KIEV – Despite calls by Jewish leaders to remain neutral, young Jews have been
on the front lines of protests against Ukrainian President Viktor
Angered by Yanukovich’s decision to spurn an EU trade deal
and move Ukraine further into Russia’s orbit, Ukrainians have taken to the
streets, occupying Maidan (“Independence”) Square and nearby state buildings in
the capital, Kiev. This is the second time in a decade that Ukrainians have come
out in force against the president.
In the 2004 Orange Revolution,
protesters alleged that Yanukovich had rigged a runoff vote between himself and
opponent Viktor Yushchenko.
Several Jewish leaders have expressed their
concerns over the prominent role that the ultranationalist Svoboda party has
played in the protests. Svoboda’s leader, Oleg Tyagnibok, unlike many in the
European far Right, is a supporter of greater European integration, due to his
opposition to what he considers undue Russian influence in the former Soviet
republic. He has stated that he believes that his country “is being controlled
by a Russian- Jewish mafia.” Svoboda has 36 seats out of 450, or roughly eight
percent of the total representation, in parliament.
Rabbi Moshe Azman, a
local Chabad emissary and one of several men claiming the title of chief rabbi,
told news website Arutz Sheva that he had canceled several public events for the
commemoration of Hanukka due to fears of violence by protesters, specifically
those affiliated with Svoboda.
The Ukrainian Jewish Committee warned
local communities that they should remain neutral in the political conflict,
director Eduard Dolinsky told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
on behalf of UJC founder Oleksandr Feldman, an Independent MP in Yanukovich’s
governing coalition and one of the country’s richest men, Dolinsky said that
they have encouraged their co-religionists to “increase security everywhere, at
every public Jewish place.”
“We communicated a message to every community
independent of religious or community affiliation,” he said. “There can be a
provocation at any moment.”
Feldman, he said, “is afraid of provocations
and his only goal is to maintain the peace of all the forces and all the parties
and especially to protect the Jewish community and minorities who can be
vulnerable in this time.”
Feldman has been in contact with both the
Interior Ministry and security services to try and obtain additional security
for Jewish institutions, Dolinsky said, adding that a meeting of community heads
would be convened in the coming days to consider the issue.
spoke with ‘the Joint’ [American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee] and the
American Jewish Committee. We would like to invite Israeli and other Jewish
security experts in order to develop a comprehensive security plan. We don’t
have any plans,” he said.
The Joint Distribution Committee is “following
developments in Ukraine closely and remain in continual contact with our
representatives on the ground and with local Jewish communities,” a JDC
spokesman told the Post last week. “Our FSU director, Ofer Glanz, has made it
clear that we stand ready to provide needy members of the community with extra
food, medicine or other forms of relief should the situation require
Dolinsky explained that while the protests are not driven by
anti-Semitic rhetoric, one sees the Svoboda flag and can hear people chanting a
World War II-era slogan, calling for the death of Ukraine’s enemies. The slogan,
“Glory to the nation, death to its enemies,” was used by nationalist insurgents
known for killing Jews, he added.
“It is repeated now everywhere,”
While one protester who spoke with the Post claimed that
many do not understand the background of the slogan, Dolinsky
“Some of them really do not understand; some of them,
especially the leaders of the opposition, understand perfectly what it means and
where it comes from,” he countered.
While Azman has canceled his programs
and Dolinsky cited an acquaintance who was rebuffed by protesters who told him
that Jews and Russians were not wanted, not everybody feels the
Alexandra Oleynikova, a young Jewish activist involved in
organizing Limmud conferences, told the Post that while some Jews stayed away
out of fear, others had flocked to Maidan.
These Jewish protesters, she
said, “stand there nights and days; they really live there now and they help
people who come to find accommodations. They bring food and they collect
Some young Ukrainian Jews who work for international
organizations such as JDC, Hillel and Limmud are “really active” in offering
support as well as “organizing the barricades,” Oleynikova said.
November 30, when government forces staged a massive push against the
barricades, attacking and beating protesters, she said, “my friends were on the
front lines of the fighting against the troops.”
Reading about the
protests on Facebook and seeing anti-Semitic comments is different from the
reality on the ground, Oleynikova added. “When you read it on Facebook, you get
pissed and you get very mad, but once you are there, actually on the site, it
fades a little.
“I really don’t want to walk next to the people walking
with the Svoboda flags and I don’t think it’s the right thing to do and I don’t
support the leader, Tyagnibok. Most of my friends are very hesitant to walk
around those people, and we really do not tolerate when people say that Jews
should not be here. But generally, it’s more on Facebook; but once you’re at
Maidan and you are there in the atmosphere it’s kind of like the borders, they
are less physical. And again, those who are more active and are in Maidan all
the time, they don’t care about it that much,” she explained.
she added, “They don’t show that much of a Jewish identity
Alexander Iudashkin, another Jewish protester, told the Post that
“nobody runs and screams ‘I hate Jews’ or something like that, but you can hear
between the words sometimes.
“Svoboda don’t really care about Jews” at
the protest, he said.
Disclosure: This reporter was a guest of the Kiev Jewish community. Reuters contributed to this report.