Shaken, and stirring: Ukrainians pack bags
By day, the Maidan, Kiev’s revolutionary square, is a jumble of tents, flags and half-demolished barricades. The anti-government groups who led the resistance are selling hot tea to passers-by, their burning rubber tyres having given way to makeshift stoves. Stalls display martyr badges and scarves in Ukrainian colours: the revolution is already being commodified. By night, however, armed paramilitaries — including some neo-fascist groups — still control sections of the square and locals warn against walking through the area.
The corrupt and self-serving former president Viktor Yanukovich may be gone, but in Kiev nobody is entirely in control. And while no-one — from the man on the street to presidential hopefuls — claims to know what Russian forces will do next, in the case that they do invade, they
have only one response: there will be war.
The 100,000-strong Jewish population of Kiev is preparing for the worst. One prominent member of the community, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “There weeks ago it was
worse, because nobody knew if Putin would stop at Crimea. We were panicking and arranged cars to take us to the border.
“Now there is a feeling that the emergency has passed, but there is huge uncertainty. Many Jews have left and others are packing up now.”
He stressed, however, that it was not the fear of racist attacks that was encouraging the exodus. “There were four attacks in one month in one small area of the city — it was within the same two city blocks. Before that, I had never heard of anything like it. It happened immediately after a spate of media reports saying that the revolutionaries had many antisemites in their ranks. I think that the news reports could have provoked the actions.”
The possibility of a Russian invasion is also pushing Jews in smaller cities — especially in the east — to leave, with many looking to make aliyah.
The Jewish community hub in Dnepropetrovsk, the Menorah Centre, houses a small Israeli consulate, which is receiving an average of 25 aliyah applications a day. “The phone rings every ten minutes,” said Viacheslav Smotkin, head of the consulate.
One of those queuing up was Yuri Rinkov, a programmer from Krivoyrog. He said: “We planned to move several years ago, but now we are ready to go, partly due to the political situation. Jewish life in my city is good. There are no problems for Jews.”