GENEVA - US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that Jews in a city in eastern Ukraine had been ordered to register with the authorities, calling the idea intolerable.
"Just in the last couple of days, notices were sent to Jews in one city indicating that they had to identify themselves as Jews ... or suffer the consequences,” Kerry told reporters. "This is not just intolerable, it's grotesque."
Pro-Russian separatists from Donetsk in eastern Ukraine denied any involvement in the circulation of flyers calling on Jews to register with separatists and pay special taxes.
The flyers were distributed earlier this week in the city, where pro-Russian separatists led by Denis Pushilin this month took over several government buildings and declared their secession from Ukraine as the Donetsk Republic amid a standoff with authorities.
The flyers were official-looking documents that carried what was presented as Pushilin’s signature, but the news site tvrain.ru on Wednesday quoted Pushilin as denying any connection to the flyers, calling them a provocation.
On Tuesday, the news website novosti.dn.ua reported that the flyers were handed out that day by three unidentified men in balaclava masks carrying a flag of the Russian Federation. According to the report, the men distributed the flyers next to a local synagogue. The website quoted unnamed sources from the local Jewish community as saying that the flyers were an attempt to provoke a conflict and blame the attack on the separatists.
Several anti-Semitic attacks, including a stabbing and the attempted torching of a synagogue, have occurred in Ukraine since the eruption in November of a revolution over the perceived pro-Russian policies of former President Viktor Yanukvych. He was ousted from power in February.
Many supporters of the revolution blamed pro-Russian provocateurs for the attacks.
The flyers in Donetsk said all Jews who are 16 years old and above should register at the government building, which separatist protesters are occupying, and pay a registration fee of $50 by May 3.
“Jews supported the nationalistic gang of [Stepan] Bandera in Kiev,” the authors wrote in reference to the Ukrainian Nationalist leader who in the 1940s fought with Nazi Germany against Soviet troops before he and his men took up arms against the German occupation.
The flyers also said Jews were hostile to the Donetsk Republic.
They were required to report any real estate and automobiles, the flyers also said.