Ukraine’s charedim are signing up to fight in their dozens
David Cherkasskyi and his father Asher pray in their Ukrainian military uniforms
Asher Joseph Cherkasskiy does not fit the stereotypical image of a Ukrainian soldier. With his long beard and kindly face, he looks more like a shopping centre Father Christmas or a Fidel Castro tribute act than a natural-born soldier. But he’s one of dozens of orthodox Jews taking up arms for their country in the face of Russian invasion.
Cherkasskiy re-enlisted in the Ukrainian Defence forces over a month ago, saying at the time “I’m not running anywhere” and branding Putin’s Russia the “Nazi federation.” Writing on Facebook, he said: “No, I’m not running anywhere and I’m not going to run.Dear friends, as many of you know, in the wake of the escalating international situation and the threat of a full-scale war by the Nazi Federation, I signed a contract and am currently an officer of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”
He signed up for service with his 20-year-old son David in Dnipro, a city home to one of the largest Jewish populations in Ukraine.
Speaking from his base outside the city, David told the JC he was just doing his duty. He said:”Before the war, I was a student at the Dnipro university. I was in my fourth year, looking forward to a career in cybersecurity. I was only 3 months away from graduation.
“Last Thursday, at around 4:30AM, the bombs started falling. I was woken up early and told that our country was under attack, that our home was being invaded and that the bombs were falling. Me and my father headed straight to the base, and decided that we wouldn’t leave no matter what.
“I’m very proud to be fighting alongside my father, we all need to stand against evil. I was planning to leave Ukraine after I got my diploma, but now I can’t imagine leaving. I’m proud of our people, I’m proud of our Jewish president who can stand up to Russia. Like him, I’m just doing my job, it’s my duty to defend Ukraine.
“When Putin’s armies attacked Babyn Yar, I felt disgust. They are no better than nazis. Eventually they will surrender, they have nothing to fight for, we are fighting for our country, for our homeland, for our lives.”
Asher Joseph Cherkaskyi in Dnipro (Facebook)
Cherkasskiy first saw combat in the 2014 war with Russia. The AK-47-bearing Chabadnik, enlisted in the Ukrainian army in 2012 and was soon engaged in fierce combat against Russian separatists near Donetsk and was part of a frontline force that included the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists.
After the war, he became a local hero in Dnipro, receiving praise from regional politicians including the mayor of the city.
Asher Joseph Cherkaskyi and son David in their Ukrainian military uniforms
In a Facebook post in late 2014, then Dnepropetrovsk deputy regional governor and now mayor Boris Filatov even called the Crimean native a “hero and a symbol of the resistance”.
Mayor Boris Filatov said: “Of course, some of you saw photos of a man with a huge full beard, similar to Fidel Castro. His name is Asher Joseph Cherkasskiy and he is a fighter of our Dnipro battalion. The efforts of all the liars and cowards of the world cannot stop this man. The only thing that bothers him on the front line is the lack of kosher food.”
David Cherkaskyi, in Ukrainian army uniform in Dnipro
Speaking with the JC at the time, Mr Cherkasskiy simply said he “felt obligated to serve in the army to defend the country and the citizens of Ukraine.”
He also spoke of his pride that “Muslims, Jews and Ukrainians fight together,” and has rubbished Putin’s claims of Nazis ruling Ukraine. He told the Times: “if this government were neo-Nazi, that one of the biggest Jewish populations in Europe would live here in Ukraine. Like really — I am supposed to be a Nazi Jew?”
Antisemitism, he says, does exist among the general population but it is on the wane because “Ukrainians now realise that it is a blemish on the modern civilised nation.
His son David, also had strong words for the Russians, saying: “To suggest that Ukraine is somehow neo-Nazi is just total bullshit. Russia needs to understand that if it comes here and attacks us in this way then we are ready to fight back, as soldiers who are both Ukrainian, proud of their country, and Jewish too.”