Article by: Bohdana Kostiuk
Journalist and member of the Dnipropetrovsk oblast Jewish organizations Oleh Rostovtsev began his day with a visit to the city donor center. Like hundreds of other volunteers, he donates blood for Ukrainian fighters who are at war in the East, within several hundred kilometers of his city. Mr. Rostovtsev considers this to be the obligation of every Ukrainian citizen.
“We do not think that minorities in Ukraine are communities. They are different things. We are the Jewish community. To my mind, there is no Jewish or Armenian minority: there is a new phenomenon – a Russian-speaking Ukrainian nationalist. And it is natural! I don’t understand what a ceasefire means in this context. We, Ukrainians and Jews, never argues. Who is supposed to ask for forgiveness: Ukrainians or Jews? Together, Ukrainians and Jews fought within the UPA, in the Soviet Army. We were both heroes and criminals, like Russians, Belarusians and so forth. We have to all ask for forgiveness from the Almighty for the bad things,” Rostovtsev noted to Radio Liberty.
Citizens of Ukraine of various nationalities came together to save the country during World War II, many Ukrainians saved the Jews during the Holocaust. At the moment Jewish citizens of Ukraine fight for the independence and integrity of Ukraine in combat against Donbas separatists and Russian soldiers. So it is a ceasefire no longer, it is a Ukrainian-Jewish struggle for a multinational state of Ukraine, thinks publicist, researcher Serhiy Hrabovsky.
“There are numerous mutual accusations in history, but there is a brilliantly titled book by Olexandr Hohun Between Hitler and Stalin, which pertinent to the relations between Ukrainians and Jews. So all those Ukrainian-Jewish problems were brought about by living between two totalitarian regimes, which provoked and increased conflicts, differences, misunderstandings and so forth. Accordingly, this provoked struggle against totalitarianism first during World War II (the Jews’ involvement in the UPA), and the new struggle against Yanukovich’s dictatorship and contemporary Russian totalitarianism,” said the famous writer to Radio Liberty.
Ukrainians responded to the Jews’ solidarity with their own. As Hrabovsky noted, as opposed to the countries of the European Union, after the beginning of the military occupation of Israel in the Gaza Sector, the number of anti-Semites in Ukraine did not increase. On the contrary, many Ukrainians supported Israel’s actions.
“This allowed to return to Ukrainian-Jewish mutual understanding at a new historical level and to civil, liberal, even democratic, nationalism,” the expert claims.
Studies: less anti-Semitism in Ukraine
Head of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine Josip Zisels says that the Maidan phenomenon did not arise out of nowhere, as Ukrainian-Jewish relations in the country have been improving recently.
“We monitor and analyze anti-Semitic incidents very closely. And we see that the peak was in 2005-2007, since then we have documented a decrease of the number of instances: we document attacks and vandalism. There are very few such instances, 13 in all of 2013. And in Germany and France, there are dozens more times of instances of anti-Semitism. Yes, we had 13 last year. Germany had 1300, which is a hundred times more,” Zisels noted.
Professor Yaroslav Hrytsak, during an open lecture at the Ukrainian Catholic University, categorically denied the statements of Western and Russian politicians about anti-Semitism among Ukrainians and the presence of serious problems in the relations between the two peoples. Hrytsak made an example from history, noting that Ukrainians were one of the nations who had the most people who saved Jews during World War II. According to the historian, “the heroes did an important thing: they saved our national dignity.”
“A group of Ukrainian Jews emerged in Ukraine. Not Jews in Ukraine, but Ukrainian Jews. The phenomenon of the Jews of Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, the situation in Odesa. We know that Putin made a big effort and invested a lot of money to made Odesa into a separatist center. We see that nothing has come of it. A lot of it, to my mind, has to do with the fact that a group of Jews who identify with Ukraine has emerged,”Hrytsak emphasized in his lecture.
Expert: a public discussion regarding Ukrainian-Jewish relations is needed
At the same time, as experts note, Ukraine lacks discussion over how to defeat the negative instances brought about of history, which the state should be involved in. As Nazi swastikas do appear on the walls of synagogues from time to time, and old Jewish cemeteries are sometimes subject to vandalism. According to the expert from the Congress of National Communities Anna Lenchkovska, Ukrainians should learn from Poland’s experience, where the Poles and the Jews made official peace.
“This peace is lasting in Ukraine, and I think that the events of Maidan encourage more contact between the Jewish and Ukrainian communities. But we cannot say that this process of peace is over. At least, compared to Poland, which had a serious discussion regarding Gross’ books (a Holocaust scholar) about the pogroms in Poland after World War II. Unfortunately, in Ukrainian history, the history of the Holocaust remains an issue of interest of a small circle of scholars and pedagogues,” Lenchkovska noted to Radio Liberty.
As of today, we cannot talk about a big serious discussion of this publicly pertinent problem. But the situation has taken a turn for the better, Lenchkovska concluded.