Members of an elite Ukrainian anti-terrorism unit took part in a simulated hostage rescue mission in Kyiv’s main synagogue, storming the sanctuary and rescuing an actor standing in for Israeli Ambassador Joel Lion, who was standing by and watching the operation from a nearby command center, Ukrainian authorities said Sunday.
Teams of armored and masked gunmen belonging to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) swarmed through the Brodsky Synagogue, securing the building and detaining simulated terrorists, one of whom screamed “Allahu Akhbar” (“God is the greatest” in Arabic), during the ersatz confrontation.
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According to Ambassador Lion, firefighters, paramedics, the national guard and police also took part in the exercise, which required shutting down several blocks of downtown Kyiv, including a shopping mall and a metro station. He said that the drill, which had been planned and postponed several times, was one of a series organized by the SBU and the Israeli embassy and was not an indication that either side believed there was a serious threat to the local Jewish community.
The synagogue, which also houses a kosher restaurant and grocery, is under regular protection by undercover SBU agents, Lion said.
Since the Ukrainian revolution in 2014 that ousted the country's pro-Kremlin president, Moscow and Russian state media have claimed that Ukraine is controlled by a fascist junta that has made Jewish life in the post-Soviet republic intolerable – a charge that local Jewish organizations deny.
Russian news reports described fictional attacks on Jewish citizens and claimed that Jewish newspapers and schools were being shuttered. Some Jewish communal leaders in Ukraine have even accused Russia of staging antisemitic provocations for propaganda purposes.
There was a series of violent attacks against ultra-Orthodox Jews in Kyiv during the revolution, although violence soon returned to a low level. In subsequent years, however, antisemitic vandalism, especially against Holocaust memorials, rose significantly.
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In May, an unknown gunman shot at a synagogue in central Ukraine and the leaders of the local Jewish community kept the incident under wraps for nearly a month in an attempt to avoid a panic. The shooting came less than a year after an assailant armed with an axe attacked a synagogue in the eastern city of Mariupol. Nobody was hurt in either incident.