The Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, Rav Moshe Reuven Azman, at the very beginning of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, posted a video on social networks that was watched by millions of people around the world. Today, the man who tried to stop the bloodshed gave an exclusive interview to the Cyprus Daily News.
— Rav Moshe, your video has become for many people a manifesto of protest and resistance to Russia’s actions. You spoke emotionally and sincerely, which made your words sound very convincing. Why did Russia start this war against Ukraine and what was the purpose of your appeal?
— The first thing I want to say is about this video. It really spread all over the world and was heard by many people, because, as it is said in the Holy Scripture, the words that come from the heart reach another heart. I always try to speak from the heart, but that video was special. It was a cry from the heart, because it was recorded in special circumstances. It was in the town of Nateevka, this is a Jewish town, it is located not far from Kyiv, there are nearby Gorenichi, Stoyanka, and Irpen with Bucha, which have become notorious all over the world.
We were there under constant 24 by 7 shelling, from all types of weapons. And we didn’t know if we’d get out of there. Not even us, since I was not going to leave, but the children, the grandchildren were small, there were many children, several hundred refugees from all over the Kyiv region. We didn’t know if we could leave, so when I saw that everything was being fired upon by Russian rockets, artillery, tanks, planes, helicopters, my eyes could not believe it, because we were brought up on books and films, where during the Second World German tanks, tigers, panthers attack the war, and there the Soviet soldier rushes at them selflessly. And then I look and see how Russian tanks and planes are bombing civilians. My eyes did not believe, I wiped the gas, but, unfortunately, the reality turned out to be just so terrible. And it was at this time that I recorded my cry of the soul.
I did this for Russians, for Russians, for Russian Jews, so that they wake up, so that they wake up from the false propaganda that they listen to around the clock on TV.
And this video is up. Tens of millions of views, someone translated it into English, Spanish, French, and other languages. I didn’t even expect it, but I’m very happy about it.
— Why do you think this war started? Why did Putin decide to attack Ukraine?
— I am not a politician and not even a political observer, but I can say my opinion. My opinion is based on our Holy Books, which say that «when the Almighty wants to punish a person, he deprives him of his mind.» In my opinion, there was no need for Putin to attack Ukraine, it was a crazy decision.
I believe that the main problem of Russia is that they were told that they needed to do denazification in Ukraine, but I think that it was the other way around: they needed to do decommunization in Russia.
Germany after World War II was ashamed of its crimes, and they are still trying to cleanse themselves of what their grandfathers did.
But Russia did not do this. Purify from Stalin, the KGB, communism, which, unlike Hitler, killed their own people. They had a chance to do it after the eighties. And it was necessary to repent, to ban the Communist Party, to apologize to other nationalities for past crimes. They chose a different path. And they went back.
Back to soviet union.
Not like the same Poland, which removed the entire communist nomenklatura and went far ahead in its development. I believe that this is a spiritual process and I am not sure that the Almighty will give them a second chance. First, after the collapse of the USSR, they did not use, could not become a normal state. Could not enter the family of civilized countries.
What do they have now? Look who they are friends with!
These are Iran, Syria, North Korea, well, Hamas, which they do not recognize as a terrorist organization. As we say — «find their own kind.»
That’s shameful. Civilized countries are now shocked by what Russia is doing.
Putin is not the only one to blame for this. The people support him.
Well, there will be another Putin and nothing will change in Russia. Here it was necessary to change the ideology, the worldview of people. They didn’t.
— So you think that the population of Russia is also responsible for the war in Ukraine?
“Look, at the Nuremberg trials, when they were discussing who was to blame, the soldiers said “we are not to blame, we were ordered to,” but a person is responsible for what he does, and he should not follow criminal orders.
Why didn’t you analyze? Why didn’t you think? Why did they accept lies and agree to complicity in a crime?
If at the next trial, when the Russians will be judged, and they will deny “it’s not us, it’s a TV”, you need to ask: “And why did the Almighty give you a head? To think, look and analyze.”
This is the KGB layer that has now sprouted and seized power in Russia. I had many conversations with the KGB officers, one might say, interrogations, and so I saw that these were people with a special mentality. The KGB has always been a terrorist organization, it has always supported terrorist regimes around the world. And she created them. Palestinian, for example. And supplied such terrorist organizations with weapons to carry out their cutthroat activities.
— Do you think Russia attacked only Ukraine or is this the beginning of a war with the entire civilized world?
— Of course, not only to Ukraine. Of course. They do not hide the fact that they had the Baltic States and Poland and other countries in their plans. Hitler, when he attacked, he also first went to Czechoslovakia to save the Germans, here is the same story. And here, too, no one asked someone to save them. They shout that they are saving the Russians, but they themselves are killing these Russians. Russian-speaking Kharkiv, Mariupol, Kherson, Nikolaev… How many Russians have they already killed saving Russians? And the Jews did not ask to save us from the Nazis, because there are no Nazis here. Contrived. Invented. Occasion.
But they miscalculated.
They had plans to defeat Ukraine in two days. And many thought that Ukraine would fall quickly from such a monster. But God decided otherwise. I think he saw how the Ukrainians rallied and helped.
Russia got exactly the opposite of what it wanted. Russia rallied Ukraine.
Incredible acts of selflessness have appeared in Ukraine, the way Ukrainians fight like they fought against fascism. This time.
And two, is that Russia has rallied the whole world against itself.
They came up with an excuse that Ukraine would go to NATO, and as a result, both Finland and Sweden have already moved there.
Putin himself made it so that no one wants to deal with Russia. He himself made Russia a country — an outcast.
And what do they do? They intimidate the world with nuclear weapons. They act like hooligans. But the really strong ones never threaten, they are quiet. They don’t need it. The strong are respected, not feared.
And those who threaten do so until someone else strong hits them on the head.
— You have already said that there is no Nazism in Ukraine, but tell me, is there anti-Semitism, fascism, nationalism in Ukraine? Have you noticed these phenomena in Ukraine?
“Look, there is anti-Semitism in all countries, the question is how big it is, and what is the reaction of the state. Ukraine is one of the few states that has adopted a law criminalizing anti-Semitism. Even in Israel there is no such law. And I’m not talking about Russia.
I have never encountered manifestations of anti-Semitism in Ukraine. Here it is certainly less than in Russia and even Europe. This time.
Second, the proof of this is that 73% voted for a Jewish president. Before that, there was Prime Minister Groysman, also a Jew. The head of the opposition, Rabinovich, was a Jew. And now how much support does Zelensky have? 99%.
Next, two parties, not Nazi, but nationalist, and these are radically different things, but even they — the Svoboda party and the Right Sector did not even get into parliament.
Nobody has ever harassed anyone. For more than 30 years of independence, all the Jewish communities in Ukraine have been developing well and the state has helped. All government officials and all parties helped.
And I want to emphasize that nationalists are those who love their people, Nazis are those who hate other peoples. So, the nationalists have never posed any threat to other nationalities.
You need to understand the definitions of the terms.
At the same time, there are no even nationalist parties in parliament.
And you look at Russia! In Russia, as many as 53, if I’m not mistaken, Nazi organizations exist today.
And those rare provocations that happen, they are not organized by the citizens of Ukraine, they are organized by Russia.
Russia turned the concepts around.
They say, «We’re going to kill fascists,» but that’s not true. And how did they do it? They privatized the victory over fascism, they forgot about the British, Americans, and other allies.
And why did they do it? In order to instill in the population the perception “a fascist is a non-human”, and when a Russian is told that someone is a fascist, he decides without thinking, without understanding, that anything can be done with the person who has been “stigmatized”. You can kill calmly, trample, run over with a tank.
With these slogans, they gave themselves the green light to commit atrocities, to commit crimes.
Bucha, Irpin, everything that Russia does in Ukraine is a crime that was legitimized by Putin. But in fact, this is the real ideology of the Nazis.
— Russian propaganda demonizes the Ukrainian army. As an example, I will name the Azov regiment, which Moscow calls fascists from all screens. Are the “Azovites” really them? Have you ever encountered Azov?
“Well, of course not. I have never encountered problems coming from Azov. I personally know the creator of Azov, I talked with people from this unit. Everything is peaceful, calm.
This is an extended story. Like the one that was around «Yarosh’s business card.» When you communicate with people, you understand that all these horror stories are fake Russian propaganda.
If there were any oppression of the Jews in Ukraine, then I and my colleagues, we would be the first to know about it. We would blow all the trumpets about it.
As once, many years ago, 15 years ago, there was some kind of incident that I can’t even remember, but then the state reacted with lightning speed.
— In your video message, which has become popular all over the world, you expressed your annoyance that your friends, colleagues, fellow believers from Russia did not even call you and did not express a word of support. They didn’t care about your business. Why do you think the leadership of Jewish organizations keeps such resounding silence? Doesn’t oppose the war?
“I don’t want to blame them. As it is written in our books — «do not blame until you are in their place.» Although I was in the Soviet Union, I was interrogated by the KGB, I was in their place. But now it’s even worse. They give 15-20 years in prison for a poster «Against the war», this is pure dictatorship. Like under Stalin. But I’m saying now, yes, indeed, if I were them, I would still call and try to help.
I am not saying that they should protest, but the protest may be silent, like Rav Pinchas Goldschmidt, who simply left the country.
As far as I know, he was told “decide whether you are with us or against us”, and he took it and left.
There are still those who call and say, “We understand everything, we support you, but we are in such circumstances, it is dangerous for us to confess.”
However, there are those, convinced, who called me and said “Oh! It’s hard for you there” the “Benderites” torture you there” and it’s very hard to talk with such people.
But there were those who saw the light after my video, and began to call, saying «we understood everything.»
I don’t blame them. They are in a worse position than we are. Yes, we have a threat of death, a rocket can fly in every minute, as in Vinnitsa or Kramatorsk, but we are free in spirit, and they may be physically safe, and I’m not sure, this can change at any moment, but they are spiritually slaves.
I left the USSR from there, because I can’t do that. I couldn’t be there even for a minute. The Almighty created man FREE.
God brought us out of Egypt so that we would not be slaves.
Where does slavery begin? From spiritual enslavement. How was it in Egypt? They began to shut their mouths, and ended up with physical enslavement.
I feel sorry for them, I feel sorry for them even more than us. It’s better to be in danger but be free than to be supposedly safe but smiling and say one thing when you’re thinking another.
And when the Chief Rabbi of Russia said “we are for peace”, I was asked “so he does not support Ukraine?”, I answered, what can he say? He did not openly support the war called «special operation» and this is already good. Under these circumstances. Otherwise, he will be immediately repressed.
But when they say that they support Putin, it means that they support terrorism, crimes, violence and murders.
I would urge the Jews of Russia to get out of there as soon as possible before the iron curtain slams shut completely. Because we have already been in this — in the «scoop».
— Russia is a threat to the whole world, what do you think needs to be done to make this threat disappear? And what needs to be done to win this war?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe says that «a little light drives away a lot of darkness.» When you enter a dark room, you enter with a candle, it becomes light. Good will still triumph over evil. We see that the majority of the world is on the side of good.
We have a saying — «a lie has no legs, it will not stand for a long time.» Even the USSR, which was called the “empire of lies,” collapsed. Yes, 70 years, but not forever. And this is not the new empire that they want. They want to recreate what has already fallen apart.
And they don’t have a base. And when everything is built on fear and lies, it still falls apart. I don’t know when that will be, but I think it will be soon.
— How can this process be facilitated? How to speed it up?
“We must do good, pray, continue to defend ourselves. Protect people who are afraid. Who are threatened with nuclear weapons.
I hope that soon the population of Russia will wake up and open their eyes. And they will understand “what have we done”, they will be ashamed, and they will begin to remake their country.
— Tell me, do you, your community, participate in humanitarian aid, do you help the Ukrainian army? Do you feel like a part of the Ukrainian society, a part of the Ukrainian political nation?
— Naturally! We have open information, and we do not even cover everything. Illuminate only to be an example. After all, Ukraine is now in great need of help.
For example, we brought first aid backpacks from Israel. Each of which saves a lot of people. All medicines are there. Previously, this was not the case in Ukraine.
I myself imported in a partisan way.
First they brought 50 backpacks, then more, recently — 250. In total — hundreds of such backpacks.
Sponsors paid us, we delivered and distributed.
And they already call me and say “we saved … saved … saved!”. And this is important. This time.
Secondly, we work with volunteer organizations that, risking their lives, take what they need to the hottest sectors of the front.
We have evacuated thousands of people. To do this, even the buses were altered, they made beds for the wounded on the first floor of double-decker buses.
We install air conditioners in hospitals. Once I went into the ward to the wounded soldiers, and the heat there was unbearable. Imagine, the wounded are lying there — with burns, after amputations, bandaged, and in the ward it’s hot. I immediately gave the command to my to install air conditioning. Then he went purposefully to all hospitals and where there were no air conditioners, he set them everywhere. Already spent all my money. I climbed into the cashier of the community. I ask our sponsors to pay, but I do not stop. Because it’s important. This reduces the suffering of the wounded.
People see this and many have already approached me with an offer to help the army through our community. They know that nothing will be lost and everything will be according to frequency.
— Do Jews serve in the Ukrainian army?
— Yes, of course, Jews also serve in the Ukrainian army.
— What would you like to wish and advise the Russian army and the entire population of Russia?
— I would like to advise them to turn on their own thinking, think and understand that everything they are shown, the picture of their TV is a lie. Because there is reality and there is virtuality.
And when I turn to them and say: here, I’m filming this, I’m here, that’s the truth, they don’t believe. They believe in their picture. Lies from TV.
They need to start thinking and turn on critical thinking, but then, really, they will be ashamed. If they, of course, are familiar with such a concept.
I used to be good with Russians. Remember how in the First World War the Germans were very cultured, educated, and in the Second World War no one expected such atrocities from them that they committed. And they arranged them. They became cannibals, barbarians. So are the Russians.
But they are adults. They must start thinking. To ask questions. At least two opinions to listen. And ask yourself: how is it, is the whole world really bad, and we are the only ones so good?
Even the concept of fascism. Yes, you open the same Wikipedia, read what it is. Understand that you yourself have become fascists, hiding behind the fight against supposedly fascists.
The only chance for salvation is to see the light. And the sooner the better, because soon it may be too late.
Boris Demash specially for Cyprus Daily News