Antisemitism in Ukraine
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Antisemitism in Ukraine has been a historical issue in the country, but became even more widespread in the twentieth century. A third of the Jews of Europe previously lived in Ukraine between 1791 and 1917, within the Pale of Settlement. This large concentration of Jews in this region historically made them an easy target for anti-Jewish actions and pogroms.
Before 20th century
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Early 20th century
Pogroms during the Russian Revolution of 1905
After the publication of the October Manifesto, which promised citizens of Russia civil rights, many Jews who lived in the cities of the Pale of Settlement, went to the demonstrations against the government. For the local residents acting on the side of the incumbent authorities, this was the pretext to start a new wave of pogroms against Jews.
In February 1905, a pogrom took place in Feodosia, in April of the same year a pogrom occurred in Melitopol. The pogrom in May in Zhytomyr surpassed the rest of the pogroms in terms of the number of victims. The most serious pogrom occurred in Odessa. 300 Jews were killed and thousands injured. Another serious pogrom occurred in Ekaterinoslav, during which 120 Jews were killed. Pogroms occurred in 64 cities (Odessa, Ekaterinoslav, Kiev, Simferopol, Romny, Kremenchug, Nikolaev, Chernigov, Kamenets-Podolsky and Elisavetgrad) and in 626 villages. Approximately 660 pogroms occurred in Ukraine and in Bessarabia. The pogroms lasted several days. Participants in the pogroms were workers of trains, traders of local shops, artisans and industrialists.
The pogroms of 1903-1906 marked the beginning of the Jewish unification in Europe. They became the motive for the organization of Jewish self-defense, accelerated emigration to Israel, and initiated the HaShomer organization in Israel.
Russian Civil War
When the Tsentralna Rada proclaimed the III Universal in November 1917, the Imperial Russian Army initiated a pogrom in Uman in southern Ukraine. In February 1919 a brigade of UNR troops killed 1500 Jews in Proskurov. In Tetiev on March 25, 1919, Cossack troops under the command of Colonels Cherkovsky, Kurovsky and Shliatoshenko murdered 4000 Jews.
During the Russian Civil War the Jews of Uman in eastern Podolia were subjected to two pogroms in 1919, as the town changed hands several times. The first pogrom, in spring, claimed 170 victims; the second one, in summer, more than 90. 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.
During the Russian Civil War, between 1918 and 1921 a total of 1,236 violent incidents against Jews occurred in 524 towns in Ukraine. The estimates of the number of killed range between 30,000 and 60,000. 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. During the dictatorship of Pavlo Skoropadsky (29 April 1918 to December 1918), no pogroms were recorded. When the Directorate replaced Skoropadsky's government, pogroms once again erupted.
Directorate of Ukraine (1918–1920)
In December 1918 Hetman of the Ukrainian State Hetmanate, Pavlo Skoropadskyi, was deposed and the Directorate (also called the Directoria) was established as the government of the Ukrainian People's Republic (Ukrayins'ka Narodnia Respublika, abbreviated UNR).
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 had been shot, and that the army squadron which took part in the action had been 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".
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."
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.
When Petliura took charge of the Directoria in 1919, at his initiative the government investigated the Jewish pogroms in Kamianets-Podilskyi and Proskuriv, demanding that 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”.
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”.
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".
One document states in reference to the Kiev pogroms of June–October 1919: "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.'"
When Denikin's Volunteer army occupied Kiev ( 31 August [O.S. 18 August] 1919) 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: "Jews will not receive any mercy because they are all Bolsheviks."
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 most Zionist groups heavily criticized Jabotinsky. Nevertheless, he stood by the agreement and took pride in it.
Middle 20th century
World War II
Operation Barbarossa of 1941 brought together native Ukrainian populations of both, Soviet Ukraine and the territories of Poland annexed by the Soviet Union, under the German administrative control of the Reichskommissariat Ukraine to the north-east, and the General Government to the south-west. Many Jewish historians argue that the destruction of the Jewish population of Ukraine, reduced from 870,000 to 17,000, could not have been accomplished without the aid of the local population, because the Germans lacked the manpower to reach all of the communities that were annihilated, especially in the remote villages.
The nationalist OUN-Bandera faction of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army "openly advocated violence against Jews", wrote Jeffrey Burds. In August 1941 at its Second Congress in Kraków OUN-B embraced anti-Semitism. "Twenty so-called 'foreign' nationalities were listed as enemies of Ukraine: Jews were first, Poles were second." The resolution stated: "OUN combats the Jews as the prop of the Muscovite-Bolshevik regime." On September 1, 1941, Ukrainian language newspaper Volhyn wrote: "The element that settled our cities (Jews)... must disappear completely from our cities. The Jewish problem is already in the process of being solved." The Lviv pogroms were two massacres of Jews that took place from 30 June to 2 July and 25–29 July 1941 during Operation Barbarossa. According to Yad Vashem six thousand Jews were killed primarily by rioting Ukrainian nationalists and a newly formed Ukrainian militia. 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 nationalists assisted German Security Police and the Einsatzgruppen. They compiled lists of targets for the branch offices of the KdS and assisted with the roundups (as in Stanisławów, Włodzimierz Wołyński, Łuck), as well as in Zhytomyr, Rivne and Kiev among other locations. In Korosten, the nationalists carried out the killings by themselves, same as inn Sokal. Other locations followed.
Late 20th, early 21st century
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.
A 2014 report published by Vyacheslav Likhachev of the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group revealed that the antisemitic vandalism and violence peaked in 2005-2006, and declined since then.
In the early 2010s Jewish organizations in and outside of Ukraine have accused the political party All-Ukrainian Union "Svoboda" of open Nazi sympathies and being antisemitic. In May 2013 the World Jewish Congress listed the party as neo-Nazi. "Svoboda" itself has denied being antisemitic. In the 2012 Ukrainian parliamentary elections "Svoboda" won its first seats in the Ukrainian Parliament, garnering 10.44% of the popular vote and the 4th most seats among national political parties. Since the 2014 Ukrainian parliamentary elections the party holds 6 parliamentary seats (it won 4.71% of the popular vote in this election).
According to the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress some Jews supported the 2013–2014 Euromaidan revolution which ousted the discredited Viktor Yanukovych from the presidency of Ukraine. The organisation claims few antisemitic incidents were recorded during this period. According to Eduard Dolinsky, executive director of the Kiev-based Ukrainian Jewish Committee, Ukrainian Jews overwhelmly supported the 2014 Euromaidan, however, its aftermath led to the raise of anti-semitism and social acceptance of previously marginal far-right groups, together with government's policy of historical negationism in regard to the WWII ethnic cleansing committed by the Ukrainian nationalist movement against the country's minorities. After the revolution Jews started fleeing the country and went to Israel.
In April 2014, a leaflet was handed out to the Jewish community in the city Donetsk as if by the pro-Russian separatists who had taken over control of the city. The leaflet contained an order to every Jew 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. Denis Pushilin, head of the pro-Russian separatist 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". An April 2014 listing of anti-Jewish violence in Ukraine in Haaretz no incidents outside this "Russian-speaking east" were mentioned.
There were also cases of exploitation of anti-Semitism and “the Jewish question” in propaganda campaigns, such as speculations used by the administration of President Viktor Yanukovych in the first (November 2013) days of the Euromaidan mass protests. The conclusion of the (earlier mentioned) National Minority Rights Monitoring Group report describes a peak of antisemitic incidents in 2014, probably due to the instabilily in Ukraine. In March 2014, Yaakov Bleich, the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, accused Russian sympathizers and nationalists of staging antisemitic provocations to be blamed on Ukrainians. He claimed that these provocations were used by the Russian Federation to justify the its 2014 invasion of Crimea.
According to a 2016 report by Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, there was a significant drop in xenophobic violence in Ukraine, with the exception of the Russian-occupied areas in Eastern Ukraine.
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