Antisemitism in Ukraine

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It is estimated that one third of Europe's Jews lived in Ukraine, which from 1791 to 1917 partly belonged to the Pale of Settlement. The concentration of Jews in this region made them an easy target for pogroms and massive, anti-Jewish riots.


The Antisemitism in Ukraine was nurtured in the late 19th and early 20th century by the activities of the Union of Russian People and other Black Hundreds organizations.

Powerful and baseless defamation campaign was unfolded by the Soviets against the Ukrainian leader Symon Petliura who was accused in anti-Semitic sentiments. While number of Jewish historians such as Mark Vishnitser[1] were pointing out that anti-Semitic pogroms were occurring during both incidents of Soviet aggression against Ukraine in 1917-21.[2]

Between 1918 and 1921, there were 1236 violent incidents against Jews in 524 towns in Ukraine. The estimates of the number of killed range between 30,000 and 60,000.[3][4] Of the recorded 1,236 pogroms and excesses, 493 were carried out by Ukrainian People's Republic soldiers under command of Symon Petliura, 307 by independent Ukrainian warlords, 213 by Denikin's Army, 106 by the Red Army and 32 by the Polish Army.[5]

During the dictatorship of Pavlo Skoropadsky (29 April 1918[6] till December 1918[7]), no pogroms were recorded. When Skoropadsky’s government was replaced by the Directorate pogroms once again erupted.[8]

Directorate of Ukraine[edit]

In December 1918 Hetman of the Ukrainian State Pavlo Skoropadskyi was deposed and the Directorate (also called Directoria) was established as the government of the Ukrainian People's Republic (abbreviated UNR).[6][7]

(This new) Ukrainian government immediately reacted to the acts of violence which happened in January 1919 in Zhytomyr and Berdychiv. The Ukrainian government informed the Jewish leaders and the government of Berdychiv on January 10 that the instigators were shot, and the army squadron which took part in the action was disbanded. The head of the government Volodymyr Vynnychenko stated that the pogrom actions were initiated by the Black Hundreds. He also stated: “the Ukrainian government will actively fight anti-Semitism and all occurrences of Bolshevism.”[8]

The pro-Bolshevik delegate of the Bund Moisei Rafes, who initially stated that “the special detachment that was sent to Zhytomyr and Berdychev to fight the Soviets initiated a pogrom” later in a speech at the meeting of the Labour Congress of Ukraine on January 16, 1919 changed his mind: “The Directoria states that it is not to blame, that it is not to blame for the pogroms. None of us blames the Directoria for the responsibility of the pogroms”.[8]

Symon Petliura made attempts to stop the occurrence of pogroms among Ukrainian detachments. When he discovered from the Minister of Jewish affairs of the UNR that the transiting squadron at the Yareska station had initiated violent acts against the Jewish population, he immediately sent a telegram to the military commandant of Myrhorod: “I command that the matter be investigated and reported back to me, and to use immediate measures so that similar excesses do not have a place and will be punished – 28 January – Head Otaman S. Petliura.[8]

When Petliura took charge of the Directoria, at his initiative the government investigated the Jewish pogroms in Kamianets-Podilskyi and Proskuriv demanding the commanders “use decisive actions to totally liquidate the pogromist anti-Jewish actions, and the perpetrators are to be brought before a military tribunal and punished according to the military laws of war”.[8]

A representative of the Jewish party Poale Zion, Drakhler, told Petliura: “We understand, having enough facts, that the Zhytomyr and Berdichev pogroms took place as acts against the (Ukrainian) government. Immediately after the Zhytomyr pogrom the Russian and Polish Black Hundred members boasted 'The planned pogroms had worked extremely well, and will bring an end to Ukrainian aspirations'”. Drakhler continued: “I am deeply convinced that not only we, but all Jewish democracy in its activities will take active participation in the struggle to free Ukraine. And in the rows of the army the Jewish Cossack hand in hand will fight, carrying its blood and life onto the altar of national and social freedom in Ukraine”.[8]

Petliura replied to the Jewish delegates that he would use “the strength of all my authority to remove the excesses against the Jews, which are obstacles to our work of establishing our statehood”.

The attitude to the Jews and pogroms in Ukraine was totally different in the Volunteer Russian Army led by Denikin. In a special memorandum sent to the Central Committee for Jewish Aid who had suffered in the Pogroms at the end of 1919 he stated: “The politics of general Denikin regarding these deceitful people (all Jewish Bolsheviks), is that they are in the dark, an invisible mass, responsible for the disgusting rows of cruelty and pogroms, which have no boundary”.

One document states in reference to the 1919 pogrom of Kiev “When General Dragomirov, known for his liberalism, had to leave Kiev because of the Bolshevik offensive, turned to his officers (recorded in a stenogram) with the following words: “My friends, you know, as much as I do, the reasons for our temporary failures on the Kievan front. When you, my heroic and never dying eagles, retake Kiev, I grant you the possibility to take revenge on the grubby Jews”.[8]

When Denikin’s Volunteer army retook Kiev it inflicted robbery and murder on the civilian population. Over 20,000 people died in two days of violence. After these events, the representative of the Kharkiv Jewish Community, Mr. Suprasskin, spoke to General Shkuro, who stated to him bluntly, that “Jews will not receive any mercy because they are all Bolsheviks”[8]

The Government of the Ukrainian People's Republic in a communication with the governments of the Antanta dated October 7, 1919 stated: “Especially disgusting are the violent acts by the representatives of General Denikin on the Jews, which along the roads taken by his army, instigate unimaginable pogroms, which by their size, brutality and obscenity have surpassed all other excess that we have had at any time in any place on the Ukrainian terrain”.[8]

In 1921 Ze'ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky, the father of Revisionist Zionism, signed an agreement with Maxim Slavinsky, Petliura's representative in Prague, regarding the formation of a Jewish gendarmerie which would accompany Petliura’s putative invasion of Ukraine and protect the Jewish population from pogroms. The agreement did not materialize and Jabotinsky was heavily criticized by most Zionist groups. Nevertheless he stood by the agreement and was proud of it.[9][10][11]

In 1927, the Jewish anarchist Sholom Schwartzbard assassinated Petliura (then head of the Ukrainian government-in-exile), in Paris. Schwartzbard fully admitted to the crime, citing revenge as his motive[citation needed]. His defence, led by the French lawyer Henri Torres, focused on Petliura's alleged responsibility for the 1919–1920 pogroms in Balta in which Schwartzbard had previously lost all members of his family. Schwartzbard was eventually acquitted. This acquittal soured Jewish-Ukrainian relations in the West.

Notable (other) pogroms[edit]

When the Tsentralna Rada proclaimed the III Universal in November 1917, the Russian Army initiated a pogrom in Uman in southern Ukraine.

1500 Jews were killed in Proskurov in February 1919, by a brigade of UNR troops.[4] In Tetiev on March 25, 1919, 4000 Jews were murdered by Cossack troops under the command of Colonels Cherkovsky, Kurovsky and Shliatoshenko.[12]

During the Russian Civil War the Jews of Uman were subjected to two pogroms in 1919, as the town changed hands several times. There were 170 victims in the first pogrom in spring and more than 90 in the second one in summer. This time the Christian inhabitants helped to hide the Jews. The Council for Public Peace, with a Christian majority and a Jewish minority, saved the city from danger several times. In 1920, for example, it stopped the pogrom initiated by the troops of General Denikin.[13]


The Jewish community had undergone significant losses in the period of the Russian revolution. Many documents dealing with the pogroms however had not been made available and indeed had been deliberately concealed from the public in the Soviet era anti-semitic climate. These documents have remained hidden until recently - being discovered in the Ukrainian State Archives by the Ukrainian historian Volodymyr Serhiychuk. Study of the archives of the Security Service of Ukraine has shown that the government of the UNR directed by Petlura had no connection to the organization of Jewish pogroms in Ukraine. In fact the Directoria from its very conception fought against pogroms, but its power was limited, even in the territory under its control.[14][15]

The propaganda organs of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union attempted to put the blame of all the Jewish pogroms on Symon Petliura. The Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine prepared a special document in order to compromise Petliura in the Schwartzbard court case.[8]

Historians have claimed that Petlura himself did not have any history of antisemitism, and that he actively sought to stop anti-Jewish violence on numerous occasions, finally introducing capital punishment for the crime of pogroming.[16][17]

Modern sources claim that the white Volunteer Army was the main perpetrator of pogroms, and some were instigated by the Directory's forces, esp. the irregular otaman-led groups. The Red Army was also responsible for some pogroms.[18]

During World War II[edit]

The Lviv pogroms[edit]

See: Lviv pogroms

The Lviv pogroms were two massacres of Jews that took place from 30 June to 2 July and 25–29 July 1941 during World War II. According to Yad Vashem six thousand Jews were killed primarily by rioting Ukrainian nationalists and a newly formed Ukrainian militia.[19]

During the interbellum, Lviv had the third-largest Jewish population in Poland, which swelled further to over 200,000 Jews as refugees fled from the Nazis.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center states that between June 30 and July 3, 1941, in the days that the Nachtigall Battalion was in Lviv, its soldiers together with the German army and some of the local Ukrainians participated in the killings of Jews in the city. The pretext for the pogrom was a rumor that the Jews were responsible for the execution of prisoners by the Soviets before their withdrawal from Lviv.

Ukrainian sources state that none of the allegations have been proven by any documents, and that both battalions' priority was the securing the radio station and newspapers and proclaiming Ukrainian independence.[20]

Involvement of any members of the Nachtigall Battalion in the war crimes have not yet been established. The Canadian Commission on War Criminals in Canada (Deschênes Commission), which investigated allegations of war criminals residing in Canada, did not name any of the members of the Nachtigall Battalion. Moreover, it concluded that units collaborating with the Nazis should not be indicted as a group and that mere membership in such units was not sufficient to justify prosecution.[21]

An international commission was set up at The Hague in the Netherlands in 1959 to carry out independent investigations. The members were four former anti-Hitler activists, Norwegian lawyer Hans Cappelen, former Danish foreign minister and president of the Danish parliament Ole Bjørn Kraft, Dutch socialist Karel van Staal, Belgian law professor Flor Peeters, and Swiss jurist and member of parliament Kurt Scoch. Following its interrogation of a number of Ukrainian witnesses between November 1959 and March 1960, the commission concluded:

"After four months of inquiries and the evaluation of 232 statements by witnesses from all circles involved, it can be established that the accusations against the Battalion Nachtigall and against the then Lieutenant and currently Federal Minister Oberländer have no foundation in fact.[22]"

In independent Ukraine[edit]

Antisemitic graffiti Lviv; Jews will not reside in Lviv

In Ukraine, violence against Jews and anti-Semitic graffiti remains.[23][24]

There were a number of right-wing nationalist and antisemitic groups in Ukraine in the 1990s. Among the most conspicuous was the MAUP, a private university with extensive financial ties to Islamic regimes. In the March 2006 issue (No. 9/160) of the Personnel Plus magazine by MAUP, an article "Murder Is Unveiled, the Murderer Is Unknown?" revives false accusations from the Beilis Trial, stating that the jury recognized the case as ritual murder by persons unknown, even though it found Beilis himself not guilty.[25]

Riots broke out in September 1993 in Vinnytsia, where UNA-UNSO members picketed the offices of the local Jewish mayor Dmitrii Dvorkis. During the same period, other Jewish mayors – Odessa's Eduard Gurwits and Donetsk's Yukhym Zvyahilsky – also became subjects of antisemitic campaigns.[26]

During Ukrainian elections candidates such as Yulia Tymoshenko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk have been "accused" of being Jewish, in what appeared to be smear campaigns.[27][28][29][30] The 2010 presidential elections involved Jews, Israel, and anti-Semitism as some officials made anti-Semitic statements, and others condemned these statements. Some candidates, who included a Jew and another claimed by rivals to be Jewish, blamed fellow candidate Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko for bringing anti-Semitism into the race.[31]

More recently Jewish organizations in and outside of Ukraine have accused the political party All-Ukrainian Union "Svoboda" of open Nazi sympathies and being anti-Semitic.[32] In May 2013 the World Jewish Congress listed the party as neo-Nazi.[33] "Svoboda" itself has denied being anti-Semitic.[34] In the 2012 Ukrainian parliamentary elections "Svoboda" won its first seats in the Ukrainian Parliament,[35] garnering 10.44% of the popular vote and the 4th most seats among national political parties.[36]

Some Jews supported the 2013-2014 Euromaidan revolution which ousted the discredited Viktor Yanukovich from the presidency of Ukraine. A few antisemitic incidents were recorded during this period.[37][38]

On April 2014 a synagogue was firebombed by an unknown man. Although the building was damaged, there were no casualties.[39] Earlier that month, a leaflet was handed out to the Jewish community in the city Donetsk as if by the pro-Russian separatists. The leaflet contained an order to every Jewish person over the age of 16 to register as a Jew, and also to declare all the property they own, or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated, ostensibly as retribution for being Ukrainian loyalists.[40] Denis Pushilin, head of the Donetsk People's Republic, said it was a fake that was meant to discredit his movement. Donetsk Chief Rabbi Pinchas Vishedski also claims it was a hoax, and said that "Anti-Semitic incidents in the Russian-speaking east were rare, unlike in Kiev and western Ukraine".[41]

On June 2014, Alexander Feldman, Ukrainian MP and president of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee attacked by armed man who threatened him using antisemitic language. He ran away when the police showed up. [42] In addition, there were two incidents of desecration of Jewish sites גedicated to the memory of the Holocaust. [43][44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mark Vishnitser. Electronic Jewish Encyclopedia.
  2. ^ Shulhyn, O. Ukraine and Red horror. Pogroms in Ukraine. "Olena Teliha Publishing". Kiev 2001.
  3. ^ "History and Culture of Jews in Ukraine ("«Нариси з історії та культури євреїв України»)«Дух і літера» publ., Kyiv, 2008, с. 128 – 135
  4. ^ a b D. Vital. Zionism: the crucial phase. Oxford University Press. 1987. p. 359]
  5. ^ R. Pipes. A Concise History of the Russian Revolution. Vintage Books. 1996. p. 262.
  6. ^ a b Orest Subtelny, Ukraine: A History, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988, ISBN 0-8020-5808-6
  7. ^ a b Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States: 1999, Routledge, 1999, ISBN 1857430581 (page 849)
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j (Russian) Dr Sergeichuk, V. Symon Petliura kak protyvnyk Yevreyskykh Pogromov (Symon Petlura in opposition of Jewish Pogroms, Zerkalo Nedeli, № 21 (86) 25 — 31 May 1996
  9. ^ Shmuel Katz, Lone Wolf, Barricade Books, New York, 1996, Vol. 1.
  10. ^ Israel Kleiner, From Nationalism to Universalism: Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky and the Ukrainian Question, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Study Press, 2000.
  11. ^ Joseph B. Schechtman, The Jabotinsky-Slavinsky Agreement, Jewish Social Studies, XVII (1955), 289-306.
  12. ^ M. I. Midlarsky. The killing trap: genocide in the seventeenth century. Cambridge University Press. 2005. p. 46.
  13. ^ Encyclopaedia Judaica, second edition, vol. 20, p. 244
  14. ^ Serhy Yekelchyk, Ukraine: Birth of a Modern Nation, Oxford University Press (2007), ISBN 978-0-19-530546-3
  15. ^ History of Ukraine - The Land and Its Peoples by Paul Robert Magocsi, University of Toronto Press, 2010, ISBN 1442640855 (page 537)
  16. ^ Symon Petlura. Against pogrom. The Appeal to Ukrainian Army. Archived 31 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ Symon Petlura. Articles, letters and documents. (in Ukrainian) 2006. - vol IV, p 704. ISBN 966-2911-00-6
  18. ^ Orest Subtelny Ukraine. A History. Second edition, 1994. p. 363
  19. ^ The Lemberg Mosaic, Jakob Weiss, Alderbrook Press, New York (2011)
  20. ^ IN UKRAINIAN:The history which we do not know or do not want to know - Dzerkalo Tyzhdnia
  21. ^ Wasyl Veryha. Along the Roads of World War II. War Criminals in Canada? (Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals Report)
  22. ^ LembergNKWEmassacres
  23. ^ Anti-Semitism in Ukraine in 2010, Human Rights Watch (7 October 2010)
    Ukraine: Treatment of ethnic minorities, including Roma; state protection, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (17 September 2012)
  24. ^ Rabbi beaten up in Kyiv, Interfax-Ukraine (14 March 2014)
  25. ^ "То есть изуверское убийство было совершено с ритуальной целью, но не Бейлисом, а кем-то другим. Кем?" ВБИВСТВО РОЗКРИТО. ВБИВЦЯ НЕ ВІДОМИЙ?, Yaroslav Oros
  26. ^ Encyclopaedia Judaica, second edition, vol. 20, p. 238
  27. ^ Ukraine 2007, Stephen Roth Institute (2007)
  28. ^ Campaign gets dirty: Leaflets smear Tymoshenko as ‘Jew’, Kyiv Post (5 February 2010)
  29. ^ Debate rages over whether Ukraine presidential hopeful is Jewish, Haaretz (10 November 2009)
  30. ^ Campaign gets dirty: Leaflets smear Tymoshenko as 'Jew', Kyiv Post (5 February 2010)
  31. ^ Galili, Lily (December 3, 2009). "Ukraine academic: Israel imported 25,000 kids for their organs". Haaretz. Retrieved August 14, 2012. 
  32. ^
    Ukraine election:President Yanukovych party claims win, BBC News (29 October 2012).
    2012 Top Ten Anti-Israel/Anti-Semitic Slurs:Mainstream Anti-Semitism Threatens World Peace, Simon Wiesenthal Center (27 December 2012)
    Winer, Stuart. Ukraine okays ‘zhyd’ slur for Jews, The Times of Israel, December 19, 2012.
    Svoboda: The rise of Ukraine's ultra-nationalists, BBC News (26 December 2012)
    International Business Times, Svoboda: The Rising Spectre Of Neo-Nazism In The Ukraine, 27 December 2012.
    Outrage as Ukrainian politician attacks Mila Kunis and labels her a 'dirty Jewess', London Daily Mail, December 20, 2012.
  33. ^ World Jewish Congress calls Svoboda a neo-Nazi party, Ukrinform (14 May 2013)
  34. ^
    Oleh Tyahnybok: “The three opposition parties should not be required to act completely in sync”, The Ukrainian Week (31 March 2013)
    Reuters (25 September 2011). Kyiv Post |url= missing title (help). Retrieved 25 September 2011. 
    Ukrainian party picks xenophobic candidate, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (May 25, 2009)
    Tiahnybok denies anti-Semitism in Svoboda, Kyiv Post (27 December 2012)
    Ukraine’s Ultranationalists Show Surprising Strength at Polls, (8 November 2012)
    Ukraine party attempts to lose anti-Semitic image, The Jerusalem Post (21 January 2013)
  35. ^ Ukraine election:President Yanukovych party claims win, BBC News (29 October 2012).
    2012 Top Ten Anti-Israel/Anti-Semitic Slurs:Mainstream Anti-Semitism Threatens World Peace, Simon Wiesenthal Center (27 December 2012)
    Winer, Stuart. Ukraine okays ‘zhyd’ slur for Jews, The Times of Israel, December 19, 2012.
    Svoboda: The rise of Ukraine's ultra-nationalists, BBC News (26 December 2012)
    International Business Times, Svoboda: The Rising Spectre Of Neo-Nazism In The Ukraine, 27 December 2012.
    Outrage as Ukrainian politician attacks Mila Kunis and labels her a 'dirty Jewess', London Daily Mail, December 20, 2012.
  36. ^
    Party of Regions gets 185 seats in Ukrainian parliament, Batkivschyna 101 - CEC, Interfax-Ukraine (12 November 2012)
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^ "Synagogue Firebombed". CFCA. Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  40. ^ "Vandals deface grave of Lubavitcher Rebbe's brother". CFCA. Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  41. ^
  42. ^ "Jewish leader attacked by armed men". The Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism. Retrieved 27 June 2014. 
  43. ^ "Memorial to Victims of the Holocaust desecrated". The Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism. Retrieved 27 June 2014. 
  44. ^ "Holocaust memorial vandalized". The Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism. Retrieved 27 June 2014. 

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