Mercenaries in Ukraine thank Israeli government

Members of the Azov battalion (Gleb Garanich - Reuters)

Asa Winstanley

The Electronic Intifada  /  April 29, 2022

Israeli mercenaries in Ukraine have thanked their government for “helping us” fight the Russians.

Speaking Hebrew in a video posted online this week, three out of a group of around a dozen armed men in Ukrainian army uniforms offer their thanks.

“We want to say a huge thank you … to the Israeli government for helping us,” the first man says. “We’re fighting here against the Russians in this difficult war. Huge thanks.”

The unnamed fighters also thank Ukrainian Rabbi Moshe Azman, a controversial figure who claims to be the chief rabbi of Ukraine, although his position is disputed by another claimant.

The fighters mention the Jewish festival of Passover, which took place 15-23 April, suggesting the video was filmed last week. Most of the men have their faces covered.

In a second video posted this week, soldiers speaking in Hebrew while holding Israeli and Ukrainian flags say thank you from Ukraine and offer their own support to Israel in its fight against Palestinian liberation.

“We are certain that our states will beat the enemy and defeat terrorism,” the soldier in the second clip says. “Long live the state of Israel! Long live Ukraine!”

The soldier’s Hebrew accent does not sound like that of an Israeli who has spoken the language from birth, and from the context and his words it would seem he is Ukrainian.

You can watch both clips subtitled into English in the video at the top of this article.

The exact number of Israelis who have traveled to Ukraine to fight against Russia is unclear.

The Times of Israel reported in March that “a group of Israeli ex-commandos has been training Ukrainian civilians at a secret facility in western Ukraine.”

An anonymous Israeli official said that “the political echelon is aware of the covert program but has chosen to look away,” the publication reported.

“We know and choose to look the other way,” the official reportedly said.

Israel has close relations with both Ukraine and Russia.

An estimated 1.5 million Israelis are Russian speakers from the former Soviet Union.

“Special operations in East Ukraine”

Also last month, Israeli satellite channel i24 News reported on a group of five Israelis who “met on the way to the battlefield and formed an experienced Israeli combat training unit.”

According to a Hebrew-speaking masked man in military uniform who only gave his name as Alex, “two of us don’t even speak the language,” but another two were Ukrainian.

All had previously fought in the Israeli military. “We ended up most of the time training the Ukrainians and sometimes we’d go on special operations in East Ukraine … it’s Russia against the normal and rational world.”

A civil war has raged in East Ukraine since 2014, when a US-supported coup led by far-right and Nazi groups deposed the elected government in Kiev.

Soon after the coup, the people of the heavily Russian-speaking region declared their own breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. More than 14,000 people have died during the war in the mostly Russian Donbas region since 2014.

Russian president Vladimir Putin formally recognized the two republics on 22 February this year, shortly before he launched an invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.

In the i24 News footage “Alex” also says that, “In 2014, when the war broke out with Russian separatists, I took part. Most of the time I was training the Ukrainians like I do today. But also I did some specific operations because they decided I could do these missions better than the locals.”

Israel arming Nazis

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is a staunch supporter of apartheid Israel.

He has hailed a “big Israel” as the model for his country and said in his speech to the Israeli parliament last month that both countries face the same threats. But he also criticized Israel for not sending more weapons to Ukraine.

The Times of Israel reported that Ukraine has asked Israel for both the Iron Dome missile system and the NSO Group’s controversial Pegasus spyware.

But a video posted online earlier this month showed that anti-tank missiles jointly developed by Israel and Germany are going to the Ukrainian army’s Nazi Azov Battalion.

In 2018 The Electronic Intifada revealed that Israeli-designed rifles manufactured under a license that would have had to be approved by the Israeli government were being given to the Nazi group.

An Israeli lawyer seeking to compel the Israeli government to release more information to the public has also asserted that Israeli mercenaries had been training Ukrainian forces during the civil war that has been raging since 2014.

With Hebrew translation by David Sheen.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London