News / Europe

    Crisis Puts Pressure on Ukraine's Jews

    Crisis Puts Pressure on Ukraine's Jewsi
    Al Pessin
    June 06, 2014 8:09 PM
    The unrest in Ukraine in recent months has put the country’s Jewish community under new pressures, with a surge of anti-Semitic graffiti and at least one attack on a synagogue. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from Odessa, one of the main centers of Jewish life in the country.
    Al Pessin
    The unrest in Ukraine in recent months has put the country’s Jewish community under new pressures, with a surge of anti-Semitic graffiti and at least one attack on a synagogue. Odessa is one of the main centers of Jewish life in the country.

    On a typical weekday, some of Odessa’s Jews gather for morning prayers as they have for generations.  Ukraine is home to 70,000 practicing Jews, the fourth largest community in Europe. Some 400,000 Ukrainians have Jewish roots.  Normally, the Jews participate in business, politics and other aspects of life without significant notice.

    But at times of tension like Ukraine has experienced in recent months, anti-Semitic feelings come out, like this graffiti.  It reads “Death to Jews.”  It’s at the site of the fire on May 2nd in Odessa, in which dozens of pro-Russian demonstrators were killed.  

    But Odessa’s Chief Rabbi, Abraham Wolff, says the Jewish community is divided on the Russia-Ukraine issue, just like the broader community.

    “I think that the Jewish question has really no role in this war.  Many people think that there is a Jewish question because they are constantly trying to involve Jews on the grounds of our nationhood.  But this is absolutely not true," said Wolff.

    Still, Rabbi Wolff was involved in painting over some anti-Semitic graffiti recently, along with the regional leader of the new Right Sector political party, who said his group had nothing to do with it.

    And the rabbi admits to having an exit plan for Odessa’s Jews, although he says he doesn’t expect to have to use it.

    “There are dangers, but they’re not imminent.  And I don’t think they will become real.  Naturally, we have some problems - anti-Semitism, fascism - like in every country," he said.

    Anti-Semitism is deeply rooted in some parts of Ukraine.  There were anti-Jewish pogroms in the early 20th century, and this ravine in Kyiv was the scene of one of the worst Nazi massacres of World War II.  More than 30,000 Jews were lined up, shot and buried at Babi Yar.  Today, it draws few visitors, and children use the ravine as a shortcut on their way home from school.

    At the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, Professor Volodymyr Paniotto says 20 years of research indicates anti-Semitism spiked about six years ago.  But he says non-Jewish Ukrainians don’t have significantly different views on Jews than on most other ethnic groups.

    “We consider that mainly it’s connected with the worsening of the situation.  The level of poverty was increasing. And when the situation became worse, people tried to find some enemy," said Paniotto.

    Paniotto says the current crisis has also made some people look for scapegoats, but he does not think that represents a long term change for the Jews of Ukraine.

    You May Like

    Video How Aleppo Rebels Plan to Withstand Assad's Siege

    Rebels in Aleppo are laying plans to withstand a siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in likelihood the regime cuts a final main supply line running west of city

    Scientists Detect Gravitational Waves in Landmark Discovery

    Researchers likened discovery to difference between looking at piece of music on paper and then hearing it in real life

    Prince Ali: FIFA Politics Affected International Fixtures

    Some countries faced unfavorable treatment for not toeing political line inside soccer world body, Jordanian candidate to head FIFA says

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    NATO to Target Migrant Smugglersi
    Jeff Custer
    February 11, 2016 4:35 PM
    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.