Ukraine's Jews Welcome Results of Presidential Election

Jewish Agency opens aliya hotline and Kiev Jews establish self-defense group as tension in the divided country continues.

AP

Jewish leaders in Ukraine have welcomed the victory of Petro Poroshenko in the country’s presidential election and the poor showing of ultra-nationalist candidates.

With 94 percent of the votes counted, the Odessa tycoon won 54.4 percent of Sunday’s vote, the Ukrainian Central Elections Commission announced on Tuesday.

“The resounding victory of Poroshenko in just about every region of Ukraine not only eliminated the need for a costly second round but also sends an important message of unity,” said Josef Zissels, chairman of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine.

“The failure of the ultranationalists reflects a reality which we have been trying to represent all the time, despite Russian propaganda’s attempt to portray Ukrainian society as intolerant,” Zissels told JTA.

Alexander Levin, president of the Jewish Community of Kiev, wrote on Facebook that the failure of Oleg Tyagnybok of the ultranationalist Svoboda party and Dmytro Yarosh of the Right Sector movement to win any significant support “showed that in Ukraine, there is no policy of-Semitism, period.”

Igor Schupak, a prominent figure in the Jewish community of Dniproptrovsk and director of the city’s Jewish museum, said he believed Porosheko was “certainly equipped to lead Ukraine at this critical time with his vast experience and set of skills that range from banking to foreign policy.”

Meanwhile, the Jewish Agency for Israel has opened a hotline for Ukrainian Jews wishing to move to Israel.

The hotline, which streamlines the immigration process, was opened earlier this month in the wake of unrest following the Ukrainian revolution in February.

Immigration from Ukraine to Israel nearly tripled in March, as compared to last year, and is up 142 percent from January to April, according to the Jewish Agency.

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky told JTA that although there are no plans as of yet for a mass evacuation of Jews in the region, the situation has put the Jewish community there in a precarious position.

In Kiev, a group of Jewish men with military experience has established a Jewish self-defence force, which was deployed around some of the city's Jewish institutions ahead of the presidential election.

“We were naïve, I guess. We had thought this conflict would not affect the Jewish community, but now we know we are a target,” said Tzvi Arieli, the group’s founder and trainer in techniques he mastered in the Israel Defense Forces. “Honestly, we should have formed this force months ago.”

Arieli and his team are worried that their community has become a pawn in the fight that pro-Russian separatists have waged against the Ukrainian government since the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych in February.