Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (center) visits Yad Vashem during his visit to Jerusalem.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Jews on the Crimean peninsula are up in arms following a speech by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accusing Russia of fomenting anti-Semitism.
“Jewish organizations of Crimea firmly state that these allegations are false and are a clumsy and hopeless attempt to distort the true picture of the existing inter-ethnic peace and harmony in the Russian Crimea,” community leaders from cities such as Simferopol, Yalta and Sevastopol asserted in a joint statement on Friday.
Speaking before the Knesset during a state visit here last week, Poroshenko said Jews living in the Ukrainian territory, which Russia occupied and annexed early in 2014, may find themselves in danger “as the conquerors have started to cultivate the anti-Semitism issue, as well.”
While Jewish leaders in Ukraine have come out strongly in favor of their country’s battle with Moscow- backed separatists along the Russian border, the Jews of Crimea mostly have sided with Russia in the ongoing conflict.
“Today, we are under the protection of the Russian state. However, we love and remember the real Ukraine, with its national colors, rich culture, hospitable people, where it was before the rampant nationalism and Bandera,” they said, referring to a World War II-era Ukrainian nationalist leader who collaborated with the Germans and who is currently en vogue in Ukraine as a hero.
Russia has consistently accused Ukraine’s leadership of fascism and anti-Semitism since a 2014 revolution ousted pro-Kremlin President Victor Yanukovich. Both the Ukrainian Jewish community and the government have denied such claims.
And, although instances of anti-Semitic graffiti have risen, the neo-Nazi Svoboda party, which was a large presence in pre-revolutionary Ukrainian politics, has largely collapsed and anti-Semitic violence in both Russia and Ukraine remains very low by Western European standards.
During the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion, anti-Semitic graffiti was found on a local Reform synagogue.
However, the local rabbi intimated that it was possible that given that a Ukrainian neo-Nazi symbol scrawled on the side of the building was inverted, the entire episode may have been a provocation intended as propaganda.
Since that point, a local Holocaust memorial has been vandalized, but no other incidents have been recorded.
According to Amnesty International, while the Jewish community has emerged from the conflict relatively unscathed, the new leaders of the territory have been “carrying out a catalogue of human-rights abuses against pro-Ukrainian media, campaigning organizations, Crimean Tatars and individuals critical of the regime.”
Asked about Russian accusations that his government is anti-Semitic, Poroshenko told The Jerusalem Post last week he could not “react to Russian propaganda.”
“It’s simple. Nobody in the world believes the Russians during this war – this is just another form of war, not only on the battlefield, but using propaganda spanning hundreds of millions of dollars to create a negative image of Ukraine,” he said.
“Poroshenko has no moral right to speak about the Jews of the Crimea, or he does not know or does not want to know the actual situation,” Elena Raigorodskaya, spokeswoman for the All-Crimean Jewish Congress and the editor of a local Jewish newspaper, told the Post.