Ukraine progressively restores historical memory about Jews

This holiday is especially symbolic for those in Ukraine who have witnessed the revival of Jewish life and traditions after decades of oppression and hardship.

Boris Lozhkin, President of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine and Vice-President of the World Jewish Congress (photo credit: JEWISH CONFEDERATION OF UKRAINE)
Boris Lozhkin, President of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine and Vice-President of the World Jewish Congress
(photo credit: JEWISH CONFEDERATION OF UKRAINE)
As we celebrate Hanukkah and lighting our candles every evening to transform darkness into light, we are reminded about our spiritual and historical collective survival and resilience by sustaining the ray of hope and love. 
This holiday is especially symbolic for us in Ukraine as we actively witness the revival of Jewish life and traditions after decades of oppression and hardship. 
For centuries, Ukraine has been one of the largest and most vibrant centers of Jewish life in the world. The first mention of the city of Kyiv ever found was written in Hebrew. The Hassidic movement was born and developed in Ukraine, with the Baal Shem Tov, Nachman of Breslov, and many others. 
In 1900, one Jew out of four in the world was living on the territory of present-day Ukraine, making it the largest Jewish country in the world. In the years to follow, the Jewish people of Ukraine endured a series of extraordinarily dramatic events – thousands of pogroms, the Holodomor famine, the Shoah, and eventually the Soviet anti-Semitic policies. 
When Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, few Jews remained in the country, anti-Semitism was thriving, and many doubted there was a future for the Jewish community. But today, we are witnessing a true renaissance of Jewish life in Ukraine. 
Ukraine, as a nation, went through a number of extremely traumatic events, and its historical memory was partly destroyed. In the search for its soul, Ukraine is slowly working towards restoring its historical memory, including its Jewish history. 
The year 2020 was marked by four major initiatives that played an important role in restoring Ukrainian Jewish historical memory. 
To preserve the memory of the Holocaust and to promote tolerance, the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine continues its Righteous in My City Initiative by honoring Ukrainians that risked their lives saving Jews. The JCU is working on identifying these people and renaming a street, square, or park in every city of Ukraine after a local Righteous citizen. Commemorative plaques are being installed on buildings and streets, and local school programs teach kids about the tragic consequences of anti-Semitism and the life of these local heroes who should be an inspiring role model for all of us. 
The Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Centre (BYHMC) has achieved major breakthroughs this year in researching and sharing life stories of those killed near Kyiv. In November, the Centre and Yad Vashem together compiled the most complete list of victims. The Ukrainian Government and the BYHMC also signed a historic memorandum of understanding and cooperation that includes the building of a memorial synagogue in Babyn Yar in 2021. The document was signed in the presence of the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, which indicates support for the project at the highest level. This is paramount not only to Ukraine but to the global Jewish community. It will become Ukraine’s first Holocaust memorial center. By remembering, we ensure our communities are at peace with the past and thrive looking into the future. 
2020 was also marked by the largest Jewish conference in the history of Ukraine. The Kyiv Jewish Forum-2020 was organized online by the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine in partnership with the Jerusalem Post. We were able to bring thought-provoking discussions and inspiring speeches by global leaders to the homes of over 83,000 people worldwide. In pre-Covid times, this would have meant the entire Stade de France stadium in Paris had watched our conference. This is fascinating and gives us hope. 
Finally, the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, in partnership with Tel Aviv University, has launched the Ukrainian Jewry Research Initiative. Through the innovative lens of distinguishing the Ukrainian Jewish community from the perceived monolith of “Soviet Jewry,”  the initiative will coordinate scholarship networks in Israel and abroad to encourage academic research on the history and culture of Ukrainian Jews. 
Ukraine is gradually transforming itself by coming to terms with the past, commemorating victims, and acknowledging people’s history and suffering. It is a big step towards a more mature nation and a peaceful future. The Ukrainian Jewish community stands strong and united in its efforts to promote peace and tolerance in Ukraine and worldwide, by restoring and remembering history.
Boris Lozhkin is the President of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine and Vice-President of the World Jewish Congress.