Natan Sharansky, born Anatoly Borisovich Shcharansky, is an Israeli politician, human rights activist, and author who, as a refusenik in the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s, spent nine years in Soviet prisons. He spoke last week about what Israel means to the Jews of Ukraine:
When I was growing up in Ukraine, in Donetsk, there were a lot of nations and nationalities. There were people who had 'Russian', 'Ukrainian', 'Georgian', 'Kozaki' written on their ID’s. It was not so important, there was no big difference, but one thing was important - if it said 'Jew', it was as if you had an illness.
We knew nothing about Judaism, there was nothing significant in our Jewish identity other than anti-Semitism and hatred towards us. So no one tried to replace the word 'Russian' with the word 'Ukrainian' in his ID card, for example, to be accepted to university, because it did not matter, but if it said 'Jewish' and you could change it - of course your chances of being accepted were greater.
I was reminded of it this this week when I saw thousands of people standing at the borders, trying to escape the tragedy in Ukraine. They stand there day and night, and there is only one word that can help them get out of there: 'Jew'. If you are a Jew - there are Jews out there who take care of you, there is someone on the other side of the border who is looking for you, your chances of leaving are high. The world has turned upside down. "When I was a child, 'Jew' was an unusual word for evil, no one envied us, and today on the Ukrainian border a Jew is an unusual word for good, it describes people who have a place to go and there is an entire nation , which is their family, waiting for them outside.