A week ago, I wrote that Vladimir Putin’s war against the Jews is well underway. I suggested that his primary goal is to either assassinate Ukraine’s courageous Jewish President Volodmyr Zelensky or put this relative of Holocaust victims on trial for his imaginary collaboration with neo-Nazis.
This libelous attack on Zelensky is not the first time a foreign war criminal has targeted Jewish leadership in Kyiv. On September 19, 1941, Hitler’s forces entered Kyiv and incorporated it into the Reichskommissariat Ukraine under a puppet “administrator.”
At the time of the occupation, 100,000 Jews — largely women, the elderly, children and the ailing unable to flee — remained in the city. On September 29-30, Hitler’s Einsatzgruppe forces ordered 33,771 to Babyn Yar, ravine on the northern edge of the city. There they were ordered to undress prior to their execution.
Babyn Yar is now home to a memorial commemorating the largest mass killing during World War II. But that’s only possible because an attempt to cover up the war crime failed. Before the Germans retreated from Kyiv, they forced 321 POWs from the nearby Syrets concentration camp to excavate the mass grave and ordered them to incinerate the victims.
In 1947, Paul Blobel, commander of the German Babyn Yar forces — leader of Operation 1005, through which millions of bodies were exhumed in an evidence of the atrocities — was convicted at an American military trial in Nuremberg and sentenced to death by hanging.
Now another dictator is leading a war against the Jews along with millions of innocent Ukrainians who dare resist his brutal assault — an offensive that included bombing the Babyn Yar memorial.
What is behind Putin’s Stalin-style attempt to destroy a place dedicated to the memory of Hitler’s victims?
One possibility is that this unprovoked scorched earth invasion is a prelude to Putin’s attempt to conquer the Baltics, Moldova and other nations formerly part of the Soviet axis. Comparing his attack on the only European country led by a Jew to Hitler’s blitzkrieg overlooks a key point. Unlike Der Fuhrer, Putin is now the triggerman for locked and loaded nuclear weapons.
In the early morning March 4, he demonstrated precisely how Moscow could launch a nuclear strike without firing a single missile that might invite retaliation from the West. Heavy Russian shelling set fire to the training facility at Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant near Enerhodar, a city whose name means “energy’s gift.” As courageous firefighters extinguished a terrifying blaze, Putin’s troops took control of this highly vulnerable site.
Now world leaders must consider the immediate possibility of a nuclear power plant disaster potentially threatening Ukraine’s European neighbors and Russia itself. The fact that Russian troops have already seized Chernobyl, site of the devastating 1986 nuclear disaster near Kyiv, suggests that he could use the threat of radioactive contamination for psychological warfare.
Putin could accidentally initiate another Chernobyl or Fukushima style nuclear disaster aimed at forcing widespread evacuation of the resistance battling his attempted Ukraine takeover.
Alternatively, via a blizzard of lies released at Zaporizhzhia, he could trigger mass panic and widespread Chernobyl style evacuations. As Mark Twain and others have observed, a lie can make it halfway around the world before the truth gets its shoes on.
The Biden administration claims that Soviet troops may be holding Chernobyl workers hostage. Now we know for sure that critical Zaporizhzhia employees are being forced to work under Putin’s military command. Could the same thing happen at three other Ukrainian nuclear facilities?
Imagine the possibilities if these critical safety workers are detained, threatened or arrested. Would any of these plants be safe in the hands of Russian temporary workers who may fail to understand the intricacies of nuclear power plant management necessary to prevent a disaster?
What are the chances that Putin would brandish the threat of a nuclear power plant catastrophe to depose Zelensky’s government in Kyiv? More to the point, what happens if the kind of fire set off by his assault March 4 at the Zaporizhzhia plant accidentally contaminates a wide region similar to Chernobyl.
While a devastating nuclear core meltdown may sound like a remote possibility, an attack leading to a fire at a poorly protected spent nuclear fuel containment facility could become a catastrophe. This is why the International Atomic Energy Agency’s director general Rafael Grossi warns:
Wittingly or unwittingly you can very quickly go into a disaster.
This potential Russian violation of international law, suggests British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, “could now directly threaten the safety of all of Europe” — including Russia itself.
Power, as George Orwell once said, is not a means to an end, it is an end in itself. The quickest way to convince oneself that one has power is to destroy and to kill.
Putin’s willingness to endanger his own troops as well as his country via triggering a kamikaze style nuclear event suggests that his number one weapon is fear.
We are all fortunate that a Jewish head of state has courageously stood up to a former second-string KGB agent who believes he is shielded by a cloak of invulnerability. Zelensky has become a powerful avatar in the world’s battle against an uncommon criminal.
Clearly Ukrainians are fighting for all of us. Now is the time for every nation to stand up to a bully who threatens our security. Underestimating Putin’s commitment to restoring his imagined “unity of Russians and Ukranians” would be a grave mistake.
As Zelensky puts it:
What is the point of saying “never again” for 80 years, if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the site of Babyn Yar?
Roger Rapoport is the producer of the award winning feature films Coming Up For Air, Pilot Error and Waterwalk. His new play Old Heart, adapted from the Peter Ferry novel, premieres at Detroit’s Redford Theater May 14 and 15.