Opinion

'Clear the Kikes From Ukraine!' Who Will Confront Kiev's Spiraling anti-Semitism Problem?

When the same vicious anti-Semitism is voiced by a far right militia leader and a Ukrainian diplomat, it's a sign how deeply Jew-hatred, and hyper-nationalist Holocaust revisionism are contaminating Ukrainian society and politics

Neil Karpenko
Neil Karpenko
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Activists from the ultranationalist, anti-Semitic National Corps light flares during a rally at the appeals court in Kiev, Ukraine. Sept. 5, 2019
Activists from the ultranationalist, anti-Semitic National Corps light flares during a rally at the appeals court in Kiev, Ukraine. Sept. 5, 2019Credit: Efrem Lukatsky,AP
Neil Karpenko
Neil Karpenko

"Ukraine will belong to Ukrainians, instead of kikes!"

"Clear the kikes from Odessa and Ukraine!"

The first of these remarks was made by a leader of a Ukrainian far-right paramilitary organization. The other - by Ukraine's diplomatic consul based in Hamburg, Germany. That they are indistinguishable is a loud warning signal for how far anti-Semitism has penetrated politics in Ukraine.

That might be counter-intuitive for the only state in the world, except for Israel, where the posts of president and prime minister are both held by people of Jewish descent. The remarks by Hamburg consul Vasiliy Marushchinets in a Facebook post last year caused enormous indignation in foreign diplomatic circles.

He went on to write: "My God: Punish kikes," and "Babi Yar. Not kikes in 1941, but Ukrainians from 1918-1941 were killed here." And: "The Jews declared war against Germany back in March 1934," and "Death to anti-fascists." 

His flagrant anti-Semitism is not an isolated example. That is clearer than ever reading the 23-page report on anti-Semitic incidents in Ukraine over the past year prepared by the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, the country’s Jewish community representative organization.

The report’s depressing findings show that anti-Semitic tendencies are widespread across the right-wing political spectrum, among politicians of different party affiliations.

On 2 May last year, three parties - "Freedom," "Right Sector" and "National Order Squads" - organized "The March for Order in Ukraine."

During the event, Tatiana Sojkina, Odessa’s "Right Sector" leader, gave a speech calling "to clear kikes from Odessa and Ukraine": "We will establish real Ukrainian order in Odessa. Ukraine will belong to Ukrainians, instead of kikes! No to oligarchy [a dog-whistle term for "Jewish power"]! Glory to Ukraine!" 

The head of the ultranationalist National Order, Andriy Biletsky, declared several years ago that Ukraine's national mission was to "lead the white races of the world in a final crusade...against Semite-led Untermenschen [subhumans]."

Ukrainians march to celebrate anniversary of nationalist hero's birthday

The situation is even worse in unreconstructed government departments. A prime example is in the Ukrainian army.

In July 2018, a Ukrainian military man of Jewish origin, whom the report identifies for his own safety only as "B," who was doing military service in eastern Ukraine reported that he had been repeatedly name-called "Jew" and "Judah," in an abusive tone. The man addressed a complaint to the police and the public prosecutor's office - but nothing happened.

The main military public prosecutor Anatoliy Matios told an interviewer that Jews were preparing a bloody revolution in Ukraine: "There are always Parvus in every war [referring to Alexander Israel Helphand, the controversial Russian Jewish theorist and activist of Marxism]; they financed Lenin and the revolution, and for decades, Slav blood flowed. That one [Parvus] was also of Jewish origin. In this case they want to do the same with Ukraine again."

Sadly, the radicalization of Ukrainians towards anti-Semitism now starts at an early age – in school. At the beginning of July, an exhibition ostensibly showcasing 77 years since the modern rebirth of the Ukrainian state opened in Lviv’s Supreme Council building.

Enormous banner commemorating 70 years since the establishment of the 'heroes' of the Galichina Division, a Nazi SS division composed of Ukrainian volunteeers, unfurled at a foot match in Lviv, Ukraine
Enormous banner commemorating 70 years since the founding of the 'heroes' of the Galichina Division, a Nazi SS division composed of Ukrainian volunteeers, unfurled at a foot match in Lviv, UkraineCredit: Wikipedia

As part of the exhibition, the city’s education and science department initiated a drawing competition for schools on Ukrainian volunteers who served from 1943-45 in the ranks of the "Galichina" division.

Galichina was a Nazi SS division populated mostly by Ukrainian volunteers. As well as their active service in the SS, declared a criminal organization at Nuremberg, there are serial accusations that its members participated in the murder of Jews during WWII.

The whitewashing of Nazi collaborators is a recurrent theme. Last autumn, the Kiev regional administration website offering information about its setting up of memorial plaques to honor two of the most infamous Ukrainian ideologists of Nazism and inciters of the massacre of Jews, Dmitriy Dontsov and Symon Petliura.

Dontsov once wrote: "International Hebraism is a force of demoralization, emasculating the soul of a people, and undermining patriotism." Petliura was an early-20th century Ukrainiain nationalist whose troops murdered countless Jews in pogroms beginning in 1919. Numerous streets in Ukrainian cities are named after him; in 2016, a minute of national silence was held in his memory.

Ukrainian and Russian neo-Nazis raise arms in a Nazi salute during nationalist  march in the memory of the so-called Galychyna Division, in Ukraine's western city of Lviv. April 28, 2012
Ukrainian and Russian neo-Nazis raise arms in a Nazi salute during nationalist march in the memory of the so-called Galychyna Division, in Ukraine's western city of Lviv. April 28, 2012Credit: Petro Zadorozhnyy / AP

At the end of last year, to cap it all, Lvov regional council announced 2019 as the "Year of Stepan Bandera." Bandera headed a militant wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, Hitler’s close collaborators, and responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews. The same month, the Ukrainian state announced that Bandera’s birthday would henceforth be a national holiday

The ambassador of Israel in Ukraine, Joel Lion, harshly criticized the move. He wrote on Twitter: "I was shocked, having heard the decision of Lvov regional council about announcing 2019 the year of Stepan Bandera.

"I cannot understand, how glorification of those, who are directly involved in awful anti-Semitic crimes, helps in struggling against anti-Semitism and xenophobia. Ukraine should not forget these crimes, committed against Ukrainian Jews, and in no way to admire them, paying tribute to their initiators."

From laundering nationalist heroes’ pro-Nazi past, it isn’t far to go before you arrive at Hitler worship itself. In September 2018, the then chairman of Ukrainian parliament, Andrey Parubiy stated, admitingly, on national TV that Adolf Hitler had been a real fan of direct democracy and "actively carried it out."

But such persistent anti-Semite rhetoric doesn’t remain just words – it leads to officially-sanctioned repressive actions against Jews in Ukraine. 

For instance, Moshe Reuven Asman, rabbi of Kiev’s Central Synagogue of Kiev, lodged an official complaint that the synagogue had been tapped with surveillance devices by Ukraine’s national anti-corruption department - an illegal, discriminatory act. He wrote, "I consider these illegal actions to be flagrant violation of constitutional, religious rights of believers, and create  the  foundation  for  speculations and  provocations against Jewish people."

Activists from the ultranationalist, anti-Semitic National Corps burn flares during a protest outside a court building in Kiev on September 5, 2019
Activists from the ultranationalist, anti-Semitic National Corps burn flares during a protest outside a court building in Kiev on September 5, 2019Credit: AFP

The overall picture is gloomy. Some Ukrainian Jews may have seen seeds for hope in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official visit in August to Ukraine.

Like Jewish communities in other central and eastern European countries, whose governments  indulge anti-Semitic tendencies more and more, there is still some expectation that their own politically and demographically insignificant voices could be amplified by the Jewish state, which has always declared itself a fighter against anti-Semitism, Holocaust revisionism and a protector of the world's Jews.

But Ukrainian Jews shouldn’t raise their expectations too high for Israel to make much noise when it's politically inconvenient - as the Jewish communities of Hungary and Poland can attest.

Ukraine's 120,000 Jews will have to build alliances on their own to fight an anti-Semitism that is becoming institutionalized and unremarkable. As the community's report concludes, soberly and damningly, state authorities have demonstrated a "total absence of attention" to solving the country's anti-Semitism problem.

Dr. Neil Karpenko, a graduate of Sciences Po, is a contributing author to the Morning Star and Eurasia Review and lives in Toronto

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