Betsy Gidwitx Reports



55.  The writer also was unable to visit the Home for Assisted Living operated by the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine under the sponsorship of Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich.  According to Yevgeny Ziskind, the executive director of several of Rabbi Bleich's organizations, "not very many people" reside in the Home.  It simply has become too expensive to operate, he stated.  (At the time of the writer's last visit in 2011, 27 elderly Jews resided in a building intended to house 85 when fully occupied.)  Some space on upper floors of the six-story building had been leased to commercial concerns, said Mr. Ziskind.



Ukrainian Jewish Organizations



56.  The Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine, better known as the Ukrainian Vaad, is chaired by Iosif Zissels, a longtime Jewish community observer and leader in Ukraine.  The Vaad works in four main areas: Jewish property preservation and restoration, as well as archival research; interethnic tolerance; representation of Ukrainian Jewry in various international forums; and operation of Jewish community programs in small Jewish population centers, focusing on summer camps for adolescents.[97]  The Vaad has sponsored heritage expeditions to places of Jewish interest in Ukraine, and Mr. Zissels himself is regarded as a capable analyst of Ukrainian Jewry. 



Iosif Zissels is a veteran professional in the Ukrainian Jewish community. He is a native of Chernivtsi.



Photo: the writer (in 2011).




Mr. Zissels also serves as Chairman of the General Council (Ukraine) for the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, i.e., a coordinator/executive director, of EAJC activity in Ukraine.  Now that Vadym Shulman of Dnipropetrovsk has become President of EAJC (replacing Aleksandr Mashkevich of Kazakhstan in November 2011), Mr. Zissels said, it is likely that EAJC will become more active in Ukraine.  EAJC will pay the Vaad for implementing an agenda in Ukraine that is in line with the Vaad's own goals.  These areas of mutual interest, Mr. Zissels continued, include community relations, interethnic tolerance, preservation of Jewish heritage (identifying, restituting, and maintaining old Jewish buildings and cemeteries), Holocaust awareness among non-Jews, leadershipVadim Shulman to head Euro-Asian Congress development (in cooperation with the Jewish Agency), Ukraine-Israel relations, and certain other topics.  The EAJC/Vaad also will distribute recovered Torahs to Jewish institutions without denominational bias. 

As the new President of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, Vadym Shulman of Dnipropetrovsk is expected to expand the EAJC profile in Ukraine.


Photo:  Retrieved October 14, 2012.



Restitution of old synagogue buildings confiscated by the Soviet regime and further damaged during World War II and the Holocaust is a major problem, stated Mr.  Zissels.  About 800 pre-war synagogues have been identified in the country, fewer than 75 of which are being used by Jewish communities.  Many of the remaining 700+ synagogue structures are being used by government authorities for other purposes.  Unfortunately, he noted, some restitution is blocked by Orthodox rabbis who, unable to use the structures themselves, block their transfer to non-Orthodox Jewish groups that could use them constructively.  Preservation of these structures is a second problem, Mr. Zissels said.  In many instances, no demand exists for a restored functioning syna-gogue, but the buildings could be developed into small museums of Jewish life or transformed for other purposes that serve the Jewish community.  Mr. Zissels referred to an old synagogue in his home town of Chernivtsi that has traditional painted walls and classic stonework; it would be a wonderful small Jewish museum, Mr. Zissels said, but restoring it and developing it into an active museum would require a substantial financial outlay.


The combination of the global economic crisis and Ukraine's own turbulent politics is very bad for local business, observed Mr. Zissels.  No one knows what will happen, he continued, and, therefore, no banks are extending credit and no one is investing.  The uncertainty and lack of forward motion create a moral crisis; people believe that they should take some action, but are too fearful of unknown consequences to do anything.  It's likely that Jews, he continued, are in a somewhat better position than the average Ukrainian because, in general, Jews have more money, but the situation is unpleasant for everyone.  This sense of indecision and doubt makes fundraising very difficult.


No particular problems regarding antisemitism are visible, said Mr. Zissels in response to a question.  He is unaware of any antisemitic attacks on people.  In common with other observers, he believes the well-publicized beating of a yeshiva student in Kyiv during the Pesach holidays was not antisemitic in intent.  The murder of Hennady Akselrod and two bombings in Dnipropetrovsk almost certainly were business-related, and not incidents of antisemitism, he said.



57.  Vyechesalav Likachev is a recognized specialist on antisemitism, working for the Vaad and other organizations.  The main trend in 2011 throughout Ukraine, said Mr. Likachev, was less antisemitic violence against people.  Some Jews were victims of physical attacks, he continued, but it was difficult to verify antisemitic intent. 


The only exception, Mr. Likachev stated, is Uman, which is in a category of its own as a place of pilgrimage for thousands of foreign hasidic Jews at Rosh Hashanah.  The pilgrims appear to locals as "strange people with strange behavior" who are tolerated only because of the money that they bring into the local economy.  Unofficial and unlicensed restaurants, hostels, and other businesses spring up solely to exploit the pilgrims - and corruption erupts as merchants and schemers battle for advantage among the thousands of visitors.  The local political opposition seizes upon the unseemly chaos, using strong antisemitic rhetoric.  Ukrainian right-wingers often join the turmoil, using such slogans as, "Ukraine without hasids!".  Physical clashes also occur, Mr. Likachev said; usually, local people initiate violence, but some hasidim, perhaps fueled by alcohol, also start brawls.  Rarely is there any official response to the disorder.[98]


So far in 2012, said Mr. Likachev, the 2011 pattern continues.  The well-known attack on yeshiva student Aaron (Aleksandr) Goncharov during Pesach in Kyiv probably was not antisemitic in intent.  The hospital that treated him stated that he had alcohol in his system; he may have fallen or perhaps he was the victim of a robbery.


Jews are not the primary target of ethnic violence, Mr. Likachev stated.  Young toughs and/or right-wingers are more likely to attack foreign students or refugees, especially if they are Asians or Africans.  Individuals of different racial backgrounds are very visible and, if their residency status is uncertain, they are afraid to report such incidents to the police. 


Antisemitic vandalism continues, said Mr. Likachev.  The most common targets are Jewish cemeteries, synagogues, and Holocaust memorials.  Seventeen or 18 cases were reported to authorities in 2011, perhaps 50 percent of the total.  The perpetrators rarely are found, Mr. Likachev stated, unless some incriminating evidence is uncovered when they are under investigation for another offense.  Some Jewish cemeteries are in remote locations, observed Mr. Likachev, and some Jews in small cities and towns are too frightened to inform incidences of antisemitic violence to local police.


Hate speech, including antisemitic hate speech, is difficult to prosecute because the relevant Ukrainian law was badly written.  Police simply do not want to deal with it and will try to pass off antisemitic or other hate speech as "hooliganism", Mr. Likachev stated.

Mr. Likachev finds the current political situation troubling and believes that it may generate more antisemitism in the coming months, particularly as the country moves toward Rada (Parliament) elections in October.  The radical rightwing Freedom party (Всеукрайнский союз свободы) has "re-branded" itself, said Mr. Likachev, abandoning its swastika-like symbol.  However, its policy and rhetoric remain right-wing and antisemitic.  It is viewed as an authentic alternative to President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions by some individuals, particularly in more nationalistic western Ukraine, and may attract enough votes to earn seats in the Rada.  President Yanukovych himself is a problem in that he routinely uses "violent" language, such as vowing to "exterminate" the opposition.  Such language seeps into general society, Mr. Likachev observed, and contaminates ordinary dialogue.  Behavior also may be affected.


A large amount of antisemitic content can be found on the Internet, Mr. Likachev stated.  Sixty to 70 percent of this anti-Jewish and generally xenophobic material originates in Russia and some of it is translated into Ukrainian for maximum exposure.  German- or English-language Internet antisemitism has little impact because few Ukrainians speak German or English, commented Mr. Likachev.



Vyecheslav Likachev is a specialist on Ukrainian xenophobia and antisemitism.  He has conducted many surveys monitoring such phenomena in Ukraine.


Photo: the writer.



Anti-Zionist related antisemitism, similar to that prevalent in western Europe, is anachronistic in Ukraine, Mr. Likachev averred.  After seven decades of Communist rule, few Ukrainians are responsive to Marxist-Leninist views.  Left-wing thinking is too reminiscent of the Soviet years.  However, he continued, some anti-Zionism can be found in publications of the Ukrainian Orthodox church.


Similarly, antisemitism generated by Moslems is uncommon in Ukraine simply because the Moslem population in the country is very small.  Foreign Moslems paid for the many bigoted publications of MAUP ( Міжрегіональна Академія управління персоналом or Interregional Academy of Personnel Management) between 2002 and 2007,[99]  but the MAUP leadership who received these funds was forced out of office in 2007 and the antisemitic books and articles stopped.  The number of Arab students at Ukrainian universities is small, and police monitor their activity closely.


[97] See the writer's Observations on Jewish Community Life in Ukraine March 21-April 8, 2011, pages 114-115, for a description of the Ukrainian Vaad.

[98]  See page 88 for additional information about the Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to Uman.

[99]  It was widely reported that MAUP received funding from several Middle Eastern governments during this period.

Prev | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | Next

Click here to view/download a PDF version of this report.
To view/print the above file you must have the free Adobe Acrobat reader. Click here to download the reader.
  Copyright 2007 Baecore Group