In welcoming Professor Olexiy Haran, who is part of a three-member Ukrainian delegation seeking support for the fight against Russia, the Holocaust Center’s Director Richard Freedman said the suffering in Ukraine should not be ignored.
Freedman said many observers see an “element of genocidal intent” in Russia’s actions – something that several governments and human rights groups have also expressed.
“And we here in South Africa, we need to be cognizant of this to know what’s going on and to try and prevail with our government through one way or another to see it for what it is and call it for what it is,” Freedman said.
A press release issued by the delegation says the Prosecutor General of Ukraine has recorded over 70,000 war crimes there since Russia’s invasion in February last year. Russia has denied targeting Ukrainian civilians in the conflict.
South Africa has remained steadfast in its neutrality and has abstained from several United Nations resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion.
A delegation from the ruling African National Congress party was also recently hosted by the ruling United Russia party in Moscow.
Professor Haran said it is clear there is genocidal ideology behind Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine. He noted that a Russian state-run news agency published an article speaking about the de-Ukrainianization of Ukraine. He said the mass graves, deaths and deportation of thousands of children to Russia was evidence of Putin's desire to have a “great Russian people” with no Ukrainians.
In appealing to the South African government to change its stance, Haran said he had a chance to look at the exhibition at the Holocaust Center in Cape Town, and it reminded him that many countries were still doing business with Hitler during the Second World War.
“We’re asking for support, we’re asking for support in any form. The former colonial power is trying to come back. Why don’t you support us? Why do you abstain? You, the country that suffered from colonialism for centuries. So, it means that Russian propaganda is very strong, Russian ties are quite strong. You know Russia is using disinformation, corruption, all these things,” said Haran.
He said Ukrainians often hear some African politicians saying it’s not their war — but Haran urged Africans to look at the soaring energy prices, fertilizer prices and food shortages.
He also reminded South Africa that its trade with Russia isn’t the largest.
“At least try to diversify, try not to depend on Russian gas as it was in Europe, or Russian nuclear facilities or whatever.”
When asked to comment on the call for South Africa to change its neutral stance toward the war, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesman Vincent Magwenya referred to a recent media briefing broadcast on the government’s YouTube page.
“It's an issue of major concern to the AU and to the whole continent because of the impact of this conflict. And so when South Africa engages on this conflict, we’re not engaging from a position of being apologetic for the stance that we’ve taken. We engage so as to encourage parties to find a peaceful resolution to encourage all other interested parties to continue the dialogue with both countries involved,” said Magwenya.
Magwenya added that South Africa is seeking legal advice about hosting Putin at a summit in August with its partners in the BRICS bloc — Brazil, Russia, India and China.
The International Criminal Court recently issued an arrest warrant for Putin, for ordering the illegal deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia.