Betsy Gidwitx Reports

April 2010 in Ukraine


Jewish Life in

Dnipropetrovsk, Dniprodzerzhinsk, Krivoi Rog, Zaporizhya, and Kyiv


The writer visited Ukraine in April 2010, arriving in Kyiv on April 15 and proceeding to Dnipropetrovsk the same day. From Dnipropetrovsk, she made three brief trips to other Jewish population centers in eastern Ukraine: Dniprodzerzhinsk, Kryvyy Rih (Krivoi Rog), and Zaporizhya. She then returned to Kyiv for several days, leaving the country on April 28.


Ukraine is a country somewhat smaller in territory than the American state of Texas. It shares a lengthy border with Russia to its north and east, and is bounded by Belarus to its north, and Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary to its west. Romania and Moldova are its southwest neighbors, and its southern boundaries are the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Ukraine is com-posed of 24 provinces or oblasts, one auto-nomous republic (Cri-mea) and two cities with special status, the capital city of Kyiv and the Crimean port of Sevastopol, which hosts the Russian Black Sea naval fleet. These port arrange-ments were a subject of negotiations be-tween Russia and a newly-elected govern-ment in Ukraine im-mediately prior to the writer’s visit.[1]


The estimated populations of Ukraine’s largest cities in 2009 are: Kyiv, 2,765,531; Kharkiv, 1,245,964; Dnipropetrovsk, 1,017,514; and Odesa, 1,008,627. The estimated population of Zaporizhya is 781,643; Kryvyy Rih (Krivoy Rog), 675,565; and Dniprodzerzhinsk (north of Dnipropetrovsk), 245,082.[2]


The total population of Ukraine was estimated at 45,700,395 in mid-2009,[3] a precipitous decline from its estimated 1991 population of approximately 53 million.[4] The estimated mid-2009 birthrate was 9.6 per 1,000 population, and the estimated mid-2009 death rate was 15.81 per 1,000 population, that is, the number of deaths is substantially greater than the number of births. The life expectancy at birth in 2009 was 62.3 for men and 73.5 for women.[5]


The mood in Ukraine was generally disconsolate, reflecting a long and unusually harsh winter that had sapped the energy of many Ukrainians, continuing concern about a severe economic recession, and uncertainty about a newly-elected government. A modest recovery during the first quarter of 2010 had done little to lift the gloom that seemed to pervade many discussions on economic issues in the various cities visited by the writer. Several individuals observed that the gross domestic product had fallen by 15 percent in 2009, unemployment remained unacceptably high, and many working people were paid abysmally low salaries that did not cover the cost of everyday necessities. Corruption remained rampant and robbed people of their dignity as they were forced to pay bribes for basic services. Banks were unable to extend credit, thus hindering the development of new businesses or expansion of existing enterprises. However, inflation had stabilized at 15 to 20 percent, allowing individuals and organizations some confidence in their capacity to plan effectively. Philanthropic organizations had lost major donors, but some had acquired mid-level and smaller-scale contributors who previously had been intimidated by the munificence of former financial barons whose wealth had dissipated over the past 18 months.


A much-anticipated national election in February brought the ineffective tenure of Orange Revolution hero and pro-Western Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to a welcome end. Having assumed office in 2004 with promises to implement massive reforms, sweep away corruption, and join Europe, Yushchenko became mired in infighting with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a one-time ally turned rival. Their very Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and President Viktor Yushchenko. Photo: February 2008public contretemps became a bitter five-year standoff contributing to governmental paralysis. Yushchenko received a mere five percent of the vote in the first round of presidential elections in December 2009.


Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Former President Viktor Yushchenko once were close allies.

Photo:, January 13, 2010. Retrieved May 20, 2010.

As his standing eroded during his last months in office, Yushchenko splurged on a number of populist spending measures – including a 20 percent increase in pension payments – that further stoked inflation and delayed implementation of an International Monetary Fund assistance agreement. Stirring more controversy and consistent with his policy of encouraging a strong Ukrainian national identity, Yushchenko conferred the title of Hero of Ukraine posthumously on Stepan Bandera, a regional leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), a movement that aimed to free Ukraine of all foreign domination – Russian/Soviet in the east and Polish in the west – in the 1930’s. When Nazi forces occupied Ukraine during World War II, some Ukrainian volunteers associated with the OUN collaborated with the invaders in organizing the murder of thousands of local Jews during the Holocaust.[6] The award to Bandera, perhaps a logical component of Yushchenko’s exaltation of Ukrainian nationalism, engendered a strong sense of unease among Ukrainian Jews that lingered even after the new Ukrainian government rendered the honor invalid on April 2.

Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian machine-politician perceived as supported by corrupt industrialists from the Russian-speaking eastern half of the country, defeated Ms. Tymoshenko in a run-off election for Prime Minister on February 7. Yanukovych’s tenure to date has been controversial. In a comprehensive deal (Kharkiv Accords) with neighboring Russia reached on April 21, Ukraine agreed to extend the lease of Russia’s Black Sea naval base in Sevastopol (Crimea) until 2043[7] in exchange for less expensive natural gas from Russia, which controls almost all of Ukrainian energy resources. Critics were quick to note that the newly negotiated Russian discount merely reduced the price to the then current international market level and obligates Ukraine to purchase more gas in subsequent years, perhaps more than it needs. Ukraine, commented these Russian President Medvedev meets with Ukrainian President Yanukovich in Moscowobservers, could have negotiated an even lower price or demanded tougher terms for the base extension because it owns the Ukrainian pipelines through which Russian gas flows to Europe.

Russian President Dimitry Medvedev, left, and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in Kyiv after reaching agreement on trade in May 2010.


Retrieved May 20, 2010.


Following conclusion of the naval base/gas supply agreement, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin proposed a merger on April 30 between the Russian energy giant Gazprom and the grossly corrupt Ukrainian energy company Naftohaz, as well as a number of other deals in industry, nuclear energy, aviation, telecommunications, and transport that would tie the Ukrainian economy more closely to that of Russia. Prime Minister Putin’s proposals generated surprise among Ukrainian officials who clearly wanted a dependable supply of natural gas, but were unprepared for other elements of a Russian bear hug.


In early May, journalists at several Ukrainian media outlets alleged that Russia-style censorship was being imposed on commercial television, in particular. Some speculated that new editorial policies were enforced by private network owners as a means of preemptively protecting their businesses from harassment by the new government or by returning Russian business interests.[8]

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