Leaflets calling on Jews in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk to register themselves with pro-Russian separatists may not be the work of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, Jewish groups have said.
According to the World Jewish Congress, 17,000 Jews live in the city.
The leaflets were handed out by several Balaclava clad men carrying a Russian flag earlier this week as well as being found plastered to buildings near a synagogue.
They ordered all Jews aged 16 and older to register with the separatists, pay a $50 fee and report all motor vehicles and real estate in their possession.
The flyers also said Jews were hostile to the Donetsk Republic and bore the signature of its leader, Denis Pushilin. Pushilin has denied any connection to the flyers.
Pro-Russian militias, allegedly with Russian backing, are currently occupying government buildings in several eastern Ukrainian cities. Ukrainian attempts to dislodge the secessionists have thus far been unsuccessful, with rebels disarming Ukrainian troops sent to stop them as well as capturing a number of armored vehicles.
Ukrainian Jews have indicated that they are unsure of the flyer’s provenance, telling The Jerusalem Post that it is impossible to determine its connection to the separatists.
According to a local news report, unnamed sources from the local Jewish community said that the flyers were an attempt to provoke a conflict and blame the attack on the separatists.
Speaking to the Post by phone from Kiev, Eduard Dolinsky of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee said that the flyers appeared to be a provocation, but it was impossible to say who was responsible.
The local Jewish community “tried to find out who was behind this with no success. No one took responsibility,” he said. “We don’t have evidence.”
Rabbi Pinchas Vyshetsky, a resident of Donetsk, also called the flyers a provocation and theorized that it could be the work of “anti-Semites looking to hitch a ride on the current situation.”
If Pushilin and his supporters were responsible, he added, it flies in the face of “everything they did until now,” the rabbi added.
The Jewish community sent people to the address given for registration to check into the matter but “there was nobody there.”
Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich has blamed the Russians for a series of anti-Semitic attacks in Kiev over the past several months, linking them to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s comments on protecting Russian speakers, Jews and ethnic minorities as the rationale for his annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea.
The flyers in Donetsk may be a Ukrainian effort to do the same to Russia, Dr. Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said.
“Looks to me like some sort of provocation and an attempt to paint the pro-Russian forces as anti-Semitic,” Zuroff told the Post.
Asked about Zuroff’s theory, Donlinsky and Vyshetsky said that it was impossible to tell but that it was not out of the realm of possibility.
“It cannot quite be ruled out that some of these leaflets distributed grassroots separatist groups,” Vyacheslav Likhachev, an expert on Ukrainian anti-Semitism at the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, told the Post.
“Anti-Semitic propaganda accompanying the entry of the separatists in the south-east of Ukraine had been fixed quite often.”
JTA contributed to this report.