Last week, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko shocked the Jewish community by honouring a man who has falsely accused Jews of perpetrating the worst crimes of the Soviet state.
Mr Poroshenko’s office announced it was awarding author Vasyl Kvasnovsky the prestigious Order of Freedom. Mr Kvasnovsky has blamed the Jews for Soviet atrocities during the Second World War and for mass-famines engineered by the Soviet Union during the 1930s. In his book, From Gloom to Light: Muscovite-Kikes Syndrome of the Holocaust of Ukraine, he quoted the fabricated antisemitic text The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
In the past, the Order of Freedom has been presented to the philanthropist George Soros and the American senator and Vietnam War hero John McCain.
Rabbi Moshe Azman, who serves the Jewish community in Kiev, wrote to Mr Poroshenko declaring his decision to award the honour to Mr Kvasnovsky an “international scandal which casts a black shadow of antisemitism and xenophobia on Ukraine”. The announcement of the award was later amended but it remains unclear whether it was withdrawn or Mr Kvasnovsky’s name merely removed from the president’s website.
This is not the first time Ukraine has honoured antisemitic activists. In 2015 parliament passed a bill honouring members of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), an independence movement that collaborated with the Nazis and murdered tens of thousands of Jews and ethnic Poles during the Second World War.
Ukrainian Jews were outraged late last year when a sign honouring a few members of the OUN who died at Babi Yar was placed at the site for an official government commemoration organised in conjunction with the World Jewish Congress. OUN members had been murdered after the organisation clashed with Nazi Germany over its refusal to recognise an independent Ukrainian state in 1941.
Last month, Ukrainian politician Yuriy Shukhevych proposed a bill that would impose fines or a jail sentence upon anyone criticising the OUN. This measure, if passed, would effectively bar Jews from teaching about the historical role of Ukrainian insurgents during the Holocaust.
Meanwhile, in a bizarre twist, Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin wrote to Jewish members on Holocaust Remembrance Day last week declaring the Ukrainian government had last year “appointed a special representative on antisemitism and xenophobia prevention and counteraction.”
Eduard Dolinsky, who runs the Kiev-based Ukrainian Jewish Committee, an advocacy group, told the JC he was not aware of the appointment, as did the World Jewish Congress. A spokesman for the foreign ministry subsequently forwarded an April 2016 press release announcing the appointment, but its low profile, even among Jewish communal organisations in Ukraine, makes it hard to take seriously.
Holocaust commemorations are becoming increasingly divisive across Europe. This year the Croatian Jewish community boycotted Croatia’s Holocaust commemorations for the second year in a row, accusing the government of Holocaust distortion. The same happened in Hungary in 2014. Ukraine, it seems, may be going down the same path.