In March 2022, as Russia continued its invasion of Ukraine, an image started circulating on social media that supposedly showed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy holding a swastika jersey.
This is not a genuine photograph of Zelenskyy but another piece of propaganda that tries to depict Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, as a Nazi in order to justify Russia’s invasion of the country.
A few days after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an attack on Ukraine at the end of February 2022, he attempted to justify this action (which he dubbed a “special operation” instead of an attack or an invasion) by saying that the goal of Russia’s invasion was “to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine.”
A group of historians and scholars of Nazism, World War II, and genocide published a letter in Jewish Journal that labeled Putin’s claim that Ukraine was run by Nazis as “factually wrong” and “morally repugnant.”
Since February 24, 2022, the armed forces of the Russian Federation have been engaged in an unprovoked military aggression against Ukraine. The attack is a continuation of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and its heavy involvement in the armed conflict in the Donbas region.
The Russian attack came in the wake of accusations by the Russian president Vladimir Putin of crimes against humanity and genocide, allegedly committed by the Ukrainian government in the Donbas. Russian propaganda regularly presents the elected leaders of Ukraine as Nazis and fascists oppressing the local ethnic Russian population, which it claims needs to be liberated. President Putin stated that one of the goals of his “special military operation” against Ukraine is the “denazification” of the country …
We strongly reject the Russian government’s cynical abuse of the term genocide, the memory of World War II and the Holocaust, and the equation of the Ukrainian state with the Nazi regime to justify its unprovoked aggression. This rhetoric is factually wrong, morally repugnant and deeply offensive to the memory of millions of victims of Nazism and those who courageously fought against it, including Russian and Ukrainian soldiers of the Red Army.
The above-displayed image was created by altering a genuine photograph of Zelenskyy holding the jersey of the national team of Ukraine ahead of Euro 2020.
Here’s the original photograph:
Zelenskyy first posted this photograph to Instagram in June 2021. The new soccer uniforms proved to be a bit controversial at the time as they featured an outline of Ukraine that included Crimea, a portion of the country that was annexed by Russia in 2014. Zelenskyy wrote:
The new form of the national football team of Ukraine is definitely special. She knows how to shock. It features several important symbols that unite Ukrainians from Luhansk to Uzhhorod, from Chernihiv to Sevastopol.
Our country is one and indivisible. Crimea is Ukraine.
“Statement on the War in Ukraine by Scholars of Genocide, Nazism and World War II.” Jewish Journal, 27 Feb. 2022, https://jewishjournal.com/news/worldwide/345515/statement-on-the-war-in-ukraine-by-scholars-of-genocide-nazism-and-world-war-ii/.
Treisman, Rachel. “Putin’s Claim of Fighting against Ukraine ‘neo-Nazis’ Distorts History, Scholars Say.” NPR, 1 Mar. 2022. NPR, https://www.npr.org/2022/03/01/1083677765/putin-denazify-ukraine-russia-history.
Ukraine’s Euro 2020 Jersey Sparks Crisis with Russia. https://www.aa.com.tr/en/euro-2020/ukraines-euro-2020-jersey-sparks-crisis-with-russia/2267852. Accessed 7 Mar. 2022.
“Zelensky on Ukraine’s Euro 2020 Football Kit: It Is Definitely Special.” Rubryka, 8 June 2021, https://rubryka.com/en/2021/06/08/zelenskyj-otsinyv-novu-formu-zbirnoyi-ukrayiny-z-futbolu/.