In June of 1941, Hitler’s Army began a rampage through Ukraine, razing towns, unleashing death squads, and massacring Jews by the hundreds of thousands. In one village in the Pale of Settlement, virtually the only region of the Soviet Empire in which Jews were permitted to reside, four Jewish brothers enlisted in the military, said goodbye to their parents, and walked off to fight the Nazis.
By the war’s end in 1945, only one of the brothers, named Semyon, was still alive. He returned to find that the Nazis had torched his entire village, burning his parents to death. Semyon’s family was dead, and his beloved Ukraine was in ruins. The Nazis had murdered between 1.2 and 1.6 million Ukrainian Jews.
Semyon married a fellow Ukrainian Jew who had survived the war by fleeing her city, in which the Nazis had killed 5,000 Jews. Two years later, in that same city, they had a son, Oleksandr, keeping alive the family line that the Nazis had brought a razor’s width from extinction. Thirty-one years after that, Oleksandr had his own little boy.
Volodymyr Zelensky, President of independent, democratic Ukraine.
Today, he leads his outmanned, outgunned, ferociously defiant nation against the onslaught of Russia. As Russia dashes itself against the will of its people, Zelensky, the survivor of survivors, summons the resilience of his ancestors. He does not bend.