Antisemitism in Ukraine

A UCSJ-report

Ukraine is a multinational country of 52.2 million, including 37 million Ukrainians, 11.3 million Russians, 500,000 Jews, and 450,000 Belarusians. The region measures 235,443 square miles, an area larger than Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic combined.
The Ukrainian economy, once the breadbasket of the USSR, is in the midst of a difficult transition from communist central planning to a market-based society. The economic reform program of President Leonid Kuchma, who was elected in 1994, has been effective in achieving some stability and in curtailing inflati- on, allowing the government to introduce new currency. However, the government has been hesitant to implement the toughest, and most needed, reforms. Although official statistics say that about half the workforce is formally employed in manufacturing and the other half equally divided in services and agriculture, many industrial enterprises have reduced or halted production. And while the private sector has experienced significant growth, the country remains in a serious economic crisis. Industrial output continues to drop, and diminishing revenue has left millions of employees unpaid for up to a year. The current level of employ- ment is reaching near 80 percent. In addition, the region's rich agricultural capabilities have been diminished as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; there is both an extreme shortage of vegetables and a lack of new technologies to boost food producti- on.

Jewish Life

During the last few years, there has been somewhat of a rebirth of Jewish life in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Jewish population has established about 250 organizations in more than 80 cities. There are several umbrella Jewish organizations: the Association of Jewish Communities and Organizations of Ukraine (Vaad), the Jewish Council of Ukraine, the Union of Jewish Religious Communities of Ukraine under the Karlin-Stolin movement, and the Chabad Lubavitch movement, among others. There are also scores of organized religious and cultural events, 14 day schools, 10 Yeshivot, and 70 Hebrew and Sunday Schools. Israel has an embassy in Kiev and several Israeli youth movements sponsor camps and activities. Twenty synagogue buildings have been returned to the Jewish community under government legislation ensuring the return of all confiscated religious property, though hundreds more still need to be reclaimed. In Kiev, where the Jewish community is estimated at 100,000, there are three congregations, three Jewish newspapers, and two professional Jewish theater companies. The International Solomon University, the first Jewish university in Ukraine, opened in Kiev in the fall of 1993, and Hebrew studies departments have been established at the Universities of Kiev and Odessa. The Lviv State University has Judaica faculty in its history department. There are also large and active Jewish communities in Kharkiv, Odessa and Dnepropetrovsk -where there is a National Jewish University- and smaller communities throughout the region. Despite their rising vitality, Ukrainian Jewish communities face a lack of resources, including extreme food shortages for the elderly and the middle-aged unemployed in some areas. UCSJ supports Jewish communities in over 15 Ukrainian towns through its Yad L'Yad (Hand to Hand) partnership program. Another problem affecting the Jewish community in Ukraine is a series of festivals being held by Messianic Jews-groups like Jews for Jesus-which aim to convert participants to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Such events, which have been held in Kharkiv and in Odessa, may be taking advantage of FSU Jews' lack of knowledge about Judaism. According to Boris Dobrivker, formerly of Odessa, approximately 35,000 people in Odessa attended an August 1995 Jews for Jesus "Christianity Festival of Jewish Music." Invitati- ons were mailed to two groups of the Survivors of the Ukrainian Ghetto, but the invitations had no indication the event was sponsored by Jews for Jesus.

Antisemitism in Ukraine

Antisemitic incidents continue to occur, despite expanded opportunities for Jews to pursue their religious and cultural activities. The Ukrainian government has worked to improve relations with Jewish communities and to condemn openly anti-Je- wish rhetoric, but it has not taken steps to enforce laws banning the distribution of materials promoting ethnic or religious hatred. Jews have risen to prominent, visible positions, such as the mayors of Odessa and Vinnitsa. Nevertheless, despite higher visibility and improved statements from national leaders, antisemitism continues on the local level. Antisemitic tracts are regularly circulated by ultra nationalist Ukrainian groups such as UNA-UNSO and DSU, and antisemitic articles appear regularly in some local newspapers, particularly in Western Ukraine and Kiev. In the publications of the ultra-nationalist parties, Jews are blamed for the economic disorder and for the problems associated with the post-Soviet transformation, as well as for their alleged role in the great famine of the twenties and for the troops sent by Moscow in the 1930s to subdue Ukrainian resistance. Jews are also accused of lying about the Holocaust, whch many antisemitic publications claim never happended. Laws forbidding the inciting of interethnic hatred have not been used against the Lviv newspaper Za Vilnu Ukraina (For a Free Ukraine) or the Kiev-based Vechernyi Kiev (Evening Kiev), despite their regular publication of antisemitic diatribes. Antisemitic incidents in different areas in Ukraine include death threats against Jews in Kharkiv and a number of cemetery desecrations. The demolition or reuse of Jewish cemeteries has also been a problem in the past year, and Ukrainian officials have responded with varying degrees of concern and expeditiousness in instances of Jewish cemetery land which was destroyed by the Nazis or appropriated for other uses by the Soviets since World War II. The Jewish cemetaries are not even mentioned in any official land documents. Antisemitism in Ukraine falls into many broad categories. Since most incidents do not get reported, each incident listed here should be viewed as indicative of more extensive trends.

Attacks on Jewish Communal Property

During the period from 1995-1997, many attacks occurred on Jewish communal property. The following citations are not exhaustive but are intended to illustrate the types of incidents: In January 1996, telephone lines to a local Jewish youth club were cut and threats were made that the lines would be cut regularly if the club continued to meet.-Antisemitism World Report 1996, Institute for Jewish Policy Research and American Jewish Committee 1996 Someone broke into the Jewish Sunday School in Dnepropetrovsk in June 1996. The door was torn down, posters were taken off the walls and replaced with the graffiti, "Jews go to Israel." Supposedly, the police are still looking for the perpetra- tors.-Trip Report of Judy Patkin, Executive Director, Boston Action for Post-Soviet Jewry (UCSJ),1996
"The Ohel we built for the Holy Rabbi Hershele from Zhidachow was ruined. This is so terrible! Last Shabbos the grave of the Holy Rabbi Aaron Perlon in Mliniv in the Rivne region was desecra- ted-painted with swastikas and 'Beat Jews and Save Ukraine.' This is so painful."-Ukrainian-American Bureau on Human Rights (UCSJ), September 1996
In mid-March 1996, for the second time a swastika was painted on the local synagogue in Ivano-Frankovsk- Sandra Spinner, Director, the Cincinnati Council for Soviet Jews (UCSJ),report on Antisemi- tism in Ukraine, October 1996
"On September 3, 1995, several monuments in the Jewish cemetery in Chernigov were broken in the night. Some had already been vandalized at least five times. Such vandal actions take place every year, sometimes twice a year. The militia and the Prosecu- tor's office usually informs the community that the guilty parties have not been found. Actually no one is looking for them."-Hadashot newspaper, September 1995, by Felix Kagno, president of the Jewish Community in Chernigov.
In 1996, the Jewish school in Lviv became the object of succes- sful control by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). Though illegal operations were not found in the economic and financial activity of the school, SBU representative R. Berezovskiy pressured the school to take a bribe, in order to compromise it. The chief Rabbi of the Lviv synagogue continuously receives threatening phone calls and letters from Ukrainian nationalists. The synagogue in Drogobych, in the Lviv Oblast, was attacked several times by radical Ukrainian nationalists. There was no reaction by the militia or the office of the public prosecutor. The synagogue building suffered significant damage.- Ukrainian-A- merican Bureau on Human Rights (UCSJ), March 10, 1997
"The Jewish cemetery is being destroyed all the time in order to obtain new places for graves. The cemetery is used mainly for Christian graves, and Jews are not allowed to bury their people because of a purported lack of space. But the Jews don't have any other place for graves and have no opportunity to bury their people according to religious custom."-Ukrainian-American Bureau on Human Rights (UCSJ), March 10, 1997
The monument to the righteous man Rabbi Aaron Perlov was defiled in Mlyniv, Rivno Oblast. Swastikas and the initials "B.J.S.U" ("Beat the Zhids, Save Ukraine") appeared on the monument.-Ukrai- nian-American Bureau on Human Rights (UCSJ), March 10, 1997
In January 1995 in Odessa, the words "Jews get out!" were painted on the wall of the sports field of the Jewish school "Or Sameach." The words "Beat the Jewish snakes!" were written on the wall of an electric tram operating in the city.-Israeli Consulate News Bulletin, March 1995
In March 1995 in Odessa, black paint was sprayed on the Holocaust memorial monument. -Israeli Consulate News Bulletin, April 1995 In July 1995 in Dnepropetrovsk, a memorial to Jews killed by Nazis was desecrated-green paint was poured on it. -Report on antisemitism by A. Nayman, Kiev, 1995 -The American Association of Jews from the Former Soviet Union Outside of Boris Doktor's apartment building is a cement block monument which has written on it in two-foot high letters, "Jews are Pigs." It has been there for years, but the Doktor family is afraid to complain to the police. The Doktors are the only Jewish family in their building.-Trip Report of Judy Patkin, Executive Director, Action for Post-Soviet Jewry (UCSJ) 1996
There was a fire in a small house which contained a museum which exhibited information about a Jewish singer who was very popular before World War II. Painted signs were affixed to a nearby building which said, "We will burn all things that are Jewish." -Boris Dobrivker, Odessa, as told to the South Florida Conference on Soviet Jewry (UCSJ), 8/21/95

Return of Jewish Communal Property and the Governmental Position

The Ukrainian government signed a landmark agreement in 1994 with the U.S. government, "On the Protection and Preservation of Cultural Heritage," which covers the return of Jewish communal property to the Jewish community. Ukraine should be lauded for its efforts; it is the only country of the FSU to have signed such an agreement with the U.S. government. Previously, in 1992, Ukraine passed a bill for the restitution of houses of worship that formerly belonged to many Jewish groups. Nevertheless, many problems continue about the return of Jewish communal property by local authorities that have actual jurisdiction. According to Yosef Zissels, Chair of the Ukrainian Vaad, there are about 2,000 Jewish communal properties, including synagogues, cemeteries, schools, and hospitals, in more than 30 towns. One ongoing project has discovered at least 700 cemeteries across the country. Thousands of Jewish graves in Berdichev, Lviv, and Mliniv are being threatened by commercial development spurred by the country's move toward privatization. About 20 synagogues have been returned to the Jewish community. UCSJ has played a role in urging local authorities to return Jewish property, particularly the Kleparovskaya Street Cemetery in Lviv. The U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad and the U.S. Department of State have played crucial roles in efforts in enforce the agreement. The Ukraine Committee on the Preservation of Jewish Heritage (KSEN) has been gathering archival documenta- tion to prove communal ownership of the properties. Jewish religious and activist organizations such as Agudath Israel, Athra Kadisha, Amcha, the Conference of Academics for the Protection of Jewish Cemeteries, and the World Council of Orthodox Jewish Communities have also been active in this campaign. Despite some progress, local officials, who maintain the legal ability to actually transfer property, often disagree with the federal initiatives and either ignore, fail to imple- ment, or oppose the federal legislation. For example, in October of 1996, Lviv officials signed an official Protocol that prohibits construction on the market currently built over the Jewish cemetery. The small positive steps have occurred mainly in response to visits by American government representatives. However, Lviv Jewish leaders are frustrated. As of March 1997, no further meetings have occurred between the Lviv Jewish community and the city hall. As the following materials illustra- te, other municipal authorities all over Ukraine have failed to return Jewish communal property. Jewish communities, who fear antisemitic retaliation, also struggle to find the funds necessary to renovate the desired property. Sumi, Ukraine "While Jews are for the first time able to 'organize' as a Jewish community, nevertheless, there were many things I witnessed and heard that made me realize how much a gap there was between my expectations for real democratization and the reality that exists. "Most upsetting was the following: In 1917 the then new Soviet government confiscated all religious property-the Jews lost their synagogue in that year when it was turned into a medical supplies factory. Though the new Ukrainian government in Kiev passed a law ordering the return of all former churches and synagogues to their rightful owners, the Jews have been refused this right. In Sumi, the Ukrainian Orthodox have received their churches back. According to Alexander Lishchinsky, the head of the Sumi Jewish community, the local government also threatened the Jews with "reprisals" if they raised protest or rallied outside support.- A report by Rabbi Stuart G. Altshuler from Beth Hillel Congregation, Wilmette, Illinois, about his Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry (UCSJ) sponsored trip to Sumi, Ukraine- August 7, 1996 Khmelnitsky, Ukraine The Jewish community of Khmelnitsky in the Vinnitsa Oblast in Southern Ukraine is seeking to regain their 300-year-old synagogue, which still has not been returned by the government-Joseph Brenner, emigre in Philadelphia, April 17, 1996 Kharkiv, Ukraine In January 1995, city authorities tried to stop the opening of a new Orthodox Jewish school. First the Kharkiv Office of Visas and Registration refused to grant visas for the teachers. Then, after a $12,000 advance payment was made and the building equipped, Verdernikov, the building director and ex-mayor asked for $200,000, a sum equal to more than eight years' rent. On the opening day, Verdernikov states that no water or electricity would be available in the building.-Evreiskaya Zhizn (Jewish Life), Kharkiv, No.7, 1995, provided by the American Association of Jews from the Former Soviet Union Chernigov, Ukraine "According to Felix Kagno, chair of the Jewish Community in Chernigov, a theater or youth center resides in the former synagogue and a bookkeeping school resides in the former synagogue. The Jewish community fought for eight years to get the synagogue back, but decided at the last moment not to press the issue and ask for another building instead. At a Chernigov City legislative committee meeting on the matter, 24 deputies voted to give the building to the Jewish community, while 6 voted against. However, representatives of the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists also moved into the building. Trying to get them out has been an ongoing struggle. Kagno said that at the meeting some of the deputies made antisemitic remarks. Letters between Kagno and a representative of the Ukrainian Nationalists were printed in apparently right-wing newspapers-the nationalist was quoted as commenting that giving the building 'looks like a very good present of the Ukrainian people to the 'Zhid' community.' "Kagno says that since April 1996, Chernigov authorities have been cutting off the electricity in the building, and that there has been no local coverage of the issue because local authorities have requested that newspapers not cover it." "Joseph Zissels of the Vaad of Ukraine however, said the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists was not an antisemitic group, but a right centrist group, and that those who took over the building were youthful agitators for Ukrainian national interests. But he also warned that as Jews increasingly try to get back property, it might lead to an increase in antisemitic articles in the press. But he felt nonetheless that Jews needed to demand to get their property back." "The Jewish Sunday school in Chernigov had been given some rooms in another school in the center of town. Eventually the sign announcing that there was a Jewish school was taken down, and shortly after, the school was asked to move, said Vladimir Chizhov, head of the school. The best they could do was find a place far from the center, where it is difficult for children to get to, and where they are now being forced to pay some rent, whereas previously they had the rooms for free. Chizhov said the law requires that the state provide them with space, but when he went to the authorities, he was told to try to find a building himself. He speculated that maybe the problem is that the Chernigov Jewish community did not have a rabbi to influence authorities."-Rachel Blustain, journalist for The Forward newspaper, in a letter to UCSJ from Ukraine, January 29, 1997 "Until World War II, the Volyn Jewish community was one of the most numerous in Europe. Nazis destroyed more than 250,000 Jewish people in Volyn. A month does not pass that we do not find out about new mass graves of tens, hundreds, and even thousands of Jews. For us this is a huge problem. To put the mass graves in order is our holy duty, but there are no finances to put up a monument or just a simple memorial sign."-Eduard Dolinsky, Volyn Jewish Community, November 26, 1996 "The following letter I read today in our local newspaper Volyn, written by a non-Jewish elderly woman. We have to react but how? We can't finance this and I know that the Israeli embassy won't help us. The letter reads as follows: "If you can, I'd like to ask you to write in your newspaper that in the village of Lubiaz, at the river Pripiyat on a left-hand coast there is a mass grave which has been forgotten. During the war in 1942, Nazis gathered 22 Jews on a bridge, surrounded them with automatic guns, got them into a pit and killed them all, and in a day the people from the village took them all out of the pit and buried them-..I think there should be a monument on this grave-.During that war many times I have fed and assisted the Jews. It was a good people; they did nothing bad to us-Mariya Sholomitska, village Lubiaz, Lubeshovsky district, Volyn."- Eduard Dolinsky, Volyn Jewish Community, November 26, 1996

Crimes, Threats and Attacks Against Individuals

The following are selected examples of attacks on Jewish families in Ukraine: During the night of March 16-17, 1996, a Jewish couple in Simferopol was murdered in their home a month before they were scheduled to immigrate to Israel. The murderers stole money, passports and documents. They were targeted because they were known to be Jews and therefore to have cash on hand before their emigration. -Sandra Spinner, Director, CCSJ (formerly the Cincinnati Council for Soviet Jews, UCSJ) Report on Antisemitism in Ukraine, October 1996 In April 1996, in Kharkiv, a death threat against Mrs. P and her son was left on the door of their apartment on Adolph Hitler's birthday. The note said, "All Kikes who come back to Ukraine will be executed in Drobitsky Yar. Death to Kikes." It was signed UNSO-Sandra Spinner, Director, CCSJ (formerly the Cincinnati Council for Soviet Jews, UCSJ) Report on Antisemitism in Ukraine, October 1996 During Passover 1996, two Jews, V.P. and his neighbor, received threats from an anonymous caller warning them, "Next year eat your matzo in Israel, not in Ukraine. We'll find all of you and annihilate you." -Sandra Report on Antisemitism in Ukraine, Director, CCSJ (formerly the Cincinnati Council for Soviet Jews, UCSJ) October 1996 On April 21, 1996, Mr. Y. received a leaflet that said: "Moldy Zionist scum, we will put a bullet in your head."- Sandra Spinner, Director, CCSJ (formerly the Cincinnati Council for Soviet Jews, UCSJ) Report on Antisemitism in Ukraine, October 1996 There was an illegal meeting of the Ukrainian Idealist Party in 1995 during which they accused Jews of ceremonially killing Christian children to use their blood when cooking matzos. A civil proceeding was instituted against the meeting after an application by the Lviv Oblast Jewish Community. After the case was heard in court, members of Idealist Party encircled me and started to shout and to blame and threaten the Jews. They also started to menace one Jewish leader with their umbrellas. By a lucky chance Mr. Gayuk, Director of the Religion History Museum, intervened to save the Jewish leader. Nothing happened when the Jewish leader appealed to the militia."-Ukrainian-American Bureau on Human Rights (UCSJ), March 10, 1997

Extremist Groups

Extremist groups, often influenced by their Russian counterparts, are particularly active in western Ukraine. The following are selected incidents involving extremist groups: In mid-February 1996, a regular Odessa late-night television show reported on a conference held that day by the nationalist group UNA-UNSO, which reportedly showed skinheads saluting, Nazi-style, and talking about "purifying" Ukraine. The broadcaster said the nationalist group worked for an independent, pure Ukraine and was fighting against "Bolsheviks, socialists, the Mafia, foreigners, and Zionists." The program also showed homeless people living in abandoned tramcars. The broadcaster said, "the vagrants use the tramcars to pollute the neighborhood, to take drugs and to bake matzoh!"- Antisemitism World Report 1996, Institute for Jewish Policy Research and American Jewish Committee.
Though the extremist group Ukrainian National People's Defense (UNA-UNSO) was denied registration by the Ministry of Justice in October 1996, they are still functioning as the so-called "Youth Sport Group". The Ukrainian National Assembly, UNA-UNSO and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists are the main extremist groups in Ukraine. And they all have members elected to govern- mental structures."- Ukrainian-American Bureau on Human Rights (UCSJ), March 1997
Recently, at a public meeting of the Ukrainian Nationalists in the center of the Lviv, the speakers officially accused the Jews of 'using the blood of Ukrainian children for the baking of the Passover matzoh.' This matter was brought to court, though the prosecutor withdrew the case on a technicality. -Ukrainian-Ameri- can Bureau on Human Rights (UCSJ), January 1997 In October 1995 in Kiev, nationalist organizations held several demonstrations in the Independence Square, waving red and black flags. Large antisemitic graffiti was drawn on the sidewalks, calling an end to Jewish influence over the Ukrainian public and the removal of Jews from Ukraine altogether.-Israeli Consulate News Bulletin, November 1995.