Palestinians in Ukraine denounce “double standards” while kyiv supports Israel | Russia-Ukraine War News

Names marked with an asterisk* have been changed to protect identities.

When Russia launched a full-scale war against Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Amer Aroggi, a 30-year-old journalist based in the Gaza Strip, felt compelled to report on the European conflict.

Having lived through the Israeli occupation, he felt he could relate to the plight of the Ukrainians.

The move was perfect, especially since his older brother had lived in Ukraine for many years. Aroggi quickly landed a new position as a correspondent for a prominent news channel.

Less than two years later, war broke out again in his homeland with the latest escalation of the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

For some observers, there were parallels between Russia and Israel and Ukraine and the Palestinians.

But in a swift and unequivocal response to the outbreak of war in Gaza, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy threw his support behind Israel, as did much of the Ukrainian population and almost all Western leaders.

“I saw a double standard. …The world helped the Ukrainians and no one helped us. No one even helped me evacuate my mother and sister out of Gaza,” Aroggi told Al Jazeera.

Ukrainians were “victims of massive propaganda” during the early stages of the war, which is why they often supported the Israeli bombing of Gaza, according to Aroggi.

He said he would like to leave but he can't because he has a Palestinian passport.

He spends his days glued to the television, fearing for his family in Gaza.

“My mother asks me: 'Are you okay? Is there a Russian bombing? I say, 'Are you okay? Is there an Israeli bombing?'”

The latest escalation of the conflict between Israel and Palestine began on October 7 when Hamas attacked southern Israel, killing 1,139 people and provoking a violent response.

At that point in the war, at least 24,762 Palestinians had been reported to have been killed by Israeli forces in Gaza. While Israel has said it intends to eliminate Hamas, which rules the besieged enclave, the number of civilian casualties and its conduct have been heavily criticized.

Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska said on October 7 that Ukrainians understand and “share the pain” of the Israeli people as billboards across kyiv illuminated the capital with Israeli flags.

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Zelenskyy speaks by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in kyiv, Ukraine, on October 8, 2023. [Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters]

Hashem*, a medical professional from Gaza who moved to Ukraine nine years ago, remained steadfast in his loyalty to his adopted home when Russia invaded Ukraine.

However, the Ukrainian reaction to Israel's offensive in Gaza left him grappling with mixed emotions in the first months of the war, particularly because “Ukraine suffers from an occupation like Palestine,” he said.

The predominant narrative in the national media favors Israel and influences public sentiment, he said.

Hashem also suffered personally. He said he received threats and hateful discriminatory messages from people who learned he was from Gaza but resided in Ukraine. Still, he plans to stay in Ukraine.

A change of mind?

Now, more than three months after the war in the Middle East, Hashem and Aroggi said they have witnessed some changes in public opinion.

The constant stream of images of death and destruction in Gaza has had an impact, leading some Ukrainians to begin openly criticizing their government's position.

In November, more than 300 Ukrainian academics, activists and artists expressed their solidarity with the Palestinians in an open letter.

The letter emphasized the Palestinians' right to self-determination and resistance against Israel's occupation, drawing parallels with the Ukrainians' resistance to the Russian invasion.

Hashem said some Ukrainians came to see the “Israeli narrative” as “false and unfair” and he “began to feel moral support” for himself and the Palestinian people.

He believes that growing pressure from pro-Palestinian segments of society ultimately forced a gradual change in the Ukrainian government's position.

He noted Ukraine's support for a November 12 UN resolution urging the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to issue an opinion on the legal consequences of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

However, Ukraine chose to abstain from voting on a recent resolution calling for a humanitarian ceasefire in war-torn Gaza.

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A Palestinian-run butcher shop on Dehtiarivska Street in kyiv, Ukraine. The area is home to one of kyiv's mosques and is a focal point of the city's Muslim community. [File: Nils Adler/Al Jazeera]

Yuliia Kishchuk, a researcher who signed the open letter, told Al Jazeera that Israel enjoys significant support from liberal Ukrainian politicians who see Israel as a democratic and progressive nation.

“Israel is portrayed in the Ukrainian media as a very democratic state defending itself against the autocracy of other Middle Eastern countries,” he said, adding that, fundamentally, “there is no Palestine in this narrative.”

Kishchuk said that the level of knowledge about Palestine, its history and the current Israeli occupation has begun to increase.

Prominent Ukrainian opinion makers and intellectuals specializing in the Middle East have gained traction in the media, providing context for Ukraine's historical support for Palestine. Previously, kyiv had consistently supported UN resolutions denouncing Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Meanwhile, images showing the “horrors” of the Israeli bombing of Gaza have created a sense of empathy among Ukrainians who are now unable to ignore the parallels with their own war experiences, he said.

Kishchuk has also been encouraged by a change in tone among government officials in recent months.

In December, in something of a reversal, Zelenskyy said Ukraine recognizes the independence of both the Israeli and Palestinian people.

An Israeli flag flies next to a Ukrainian flag, in support of Israel, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in central Kiev, Ukraine, on 14 October 2023. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
An Israeli flag flies next to a Ukrainian flag in central Kiev, Ukraine, on October 14, 2023, a week after the war in Gaza began. [Gleb Garanich/Reuters]

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