Zelensky’s senior adviser: 40 “Jewish heroes” fighting at the Mariupol steel plant

A senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says there are dozens of Jewish soldiers fighting at the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.

“There are now about 40 Jewish heroes protecting Azovstal,” David Arakhamia, the adviser in charge of Ukraine’s negotiating delegation, told the Times of Israel on Friday.

Arakhamia also heads Zelensky’s People’s Servant party in parliament.

One of the Ukrainian units that still resists the steel industry is the Azov Regiment, a formation accused since its formation in 2014 of associations with neo-Nazi ideology. These claims have been instrumental in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s justification for invading Ukraine, after he said at the start of the war that Russia’s goal was to “demilitarize and de-Nazize” the country.

The unit was absorbed by the National Guard in September 2014, and Ukrainian officials are adamant that the regiment has been thoroughly professionalized and politicized.

Arakhamia vigorously denied Russian accusations of neo-Nazism to the Azov regiment. “These allegations are absurd by default,” he said. “A lot of people know these soldiers and find these accusations offensive.”

Head of the Ukrainian negotiating team and close adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky, David Arakhamia (Vadym Sarakhan / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

The huge Azovstal steel complex is the last bastion of the Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol. The plant, with its network of tunnels and bunkers, has housed hundreds of Ukrainian troops and civilians during a week-long siege. Dozens of civilians were recently evacuated, but Ukrainian officials said some could still be trapped there.

One of the Jewish soldiers referred to by Zelensky’s adviser posted a video last week calling on Israel to rescue the besieged Azovstal garrison.

In a message posted by Kyiv businessman and activist Ilgam Gasanov, Vitaliy Barabash said in Ukrainian: me here. “

Barabash, also known as Benya, held a Ukrainian flag in front of the camera as his friend read his statement, a star tattoo of David clearly visible on Barabash’s hand.

Addressing “Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the Knesset, the Israeli public” and prominent Ukrainian Jews, Barabash’s statement announced that “in the ruins left by Azovstalin, there are Jews like me, like you.” .

Earlier this month, in a call with the Kremlin, Bennett called for Putin to “examine humanitarian options” to evacuate Mariupol.

Azov’s regiment published photos last Wednesday on its Telegram channel showing wounded soldiers in miserable condition, with many limbs missing.

“Ukraine has never turned its back on the Jews, so we believe that Israel cannot turn its back on the Ukrainian people either, but is side by side with the Russian invaders who caused another tragedy,” she said. Barabash statement.

“Now we, being here, need the help of Israel to withdraw the entire military garrison from Mariupol and demand rescue.”

Gasanov told The Times of Israel that he had never met Barabash in person and that he was doing everything he could to help the besieged Azovstal garrison after his friends’ wives contacted him.

“I know a lot of Jews who are currently at war, and not just in Mariupol,” he said.

Victory in the West, fight in the East

Ukrainian forces were fighting a fierce Russian attack in the east of the country on Sunday, after a Eurovision victory gave the country a much-needed boost.

Zelensky warned on Saturday that war in his country runs the risk of causing world food shortages, adding that the situation in the Ukrainian Donbas is “very difficult”.

Russia, which invaded Ukraine on February 24, has been turning its attention to the east of the country since the end of March, after failing to take the capital Kyiv.

People line up at a food distribution center for IDPs and other people in need in Zaporizhzhia on April 27, 2022, as Ukraine said Russian forces have captured several eastern villages as part of Moscow’s offensive to take control of the Donbas region, which Russia has. promised to “release.” (Ed JONES / AFP)

Western analysts believe Putin has set his sights on the annexation of southern and eastern Ukraine in the coming months, but it appears his troops are finding strong resistance.

Russia’s war in Ukraine is increasingly shifting the balance of power in Europe, with Finland and Sweden ready to get rid of decades of military non-alignment to join NATO as a defense against the dreaded new aggression of Moscow.

Helsinki officially announced its membership on Sunday.

But as a conflict that has displaced millions approached three months, Ukrainians were offered a much-needed boost of optimism, as a rap song that combined modern folk and hip-hop rhythms win the Eurovision Song Contest.

Members of the band ‘Kalush Orchestra’ celebrate on stage with the Ukrainian flags after winning the Eurovision Song Contest 2022 on behalf of Ukraine on May 14, 2022 at the Pala Alpitour in Turin. (Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Stefania”, which surpassed a number of exaggerated acts at the extravagant annual music event, was written by leader Oleh Psiuk as a tribute to her pre-war mother, but her nostalgic lyrics have taken on a disproportionate meaning. because of the conflict.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovvstal right now,” Psiuk said in English from the stage, referring to the underground steels of the port city where Ukrainian soldiers are surrounded by Russian forces.

There was also optimism on the part of Kyiv’s military intelligence chief, who told the UK’s Sky News on Saturday that the war could reach a “breaking point” in August and end in defeat. in Russia before the end of the year.

Major General Kyrylo Budanov told the news network that he was “optimistic” about the current trajectory of the conflict.

AFP contributed to this report.

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