past few years.