Mon, 23 Sep 2019

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, locked in a tight election campaign, has kicked off a two-day visit to Ukraine highlighting the significance of post-Soviet emigres who are likely to be a factor in the vote.

More than a million people from ex-Soviet countries now call Israel home -- making up a fifth of its population - prompting Netanyahu on August 19 to call for closer ties with Ukraine.

"We can seize the future separately, but we can do it better together," Netanyahu said during the first visit to the country by an Israeli prime minister in two decades.

Earlier in the day, Netanyahu received the traditional bread-and-salt gesture of hospitality from young Ukrainians dressed in embroidered attire after he and his wife, Sara, landed in Kyiv.

Netanyahu met on August 19 with recently elected President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman, both of whom are Jewish.

He will also head to the Babyn Yar memorial, where the Nazis killed more than 33,000 Jews in 1941.

By the end of World War II, some 100,000 people considered "undesirables" or regarded as a threat to German authority, including Soviet prisoners of war, partisans, Ukrainian nationalists, and Roma, were executed at the site.

Zelenskiy was quick to point out after their meeting that Ukraine, locked in a five-year war with Russia-backed separatist forces, "could learn from Israel, especially in matters concerning security and defense."

Netanyahu also will commemorate the victims of the Holodomor, a man-made famine in the 1930's orchestrated by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and his henchmen that killed millions of Ukrainians, according to The Times of Israel.

Kyiv has in the past asked Jerusalem to formally recognize the famine as a genocide.

Zelenskiy stressed after talks with Netanyahu that Israel was his country's main economic and trade partner in the Middle East and he called on Israeli companies to work and invest in Ukraine.

The two countries signed a free-trade pact in January aimed at canceling duties for approximately 80 percent of Israeli industrial goods and 70 percent of Ukrainian industrial products. It has been ratified by Ukraine but not by Israel.

Trade turnover between the two countries last year equaled $1.34 billion, consisting mostly of grain, ferrous metals, chemicals, and mineral fuel.

Israel will hold general elections to its national legislature, the Knesset, on September 17.

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