Betsy Gidwitx Reports

In addition to residential service, the Home provides a site for a day center serving 80 Jewish elderly. Rabbi Bleich has received funding from an international foundation to cover most expenses, stated Mr. Popovich, but JDC also provides a subsidy for meals. All participants in the day center are hesed clients, Mr. Popovich noted.


Discussions have been held with JDC about the Home providing and delivering hot meals to homebound elderly and ill Jews in Kyiv, said Mr. Popovich, but he is unaware of any decisions on this matter. Technically, the Home kitchen is capable of producing additional kosher meals, he said. However, rather than expand services, Mr. Popovich stated, he thinks that Rabbi Bleich should address two outstanding budget issues: critical repairs to the roof, and significant increases in heating expenses (due to higher cost of fuel).


Floors four through six in the building now are leased to commercial concerns, Mr. Popovich stated. A separate entrance was installed in the building and a freight elevator was reconfigured for passenger use so that commercial tenants are separated from residents.






Ukrainian Jewish Organizations



93. 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.[149] 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.



The major portion of the writer's interview was a lengthy, sometimes angry and rambling statement by Mr. Zissels against the response to a "confidential letter" that he had sent on February 18, 2013, to 250 people in opposition to a plan by the Jewish Agency for Israel to hold its June 2013 Board of Governors meetings in Kyiv. JAFI meetings in the capital city of Ukraine, Mr. Zissels contended, would inadvertantly validate current Ukraine government policies that obstruct "democracy, human rights, and civil liberties."[150]


He believed that the scheduled JAFI meetings should be cancelled and expressed anger that JAFI officials had not attached greater weight to his objections. He didn't know, he said, if he would attend the meetings if they were actually held in Kyiv.[151]

(The writer spoke with about 20 individuals in Ukraine, including rabbis and indigenous activist Jews, about the decision of the Jewish Agency to hold its June Board of Governors meetings in Kyiv. Without exception, they favored the JAFI action, stating that a large gathering of Jews from many different countries in the Ukrainian capital reinforced the legitimacy of Jewish communal life in Ukraine and would deter any potential hostile action against Jewish organizations. Equally, none found Ukrainian govenment policies on "democracy, human rights, and civil liberties" acceptable.)




94. Vyecheslav Likachev is a recognized specialist on antisemitism employed by the Va'ad. Mr. Likachev addressed most of his remarks in his discussion with the writer to the impact of the strong showing by the Ukrainian nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) political party in the 2012 Ukraine parliamentary elections.[152] Svoboda gained 10.44 percent of the popular vote, entiting it to 37 seats in Parliament.


Until the victory of Svoboda in the October 2012 elections, Ukraine had been the only country in Europe without a radical rightwing party in government, Mr. Likachev said. Among the major factors leading to Svoboda's success, he continued, was the "degradation" of the the more conventional opposition that President Yanukhovych achieved by repressing it in various ways, including the jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Nature abhors a vacuum, pushing Svoboda into the forefront, where it was perceived as the only effective opposition force in the country. Mr. Likachev noted that Svoboda employed no antisemitic rhetoric in its campaign; it was, and remains, strongly anti-Russian, a sentiment that has great traction in western Ukraine.



Vyecheslav Likachev, a specialist on Ukrainian xenophobia and antisemitism, has conducted many surveys monitoring these phenomena in Ukraine.



Photo: the writer.



Mr. Likachev stated that the strong showing of Svoboda in the elections has several implications. First, it is testament to the lack of trust among Ukrainians in the government - its economic policies, widespread corruption, and political repression. Second, although rightwing parties play a minor role in many European governments, the significant parliamentary representation earned by Svoboda is unusual; in most countries, rightwing groups are outside the mainstream and isolated. Third, predictably, the international response was severe; Svoboda's success generated much antipathy toward Ukraine. Fourth, Svoboda's success may prompt even greater government supression as it seeks to crack down on Svoboda, both as a competing political force and as a blot on Ukraine's image. Fifth, Mr. Likachev stated, the Svoboda election campaign was highly professional and well-managed, showing that even marginal groups understand the electoral process in the country and have access to skilled management. The lack of antisemitic content in their campaign is evidence that they know that public expression of antisemitism is unacceptable among significant segments of the population.


Notwithstanding the sophisticated management of its parliamentary campaign, Mr. Likachev continued, it is clear that Svoboda considers Jews an alien group among Ukrainians. Further, it believes that Jews were responsible for the Holodmor, the man-made famine in 1932-1933 in Ukraine and several adjacent areas of Russia that is believed to have killed between three and seven million people. Svoboda, said Mr. Likachev, will moderate its rhetoric now that it is in Parliament and is striving for acceptability, but it remains xenophobic and antisemitic. In fact, its new stature as a signficant faction in Parliament even legitimizes antisemitism. Clearly, Svoboda feels empowered now that they are in Parliament. Mr. Likachev stated that the current situation is not dangerous, but Svoboda bears watching. Many people are "uncomfortable" with Svoboda success; it is entirely legitimate to believe that the Svoboda victory may generate increased antisemitism.[153]


President Yanukhovych may be forced to respond to Svoboda and to escalating expression of extreme Ukrainian nationalism, Mr. Likachev said, if only because other problem areas for the government, such as economic performance and corruption, are simply too difficult to address. Mr. Likachev observed that the government itself appears to be provoking antisemitic incidents in an effort to implicate Svoboda and then provide grounds for attacking Svoboda. A violent mob gathered recently in Cherkasy, he noted, wearing tee shirts with the legend Beat the Jews on the front and Svoboda on the back. However, as the mob surged through the streets, passers-by immediately recognized some participants as activists from Mr. Yanukhovych's own Party of Regions and publicly identified them, causing the mob to break up and scatter, humiliated that they had been "outed" as imposters. More such provocations should be expected as future elections approach, Mr. Likachev cautioned. Perhaps Yanukhovych-sponsored Svoboda-pretenders will attack synagogues next, said Mr. Likachev. Obviously, such episodes can escalate with unforeseen consequences.


Addressing the use of the word zhid (жид, commonly translated as kike) by Ukrainian nationalists in recent statements, Mr. Likachev said that zhid is, in fact, sometimes used with no pejorative intent in western Ukraine. In Russia and in central and eastern Ukraine, zhid is always pejorative, but this word has acquired a sort of folk meaning in western Ukraine that is equivalent to evrei or evreika (еврей, еврейка), the standard masculine and feminine words for Jew. However, continued, Mr. Likachev, the context in which zhid was used in these recent statements clearly was antisemitic. The speakers were very deliberately excluding Jews from "normal" Ukrainian society. Obviously, Mr. Likachev concluded, language manipulation has great potential for generating antisemitism and other bigotries.


Although an undercurrent of antisemitism exists in many areas of Ukraine, Mr. Likachev said, his office was able to document only three cases and four victims of antisemitic violence in the entire country in 2012. These totals constitute a slight decrease from 2011.

[149] 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.

[150] The letter was addressed to Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Misha Galperin, President and CEO of Jewish Agency for Israel International Development. The primary signatories were Vadym Shulman and Mr. Zissels, President and Chairman of the General Council respectively of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress; other signatories included 16 Ukrainians, mainly Jews, who are academics, human rights activists, former prisoners of conscience under the Soviet regime, and Jewish leaders. Seven foreigners, five of whom are emigrés from Russian-speaking countries, also signed the letter. Conspicuously absent from the list of signatories were community rabbis in Ukraine and prominent Jewish lay leaders in the country.

[151] The JAFI Board of Governors meetings were held in Kyiv in June as scheduled and were deemed successful by most participants. Mr. Zissels himself was out of town during the event.

[152] The formal name of the party is All-Ukrainian Union "Svoboda" (Всеукраїнське об’єднання «Свобода», Vseukrayinske obyednannia "Svoboda"). The English translation of Svoboda is Freedom.

[153] As noted, Svoboda is strongly anti-Russian. It also has given verbal support to anti-Hungarian violence in the far western city of Mukachevo, formerly known as Munkács, that occurred in an event commemorating the Revolution of 1848.

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