Press office of Kateryna Yushchenko
Kateryna Yushchenko’s speech at the Righteous Among Nations Award Ceremony
Your Excellency Ambassador of Israel,
Respected award recipients,
Dear fellow citizens and friends.
It is a great honor for me to be in this holy place with you. You who have risked all to serve others. You who refuse to forget the heroes who dared to help your family, your friends.
I am proud that you have recognized so many Righteous in Ukraine. I am proud also that the State of Ukraine bestows an award on each and every individual you have recognized as Righteous.
We, Ukrainians and Jews, for centuries have lived together, struggled together, strived, prospered, lost and cried together. There have been times of love and times of trial. And there have been times of true heroism.
I greatly respect your commitment to find names, honor individuals, and preserve a memory of their deeds. My husband, President Victor Yushchenko, has this same commitment to renew our nation’s memory of the Holodomor. We strive to find the name of every person who perished in the Great Famine and ensure that they do not remain forgotten.
In the Gospel it is written, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
During the most terrible war in human history, in her home in Letychev near Kamyanets-Podilsk, from 1941 to 1944 Nadia Osypchuk hid two Jewish children, whom she later adopted. You can imagine the risk she took, because during some of this time, German soldiers were quartered in her house.
The Domansky family, who lived in Nemyrivka in Volyn, hid a Jewish family of six from 1942 to 1944.
Father Daniil Tymchyn, a monk at the Univ Monastery, hid three Jewish boys in a monastery orphanage.
None of these people are alive today, but we are here to honor their great acts of love.
During the Second World War, Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky personally saved fifteen rabbis and their families in his Residence at St. George’s Cathedral in Lviv, and hundreds of others in Greek Catholic monasteries throughout Western Ukraine. Among them was Rabbi David Kahane who in the 1970s was the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv.
“The efforts of the Ukrainian righteous can be considered especially significant when you take into account the environment, societal atmosphere and those measures that the Germans used against those who tried to save Jews,” said well-known historian Aaron Weiss. He and his family were saved by their Ukrainian neighbors during the German occupation of 1941-44.
There is a similar story in our family. The family of my husband’s godmother, Maria, risked their lives to hide two young Jewish girls from Romny in their home.
We also know that there have been many times when Jews have helped Ukrainians.
Jews helped Ukrainians in our struggle for Ukraine’s independence. Thousands of Jewish boys from Lviv and Ternopil made up the First Jewish Battalion of the Ukrainian Galician Army.
The war doctor, Volodymyr Naumovych Lelchytsky, saved the lives of more than a hundred Ukrainian war prisoners in a German concentration camp in Ukraine, and kept hundreds from being sent to Germany as forced labor.
One of the most active members of the Ukrainian Partisan Army was Stella Krenzbach. Later, when she worked with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she appealed to diplomats: “a free Ukrainian state will be the guarantee and the proof of the just peace all over the world”.
I am pleased that our cooperation continues to today. Last year, Congressman Sander Levin of Michigan helped the Ukrainian community in the United States to receive a piece of land in Washington, DC for a monument to the Ukrainian Holodomor.
In each case, Ukrainians helping Jews, Jews helping Ukrainians – I have named only a small number of telling examples. Examples that symbolize similar hopes, dreams – and a similar humanity. A similar history and, hopefully, a similar future.
From John 4:18: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
Thank you, my dear friends from Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson, Sumy, Rivne, Volyn, Zhytomir, for casting out your fear. For understanding the importance of individual lives – innocent lives of children, women, old people, intellectuals – caught up in a nightmare of political hate, retribution and injustice. Lives you have saved, and lives that have subsequently brought goodness, and love, and fruit to this earth.
Throughout history and to today, we are constantly placed before a question – to choose the easy route of hate, revenge, justification of evil, weakness, or love, acceptance, strength in the times of great trial.
Matthew 22:37-40: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
In a few days, it will be Sabbath for some of us, then for others of us it will be Sunday, our day of worship. I ask that during these holy days, we pray for a similar thing – that our peoples will no longer be put through trials such as war and hunger, not to mention Holocaust and Holodomor.
That when we face trials, we will have the strength and love to stand up for ourselves, our families, our friends, our neighbors – and even for strangers.
Because that is the love that God has given to us, that God asks from us.
Again, I am honored to be in your company. May your stars shine forever.
Halytsky Synagogue, Kyiv, Ukraine
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