Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky

Photo: Wikipedia, courtesy Ram Mendal.

Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky (b. 1948) is a well-known Israeli politician of Ukrainian-Jewish origin and an illustrious human rights advocate.

He was born in 1948 in Stalino (now Donetsk) into a Jewish family originally from Odesa. The years Natan Sharansky spent studying at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology gave him an impetus to an active public life. In the mid-1970s, he joined the Ukrainian Helsinki group and was a translator and assistant to academician Andrei Sakharov for some time. He was also actively involved in the Jewish movement in the USSR, including demonstrations and protests. Natan Sharansky was arrested for anti-Soviet propaganda in 1977 and, the following year, sentenced to 13 years in prison on charges of espionage on behalf of the United States.

Only thanks to the numerous petitions of influential world politicians and demonstrations was Natan Sharansky released from the grip of the repressive regime. According to an agreement between the USSR and the USA, he was freed in 1986 in exchange for one of the Soviet spies arrested in the West. Immediately after that, Sharansky was welcomed with honors by Prime Minister of Israel Shimon Peres and his deputy Yitzhak Shamir.

That same year, Sharansky founded the Zionist Forum, an organization aimed at uniting repatriates from the Soviet Union. He started the political party Yisrael B’Aliyah in 1995. Sharansky continued his vigorous human rights activities in Israel while gaining experience as a recognizable and influential Israeli politician. He was a member of the Knesset for a long period, served as a minister and vice prime minister in Israel’s governments, and headed the executive board of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the supervisory board of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center.

Today, Sharansky remains a good friend of Ukrainians in diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Israel. His clear stance on international support for Ukraine after the start of the large-scale Russian invasion served as a call to the Israeli government to strongly condemn the attack on Ukraine. Sharansky firmly stated that Israel had to stand by Ukrainians unwaveringly.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) and Natan Sharansky in Kyiv, October 25, 2022 (courtesy Ukraine Presidential Office)

On 23 August 2022, the President of Ukraine awarded the Order of Merit, 3rd degree, to Natan Sharansky for his significant personal contribution to strengthening transnational cooperation, support of Ukraine’s state sovereignty and territorial integrity, and his remarkable contribution to the popularization of the Ukrainian state in the world. Sharansky turned 75 in January 2023. He has devoted almost his entire conscious life to active human rights defense, political activity, and building close diplomatic and transnational ties between Israel and Ukraine.