Members of the Ukrainian far Right paid tribute to a Jewish protester slain during the clashes that lead to president Viktor Yanukovich’s ouster last month, news outlets reported this week.
The presence of armed members of the ultra-nationalist Right-Sector organization at the February 23 funeral of Jewish activist and construction worker Alexander Scherbanyuk, is being held up as evidence by some Jewish Ukrainians that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s talk of protecting Jews and other minorities from a xenophobic new regime in Kiev is merely a front for his territorial ambitions, The Jewish Daily Forward reported.
Scherbanyuk, whose burial was accompanied by masked militants firing handguns into the air, was one of three Jews killed during the clashes, which left 100 Ukrainians dead, the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress’ Vyacheslav Likhachev told the American- Jewish news outlet.
Josef Shiling and Evgeniy Kotlyar were the other two killed.
While the leader of Right Sector, a small but pivotal group during the fighting in Kiev’s Maidan Square, reportedly told Israel’s ambassador in Kiev that he would do his utmost to prevent anti-Semitism, he is an outspoken admirer of World War II-era Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera, who is accused of murdering thousands of Jews.
Despite a spate of attacks against synagogues and Jews since the beginning of the unrest several months ago, Jewish leaders in the Ukraine have mostly been united in their insistence that the violence aimed at their community was the result of provocations by Yanokovich and the Russians.
Such violence serves to “discredit the new government of Ukraine,” Josef Zissels, chairman of the Vaad of Ukraine and a vice president of the World Jewish Congress, told The Jerusalem Post last week.
During a press conference in Moscow on March 3, Putin warned against the “rampage of reactionary forces, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces going on in certain parts of Ukraine, including Kiev.”
However, Jewish leaders, including Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, head of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine and a vice president of the WJC, and Eduard Dolinksy of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, have downplayed such statements.
In a press conference of his own in New York, also on March 3, Bleich said that “things may be done by Russians dressing up as Ukrainian nationalists” in the “same way the Nazis did when they wanted to go into Austria and created provocations.”
In recent years “Ukraine in general and Kiev particularly saw a stable and systematic decline of all illegal manifestations of anti-Semitism, first and foremost – of Judophobic street violence,” Likhachev wrote on the EAJC’s website during the height of the protests.
“I believe that even the most thuggish of the protesters are not interested in Jews at the moment.”