Betsy Gidwitx Reports







Krivoi Rog

23. Krivoi Rog (Ukrainian Kryvyy Rih) located approximately eighty-five miles southwest of Dnipropetrovsk, is the administrative center of Krivoi Rog oblast. It was established in the seventeenth century by Zaporozhe Cossacks and today is a forty mile long fusion of iron-mining settlements. Its industrial base is concentrated on production of iron and steel, chemicals and engineering equipment (the latter focusing on mining Machinery).

The population of the city is estimated at 713,000 to 730,000 individuals. A 1993 study by the Jewish Agency of Israel lists the Jewish population of the city as 15,000, a number that local Jews acknowledge is the most commonly cited figure. Some Jewish activists believe that the Jewish population maybe as high as 30,000. The extreme linear nature of the city impedes development of a sense of community among Krivoi Rog Jews.

24. The Boston delegation was greeted in a small one-storey wooden building whose largest room contained a prefabricated sukkah supplied by JDC. We met with representatives of the local Jewish Cultural Society and its affiliated Women’s club, a Betar group and a Sunday school.

Our visit to Krivoi Rog was marred by the belligerence of the Jewish Cultural Society leader, Yuri Il’ich Shifrin, a failed businessman who has turned the attention to the Jewish community, regressive and other unpleasant. Before our departure, an activist in the Women’s Club, mustering limited skills in English, apologized to Betsy Gidwitz for Mr. Shifrin’s conduct, acknowledging that he was “a little bit not normal”.

Mr. Shifrin described the level of anti-Semitism in Krivo Rog as very high, citing bigoted remarks against Jewish Children in school that drove some to want to deny their Jewish identity. He gave no other examples. Mr. Shifrin said that no Jew in the city is qualified to tech Jewish tradition or any other Jewish subject. They have turned to the Israel Cultural Center in Dnipropetrovsk for assistance, but. Have received little help, because according to Mr. Shifrin, the director of the center is “stupid”. The Joint Distribution Committee is providing assistance but Mr. Shifrin said, the JDC lacks specific goals and has made many mistakes.

Mr. Shifrin referred to a high level of poverty in the city, especially among the elderly, some of whom are almost starving. A major role of the Jewish Cultural Scoiety is to help these individuals. The government was providing no assistance to them.

25. Inma Mikhailavna shifrin, wife of Yuri Shifrin, spke on behalf of the Women’s club. The women’s group was established last year after a visit to the city by Sally Gratch, a woman from Chicago, who is organizing an international conference of Jewish women in April 1994. The twenty active members of the Womwn’s Club arrange Jewish holiday celebrations (In which as many as forty others assist) and manage a welfare program that attempts to serve needy Jewish elderly in the city. Each of the activist women regularly visit nine or ten isolated seniors, providing companionship and helping with shopping, cleaning and other chores. When possible, they try to contribute necessary medicines, but the shortage of pharmaceutical goods in the city is acute. Inadequate pensions severely limit the purchasing power of the elderly and the women’s group itself lacks the resources to offer meaningful financial assistance. Many apartments lack adequate heating during the winter but it is almost impossible to convince local authorities to correct this mater. The Jewish Cultural Society has identified 313 Jews in the city who require welfare support but the Women’s Club is unable to assist more than seventy-three apartments (some of which are occupied by more than one person).

In an endeavor closely supervised by Yuri Shifrin, a few of the volunteers accompanied us in visits to several of their clients. It was evident that the women volunteers were intimidated by Mr. Shifrin.

26. Against the wishes of Mr. Shifrin, who had intended to controll our agenda, the Boston group succeeded in arranging for Vladislav Kogan,35 leader of the local Beltar youth group, to speak with us. Mr. Kogan, a young man in his twenties, reported that Belter organized in Krivoi Rog four years ago with the assistance of visitors from Israel and currently has a membership of twenty to twenty-five activists and eighty to one hundred additional members, all between the ages of fifteen and thirty. Originally focused on military sports, the group now has a more general Jewish agenda. With information and assistance from the Israel Cultural Center and several Jewish organizations in Kiev. Beltar members study Hebrew together and also learn about Jewish history, Israel and related topics. They sponsor holiday celebrations in which they lease buses to transport people to area mines where Jews were slaughtered during World War II (on April 21, 1942). The Joint Distribution Committee has helped them construct monuments to Holocaust victims. Beltar possesses a video library of some twenty cassettes on various Jewish topics, but no jewish organiztion in town has easy access to a VCR. The group does not receive a subsidy from any organization.

27. Yuri Shifrin also tried to prevent us from speaking with Analtoly Maikhailovich Yashmitz, the director of a local Jewish Sunday school.36 Sponsored by the Lishkat haKesher, the three-year old school enrolls fifty-five children between the ages of seven and fourteen. Pupils are divided into four classes according to age. Many pupils also participate in a youth group affiliated with the school. Approximately 100 adults study Hebrew in separate classes organized by the school.

As we presented Mr. Yashnitz with some teaching materials that we had brought to the city for this school, Mr. Shifrin broke into our discussion and claimed hat he had started his own Sunday school some six weeks previously He said that his program enrolled fifty-four children between the ages of eight and eleven and complained that no one ever gave him anything. To assuage Mr. Shifrin’s escalating wrath, we divided the teaching materials between the two men (although we were not convinced that Mr. Shifrin’s school really exists).




28. Dneprodzerzhinsk (established in the 18th century as Kamenskoye) was
renamed during the Stalin era in memory of Feliks (“Iron Feliks”) Dzerzhinsky (Polish Dzierzynski; 1877-1926) the Polish-born founder of the Cheka, forerunner of the KGB. The city is located on the west bank of the Dnepr River approximately twenty-two miles north of Dnepropetrovsk. A massive hydroelectric station provides power for an industrial base focused on iron and steel, cement and chemicals and the construction of railroad cars. Dneprodzerzhinsk is rated one of he ten most heavily polluted cities in all of the former Soviet Union.

The smallest of the four major cities in this part of Ukraine, the population of Dneprodzerzhinsk is estimated at between 285,000 and 290,000. The Jewish Agency for Israel estimates the Jewish population of the city at 2,000.

29. Approximately forty representatives of the Jewish Cultural Center “Aviv”, whose president is Boris S. Doktor37greeted us in Dneprodzerzhinsk. They had gathered on the courtyard of a private home, owned by Bassa Moiseyevna Rechter,v which serves as the temporary base of the Center. A prefabricated sukka supplied by JDC had been erected in the courtyard; the sukka had actually arrived after the conclusion of the holiday but the group seemed unperturbed as they had celebrated the festival without it and would be able to use it next year.

30. A lively discussion followed with most of the forty people (including children) inside Mrs. Rechter’s home. The Center sponsors several Jewish institutions: a small Sunday school in which Mr. Doktor is the head teacher; a Jewish youth group attracting fifteen to eighteen young people that operates a small Jewish youth theater; and a welfare group that tries to assist needy elderly and handicapped. Although Mrs. Rechter enjoys accommodating the Center, its leadership intends to rent a facility that that can house all Center activities without intruding the private lives of its members. They hope that Jewish businessmen in the city will provide financial assistance.

31. The welfare needs of the community are acute. Volunteers are able to help about forty elders and others, many of who require almost daily attention, but are unable to support many others who deserve help. A number of Jewish men in their forties and fifties are invalids due to industrial accidents. The welfare group needs pharmaceutical goods and medical supplies of almost all types.

Three physicians – Yakov Meinikov and Anna Proskurovskaya (husband and wife) and Boris Chausovsky 38 – spoke of health problems in the city. They cited a very high incidence of cancer, arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure and related cardiac problems. Common medications are inaccessible. Major hospitals cannot obtain anesthesia. Nutritional standards are very low and many elderly people lack the stamina to wait in long lines for the food that is available.

Numerous individuals commented about the severe environmental degradation in the area. They acknowledged that Dneprodzerzhinsk is one of the most populated cities in the Soviet successor states. They cited two large chemical plants that were contaminating air and water. They also asserted the soil in several parks in which children played was radioactive. (We did not ask about the source of this problem.) They said that the Soviet Union was not interested in ordinary people but had constructed one factory after another to enhance the power of a leadership elite. In response to a question, they said that the industrial residential zoning laws did not exist and that housing had been adjacent to heavy industry.

32. Many in the group expressed gratitude in the Joint Distribution Committee for its assistance. Several young people from the city had attended a JDC camp in Hungary and several Jewish Cultural Center volunteer welfare workers participated in a JDC welfare management seminar in Moscow.

33. The Jewish Culture Center used the Israel Cultural Center in Dnipropetrovsk as a resource center, traveling there frequently to programs and materials. The Israel Culture Center has also arranged for Dneprodzerzhinsk youngsters to attend Jewish summer camps.

34. Many older people were overjoyed by the emergence of Jewish life in their midst. Some had continued to meet secretly to commemorate Jewish holidays throughout the Soviet period, but they are elated by the public Jewish renaissance now underway.

35. The Jewish community in Dneprodzerzhinsk lacks access to a computer, e-mail or fax machine. Outsiders can communicate with private individuals in the community by telephone or through organizations in Dnepropetrovsk that have fax machines or e-mail. Rabbi Kaminetzky or the Israel Culture Center will pass along messages.


35. the address of Vladislav Kogan is 324074 Krivo Rog, 11 Yakir St., Apt.16. His home telephone number is (0564)748-324 and his fax number is (0564)294-122.

36. Address of Mr. Yashnitz is 324027 Krivo Rog, 43 Gagarin Prospekt, apt.10, telephone – (0564)717-129.
35. the address of Vladislav Kogan is 324074 Krivo Rog, 11 Yakir St., Apt.16. His home telephone number is (0564)748-324 and his fax number is (0564)294-122.

37. Address 322637 Dneprodzerzhinsk, 1-d 50 Years USSR St. apt. 136; home telephone (05692) 6-06-61; work telephone (05692) 3-57-45.

38. The address of Dr. Chausovsky is 322608 Dneprodzerzhinsk, ul Perekoskaya 28/1 telephone (05892) 3-53-57.



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