'Anti-Semitism not problem in Ukraine'

Yushchenko insists recent attacks on Jews simply "hooliganism."

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko denied that anti-Semitism was a problem in his ex-Soviet nation, but promised nevertheless to treat the issue with the utmost seriousness, his office said Sunday. The reformist Ukrainian leader - who was in the United States to attend the UN General Assembly in New York - addressed the issue at a news conference Saturday, just days after a rabbi and his son were beaten in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. Jewish leaders said it was the latest in a recent series of anti-Semitic attacks, though police said it was simply hooliganism. "There is no such problem as anti-Semitism or other manifestations of xenophobia in Ukraine," Yushchenko's office quoted him as telling reporters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he was awarded the 2005 Philadelphia Liberty Medal. Nevertheless, he said, he would "treat the problem of anti-Semitism attentively and responsibly." "Ukraine is a European country and takes a European approach to any problems that emerge in society," he said. Last month, skinheads severely beat a Jewish student in Kiev who was later handed over in coma to a Tel Aviv hospital to undergo a brain surgery. Yushchenko condemned the attack and ordered top officials to take charge of the case. Three people have been arrested on charges of hooliganism. In Philadelphia, Yushchenko also said that the recent attacks were not ethnically motivated, according to his office. Vandalism at Jewish sites occurs often in Ukraine, home to a 100,000-strong Jewish community, though violent acts have become rare. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed over the centuries in pogroms staged by Ukrainian nationalists, and millions died during the Holocaust.