Holocaust victims memorial in Chernivtsi after the act of vandalism.
Manifestations of Antisemitism in Ukraine: Monitoring results from January-June 2017
10.08.2017, Xenophobia and anti-Semitism
There were no known cases of violence on the grounds of antisemitism in January-June 2017. There was one physical confrontation on the grounds of antisemitism, which is described below; however, as it did not end in physical violence towards the victim, it is not included in our final census.
On March 30, at the Most City mall in Dnipro (former Dnipropetrivsk) a group of teenagers singled out and taunted a rabbi (name being withheld for confidentiality reasons). One of the teenagers shoved the rabbi with his shoulder, and the rabbi’s kippah fell to the floor. The teenagers shouted insults and threats, such as “you should all be killed” and “kikes get out of here.” The conflict did not evolve beyond a heated verbal argument; no physical violence was involved.
The rabbi contacted the police. According to him, proceedings were opened, and preliminary assessment qualified the case according to Article 296, Part 2 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code (“hooliganism”).
By vandalism we understand both physical damage, such as broken windows and arson attempts, to buildings that are part of the Jewish infrastructure (synagogues and community centers), to tombstones in Jewish cemeteries and Holocaust memorials, and anti-Semitic and/or neo-Nazi graffiti drawn on similar objects. Such graffiti are taken to be evidence of an ideological motivation for the act of vandalism. In the first 6 months of 2017, there were 10 known cases of antisemitic vandalism.
● On the night of March 24, unknown vandals desecrated a memorial to Holocaust victims on the outskirts of Ternopil, near Petriky village. The offenders used red paint to cross out the Star of David on the stele and drew a swastika and a double lightning bolt symbol (the SS symbol). The police have already been at the scene of the crime.
The memorial stands on the site where the Nazis murdered 16 thousand Jews from Ternopil in 1941.
● On the night of April 18, it became known that a memorial was desecrated at a mass Holocaust shooting site near Kostopil (Rivne region). Unknown vandals drew a swastika on the memorial.
The Chairman of the Regional State Administration Aleksandr Sereda addressed the law enforcement authorities with a request to prioritize the investigation.
Students of the Kostopil Construction and Technological College at the National University of Water and Environmental Engineering cleaned the memorial on the same day4.
● On April 27, unknown vandals desecrated a memorial to Holocaust victims on the outskirts of Ternopil, near Petriky village. The offenders used red paint to cross out the Star of David on the stele and drew a swastika and a double lightning bolt symbol (the SS symbol).
The police visited the scene of the crime almost immediately.
The memorial stands on the site where the Nazis murdered 16 thousand Jews from Ternopil in 1941.
● On approximately May 5, an act of vandalism took place at the Jewish cemetery in Cherkasy. Unknown vandals used a stencil to draw a swastika in black paint on a tombstone and write “Tolerance is weakness”.
● On the night of May 10, a memorial complex to the victims of the Jewish ghetto in Chernivtsi was desecrated. This was reported by the Chairman of the Chernivtsi City Jewish Charity Miryam, Deputy of the City Council Ilya Hoch, who had the idea of the memorial’s creation and who organized its building. Vandals drew a swastika and the numbers “14/88” in red paint7. This numerical code is widespread in youth radical right subcultures and means “Heil Hitler” (using the number of the letter “h” in the Latin alphabet) and the “14 words”, which is a sort of credo for modern Neo-Nazis written by American white supremacist David Lane.
● On the night of May 11, two small swastikas were drawn in red paint on the gate of the Chernivtsi synagogue located at Sadovsky 11. In the morning, the rabbi informed the local police and Security Service departments about the act of antisemitic vandalism. On that same day, before the Shabbat celebration, the graffiti were painted over by the synagogue workers8.
● On June 9, the Odesa online media outlet “Timer” published photos of svastikas drawn on the building of the Jewish Community Center Migdal, which is localed on 46a Malaya Arnautskaya street. The graffiti were drawn on the wall and gates to a side street9. According to the website, the photo was sent in by passersby. The information was reprinted by local media.
The staff of the community center learned about the graffiti from a Security Services staff member, who read about the act of vandalism in the media. Migdal staff have specifically requested the report to note that they are not discounting a potential pro-Russian provocation: the “Timer” website, which was the primary source for the news report, is known for its constant stream of anti-Ukrainian propaganda and of support for the separatists. The staff have decided not to file a complaint with the police.
● On June 12 in Kremenchuk (Poltavskaya oblast), pilgrims from Israel discovered the results of an act of vandalism conducted towards the ohel tomb (prayer pavillion erected over a grave) of the daughters of the Hasid tsaddik rabbi Nachman, Sarah and Chaya, as well as their husbands: Rabbia Yitzhak and Rabbi Aaron.
According to their report, the ohel was burned down and the tombstone was broken. However, even before the pilgrims had arrived, locals had already taken steps to restore the memorial.
● On the night of June 20, unknown vandals desecrated the memorial stele at Synagogue Square in Lviv.
The incident took place at about 1:30 AM. The vandals used black markers to draw swastikas, the Celtic cross, and the Odal rune (in this context referencing its use in the Third Reich’s Annenerbe symbols, as well as Nazi youth movements and several combat units in the SS, which is the reason for its popularity among neo-Nazi youths), as well as the “white power” slogan.
● Early in the morning of June 30, unknown vandals threw a Molotov cocktail into the wall of a functioning synagogue in Lviv (located at 4 Brativ Mikhnovskykh street) and damaged the front of the building. Vandals also wrote on the building of the synagogue at 3 Ugolna street: “Down with the Jewish government” and “Kikes, remember July 1” (referencing the pogrom of July 1, 1941). Memorial plaques disappeared from the former Jewish community building at 12 Sholom-Aleikhem street.
3. Unconfirmed reports
This section includes cases which have been reported in the media as hate crimes but for which we have not been able to confirm the necessary motive. In some cases, the report has been knowingly made falsely, but the majority of these are cases wherein there is simply not enough information to state with confidence that the motive of the crime was specifically antisemitic - or, indeed, whether a crime took place at all.
● On January 22, it became known that a memorial to Holocaust victims in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi city (Odesa region), erected at the local shooting site, was damaged. However, it was impossible to determine for certain whether the monument was targeted and damaged by ideologically-motivated vandals or whether the damage had other sources.
The memorial was erected in 2005 by the Jewish Foundation of Ukraine and the local Jewish community.
● On February 7, a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust that was erected on the shooting site in Belgorod-Dnistrovsky (Odesa oblast) was found to be damaged again. The memorial slab, which collapsed and was damaged in the fall, was taken by the staff of the “Blagoustroistvo” City Center, who are providers of public amenities.
● On March 9, it became known that a wall near the Savran city Holocaust memorial (Odesa region) collapsed.
The Director of the Odesa Holocaust Museum Pavel Kozlenko reported that the memorial was torn down to its foundations by the hands of vandals. “A memorial to the victims of the Holocaust was recently completely destroyed at the new Jewish cemetery in Savran (Odesa region),” he noted. “The memorial was completely smashed, down to the smallest brick,” Director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee Eduard Dolinsky wrote on his Facebook page in support of this version of events.
The Savran District State Administration, however, elaborated on that statement: only part of the memorial complex had collapsed - the memorial’s wall, while the memorial itself was perfectly intact. According to the Odesa regional authorities, the collapse took place because the wall was old and in bad condition, and thus there is no cause to speak of vandalism. Moreover, the wall collapsed approximately a month before Kozlenko’s report, and the local authorities were made aware of the fact at that time. The press department of the Head Office of the National Police in the Odesa Region has also stated that the wall had deteriorated and finally collapsed naturally.
The wall is only one of the memorial’s parts, and it had been considered a safety hazard for several years before it finally collapsed. Its deteriorated condition was also obvious from photos of the collapsed wall. The memorial itself has been abandoned for a long time. According to the administration, the memorial was erected by the Jewish community, but no Jews currently reside in Savran. The memorial is also not included into the registry of memorials, and is thus not protected by the government.
● On February 13 and 16 , information was published on social networks about alleged attacks on citizen of Israel Alexander Livschitz. According to these posts, the attacks took place in Kharkiv and were conducted by “Nazis from the Azov Batallion.” Moreover, on February 20 an update was posted saying that the victim had died as a result of the attacks. According to the message, the victim was attacked because “he was a Jew and looked characteristically Jewish.”
After a thorough fact check, we have determined these reports to be completely false. There were no real attacks underlying these Facebook posts.
● On March 19, volunteers from the Beit Grand Jewish Cultural Center discovered damaged tombstones at the Berezovka village Jewish Cemetery (Savran district, Odesa region)8. The Director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee Eduard Dolinsky published the information on his Facebook page9. Dolinsky’s information was reprinted by many media outlets, confidently stating that “vandals have desecrated the memorials.” However, the Savran District State Administration office has stated that the decrepit tombstones suffered natural environmental damage.
● On May 11, several Israeli religious websites reported in Hebrew about the desecration of the grave of Yihel-Mihal Hager, the grandson of the first Vyzhnytsia Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager, located in Storozhintsi (Chernivtsi oblast). The tombstone was found broken a year ago. It was cleaned, restored and replaced, and a canopy was hung up over it. But pilgrims who recently visited the site discovered significant damage. They published photos of the broken tombstone, which cracked along the old break line, and the absence of the canopy on site, and stated that the sacred site has been desecrated11. After a fact check, it turned out that the incident had a natural cause: a tree fell on the grave during a storm, damaging the canopy and smashing the tombstone. The cemetery groundskeeper had sawn apart and removed the dead trunk and took down the damaged canopy.
● On May 25, users on social networks and many media outlets reported an act of vandalism conducted towards the Menorah Holocaust Memorial located in the Babyn Yar Historical and Cultural Preserve in Kyiv. According to reports, the memorial was covered in red paint. It turned out that the memorial was covered in leftover colored lampwax from memorial candles that were carelessly placed by museum visitors.
● On June 4, Rabbi Moshe Reuven Asman reported that unknown criminals broke the glass and broke open the window pane in the ohel (prayer pavilion placed over a grave) of Rabbi Mordechai Tversky (the Chernobyl Rabbi). Apparently, the criminals had wanted to break inside the pavilion. Although many media outlets wrote about “the desecration of the tomb,” we are not qualifying this as an act of vandalism motivated by hatred, as there is no evidence of the criminals having an antisemitic motive.
4. Public manifestations of xenophobia
● On January 1, a March of Honor took place dedicated to the birthday of Stepan Bandera was held by the political party All-Ukrainian “Svoboda” Union and some other ultranationalist political groups. Certain antisemitic slogans, both direct and veiled, were recorded during the March. Part of the marching column chanted “Juden - out!” during the march.16. One of the banners had a Wolfsangel and a picture of what was most likely the Kyiv Grand Prince Sviatoslav I Igorevich, as well as the slogan “Let us win against the second Khazarian Kaganate!”
In contemporary post-Soviet antisemitic discourse there is a widespread mythology based on pseudo-historic interpretations of Khazaria as a state ruled by Jews who mercilessly robbed the people. Popular chauvinist literature has a complex group of code words and notions that refer to this theory. In the context of post-Soviet radical right historic mythology, a reference to the victory of Sviatoslav over the Khazars always has antisemitic subtext.
● At the end of January, an antisemitic flyer was disseminated across different residential districts in Kyiv. The flyer, a double-sided A4 page, was stuffed into people’s mailboxes. It was titled “Why are Ukraine and Russia still occupied by kikes?” Its text consisted of a summary of many popular antisemitic accusations: “The highest echelons of power in Ukraine are filtered full of half-Jews and half Jewisses. They largely do not want good and happiness for the people and the state where they live. Their activity boils down to solving their narrowly self-serving interests and executing the plans of the kikemasons in creating a quasiregional kikekaganate [...]. The foreign kikeleadership chose the region near the black sea to create the kikekaganate as well as the unique black soils of Ukraine, part of Moldova, Bulgaria and Kuban. [...] The actions of the Jewry are defined by the corrosive protocols about the global Jewishe expansion, the protocols of the elders of zion.” [Style of the original has been preserved across translation as much as possible. - transl].
Notably, an analysis of the text shows that it appeals (judging by the politicians it mentions and their positions) to the Ukrainian political situation of 2012-2013.
According to the residents of Kyiv who found the flyers, the unknown disseminators put several flyers into each mailbox. It is likely that these flyers had a significant print run.
● On February 26, nationalist organizations erected a cross as a memorial to fallen soldiers of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) in Kolomyia (Ivano-Franksivk region) at the intersection of Chekhov and Petlyura streets. The cross was erected without approval by the authorities.
The problem was that the park was built by the Soviet government over an old Jewish cemetry. Over twenty years ago, the town council decided that this plot of land is a “memorial cemetery territory” (according to town council decision #86, “On providing local enterprises and organizations with plots of land”). The Kolomyia Orthodox Jewish community was given permission to develop a project to improve the memorial cemetery’s territory. In the fall of 2015, the community began implementing its renovation project. According to the renovation plan, the community would modernize the lighting in the park, replace asphalt roads with block paving, declutter old trees and shrubs and plant new ones. The community also began to create “walls of memory,” which would stand alongside the pathways and display preserved fragments of matzevahs - tombstones. There were approximately 1300 tombstones in various conditions found around the city. In the Soviet Union they were used for paving streets and courtyards. However, the community did not approve the renovations plan with the city council. Many local citizens were unhappy with the park being blocked off for the renovations. Even though public access was quickly restored, residual hard feelings remained. Acts of vandalism, including arson attempts, were conducted against Jewish objects, including the “walls of memory,” the synagogue, and the prayer pavilion (ohel) that was erected on the grave of the tsaddik (righteous man) Gillel Boruch Lichtenstein, who was the head rabbi of Kolomiya in the XIX century.
It is highly probable that the erection of the cross was a conscious act of provocation aimed at aggravating inter-ethnic relations in the city.
● On March 19, a resident of Kryvyi Rih asked the unaffiliated MP of the Parliament Ukraine, Nadiya Savchenko, the following question on a live NewsOne show: “Nadya [informal, short version of the name. -transl], why does no one talk about what the people talk about. I was standing on the [bus] stop, a man was talking, and an old woman was sitting there and saying that the Bible has it all: that there was the Tatar Mongol Yoke, there was the Polish Yoke and now there’s the Jewish Yoke for Ukraine. Why are you silent about this?”
Nadiya Savchenko reacted as follows: “Yes, thank you! Good question. If the people talk about it, then they speak the truth. And yes, our government, if we look at it from this perspective, really has non-Ukrainian blood, let’s put it that way. We can speak about this - but what can be done about it? We need to think and act!”
On March 25, the TV anchor and journalist Dmitry Gordon spoke to Nadezhda Savchenko live on a channel 112 show. He quoted the aforementioned reponse and asked, “You don’t like the Jews? What’s going on here?” The MP answered: “I have nothing against Jews, but I don’t like kikes. I have said time and time and again that there is no such thing as a bad nationality, but there are bad people who exist in every nationality. It’s the same: you’ve got Ukrainians and khokhols. There’s Russians and there’s katsaps. This is why... There’s Poles and there’s lyakhy... This is why... Here in our Ukraine... It’s very hard to say that Ukraine is an antisemitic country. Because Jews make up about 2% of the Ukrainian population, but about 80% of those in power.” “So tell me, I gotta know, who are the Jews in power?” Gordon asked. Savchenko replied: “The smartest Jews say that there isn’t anyone, that there are no Jews in power. They’re saying that it’s kikes who are in power.” “Let’s name names,” Gordon insisted. “Which Jews - or kikes - are in power? Let’s name them.” “Well, mostly...” Nadiya Savchenko gave it some thought. “It’s hard, we’re not doing a blood DNA test, we can’t check this, but if we use the classic comparison, the surnames, that would be Groysman, Waltzman, [which is] Poroshenko’s last name, that would be Yuliya Tymoshenko...” Gordon clarified: “Poroshenko is Waltzman?” “I think that’s his surname,” the MP replied and continued, “that would be Yuliya Tymoshenko, whose last name also bore Jewish origin [sic - V.L.] These are MPs... Bereza is just one of them, then... [indecipherable] too, they even say that’s their nationality and that they are religious. This is why there’s a big difference. So when that woman said that we have a ‘Jewish yoke’ she probably wanted to say that we have a ‘kike yoke,’ that is that here, in Ukraine, it’s not the best representatives of their people and nation who are in power.” “This is both about the Ukrainians and the Jews?” “And the Jews. Absolutely. This is why... The Ukrainian government is not of Ukrainian blood because it doesn’t care about the Ukrainian people. These can be representatives of very different nationalities. But they all become of one blood - their blood type changes to ‘power.’ And this is not the blood of the people, it’s not Ukrainian. This is why our life is so bad. But really, my parents told me about the Jews, because they survived the war, and they gave me many examples. Like there was a doctor, a Jew, who saved a lot of people in their village from being taken to Germany. He gave them [...], told them that they’d need to have skin sores on their hands... So... There are many, many more such examples. So you can never judge an entire nationality by one person. No. Every person is an individual, and most people in any nationality are good. But scum does exist.” “So you’re not an antisemite?” Dmitry Gordon concludes. “No,” Nadiya Savchenko replies confidently. “And I’m not racist. In every person I respect the human being first and foremost.”.
● On April 19, the Director of the National Scientific Agricultural Library of the National Academy of Agrarian Sciences of Ukraine Victor Vergunov spoke at a mass gathering of a public interest group from thr Batkivshchyna (“Fatherland”) party. His speech included several antisemitic statements It began with the phrase “we are being ruled by the wrong Jews” and ended in a dubious joke about Jews hanging on pull-up bars.
5. The Uman incident
On January 26, the Uman community service providers (Cherkassy region) were taking down the so-called “Cohen bridge.” During their work, a confrontation took place between the police and a number of Orthodox Jews, most likely from Israel, who were attempting to disrupt the process.
As far as can be inferred, the incident was not antisemitic in nature per se. However, judging from the available videos, it is dubitable that the use of riot control weapons by law enforcement officials was well-founded. The demolition of structures that are part of the complex around the gave of tsaddik rabbi Nachman of Breslov, which is venerated by Jews, began last year. The city officials postulated that the structures were build without due approval. The previous demolition, on January 20, was of the fence around the so-called “Cohen bridge.’ The bridge was built so that cohenim, descendents of ancient Jewish priests, who are forbidden from stepping onto the soil of cemeteries, could approach the synagogue near the tomb.
Confrontations over the demolition of various structures took place throughout 2016, and the police used riot control weapons during the confrontations. Moreover, the Jewish religious infrastructure has been subject to arson and vandalism.