Volodymyr Groysman has been appointed as the nation’s first Jewish Prime Minister of Ukraine. Replacing Arseny Yatsenyuk, Groysman is also the youngest Prime Minister in Ukrainian history, and comes despite regular reports of anti-Semitism in the country.
“It’s fair to say that 25 years ago, when we arrived in Kharkov, this would have been unthinkable,” Rabbi Moshe Moskowitz, the chief rabbi of Kharkiv and a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in the former Soviet Union, was quoted as saying by Chabad.org. Rabbi Moskowitz added that Groysman’s Jewish identity is significant largely because of his openness about it.
Groysman is a native of Vinnitsia, a Ukrainian city with a Jewish history spanning many centuries. Home to 33,000 Jews prior to WWII, approximately 15,000 were murdered by the Nazis in 1941. The city’s Jewish population was almost entirely wiped out in the 1648 Cossack pogroms led by Bogdan Khmelnitsky, who is still lionized as a nationalist hero in the country.
Following the Holocaust, many Jews returned to Vinnitsia, despite the long history of persecution and anti-Semitism.
“There were 42,000 Jews living in the Vinnitsia area in the early 1990s,” Chabad emissary Rabbi Shaul Horowitz was quoted as saying. “It’s still a very Jewish area.” Rabbi Horowitz has been an emissary in Vinnitsia since 2002.
In 2006, Groysman was elected mayor of Vinnitsia. Groysman’s grandfather, was the rabbi of a neighboring village, while Groysman’s grandmother was among led out to the so-called “killing fields” by the Nazis. She survived by hiding among dead bodies until nightfall.
Rabbi Horowitz affirms that Groysman has not abandoned his Jewish heritage despite his increasing political prominence, attending synagogue on holidays and wrapping tefillin.
“He’s come many times just to put on tefillin,” the rabbi was quoted as saying by Chabad.org. “He’s proud of his Judaism.”
Between 360,000-400,000 Jews currently living in Ukraine, according to a 2014 estimate by European Jewish Congress.org.