KYIV -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin 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 on August 18 for a two-day visit to Ukraine.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko was at the airport to greet Netanyahu, who was the last Israeli head of government to visit the country more than 20 years ago. Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman, both of whom are Jewish.
According to the Ukrainian presidential website, the Israeli prime minister will on August 19 hold talks with Zelenskiy in the morning at the refurbished presidential Mariyinskiy Palace before presiding over the signing of bilateral documents.
After delivering official speeches, both will head to the Babyn Yar memorial, where 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.
Netanyahu will also commemorate the victims of the Holodomor, a man-made famine in the 1930s orchestrated by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin that killed millions of Ukrainians.
Kyiv has in the past asked Jerusalem to formally recognize the famine as a genocide.
In a video message, Netanyahu said discussions in Kyiv will touch upon the "establishment of a free-trade area, the pensions agreement, and a host of other issues that will further strengthen the excellent relationship between the two countries."
Kyiv has agreed in principle to pay pensions to Ukrainian immigrants who settled in Israel after Ukraine became independent in 1991, but the measure has not yet passed in the Ukrainian Parliament, according to The Jerusalem Post.
It said that the issue concerns up to 8,000 people living in Israel, where more than 200,000 Ukrainian immigrants have arrived since 1990.
When the two countries signed a free-trade pact in January, Netanyahu hailed “strong” relations between the two countries, saying they are based on “deep historical and cultural roots.”
“Ukrainian Jews make up a significant portion of the population of Israel. And Ukraine is home to a large Jewish community,” he told then-President Petro Poroshenko.
The free-trade deal, which aims at canceling duties for approximately 80 percent of Israeli industrial goods and 70 percent of Ukrainian industrial products, 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.
Citing diplomatic officials, The Jerusalem Post reported that Netanyahu’s visit to Kyiv has “diplomatic significance” because Ukraine is “helpful to Israel at the UN and other international forums.”
Netanyahu’s trip comes less than a month before general elections in Israel’s national legislature, leading some political analysts to suggest he is hoping to gain favor with Israeli voters with Ukrainian roots. Sources close to the prime minister were quoted as denying the allegation.