Betsy Gidwitx Reports
Travel To Jewish Population Centers In Ukraine
March, April, 1997


19. On our second day in Kyiv, we met with Monica Eppinger, a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. The meeting had been arranged by the National Conference on Soviet Jewry in Washington, D.C.

The humanitarian and educational aid that we had brought in to Ukraine and was then sequestered at the Shekavitskaya street synagogue became the first topic on our agenda. Ms. Eppinger said that such problems had been common since the Ukrainian government imposed new restrictions on such goods one month previously. Ms. Eppinger helped us reach Molly Mort of the U.S. AID Mission in Kyiv; Ms. Mort had been assigned to assist Americans in resolving such issues. She explained the new policies to us and was helpful subsequently.

On the issue of human rights, Ms. Eppinger said that Ukraine had the best human rights record of any of the post-Soviet successor states. The major problems were sins of omission rather than sins of commission, some of which occurred in the context of severe economic constraints.

Ms. Eppinger said that the judiciary branch of the Ukrainian government lacked full independence. Judges are paid by local mayors, oblast chiefs, and the executive branch of the national government. The executive branch also pays for upkeep of judicial offices and similar matters. Obviously, the judiciary feels beholden to the executive branch, a relationship that is often revealed in court judgments. Additionally, public defenders are inadequately compensated and thus have little incentive to represent their clientele in a thoroughly professional manner.

Ms. Eppinger also said that the government does not provide a safe environment for the press. Reporters who had investigated commercial disputes in Kyiv and in Odesa had died under suspicious circumstances in recent weeks. Government investigation of these incidents has been halfhearted; it is likely that the police have been intimidated by organized crime groups. In general, Ukraine is becoming more chaotic and more lawless.

Regarding government efforts to replace use of the Russian language with Ukrainian, Ms. Eppinger said that all official government documents must be written in Ukrainian. Sometimes they are written in a second language as well. The government policy is a real incentive for young Ukrainians to learn the Ukrainian language; only about 70 percent of Ukrainians speak Ukrainian even moderately well. “Ukrainianization” of Ukraine represents an effort by the government to build a national Ukrainian identity, a goal that the United States government supports. Ms. Eppinger said that Russian-speakers can understand between 75 and 80 percent of written Ukrainian. (Ms. Eppinger is fluent in both Russian and Ukrainian.)

When we told Ms. Eppinger about our visit to the Kiev-Pechersk ORT school earlier that day, she said that she had not seen that school but would like to do so. She said that new private schools are “springing up” in Kyiv, and that 80 to 90 percent of the pupils in the American School in Kyiv are Ukrainians. Notwithstanding the impoverishment of the general Ukrainian population, she observed, it is obvious that numerous families in Kyiv have the financial resources to enroll their children in private schools.


20. Cherkasy oblast lies directly south of Kyiv oblast.23 The oblast center of Cherkasy city has a population of about 312,000. Approximately 3,000 to 4,000 of this number are Jews; another 2,500 Jews are believed to reside in 20 additional population concentrations in this are of Ukraine, 12 with more than 100 Jews and eight with fewer than 100 Jews.24

21. We met with Pyotr Maksovich Trakhtenbroit, the head of the Jewish community in Cherkasy. Mr. Trakhtenbroit said that the total population of the city was about 65,000 before World War II, approximately half of whom were Jews. Almost all Jews were annihilated during the Holocaust. Fifty percent of the current Jewish population is elderly, and that proportion is increasing as younger people emigrate to Israel and some middle-aged Jews go to the United States. In all, 30 to 40 Jews leave the city every month. He believes that the majority of the 40+ children between the ages of six and 12 who are currently enrolled in the local Sunday school will emigrate. Thirty to 35 percent of local Jewish adults are in mixed marriages.

A local Jewish Council includes representatives from the Progressive and Orthodox religious societies, a women’s club, three youth clubs,25 a family club, and Sochnut. The Sunday school and various clubs meet on Sundays. The Jewish community has its own small building, purchased with $50,000 donated by the Jewish Federation of MetroWest (NJ).

Mr. Trakhtenbroit said that the Joint Distribution Committee had provided much needed assistance to the Jewish community in helping the increasing proportion of local Jewish elderly. It had organized a hesed that extended support services to 800 people. A contract with a local restaurant provided hot meals to 75 elderly on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; this service would be expanded to six meals each week for 150 people. Twenty-five individuals receive hot meals at home; this service also should reach more people, but resources would not permit its expansion at this time. Sixty-four individuals are visited regularly in their apartments by the hesed patronage service; another 38 people are on the patronage waiting list. A local Jewish physician works in the hesed on a volunteer basis, and the Jewish Council is able to distribute some medicine without cost. Local hospitals have no medicines and no bandaging materials.

Six Hebrew ulpan classes meet on a regular basis, each enrolling about 20 students. (We visited one such class, meeting in the late afternoon in a public school building.)


22. In Korsun-Shevchenkovsky (Korsun-Shevchenko in Russian), we met with Pyotr Rashkovsky, the president of The Regional Association of Jewish Organizations in Small Ukrainian Towns. Mr. Rashkovsky is a highly-regarded organizer, who is also president of the regional hesed, Hesed Dorot. We met with him in his home, a modest one-storey house that also serves as the office for the association. Profes-sionally, Mr. Rashkovsky is a physical education teacher (who had not received his teaching salary in five months). Also present were Mr. Rashkovsky’s daughter and small granddaughter, who were visiting from Israel, and Nachum Grois-man, a chemistry teacher in the local public schools as well as principal of the Jewish Sunday school.

Nachum Groisman, Sandra Spinner (Cincinnati), Pytor Rashkovsky and the latter’s daughter Marina and grandaughter Shlomit in the Rashkovsky home.

Prior to World War II, the Jewish population of Korsun-Shevchenko was 5,000, approximately 60 percent of the entire municipal population. More than 3,000 Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and about 170 Jews remain in the town today.

23. An oblast (область) is an administrative region in Ukraine (and Russia) with authority between that of a county and a state in the United States. Ukraine contains 26 oblasts, two of which are cities with oblast status; these are the capital city of Kyiv and the military district/seaport of Sevastopol. Kyiv oblast as noted in this report refers to territory around Kyiv, not the city itself. (Crimea has the status of a republic within Ukraine.)
24. Some of these cities and towns are actually in the contiguous southern region of Kyiv oblast. Cherkasy, Vinnitsa, Khmelnitsky, Zhitomir, and Chernigiv oblasts have the largest concentrations of Jews living in small towns in all of the post-Soviet successor states.
25. These are: a university student club with about 25 members, Ezra (religious youth) with about 20 members, and Shakhar (Sochnut) with about 30 members.grad from impoverished Belarus during the heavy industrialization period of the 1930s. They were thus removed from any Jewish life still existing in prewar Belarus and, due to the political conditions of the time, were unable to develop any associations with Jewish life in Leningrad.

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