From Ukraine's Jewish post office chief, the stamp that shows we'll lick Putin

The sinking of a Russian warship has been immortalised in a stamp conceived by Ukraine’s Jewish postal chief, Igor Smelyansky


It was a moment that epitomised Ukraine’s heroic defiance of Putin’s forces.

Now the sinking of the Russian warship Moskva has been immortalised in a stamp conceived by Ukraine’s Jewish postal chief, Igor Smelyansky.

An earlier new issue he created depicted the celebrated refusal of marines on the strategically valuable Snake Island in the Black Sea to submit to an order to surrender, one of them radioing back: “Russian warship go f**k yourself!”

Just two days after that stamp was issued last month, the largest warship in Russia’s Black Sea fleet, the Moskva was destroyed by anti-ship missiles.

Speaking to the JC in Kyiv, Mr Smelyansky said: “I feel there’s some eerie spiritual power from our stamps that helped the ship go down — or at least predicted it.”

The stamps have proved immensely popular in Kyiv, where thousands of eager locals have stood for hours to buy the new issue showing the destruction of the Moskva.

The stamp bears the single English word: “Done!”

It was officially put on sale to the public, with a million printed and four million to follow, on Monday. Beforehand, in a filmed ceremony inside the presidential bunker, Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky signed and franked the stamp, alongside Mr Smelyansky and the Navy chief. So great is the demand, purchases are strictly rationed to two sets of six and two special envelopes per person.

Funds from the new issue are going to repair war-ravaged Ukraine. Mr Smelyansky said: “The money we now raise will go to rebuilding schools that the Russians have destroyed in their so-called special military operation.

“And to help animals left alone in areas where their owners were forced to flee or died in Russian attacks.”

Ukrainians queuing for the stamps on the first day of issue defied even warning sirens, according to Mr Smelyansky: “Most refused to ‘abandon ship’ to rush to shelters or basements.”

At 7pm, Mr Smelyansky came out from the Post Office with his military bodyguard to sign his name personally on each envelope thrust towards him for a full three hours.

He told the JC: “Now because of our special stamps, the Russians would love to bomb my Post Office HQ right here, but we’re also a target being just opposite Independence Square, where pro-Russian leaders were toppled in 2004 and 2013.” He said he had been keeping the stamp print site a secret, for fear of Russian missile attacks. Back in his office, Mr Smelyansky recounted how he had driven a postal van into previously Russian-occupied and Russian-terrorised towns such as Bucha and Irpin.

“One woman there who recognised me demanded: ‘Please get me my pension’. Two days later, it was delivered. That’s what makes it all so worthwhile for me — the impact I can have on people’s lives in an otherwise dire situation.”

All over the country, letters and parcels are arriving — and pensions are being picked up at Post Offices — despite roadblocks and Russian attacks. “It gives people a vital lifeline, and even a letter brings a feeling that people have not been forgotten — a sense of stability, as far as it can be,” Mr Smelyansky said

Early on in the war, one of his clearly marked white-and-yellow vans was struck by a Russian rocket, killing two of his employees. Yet just last weekend, he was driving a van close to the Russian frontlines inside eastern Ukraine.

For the next stamp, he had planned to show Putin in chains. But 650,000 people voting online chose Ukraine’s famous mine-sniffing dog, Patron.

Looking back to his roots, he said: “My mother and her parents were top doctors in Odessa, and of course, like many Jewish parents, they had wanted me to become a doctor too.

“I hope now though they can forgive me for my ‘failure’.  I’m also doing some life saving work.”

Mr Smelyansky spent years on Wall Street before returning to Ukraine.

He says he has had several close shaves in life. The biggest occurred in New York, when he declined to return to a job offered to him by financial firm Cantor FitzGerald on the 101st floor of the World Trade Centre  — just two months before the 9-11 attacks killed everyone in that office. “All you can do is your best, and accept your fate,” he said.

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