Astonished visitors arrived to a gruesome antisemitic scene of a pig’s head and red paint splatters on Wednesday morning at the venerated Rebbe Nachman’s grave in Uman, Ukraine.
The act of vandalism is believed to have occurred late Tuesday night.
Ukrainian police opened an investigation into the incident and closed the site of the grave for that purpose.
Ukraine’s chief rabbi, Moshe Asman, said in an interview with Army Radio: “We will look into it, we have ways to do this, along with the police and local intelligence institutions, we will try to reach them.
Vandals threw a pig’s head and shed blood. The question now is who did it. It wasn’t easy to move it there, because the area is inhabited by a lot of Jews.
“There haven’t been events like this, but there are always cases of antisemitism before the New Year. In such a small place sometimes there are incidents, but I don’t have any more details. We will learn more from the investigation,” he added.
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid on Wednesday morning urged the Ukrainian ambassador in Israel, Hennadii Nadolenko, to swiftly investigate the incident and demanded that the Ukrainian government act quickly to ensure the security of the many Jewish visitors who regularly visit the site.
“I was shocked this morning to hear about the sickening and violent antisemitic attack which occurred at the grave site of Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav in Uman, Ukraine,” Lapid said. He described the incident as “unacceptable and reminiscent of the darkest days of the history of the Jewish people in Europe.”
Lapid said he expected the Ukrainian government to condemn the incident and to take firm action to catch the perpetrators and bring them to justice soon.
Deputy Foreign Tzipi Hotovely, strongly condemned the attack and called for Ukraine to be a partner in the fight against antisemitism.
She stated that “there is no place for such despicable antisemitic acts.”
Hotovely spoke with the Israeli ambassador to Ukraine, Eli Belotsercovsky, who updated her on developments connected to the case. She said authorities had decided to increase security at Jewish institutions throughout the country.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) also slammed the incident, calling it an “antisemitic, heinous act” and joined the chorus of Israeli voices demanding that the Ukrainian leadership take urgent action to find the culprits and bring them to justice.
Herzog is set to meet with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman next week when he visits Israel, and said he expects him to come with clear answers about the measures the government intends to take to protect Jewish visitors to the holy site, as well as those who go to synagogues in the country. Groysman is Ukraine’s first Jewish prime minister.
Israel’s honorary consul in West Ukraine, Oleg Vyshniakov, believes the prime minister will make a public statement condemning the attack.
Vyshniakov said Ukraine’s prosecutor-general, Yuriy Lytsenki, had already made a statement about the incident, where he said he would personally take control of the investigation.
Vyshniakov also noted that Ukrainians were happy about the upcoming visit of their prime minister to Israel and about the increasingly warm relations between the two countries.
“I hope the Israelis will understand that this attack was done as a provocative act and does not reflect the Ukrainian attitude toward Israel and Israelis in the least. The Ukrainian people are very grateful for this support and true friendship,” he said, citing the recent UN vote regarding Crimea, in which Israel expressed support for the Ukraine’s right for sovereignty.
Vyshniakov acknowledged, however, that there are small groups who may not support acts of friendship between the two countries. “These people are traitors and should be punished by the full extent of the law,” he said.
“According to the Ukrainian Criminal Law, section number 161, I expect they receive between five to eight years in prison,” Vyshniakov said.
“Those guilty of these crimes should be arrested and must be sentenced of their deeds, so that it is made clear to all others that they mustn’t act in this manner.”
Rebbe Nachman, spiritual leader of the Breslov Hassidim, was born in the city of Medzhybizh in 1772 and died in Uman in 1810. Since then, Uman has become a mecca for Bratslavers, the name by which his followers are known. About 150,000 people visit Rebbe Nachman’s grave every year.