National Minority Rights Monitoring Group
Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union
Antisemitism in Ukraine, 2017
Antisemitic Hate Crimes
1. Physical attacks on the grounds of antisemitism
According to my monitoring, no cases of antisemitic violence were registered in 2017.
In previous years, since the beginning of systematic monitoring, the following number of victims were registered in acts of violence on the grounds of antisemitism:
● in 2004 – 8 persons, in 2005 – 13 persons, in 2006 – 8 persons, in 2007 – 8 persons, in 2008 – 5 persons, in 2009 – 1 person, in 2010 – 1 person, in 2011 none, in 2012 – 4 persons (as a result of 3 incidents), in 2013 – 4 persons, in 2014 – 4 persons, in 2015 – 1 person, in 2016 – also 1 person.
Please note that the peak of crimes on the grounds of antisemitism fell on 2005. Following 2007, a noticeable decline is seen, and in the past ten years, the number of such incidents remains at a stable low level. Apart from numbers, it is important to note that years 2005 – 2007 were marked with the wave of most violent street attacks that really threatened the lives of their victims. But statistics over the recent years shows that after some decline in the number of attacks in 2012 – 2014, their indicators declined to minimal in 2015 – 2016 again.
The only registered case of a physical fight on the basis of antisemitism is described bellow. But no physical violence was registered against the victim, so, according to the monitoring rules, I did not include it into this statistics.
● On March 30, a group of teenagers singled out and taunted a rabbi (name withheld for confidentiality reasons) at the Most City mall in Dnipro (former Dnepropetrovsk). One of the teenagers shoved the rabbi with his shoulder, and the rabbi’s kippah fell to the floor. The teenagers shouted insults and threats, such as “you should all be killed” and “kikes get out of here.” The conflict did not evolve beyond a heated verbal argument; no physical violence was involved.
The rabbi contacted the police. According to him, proceedings were opened, and preliminary assessment qualified the case according to Article 296, Part 2 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code (“hooliganism”) .
2. Antisemitic vandalism
I describe vandalism as doing physical harm to the buildings of Jewish infrastructure (synagogues, community centers), tombs in Jewish cemeteries and memorials to Holocaust victims, for instance, the breaking of glass or arsons, as well as graffiti of antisemitic and/or neo-Nazi nature on such objects that demonstrates ideological motivation.
In 2017, a total of 24 cases of antisemitic vandalism were registered.
In previous years, from the beginning of systematic monitoring, the following number of cases were registered: in 2004 – 15 cases of antisemitic vandalism, in 2005 – 13 cases, in 2006 – 21, in 2007 – 20, in 2008 – 13, in 2009 – 19, in 2010 – 16 cases, in 2011, 2012 and 2013 – 9 cases each, in 2014 – 23 cases, in 2015 – 22, in 2016 – 19 cases.
Thus, in 2016, the number of cases of antisemitic vandalism continue to decline from the previous years after their outbreak in 2014 – these indicators returned to the level of 2006 – 2009.
● On March 24, unknown vandals defiled the monument to Holocaust victims in the outskirts of Ternopol, near the village of Petrikov. With red paint, they crossed out the magen-david on the wall and painted a swastika with double lighting bolt (SS symbol) .
The police have already visited the site of the crime.
● On April 18, we learned of the defilement of the memorial sign in the site of mass shootings of the times of the Holocaust near the town of Kostopol, Rivne region .
Unknown vandals painted swastika on the memorial.
Chairman of the District State Administration, Olexander Sereda, turned to the law enforcement bodies urging them to quickly investigate this crime.
Students of the Kostopol Construction and Technology College of the National University of Water and Nature Use restored the memorial that same day .
● On April 27, unknown vandals defiled the monument to Holocaust victims in the outskirts of Ternopol, near the village of Petrikov. With red paint, they crossed out the magen-david on the wall and painted a swastika with double lighting bolt (SS symbol) .
The police came to the site of the crime almost immediately.
● Around May 5, an act of vandalism was carried out in the Jewish cemetery in Cherkassy. Unknown vandals used stencils and black paint to paint swastika and words “Tolerance is weakness” on the wall .
● In the early hours of May 11, the memorial complex of victims of the Jewish ghetto in Chernivtsi was defiled. This was reported in the Facebook account of Chairman of the Miriam Chernivtsi City Charity Jewish Community, city council deputy and organizer of the memorial construction, Ilya Khoch.
Vandals used red paint to put swastika and numbers “14/88” on its wall. This number code is well known in radical right-wing youth subculture circles and means “Heil Hitler” (by the numerical order of Latin letter “h”) and “14 words” – the motto and a so-called brief credo of modern neo-Nazis whose authorship belongs to American racist David Lane.
● In the early hours of May 12, the gates of the synagogue of Chernivtsi, at 11, Sadova Street, were painted with graffiti in the form of two small swastikas, done in red paint.
In the morning, the rabbi informed the local departments of the Ministry of the Interior and of the Security Service of Ukraine of this crime.
On the same day, before Shabbat, the graffiti were painted over by synagogue workers .
● On June 9, the Odessa online publication Timer published photographs of swastika painted on the building of the Migdal Jewish Community Center, at 46a, Mala Arnautska Street (the graffiti were painted on the wall and the gates of a side street) . According to the publication, the photograph was sent by passers-by. The information was reprinted by many local publications.
The Community Center staff learned of the graffiti from a Security Service worker who read of this act of vandalism in the mass media. The staff of the Community Center requested me to point out that they do not exclude a pro-Russian provocation, for according to them, the Timer website – the first source of this information – is well known for its support of separatists and its constant anti-Ukrainian propaganda.
The Midgal staff decided not to turn to the police .
● On June 12, Israeli pilgrims found the results of an act of vandalism against the ochel tomb (prayer pavilion over the tomb) of the daughter of honored Chassidic tsaddik (righteous man) rabbi Nachman – Sarah and Chaya and their husbands, rabbi Itskhak and rabbi Aaron in Kremenchuk, Poltava region.
According to the information spread, the ochel burned down, while the tomb got ruined (although even prior to the arrival of pilgrims the locals tried to restore the monument) .
● In the early hours of June 21, unknown persons defiled the memorial board in the Synagogue Square in Lviv.
The incident took place at around 1:30 am. The vandals used a black marker to paint swastikas, a Celtic cross and the “odal” rune (used in the Third Reich, in Annenerbe, in symbols of some youth symbols and fight units of the SS, it is also popular in the neo-Nazi youth circles) as well as the inscription “white power” .
● In the early hours of June 30, unknown persons threw a bottle with Molotov cocktail at the wall of the functioning synagogue in Lviv (at 4, Mikhnovsky Brothers Street), damaging the façade of the building. Antisemitic inscriptions were left on the building of the synagogue at 3, Ugolna Street. The inscriptions said, “Away with Jewish power” and “Kikes, remember July 1” (possibly hinting at the pogrom on July 1, 1941) . Memorial boards disappeared from the building of the Jewish Community House at 12, Sholom-Aleichem Street .
● On July 11, antisemitic insults were found written in the territory of the memorial complex in honor of Holocaust victims in the village of Pyatidni, Volodymyr-Volynsky district of Volyn region. This was reported by Chairman of the Volodymyr-Volynsky Jewish community, Volodymyr Muzychenko.
A huge graffiti was found written on the asphalt next to the steps leading to the memorial: “WZO = [magen-david] = [swastika]”. WZO is the abbreviation for the World Zionist Organization (whose use shows the antisemites’ certain ideological knowledge).
The inscription could be made one of the days from June 22, when the memorial was visited by the locals.
On top of that, Volodymyr Muzychenko found a self-made training camp with sports equipment and even temporary lodgings with patriotic symbols. He also found traces of black pathfinders and gravediggers. Finally, antisemitic graffiti (in particular, names of Ukrainian parliamentary political parties written next to the rays of a six-point star) were found at the bus stop next to the village of Vorchyn .
Around 20 thousand Jews from Volodymyr-Volynsky and close-by villages were shot by the Nazis at the village of Pyatidni.
● At around 12:30 am on July 13, three young men defiled the memorial board “Synagogue Space” (at 50, Staroyevreyska Street) in Lviv. They used black paint to draw a swastika on it. A passer-by who witnessed the incident called the police and held up the teenagers until the police arrival. The vandals made no attempt to run or oppose him and did not behave aggressively.
The antisemites were young men of 15, 17 and 20 years of age. The video shot by the passer-by shows that two of them had clean-shaved heads. They were dressed with elements of the militaristic style (one was wearing camouflage pants, another – camouflage shorts), one had a Celtic cross on his t-shirt, another wore a t-shirt of the SvaStone company, popular among the Ukrainian radical right-wing youth subculture and the “Hammer of Tor” tattoo on his arm. After the police registered the crime, they made the detainees wipe off the swastika with a dissolvent. Then the young men were taken to the Galytske police department where a protocol of the administrative offence was made. Then they were let go. The action of these young men was qualified as “minor hooliganism” according to Article 173 of the Code of Ukraine of Administrative Offences .
● In the morning of August 3, an act of vandalism was found against the monument to Holocaust victims on the outskirts of Ternopol, near the village of Petrikov. Criminals poured red paint over the monument .
● On August 7, results of an act of antisemitic vandalism were found at the old Jewish cemetery of Delyatin, Nadvornyansky district, Ivano-Frankivsk region. On one of the tombs, a swastika and a five-point star was painted in white .
● On August 23, an act of vandalism was found in the Jewish cemetery of Svalyava, Trans-Carpathian region). Unknown persons pushed down around 24 tombstones, including the monument to famous rabbi of the 19th century, Sholom Goldenberg .
On October 1, suspects in this crime were detained. They were underage students of Svalyava secondary school № 1 .
● At the end of August, an antisemitic graffiti was found on the memorial stand of the “Synagogue Space” in Lviv. A black marker was used to write an obscene antisemitic slogan with a call to violence, and a swastika .
● On November 27, words “Death to kikes” were found on the outside fence of the Hesed Shpirah Charity Fund in Uzhgorod, Trans-Carpathian region. .
● Hanukkah lampstand – hanukiya – was defiled twice during Hanukkah in the Kontraktova Square in Kiev.
On December 13, a swastika and the coded racist slogan “14/88” was painted on the metallic base of the lampstand .
On December 21, the foundation of the hanukiya was painted in red .
● On December 25, antisemitic graffiti defiled three Jewish objects in Odessa.
The “wolf hook” graphic symbol and words: “First toast for holocaust!” were painted in while on the doors of the Museum of the Holocaust and Fascism Victims at Mala Arnautska Street .
Symbols of the “wolf hook” and two phrases “Away with kikes, Ukraine for Ukrainians [sic – V.L.]” were painted in red at the fence and the gates of the Brodsky synagogue at Zhukovsky Street.
“Aunt Sonia will not save you, Ukrainians are masters here!” and a “wolf hook” were painted at the entrance to the Beit Grand Jewish Culture center at Tiraspilska Street in red .
On the same day, videos of graffiti were posted on youtube.com registered channel of Ukrainian Orderlies APO [probably All-Ukrainian Public Organization – V.L.] . No organization with a name like this had been known before.
Notably, all the phrases were written in Ukrainian with spelling mistakes.
Proceedings were launched according to Article 161 of the Criminal Code.
3. Unconfirmed reports
This section includes cases reported in the media as hate crimes but for which we have not been able to confirm the motive. In some cases, the report has been deliberately mispresented, but the majority of these are cases wherein there is simply not enough information to state with confidence that the motive of the crime was specifically antisemitism – or, indeed, whether a crime took place at all or not.
● On January 22, it was reported that a memorial to Holocaust victims in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi city, Odesa region, erected at the local shooting site, was damaged. However, it was impossible to determine for certain whether the monument was targeted and damaged by ideologically-motivated vandals or whether the damage had other sources .
The memorial was erected in 2005 by the Jewish Foundation of Ukraine and the local Jewish community.
● On February 7, a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust that was erected on the shooting site in Belgorod-Dnistrovsky, Odesa region, was found to be damaged again. The memorial slab, which collapsed and was damaged in the fall, was taken by the staff of the Blagoustroistvo City Center (public amenities providers) .
● On March 9, it was reported that a wall near the Savran city Holocaust memorial (Odesa region) collapsed.
The Director of the Odesa Holocaust Museum, Pavel Kozlenko, reported that vandals had completely torn down the memorial. “A memorial to the victims of the Holocaust was recently completely destroyed at the new Jewish cemetery in Savran, Odesa region,” he noted. “The memorial was completely smashed, down to the smallest brick,” Director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, Eduard Dolinsky, wrote on his Facebook page in support of this version of events.
The Savran District State Administration, however, elaborated on that statement: only one part of the memorial complex had collapsed – its wall, while the memorial itself was perfectly intact. According to the Odesa regional authorities, the collapse took place because the wall was old and in bad condition, so there was no reason to speak of vandalism. Moreover, the wall collapsed approximately a month before Kozlenko’s report, and the local authorities were made aware of the fact at the time. The press department of the Head Office of the National Police in the Odesa Region also stated that the wall had deteriorated and finally collapsed for natural reasons.
The wall is only one of the memorial’s parts, and it had been considered a safety hazard for several years before it finally collapsed. Its deteriorated condition was also obvious from photos of the collapsed wall. The memorial itself has been abandoned for a long time. According to the administration, the memorial was erected by the Jewish community, but no Jews currently reside in Savran. The memorial is also not included into the registry of memorials, and thus is not protected by the government .
● On February 13 and 16 , information was published on social networks about alleged attacks on citizen of Israel Alexander Livschitz. According to these posts, the attacks took place in Kharkiv and were conducted by “Nazis from the Azov Batallion.” Moreover, on February 20 , an update was posted saying that the victim had died as a result of the attacks. According to the message, the victim was attacked because “he was a Jew and looked characteristically Jewish.”
After a thorough fact check, we have determined these reports to be completely false. There were no real attacks underlying these Facebook posts .
● On March 19, volunteers from the Beit Grand Jewish Cultural Center discovered damaged tombstones at the Berezovka village Jewish Cemetery (Savran district, Odesa region) . The Director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, Eduard Dolinsky, published these reports on his Facebook page . Dolinsky’s information was reprinted by many media outlets, confidently stating that “vandals have desecrated the memorials.” However, the Savran District State Administration office stated that the decrepit tombstones suffered natural environmental damage .
● On May 11, several Israeli religious websites reported in Hebrew about the desecration of the grave of Yihel-Mihal Hager, the grandson of the first Vyzhnytsia Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager, located in Storozhintsi, Chernivtsi region. The tombstone was found broken a year ago. It was cleaned, restored and replaced, and a canopy was hung up over it. But pilgrims who recently visited the site discovered significant damage. They published photos of the broken tombstone, which cracked along the old break line, and the absence of any canopy on site, and stated that the sacred site has been desecrated .
After checking the facts, it turned out that the incident had a natural cause: a tree fell on the grave during a storm, damaging the canopy and smashing the tombstone. The cemetery groundskeeper had sawn apart and removed the dead trunk and took down the damaged canopy .
● On May 25, users of social networks and many media outlets reported an act of vandalism conducted towards the Menorah Holocaust Memorial located in the Babyn Yar Historical and Cultural Preserve in Kyiv .
According to reports, the memorial was covered in red paint. It turned out that the memorial was covered in leftover colored lamp wax from memorial candles that were carelessly placed by visitors to the memorial .
● On June 4, Rabbi Moshe Reuven Asman reported that unknown criminals broke the glass and broke open the window pane in the ohel (prayer pavilion placed over a grave) of Rabbi Mordechai Tversky (the Chernobyl Rabbi). Apparently, the criminals had wanted to break inside the pavilion .
Although many media outlets wrote about “the desecration of the tomb,” we are not qualifying this as an act of vandalism motivated by hatred, as there is no evidence of the criminals having an antisemitic motive.
● On September21, a grenade went off in a garage in Uman where pilgrims were staying. A 13-year-old teen was injured. As far as it was possible to confirm, the grenade fell down from a window (or a balcony) of a multistoried building on the roof of the garage .
Many journalists and representatives of Jewish organizations spoke of this incident as an act of antisemitism. On top of that, the Security Service of Ukraine and the Ministry of the Interior claimed they detained suspects in this crime. According to them, the alleged criminals were not deliberately antisemitic but wanted to ignite ethnic enmity for provocation purposes.
However, according unofficial information at my disposal, the grenade went off as a result of careless treatment in a drunken condition.
4. Public manifestations of xenophobia
● On January 1, a March of Honor took place in honor of the birthday of Stepan Bandera. It was organized by the political party Svoboda All-Ukrainian Union and some other ultranationalist political groups. Certain antisemitic slogans, both direct and veiled, were recorded during the march. Part of the marching column chanted “Juden – out!” during the march . One of the banners had a Wolfsangel and a picture of what was most likely the Kyiv Grand Prince Sviatoslav I Igorevich, as well as the slogan “Let us win against the second Khazarian Kaganate!”
Contemporary post-Soviet antisemitic discourse spreads myths based on pseudo-historic interpretations of Khazaria as a state ruled by Jews who mercilessly robbed the people. Popular chauvinist literature has a complex group of code words and notions that refer to this theory. In the context of post-Soviet radical right-wing historic mythology, a reference to the victory of Sviatoslav over the Khazars always has antisemitic subtext.
● At the end of January, an antisemitic flyer was spread across different residential districts in Kyiv. The flyer, a double-sided A4 page, was stuffed into people’s mailboxes. It was titled “Why are Ukraine and Russia still occupied by kikes?” Its text consisted of a summary of many popular antisemitic accusations: “The highest echelons of power in Ukraine are infiltrated fully by half-Jews and half -Jewisses. They mostly do not want any goodness or happiness for the people and the state where they live. Their activity boils down to solving their narrowly self-serving interests and executing the plans of the kike-masons in creating a quasi-regional kike-kaganate […]. The foreign kike-leadership chose the region near the Black Sea to create the kike-kaganate as well as the unique black soils of Ukraine, part of Moldova, Bulgaria and Kuban. […] The actions of the Jewry are defined by the corrosive protocols of the global Jewish expansion, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” [The style of the original has been preserved across translation as much as possible. – translator]. .
Notably, an analysis of the text shows that it appeals (judging by the politicians it mentions and their positions) to the Ukrainian political situation of 2012-2013.
According to the residents of Kyiv who found the flyers, the unknown disseminators put several flyers into each mailbox. It is likely that these flyers had a significant print run.
● On February 26, nationalist organizations erected a cross as a memorial to fallen soldiers of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) in Kolomyia, Ivano-Franksivk region, at the intersection of Chekhov and Petlyura Streets. The cross was erected without approval of the authorities .
The problem was that the park was built by the Soviet government over an old Jewish cemetery. Over twenty years ago, the town council decided that this plot of land was “territory of a memorial cemetery” (according to town council resolution #86, “On providing local enterprises and organizations with plots of land”). The Kolomyia Orthodox Jewish community was given permission to develop a project to improve the memorial cemetery’s territory. In the fall of 2015, the community began implementing its renovation project. According to the renovation plan, the community would modernize the lighting in the park, replace asphalt roads with block paving, declutter old trees and shrubs and plant new ones. The community also began to create “Walls of Memory,” which would stand alongside the pathways and display preserved fragments of matzevahs – tombstones. There were approximately 1,300 tombstones in various conditions found around the city. Back in the times of the Soviet Union, they were used for paving streets and courtyards. However, the community did not approve the renovations plan with the city council. Many local citizens were unhappy with the park being blocked off for renovations. Even though public access was quickly restored, residual hard feelings remained. Acts of vandalism, including arson attempts, were conducted against Jewish objects, including the “Walls of Memory,” the synagogue, and the prayer pavilion (ohel) that was erected on the grave of the tsaddik (righteous man) Gillel Boruch Lichtenstein, who was the head rabbi of Kolomiya in the 19th century.
It is highly probable that the erection of the cross was a conscious act of provocation aimed at aggravating inter-ethnic relations in the city.
● On March 19, a resident of Kryvyi Rih asked the unaffiliated MP of the Parliament Ukraine, Nadiya Savchenko, the following question on a live NewsOne show: “Nadya [informal, short version of the name. -transl], why does no one talk about what the people talk about. I was standing on the [bus] stop, a man was talking, and an old woman was sitting there and saying that the Bible has it all: that there was the Tatar Mongol Yoke, there was the Polish Yoke and now there’s the Jewish Yoke for Ukraine. Why are you silent on this?”
Nadiya Savchenko reacted as follows: “Yes, thank you! Good question. If people talk about it, then they speak the truth. And yes, our government, if we look at it from this perspective, really has non-Ukrainian blood, let’s put it that way. We can speak about this – but what can be done about it? We must think and act!”
On March 25, TV anchor and journalist Dmitry Gordon spoke to Nadezhda Savchenko live on a Channel 112 show. He quoted the aforementioned response and asked, “You don’t like the Jews, do you? What’s going on here?” The MP answered: “I have nothing against the Jews, but I don’t like the kikes. I have said time and time and again that there is no such thing as a bad nationality, but there are bad people who exist in every nationality. It’s the same: you’ve got Ukrainians and khokhols. There’re Russians and there’re katsaps. This is why… There’re Poles and there’re lyakhy… This is why… Here in our Ukraine… It’s very hard to say that Ukraine is an antisemitic country. Because Jews make up about 2% of the Ukrainian population, but about 80% of those in power.” “So tell me, I want to know, who are the Jews in power?” Gordon asked. Savchenko replied: “The smartest Jews say that there isn’t anyone, that there are no Jews in power. They’re saying that it’s kikes who are in power.” “Let’s name some names,” Gordon insisted. “Which Jews – or kikes – are in power? Let’s name them.” “Well, mostly…” Nadiya Savchenko gave it some thought. “It’s hard, we’re not doing a blood DNA test, we can’t check this, but if we use the classic comparison of surnames, that would be Groysman, Waltzman, [which is] Poroshenko’s last name, that would be Yuliya Tymoshenko…” Gordon clarified: “Poroshenko is Waltzman?” “I think that’s his surname,” the MP replied and continued, “that would be Yuliya Tymoshenko, whose last name also bears Jewish origin [sic – V.L.] These are MPs… Bereza is just one of them, then… [indecipherable] too, they even say that’s their nationality and that they are religious. This is why there’s a big difference. So when that woman said that we have a ‘Jewish yoke’ she probably wanted to say that we have a ‘yoke of kikes,’ that here, in Ukraine, it’s not the best representatives of their people and nation who are in power.” “This is both about the Ukrainians and the Jews?” “And the Jews. Absolutely. This is why… The Ukrainian government is not of Ukrainian blood because it doesn’t care about the Ukrainian people. These can be representatives of very different nationalities. But they all become of one blood – their blood type changes to ‘power.’ And this is not the blood of the people, it’s not Ukrainian. This is why our life is so bad. But really, my parents told me about Jews, because they survived the war, and they gave me many examples. Like there was a doctor, a Jew, who saved a lot of people in their village from being taken to Germany. He gave them […], told them that they’d need to have skin sores on their hands… So… There are many, many more such examples. So you can never judge an entire nationality by one person. No. Every person is unique, and most people in any nationality are good. But scum does exist.” “So you’re not an antisemite?” Dmitry Gordon concludes. “No,” Nadiya Savchenko replies confidently. “Nor am I a racist. I respect the human being in every person first and foremost.”
● On April 19, the Director of the National Scientific Agricultural Library of the National Academy of Agrarian Sciences of Ukraine, Victor Vergunov, spoke at a mass gathering of a public interest group from the Batkivshchyna (“Fatherland”) party. His speech included several antisemitic statements. It began with the phrase, “We are being ruled by the wrong Jews” and ended in a dubious joke about Jews hanging on pull-up bars .
5. The Uman Situation
On January 26, the Uman community service providers (Cherkassy region) were taking down the so-called “Cohen Bridge.” During their work, a confrontation took place between the police and a number of Orthodox Jews, most likely from Israel, who were attempting to disrupt the process.
As far as it was possible to confirm, the incident was not antisemitic in nature per se. However, judging from the available videos, it is dubitable that the use of riot control weapons by law enforcement officials was well-founded. The demolition of structures that are part of the complex around the gave of tsaddik rabbi Nachman of Breslov, which is venerated by Jews, began last year. The city officials postulated that the structures were built without due approval. The previous demolition, on January 20, was of the fence around the so-called “Cohen Bridge”. The bridge was built so that kohanim, descendants of ancient Jewish priests, who are forbidden from stepping onto the soil of cemeteries, could approach the synagogue near the tomb.