Archives for : Ukrainian-Jewish relations

Why Jews and Ukrainians Have Become Unlikely Allies

Why Jews and Ukrainians Have Become Unlikely Allies
The history of Jewish-Ukrainian relations hasn’t been a happy one. But these days, the two sides are joining forces against Vladimir Putin.



In the propaganda battle between Russia and Ukraine, Russian president Vladimir Putin has been playing up the nationalist roots of the new government in Kiev, alleging — among other things — that it is composed of “neo-Nazis, Russophobes, and anti-Semites.” Putin’s attacks have stirred up memories of ugly events in Ukrainian history, from the violence directed at Jews during Ukrainian uprisings against Polish rule in the 17th and 18th centuries, to the pogroms of the 1800s and 1900s in cities such as Odessa, Kirovograd, and Kiev. More recently, during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine during World War II, the dreaded Ukrainian Auxiliary Police — trained by the Nazis at the SS camp of Trawniki — played an active role in the extermination of 900,000 Ukrainian Jews.
As if on cue, over the last several months, mysterious attackers have targeted Ukraine’s Jews in physical assaults in Kiev; defaced synagogues in cities such as Zaporizhia and Simferopol; and, most chillingly, distributed anti-Semitic leaflets in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk instructing the community to “register” with local authorities. (Insurgents have denied responsibility for these flyers, and some have even called it a hoax.)
Given these events, it is well worth wondering what the future holds for Jews in post-Maidan Ukraine?
Given these events, it is well worth wondering what the future holds for Jews in post-Maidan Ukraine?
It is indisputably true that the revolution in Ukraine has been partially driven by elements with questionable pasts, primarily by two organizations: the Svoboda political party and the smaller Right Sector movement. Right Sector first emerged at the beginning of the Maidan protests in Kiev as a paramilitary alliance of several far-right Ukrainian nationalist groups who played a key role in the violence between the Maidan protesters and the Yanukovych government. Right Sector’s leader, Dmitry Yarosh, venerates the controversial Stepan Bandera, who fought on the side of the Nazis from 1944 until the end of World War II. According to Yarosh, however, Bandera is a passionate but traditional nationalist, and not an anti-Semite.
The greater concern for Ukraine’s Jews is Svoboda. The leader of Svoboda, Oleh Tyahnybok, certainly has a history of making inflammatory, anti-Semitic statements. During a 2004 speech before Ukraine’s parliament, Tyahnybok stated that Ukraine is controlled by a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia,” and in 2005, Tyahnybok signed an open letter to then-President Viktor Yushchenko, calling for the government to halt the “criminal activities” of “organized Jewry.” Svoboda shocked observers by winning 10 percent of the vote in the 2012 parliamentary elections in Ukraine, becoming the fourth biggest party in parliament. Svoboda party members now lead a number of ministries in the interim government of Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenuk, including the Ministry of Defense led by Ihor Tenyukh. While Svoboda has strongly denied that it is anti-Semitic, concern about the party’s ideology remains strong amongst Ukraine’s Jews.
So is the Maidan movement “more a pogrom than a revolution” as Putin has described it, and what — or whom — should Ukraine’s Jewish community fear most? Despite the substantial presence of right wing nationalists on the Maidan during the revolution, many in Ukraine’s Jewish community resent being used by Putin in his propaganda war. (In the photo above, a poster in Sevastopol portrays Crimea’s vote to secede as a choice between Russian citizenship and living in a Nazi state.) On March 5, 21 leaders of Ukraine’s Jewish community signed an open letter to Putin excoriating the Russian president for using Ukraine’s Jewish community to bash the interim government — and insisting that the real threat to Ukraine’s Jews emanated from Russia: “We know that the political opposition consists of various groups, including some that are nationalistic. But even the most marginal of them do not demonstrate anti-Semitism or other forms of xenophobia. And we certainly know that our very few nationalists are well-controlled by civil society and the new Ukrainian government — which is more than can be said for the Russian neo-Nazis, who are encouraged by your security services.”
This letter to Putin brought forth an important point: namely, that much of the real anti-Semitism directed at Ukrainian Jews is actually coming from Russia.
This letter to Putin brought forth an important point: namely, that much of the real anti-Semitism directed at Ukrainian Jews is actually coming from Russia. As David Fishman, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary and director of Project Judaica (JTS’s program in the former Soviet Union), explained: “When we look at what is going on the ground in Eastern Ukraine, we are seeing the revival of language of Russian imperial ideology from 100 years ago, which is both very nationalistic and very anti-Semitic, as well as anti-Ukrainian.” Echoing what he wrote in an earlier article, Fishman noted that there has been a shift in how the Kremlin is using Jews in Ukraine. “Having failed to convince world public opinion that the new Ukrainian regime is anti-Semitic, we have recently had news programs on Russian state television asserting that leading Ukrainian political figures such as Tymoshenko and Yatseniuk are actually Jews,” he continued. “Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and the Russian far-right inside Russia proper say that frequently, but it is the Russian government that sent such anti-Semitic extremists into Ukraine.”
In fact, Yaakov Dov Bleich, an American-born rabbi recognized as Chief Rabbi of Ukraine since 1990, says that the recent attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions have largely been staged Russian provocations designed to discredit pro-Ukrainian activists and Kiev’s interim government. Bleich is not a Pollyanna about the existence of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, and remains deeply concerned about Svoboda and Tyahnybok’s unapologetic use of anti-Semitic language — but he is much more concerned about Russia: “All of the recent attacks on synagogues and Jews have taken place in the east where the Russian extremists are operating. Meanwhile, in the West, where there are supposedly ultra-nationalist extremists, all has been quiet. The Ukrainian Jewish Community is definitely more afraid of Putin and these pro-Russian hooligans than of Ukrainian anti-Semitism.”
Bleich also noted that the threat from Russia has actually brought Jews and Ukrainians closer together, a process driven by the tribulations of the Maidan where, as Bleich pointed out, Jews stood side by side with Ukrainians. Three of the 82 protesters killed by Yanukovych’s police were Jewish, and Right Sector activists took a lead role in honoring one Jewish protester who was killed by a Berkut sniper. In what sounds almost like a made-for-TV movie, five Ukrainian Jews who had immigrated to Israel and served in the Israeli Defense Forces actually returned to Ukraine to lead a group of 40 Ukrainian fighters defending the Maidan. Jews also occupy a number of positions in the transitional Ukrainian government. Volodymyr Groysman is a deputy prime minister, while another Jewish-Ukrainian, Ihor Kolomoisky, was named governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region.
Right Sector leadership has also publicly gone out of its way to reassure Ukrainian Jews that the Jewish community has a safe and secure future in post-Maidan Ukraine.
Right Sector leadership has also publicly gone out of its way to reassure Ukrainian Jews that the Jewish community has a safe and secure future in post-Maidan Ukraine. In February, Yarosh met with Israel’s Ambassador to Ukraine Reuven Din El to and told him that the Right Sector rejects anti-Semitism and xenophobia and would not tolerate it. Subsequent to the meeting, the Israeli embassy posted a statement on its website noting that Yarosh “stressed that Right Sector will oppose all [racist] phenomena, especially anti-Semitism, with all legitimate means.” Then, on April 8, after unknown actors defaced a monument to the victims of the Holocaust in Odessa with neo-Nazi graffiti, Right Sector leaders condemned the vandalism and said that it was now a matter of honor for Right Sector to find and punish those who defaced the Jewish cemetery. Right Sector official Valery Zavgorodny also offered Odessa rabbi Avraham Wolff assistance in protecting Jewish property in the city, and the next day — in a moment that surely must have given Putin a bad bout of heartburn — the world saw photos of Wolff and Zavgorodny jointly painting over the graffiti and shaking hands at a press conference.
Putin, it now appears, has achieved the opposite of his original goal. Rather than splitting Ukraine’s Jews from their fellow citizens, Putin’s behavior has encouraged the Jewish community to condemn Russia’s cynical use of anti-Semitism as a political tool. And in the process, as Timothy Snyder wrote recently, the Jews in Ukraine have become Ukrainian Jews.

Read More:
The beginning of Jewish-Ukrainian reconciliation:
Russia’s propaganda war is a danger for Ukraine’s Jews
Despite what Putin says about antisemitism in the new Kiev government, Ukraine’s Jews are committed to independence….

Ukrainian Jewish leader says Russia is the threat

Ukraine conflict hits home among Russian-speaking Israelis

Young girl from Odesa: We are all Judeo-Bandero-shahids!

Young girl from Odesa: We are all Judeo-Bandero-shahids!

We must share this post by a young girl from Odesa:

March 2, 2014 Facebook
Translated by Voices of Maidan
Image source:

“If we survive, live through [these events] and stabilize, then I would suggest to build a monument to Vladimir Putin – for the revival of the Ukrainian nation. We thought Yanukovych had united us. No, it was still not the unity we could have had. Yesterday, Odesa held an “Odesa is Ukraine” rally, which proved to be the most numerous rally in the history of Ukraine’s independence (you must understand, it’s Odesa after all). We finally lifted our butts off the sofa and went. Apparently, there are still some Jews left in Odessa. A couple of thousand for sure. And, you will not belive it, they are all Banderites! Yes! The real Banderites. We have a preponderance of Banderites here [in Odesa]: Jewish Banderites, Russian Banderites, Ukrainian Banderites, as well Armenian Banderites, Bulgarian, Greek and many others. Muslim Banderites uh … I do not remember how they call it …. said that three million Muslims will defend their homeland – Ukraine, and a column of Jewish Banderites passing by a mosque (disguised as Arab cultural center) shouted “Allah Akbar!” One man said, “Now I’ve seen everything in life!”

Thank you, Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin], you have made the impossible possible! We thought we were Russians, Ukrainians, Jews, Tatars, Orthodox, Jewry, Muslims … and it turned out that we are all Ukrainians. Banderites. They say that Kiselev will have a glitch, but I believe in him! Expect a new term: “State Department agents, Judeo-Bandero-shahids!” God save Ukraine! Glory to its Heroes!”

‪#‎ЄвромайданSOS ‪#‎Евромайдан ‪#‎EuromaidanSOS ‪#‎Euromaidan ‪#‎saveUkraine ‪#‎Одеса
People attend an anti-war rally in the Ukrainian Black Sea city of Odessa on March 2, 2014. Ukraine has placed its army on full combat alert, but with ageing equipment and limited personnel. AFP PHOTO/ ALEXEY KRAVTSOV/AFP/Getty Images
People attend an anti-war rally in the Ukrainian Black Sea city of Odesa on March 2, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ ALEXEY KRAVTSOV/AFP/Getty Images

Ukraine Chief Rabbi Accuses Russia of Anti-Semitic ‘Provocations’ in Crimea. Yaakov Dov Bleich Compares Behavior to Nazi Anschluss

Read more:

Read more:

jew syn

Open letter of Ukrainian Jews to Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin.

Fact-Checking The Ukrainian Revolution

Fact-Checking The Ukrainian Revolution
Feb. 27, 2014 By Andrea Chalupa

Amy Goodman via YouTube

In 2008, while covering the Republican Convention, I bumped into Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow!, and I was star struck. When Russia Today announced that Julian Assange would get his own show, I thought that was brilliant and couldn’t wait to watch it. One of my more interesting email newsletter subscriptions comes from CounterPunch, a political website in Portland, Oregon—that lovable hipster Narnia. But now that my mainstays in alternative media are covering the revolution in Ukraine—a part of the world I have lived in and researched extensively for years—it’s left me heartbroken, and wondering: If Russia Today, DemocracyNow!, and Counter Punch are spreading misinformation about Ukraine, what else have they been wrong about? By sharing their articles in the past, have I helped them blur the truth?

Ukraine has a history of being the victim of media conspiracy. In 1933, the Western mainstream media deliberately covered-up Stalin’s genocide famine in Ukraine that starved to death many millions. Stalin, a great statistician himself, cited 10 million dead. Eugene Lyons, a reporter for UPI in Moscow, confessed to the cover-up in his tell-all memoir Assignment in Utopia. It was reviewed by Orwell and helped inspire ideas for 1984, namely the slogan: 2+2=5.

Before reading this article, had you heard of the famine? There’s a reason why most people still don’t know that many millions of Ukrainians were starved to death by their government in a single year; the Western media, confined to Moscow, was successful in ignoring “the rumors.” In one notorious instance some of the world’s most influential foreign reporters ganged up on a brave, young, independent journalist named Gareth Jones, by publishing articles full of lies that contradicted Jones’ fearless eye-witness reporting. The media’s silence or flat-out denials helped the Kremlin keep the truth of the famine locked behind the Iron Curtain. It eventually became reserved to the world of academia, where it was debated for generations.

Today the alternative media is the Kremlin’s little helper. Many Americans are infuriated with our government’s NSA spying and wars-for-profit, and obviously rightfully so. But their anger toward American neocons seems projected onto a revolution that would inspire free thinkers and freedom fighters. If only they could forgive The New York Times for Judith Miller, they would trust the incredible reporting the paper is doing on the ground in Ukraine. Yes, corporate media is fiercely generic and prefers covering shiny celebrity objects; but its ability to afford fact-checkers and travel budgets can lead to some damn good reporting.

Here’s what you need to be aware of as the situation in Ukraine develops:

Any article that links to Russia Today (RT) to cite a “fact” was written by a lazy journalist. It’s well-known that Russia Today was started by the Russian government, which has a history of imprisoning and killing investigative journalists

Russia Today has led the charge that Ukraine’s protest movement was a fascist, neo-Nazi take-over of the country. Luckily, the jaw-dropping photos of President Yanukovych’s Versailles McMansion, built with stolen tax-payer money on privatized national park land, clearly communicated to the world why Ukrainians were fighting. They had enough of their government’s sociopathic corruption: an estimated $70 billion was stolen from the budget since Yanukovych became president in 2010. Yes, he was democratically elected (and he lied to get elected), but he delegitimized his power when he violated the Ukrainian constitution by mass-murdering his own people.

In fact, many Jewish intellectuals across Ukraine were protest organizers, according to Tablet Magazine. A former Israeli soldier taught self-defense on Maidan—Kyiv’s Independence Square. Unfortunately, Haaretz and David Firestone, a columnist for The New York Times, were duped by an erroneous story that quoted a Kremlin ally who urgently called for Jews to leave Ukraine for their own safety. (Ukraine has one of the largest Jewish communities in the world, according to Haaretz.) Haaretz has since issued a correction; Firestone has not and seemed to attribute a recent attack on two Jews to the protesters. Jewish-Ukrainian historian Vitaliy Nakhmanovich released a statement that those attacks were a provocation by government forces—a statement I tweeted to Firestone just after he re-tweeted something else I posted, but I have not received a response.

It’s safer to be Jewish in Ukraine than black in Florida. Anti-Semitism is not on the rise in Ukraine. Vadim Rabinovich, president of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress (VEK), co-founder of the European Jewish Parliament (EJP), issued this statement:

“Thus, I categorically refute the statements appearing in a number of foreign media outlets of facts of massive anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Ukraine that do not correspond to reality! The whipping up of the situation around this issue is of a provocative nature and does not contribute to a calm life for the Jewish community of Ukraine. Together with the entire people of Ukraine, the Jewish community will actively participate in the building of a democratic state and promote the renewal and prosperity of the country.

Another common fallacy is that the “Russian half” of Ukraine supports and wants to be aligned with Russia. First of all, how do you think half of Ukraine became Russian in the first place? After Stalin wiped out millions of Ukrainians in the genocide-famine, he replaced them with Russians; the borders of Ukraine then only extended around what is now eastern Ukraine; that is why western Ukraine, then under Poland, is still so very Ukrainian—they did not experience the famine. Mind blowing, eh?

Ukrainian protesters are not fascists: the movement was started by a dark-skinned Afghani-Ukrainian, the first victims were Armenian and Belarusian, and many of the killed protesters were native Russian speakers. Even some Russians are inspired by what Ukraine has done; this incredible footage from a hockey game in Russia shows young Russians chanting: “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!” Yes, there are far-right elements–there’s a shadow side to every movement and human-being; Jewish-French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy breaks down that issue wonderfully here.

The anti-corruption movement is diverse. Leaders and victims came from all over the country. Ukraine does not want to be partitioned, and symbolically expressed its unity on Wednesday when Lviv agreed to speak Russian, and Donetsk agreed to speak Ukrainian for a day. My father is from Lviv, and my mother is from Donetsk; if they can stay married for 45+ years, Ukraine can stay united. The only threat is Russian meddling which will either take the form of its usual Soviet-style subterfuge or a Russian military invasion of Crimea. During this critical time, Western leaders and especially media must stay vigilant and not serve the Kremlin by spreading its propaganda.

Know that Ketchum PR represents Russia, and has placed Russian-friendly content in The Huffington Post. Conservative bloggers have been paid to write pro-Kremlin pieces, as this bombshell investigation explains. You will continue to see a retired university professor named Stephen F. Cohen defend Russia and demonize the Ukrainian anti-corruption movement onThe Nation. This is because Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor and part owner of The Nation, is his wife. So his perverse defense of Vladimir Putin will likely always have a home there. It is strange how Cohen can overlook Putin’s human rights record. Historically, communists and other liberals have associated the Soviet Union with the socialist struggle. The Soviet Union never achieved the dream of socialism that Denmark, for instance, has. It was a terror regime that seduced liberal movements and leading intellectuals in the West. When he was a newly arrived immigrant in the Lower East Side, my uncle saw his American high school teacher crying on the day “Uncle Joe” Stalin died. For him, it’s a memory as strong as witnessing the fiery clashes of Hitler and Stalin’s armies in east Ukraine’s Donbas region.

The West did not orchestrate the Ukrainian protests—they started from a Facebook post by Afghani-Ukrainian journalist Mustafa Nayem. When the State Department’s Victoria Nuland was caught in the leaked phone call saying “fuck the EU,” it was obvious that this would color the movement as a “Western conspiracy.” But many Ukrainians also had to agree with her: the EU seemed to do nothing but issue statements of moral support. I feared it would soon run out of combination of words that all said the same thing. Their tone-deaf moral support is perfectly called-out in this video from protesters. In the end,Ukrainians rejected a Western-brokered “peace deal” and threatened to storm the president if he didn’t leave town the next day; he fled. Ukrainians won their freedom despite the West, not because of it.

Another fun-fake-fact is that the protesters were paid. Such a cliché deserves a cliché: that’s like saying Santa Clause is real. People gave their lives fighting for their freedom—a sentiment honored in the Ukrainian national anthem.

If you think that’s romanticism, then maybe we in the West need to get romantic, and fast. We, the American people, on the left and the right, have a common enemy in corporate-bought politicians. If anything should unite our country and draw us out into the streets it’s America’s desperate need for campaign finance reform. But who among us would be willing to take a sniper bullet for that? TC mark
image – Russia Today – YouTube

Andrea Chalupa
Andrea is a Brooklyn, New York–based journalist and author of Orwell and The Refugees: The Untold Story of Animal Farm. She studied at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. In January, she and thousands of others around the world launched DigitalMaidan.

When will Russia’s/Kremlin/Putin distortions of Ukraine STOP.
“What ethnic Russian, Russian citizen, or Russian speaker in ANY part of Ukraine, specifically Crimea, has had ANY of his or her rights abridged by the central government in Kyiv? And in what manner? Evidence, please!

What evils is Putin’s occupation preventing from occurring? Show a SINGLE instance of such a xenophobic act AGAINST a Russian.
I’ve seen plenty perpetrated BY Russians!”


Michael Gold (exclusively for “Hadashot”)
February, 2014
Translated by Olia Knight
Edited by Isis Wisdom

JEWISH MAIDAN SELF-DEFENSE LEADER: At the end of the day, living in this country has been worth it – because we’ve lived to see the Maidan.

Maidan Self-Defense

Maidan Self-Defense

A cap instead of the kippah covering his head, a typical Jewish appearance – this young man could pass for a Yeshiva professor. However, he is one of the leading people in the complicated system of Maidan self-defense units and barricades on Hrushevsky Street [Hrushevskoho].

He requested to keep his name private, for obvious reasons, but proved to be pretty frank for the rest of our conversation.

– How did you end up THERE? What did Maidan mean to you, and to you as a Jew?

– Like the majority of people, I came to Maidan not “for” something, but “against” something – in general, the society is easier consolidated around protesting slogans. I never supported Ukrainian public authority, but the people’s deaths became a rubicon [point of no return]. That was the moment I realized that … I had to join people on Hrushevskoho. What I saw underwhelmed me at first – everything was so disorganized – lack of leaders, a definitive strategy, etc. Then, suddenly for myself, I started to lead the activities of the standoff, even though I did not consider it “my war” from the beginning. I organized the self-defense, the building of barricades, and later became a leader of a self-defeunit.nse

– So, you came to Hrushevskoho without going to Maidan?

– I visited Maidan a couple of times, I listened to the incoherent speeches of politicians, irresponsible announcements from opposition leaders, and knew full well that people could do more harm than good under such circumstances. And this is what happened when three opposition leaders came up to the stage after 7-hour negotiations with our president, and started sounding out the possibilities for a compromise. People sent them packing and started moving towards Hrushevskoho, ready for assault, without any military knowledge. I served in the Israeli army, and have a clear understanding of counterterrorist operations, I took part in some of them, and I realized that a lot of blood would be shed then. I counted the people on the barricades and made sure that the balance of forces was absolutely unacceptable for offensive action, and instead I offered to take a defensive position and reinforce the redoubt. Today, these barricades look like they should look.

I was completely convinced that I was where I was supposed to be after the attack on Ukrainian House [the international exhibition and convention center on Maidan], where I, in the words of “Pirkei Avot” tried to be a man in a place where there are no people. 1,500 people tried to take seize the building with 200 interior forces soldiers inside, predominantly cadets, and if protesters attacked these young men – the blood would be shed on the other side. We started negotiations that resulted in the release of Ukrainian House without a single shot and without wounded.

– Besides you, are there other Jews in Maidan Self-Defense?

There are four Israelis with combat experience just in my subdivision. Like me, they came to Maidan to help prevent any unneeded casualties. I would call our group “blue helmets” as an analogy to UN peacekeepers. The situation on Maidan is rather nerve-racking, many people want to revenge the victims, and even more people are tired of opposition inaction – all these hotheads full of illusions of real fights and therefore unable to imagine possible consequences. They also do not stop to think that there are people on the other side of the barricades, and that our actions should not defame Maidan’s “human face.”

– Have you every encountered any, not even anti-Semitism, but a condescending attitude that “he’s a Jew and he is still here with us”? I’m talking about a certain dichotomy – there is a “we” – the Ukrainians, and “they” – the Jews, some of whom are our companions and even friends. Because our Ukrainian neighbors keep asking the “Is it any of the Jews’ business?” question.

– There was not even a hint of such attitudes. I have been in contact with activists from “Pravy Sector” [Right Sector, a far-right militant group], UNA-UNSO [Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian People’s Self-Defense, a far-right political organization] – with all the people I would probably not see eye-to-eye with during peaceful times. However, I present myself solely as a Jew, and a religious one at that. I have tens of resistance guards – Georgians, Azerbaijani, Armenians, and Russians who do not even attempt to speak Ukrainian – we have never been intolerant to each other. They all are quite respectful to my faith – they already know what I can and cannot eat, etc. and this does not cause any hostility.

– How do you and your Jewish friends view Maidan, as the cultural revolution of Ukraine? There are no doubts about the fact that it is a national revolution – “Glory to Ukraine – Glory to its Heroes!” is constantly chanted, protesters sing the national anthem every thirty minutes…

Both flag and anthem are national, not party symbols – and reverence for them is absolutely necessary. People in the United States stand at the sound of their anthem, and no one would treat its words as a nationalist appeal.

I do no idealize the protest movement, nor do I know if a new civil nation is currently being born on Maidan, but I am very impressed with a number of processes. For over 20 years, Ukraine was viewed as a relatively artificial formation with all superficial attributes of statehood – people did not feel proud for their country. The old stereotype “it is none of my business” has been cultivated, Ukrainians were viewed as people who lived without a care in the world. Nobody expected that after nine years since the Orange Revolution, after a full disappointment, people would find the strength to rise again. During the march of millions, where I participated – tens of Jews walked alongside Svboda supporters who shouted slogans I found little pleasure in… There is little doubt that the spirit of freedom and unity is concentrated on Maidan in abundance. Just go around the barricades – it has been a long time since we saw such responsibility; I remember how people would walk by a person that fell on the street in the past. And suddenly, a civil self-conscience appeared – people who work all day stay on Maidan all night, carving out a couple of hours for sleep.

– How diverse is Maidan? How do “Pravy Sector” and liberals, “Spilna Sprava” and “Svoboda”, and others coexist? Have they lost their control levers? Or is it a self-developing organism over which both the government and opposition have almost no influence?

– All these factions are not dominant, they represent about 40 per cent of all protesters, they are in the minority. And the trend toward non-factionalism keeps growing since people keep coming because they feel a duty to protest. In this, Maidan is quite a manageable body; there is a Headquarters of [National] Resistance whose decisions are carried out by all factions. Other than an incident between “Svodoba” and “Spilna Sprava” (we call them “SS”), a status quo is maintained.

– SS? It’s just an acronym, nothing else?

– Nothing else. Neither of Maidan’s factions uses Nazi symbols.

– Many of my Jewish acquaintances argue to “let the revolution win”, and that thereafter everything will normalize – democrats will push extremists to the peripheries of the political process. Don’t you think it is a simplified approach? Usually, the opposite is true – a radical, well-organized and disciplined minority dictates rules of the game to “soft liberals”.

Well-organized extremists are a myth. People under my command are organized much better than radicals. We react much faster and more effectively. I am directly in charge of 30 people, but I can mobilize up to 300. Neither OUN [Organization of Ukrainian nationalists], nor “Pravy Sector” can afford such luxuries.

– Can you sketch in broad strokes a social portrait of an average Maidan “self-defense” guard?

– This is a motley crowd – from Azerbaijani salespeople out of Privoz [a large marketplace in Odessa, a city in southern Ukraine] – to residents of Kyiv – middle managers. Average age – men between 27 and 30 years of age. People from Western Ukraine, Central and Eastern regions are divided roughly equally. Most are without express political sympathies. The inhabitants from western regions have greater reverence for the Ukrainian national liberation movement – it’s a family tradition. However, none of the radicals are associated with these people with model behavior. Tyagnybok and “Svoboda”, for example, are not very popular in their base region.

One way or another, I don’t see them [protesters] leaning right. Right-wing populist slogans have become completely replaced by moderate calls for consolidation and taking responsibility for what happens. To prevent atrocities, establish self-government, and not to give reason to be called vandals.

– This is all very commendable, but who threw Molotov cocktails then?

– Practically everyone did – people could not react to bullets and flash grenades in any other way. I am more than confident that any forceful acts by the government would not have caused such reaction had they not resulted in a loss of human life. Molotov cocktails, this is the easiest thing that could happen there.

– Do Maidan protesters realize that without support from the southeast of Ukraine, real victory is impossible? Or who is not with us, is against us?

Despite the complexity of the situation, people do not want the division of Ukraine. Peaceful independence for two months, did not lead to real change, and only the events on Hrushevskoho with throwing Molotov cocktails and burning tires caused the government to react. Therefore, we continue our resistance, to force the president to make concessions. In other words, we are holding the government by its throat with an understanding that negotiations are necessary.

– I’m talking not about the government toward whom few people today feel sympathy, but about people. Ordinary people on the other side of the barricades.

The government launched the mechanism of intimidation, fear, in the east of Ukraine, and exploited people’s fear of “Banderivshchyna” [followers of a Ukrainian revolutionary and a leader of Ukrainian national movement Stepan Bandera], they played the nationalist, including Jewish, card. Everybody probably forgot about the anti-Semitism of Berkut police force’s website, but the government continues to create a negative image of Maidan, accusing it of fascism and other sins.

(The conversation is interrupted by a phone call from an owner of a fashionable boutique in downtown Kyiv thanking my interviewee for dismantling the barricades in front of the store – otherwise, the business would come to a complete halt).

I want to see Maidan “with a human face” that is acceptable to its opponents and I do not intend to burn any bridges. We’re definitely in need of consolidation and understanding that things are not for political games, but for a more successful future for Ukraine as a whole.

– Are you offended that the majority of the Jewish community treats Maidan if not with hostility, then with skepticism? Ukrainophobia has nothing to do with such an attitude – 80 per cent of Jewish population lives in regions where Maidan is, to put it mildly, unpopular. Don’t you want to bring differing points of view together, start a dialogue – not with the government or the majority of the population – but within your community?

– It’s a shame, unbearable. They’ve already urge me on to say a “Heil!” salute. This is a complete misunderstanding of a civil position. I consider the presence of Jews on Maidan not just the sanctification of the name of our Creator – it is the dialogue of Jewish people with the future government. This is what would help Jews live and work in this country. And it is a significant counterweight to those who shout about it being “a non-Jewish cause”. With God’s help, when I can show my face then nobody will say that the Jews holed up.

I see miracles from the Almighty every day on Maidan. One night, we detained a muscular man saying he was searching for a pharmacy. We thought he was a titushka, a provocateur. I came over to him and asked what was the matter. He complained of severe cramps (kidney stones), and that he needed an injection right away. I accompanied him personally to a makeshift hospital at Ukrainian House where they gave him a shot and the man started feeling better.

But there are real provocations – like in the case of the “Dnipro” hotel arson. I was lucky to stop the fire fast with snow bags – the Ministry of Emergencies of Ukraine emergency workers arrived 50 minutes later, when the fire was already put down.

– Have you discovered anything new about yourself, other people, and your country after two months of Maidan?

– I was a bit scared in my ability in emergency situations to guide hundreds of people; in civilian life I have never had such an experience.

As for the atmosphere – I remember how on my first day on Hrushevskoho I approached a barricade and a complete stranger suddenly gives me something saying: “It’s for your throat.” I look at it – it is a cough drop.

Another time, I was standing by Ukrainian House when I saw a strange group of people – I approached them and asked where they were from. One of them says, forgive us, we are praying here – for the people, for peace…

It is wonderful. At the end of the day, living in this country has been worth it – because we’ve lived to see the Maidan. It amazes me, the absence of barbaric behavior, since 12,000 interior troops that stand guard on Maidan and Hrushevskoho could turn everything within a 10 km radius [6 miles] to dust. A lost soccer match brings a lot of damage to a European city. There are no aspirations toward the vandalism and destruction of shops, it is a sign of a healthy nation, that it is not so hopeless as it looked six months ago. This responsibility is very well worth it, at any point on the globe such events would cause tragic consequences – look at Bosnia. And if after all these events people have not lose their human face, then we have matured and we have a future.

The Maidan in the heart of the Ukrainian capitol of Kiev/Kyiv is like a little country within a turbulent Ukraine with people living in tolerance and respect for each other with the common cause of standing up against corruption, greed and discrimination. With the help of the Maidan’s Self-Defence team the future of Ukraine is bright – a beacon of hope for all of humanity especially for the many blinded by dirty and blood money. This is a fight for Human values and Ukrainians of all backgrounds shall overcome!

Euro – Asian Jewish Congress | Open Address to Jews of the World

Open Address to the Jews of the World

03.02.2014, Xenophobia and anti-Semitism

Vitaliy Nakhmanovich (photo by

Vitaliy Nakhmanovich (photo by

Over the last month there had been a total of three attacks on worshippers attending a Podil synagogue in Kyiv. Two were unsuccessful, one left its victim, a yeshiva student, wounded. The modus operandi and the circumstances leave us no doubt as to who is the culprit. It is certainly not a spontaneous upsurge of aggression from “Maidan’s anti-Semites,” as there is a far closer synagogue in the very center of Kyiv. Besides, only a madman could try to plan something like this consciously in the middle of Maidan today, as this would mean throwing away any hope for help from the West with their own hands. But the other side… First of all, the act has an air of cheek and complete impunity about it. The worshippers themselves caught an “observer” who had been drawing the routes of yeshiva students to and from the synagogue; he went to the police quite calmly and was never seen or heard from again. Second, the police itself, which hasn’t found anyone – and seems to not have even started looking. It’s a familiar scene for Kyiv today: hired thugs protected by the “agents of law enforcement” burn cars, attack passersby, and disappear into the night. Their expectations are simple: either the Jews believe that they have become victims of the “Bandera followers” and call for a stop to the Maidan “outrage,” or the Jews understand that they were chosen by the government for a scare and… call for a stop even louder, afraid of things becoming worse.
We have long lived on this land. The Jewish communities of Crimea have existed for over 2000 years. Kyiv was first mentioned in a letter written in Hebrew. But our modern history in Ukrainian lands began only 500 years ago. It had been a very diverse history: great and insignificant, happy and frightening. The “Golden Age” and Hasidic Judaism; Zionism and Haskalah; pogroms and the Holocaust; Communism and the “fight against cosmopolites” – this is all part of our history here. And it always happened that we have always lived side by side with the Ukrainians but very rarely with them. This was due to their land belonging to anyone but them. Lithuania and Poland, Austria and Hungary, Romania and Czechoslovakia, the USSR and the Third Reich – empires and republics, monarchies and tyrannies, they had all been united in one thing: that the people of this land must remain silent and obedient. And we had followed our natural instinct of self-preservation and tried to always be on the side of the strong, on the side of the government, and that meant – never on the side of the Ukrainians. However, that also meant that whenever they attempted to finally break free of the foreign yoke, we became one of the first channels for instinctual hatred or targeted propaganda. Then we once again asked for help and protection from the current government, and the cycle repeated itself. Perhaps if at least one Ukrainian attempt to achieve independence turned out differently, we would have had a different relationship.
The last attempt, made a little over twenty years ago, has seemingly succeeded. The last empire of Europe broke into pieces, and on its remnants arose or were restored new independent states, including Ukraine. This entire time the young country sought its own way and its own place in the family of free peoples, and it has been a difficult search. The Baltic peoples were lucky: they had been accepted into the European family right away. Civil wars were imposed upon the Moldavians and the Georgians, and their countries broke apart. The Ukrainians demonstrated miracles of composure and stamina, solving ever more political crises with no blood spilled. But today the time of reckoning has come. The forces of imperial recoup outside and inside Ukraine have openly placed their stakes into the hands of the most odious politician of the pro-Soviet camp, who combines a petty criminal past, a lack of schooling, and a provincial outlook. Over less than three years of his rule he managed to become insanely rich and make a host of enemies, all while destroying Ukraine’s national economy and its hope for integrating into Europe.
Two months ago, the citizens of Ukraine, who have snatched a few breaths of the air of freedom over the last twenty years, went out to a square with one demand: to stop the country from becoming a dictatorship and to return hope for a brighter future to its people. Since then they have been standing at Kyiv’s Maidan and many other squares all over the country. It is not just Ukrainians who are making the stand, but also Russians, Armenians, Belarusians, Crimean Tatars. And the Jews are standing as well. The government threw special police forces and the internal military at them, hired thugs and frightened government employees – all those who still carry within them the Soviet-bred indifference to their own future and a fear to lose the piece of stale bread that they are fed with by the almighty bureaucrat.
Today our word means much for these people and for the entire world. We received the privilege to speak out and be heard through the blood and ashes of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, today many of us are once again trying to either seize profit for themselves from the situation or to simply wait it out. That has already happened more than once in our history. But today it is time to remember that our people received their right to immortality three and a half thousand years ago not just by promising to fulfill G-d’s commandments but to bring knowledge of Him to all peoples. Today 45 million people from a country that had been watered with our blood, too, ask only for Justice and Mercy. They ask for two things which G-d grounded this world upon. Do we truly have the right to deny them that?

Vitaliy Nakhmanovich, historian; Kyiv.

The Jews have suffered immensely from the Biblical times through to the Holocaust and now annihilation threats from the Arab and Muslim world. The Ukrainians too have suffered in their own way from occupations, suffering the wrath of the Russian empire as slaves, khakhols, and little Russians. Experimented on by communism, fascism and nazism. Millions of Ukrainians exterminated by Stalin’s Holodomor. Denigrated for their language, religion, culture and traditions by Kremlin as inferior to Russian. Manipulated by Kremlin’s Ukrainophobic propaganda as neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic labeling Ukrainians as villains denying them the human right of dignity.
Ukraine’s existence as a free, democratic and sovereign nation is under threat by Putin’s New Russia in his quest for a Eurasian empire. Putin wants to wipe out Ukrainians from the face of this world. We ask for sympathy and empathy from all Jewish people as they look up to Israel as their free and strong country and support Ukraine’s aspiration to be free among all nations of Europe. Please support the EuroMaidan and Ukraine’s revolution of dignity against Putin and Yanukovych and the evil they represent