(JTA) — A Ukrainian lawmaker and war hero used a word usually translated as “kikes” in complaining that Jews wield excessive power in her country.
Nadiya Savchenko, a fighter jet pilot who was elected to parliament in 2014 while she was still being held as a prisoner of Russia, made the statements on Saturday during a televised interview for the 112 station and insisted they were not indicative of anti-Semitic bias.
Savchenko was asked to address criticism that in a television interview earlier this month, she failed to condemn the anti-Semitic statements of a caller with whom she seemed to agree.
During the 112 interview on Saturday, which was conducted in Ukrainian, Savchenko said, “I have nothing against Jews. I do not like ‘kikes.’” She later said Jews possess “80 percent of the power when they only account for 2 percent of the population.”
In expressing neutrality to Jews, she used the word “evreiv,” which speakers both of Ukrainian and Russian is a neutral designation. But later she used the term “zhidiv,” which in Russian is a pejorative for Jews, akin to “kike” in English.
Some Ukrainians claim the word “zhid” is the standard designation for a Jew in their language, though leaders of the Ukrainian Jewish community insist it is offensive to Jews in both languages.
In the same interview, Savchenko cited the fact that Ukraine’s prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman, is Jewish and claimed that the country’s president, Petro Poroshenko, also has Jewish roots along with Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and a leader of the nation’s Orange Revolution.
The ancestries of both Proshenko and Timoshenko have been the subject of speculation in Ukraine and beyond.
During the earlier interview on March 21 for OneNews, Savchenko agreed in principle with a caller who inveighed against a “Jewish takeover of Ukraine.”
She replied: “Indeed, part of the ruling establishment in Ukraine does not possess distinctly Ukrainian blood and we need to talk about it and act.”
Russia arrested and tried Savchenko for her role as a Ukrainian soldier in fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-baked separatists in 2014 near the Ukrainian border city of Donetsk. Russian judges said she was responsible for the slaying of two journalists. She was released in a prisoner exchange in 2016.
Her lead defense lawyer in Russia during the trial was the human rights attorney Mark Feigin, who is Jewish. Feigin said he had been detained and harassed repeatedly by authorities for defending Savchenko.