Ukraine’s parliament approved presidential ally Volodymyr Groysman, a Jewish native of the town of Vinnytsia, for the post of prime minister on Thursday in the biggest political shake-up since a 2014 uprising brought in a pro-Western leadership.
At 38, he the youngest person to hold the post. Despite wide reporting that Groysman is the country’s first Jewish prime minister, he was actually preceded in this regard by Yukhym Zvyahilsky, who occupied the post from 1993-1994.
“He’s a proud Jew,” Ukraine’s Chief Rabbi, Yaakov Bleich told Hamodia. “In his time as mayor of Vinnytsia, he was very friendly to the Jewish community there.”
Groysman was elected mayor of Vinnytsia at age 26, the youngest person to have occupied the post. While serving as mayor, he formed a close bond with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who was then the region’s parliamentary representative. Groysman is a member of Poroshenko’s ruling party, and is seen as a close ally. He has served as the parliament’s speaker since the beginning of 2015.
Rabbi Shaul Horowitz, of Vinnytsia, described Groysman as someone with “warmth” for his heritage, noting that he is is the grandson of Holocaust survivors.
A new Groysman-led government could end months of political infighting that has stalled efforts to tackle graft and delayed billions of dollars in foreign loans.
But reformists have expressed concern over the departure of experienced Western-backed technocrats from the cabinet.
Speaking ahead of the vote, Groysman said his government was committed to tackling graft and strengthening ties with the European Union.
“I understand the threats that face us. In particular I would like to highlight three threats — corruption, ineffective governance and populism, which do not pose less of a threat than the enemy in eastern Ukraine,” he said, referring to a pro-Russian separatist rising.
“I will show you what leading a country really means,” he added.
Groysman’s nomination was backed by 257 deputies, comfortably over the minimum 226 needed.
The rebooted cabinet under Groysman, an ally of President Petro Poroshenko, appears to strengthen the president’s influence on the economic side of policymaking.
Oleksandr Danylyuk, 40, who is set to become finance minister, is the deputy head of Poroshenko’s administration, while the economy minister and first deputy prime minister positions will be given to Stepan Kubiv, who is currently the president’s representative in parliament.
They replace U.S.-born Finance Minister Natalia Yaresko, praised by Washington for her handling of Ukraine’s debt crisis, and former Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius, who spearheaded a drive to privatize graft-ridden state firms, but resigned in protest over corruption in February.
Addressing parliament, Poroshenko said the new government must honor reform commitments made under a $17.5 billion bailout program from the International Monetary Fund, which has held back payments since October due to the political crisis.
“I stress the imperative and inviolable necessity of continuing cooperation with the IMF and other international lenders,” he said.
Despite recent tolerance efforts, Ukraine has a long history of anti-Semitism. The country was the site of pogroms that killed thousands of Jews in 1919, and collaboration during the Nazi period was rampant.
Several populist movements in Ukraine, most notably Right Sektor and Savoda have employed familiar anti-Semitic rhetoric, but Rabbi Bleich said that Groysman’s quick rise to the top of Ukrainian politics proves this to be anathema to the feelings of the mainstream population.
“This shows that society in Ukraine has overcome its anti-Semitism to a large extent,” he said. “As the country becomes increasingly democratic, its prejudices are, in turn, fading away.”
Updated Thursday, April 14, 2016 at 8:21 pm with quotes from local Jewish leaders