We started as the VOICE OF THE REFUSENIKS successfully working for free emigration from the Soviet Union, democracy, human rights, and against anti-Semitism.
From 1970-1991, UCSJ led the grassroots movement to allow Soviet Jews to emigrate, and spoke out against anti-Semitism and human rights abuses in the USSR. UCSJ was the spokesperson for the Refusenik movement and worked for the release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. Through individual councils in most major cities in the U.S., UCSJ was able to send individuals into the Soviet Union to provide aid and support for the Refusenik community. It was the major leader of the “March on Washington” in support of Soviet Jewry in 1987, which drew 250,000 demonstrators. In 1989 UCSJ also helped found the American Association for Jews from the Former Soviet Union. After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, UCSJ created human rights organizations in the various new countries of the former Soviet Union (FSU). Many of these organizations have since become independent NGOs dedicated to fighting against anti-Semitism, xenophobia, religious discrimination, and abuse of human rights. They advocate for democracy and the rule of law. UCSJ maintains a collegial relationship with these NGOs and has worked with other similar NGOs in the FSU as their unofficial representative in the United States. UCSJ maintains official representatives in Russia and Ukraine to advocate for these organizations in the U.S. and regularly sends representatives to the FSU to meet with these NGOs and to discuss issues of common interest.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, we continued to pursue our goals and, as in the past, we continue to listen to those who live in these countries today. Asked by our friends in Ukraine to help pass the Magnitsky Bill, which targeted human rights violators in Russia in 2012, we created and led a coalition of religious freedom NGOs who lobbied the US Congress to pass the legislation. Today, the efforts from working for this legislation are being felt in our national inquiry into Russian interference in the US elections. Putin is still fuming at the Magnitsky Bill, indicating that our work is still effective. For the last seven years, our office in Lviv, Ukraine, led by Meylakh Scheykhet, has been fighting against the local government who wished to build a hotel on top of the ancient Jewish cemeteries in Lviv. The UCSJ has brought multiple law suits in the Ukrainian courts to stop this desecration and enjoin the city of Lviv from destroying these Jewish heritage sites. This has been successful with the courts siding with the UCSJ. When the city still refused to abide by the court’s decision, the UCSJ lobbied the US Ambassador’s office in Kiev who has supported our efforts. It appears that the city of Lviv has finally agreed to let the Jewish community preserve the Jewish cemeteries.
Through its offices and partnerships in the former Soviet Union (FSU), UCSJ is able to give first-hand reports of human rights abuses as they occur in the region. Our direct fact finding is used by the U.S. Department of State and other organizations in their work.
UCSJ has partnered with over 55 other NGOs to report on and discuss incidents of human rights transgressions through the blog “Coalition Against Hate (Коалиция против ненависти).” The main purpose of the “Coalition Against Hate” is to unite the NGOs in their struggle against xenophobia, neo-Nazism,and extremism in the FSU.
UCSJ has also joined with other U.S. organizations concerned with international religious freedom to form an informal mutual alliance. This alliance lobbies the U.S. Congress, State Department, and the President for help in defending religious freedom around the world. The alliance also jointly petitions offending countries to cease their wrongful activities.
What the UCSJ’s doing uniquely different from other Jewish human rights organizations in the United States?
Cooperates with donors, private and federal, and provides free depository to transfer funds to and support operations of the independent human rights organizations in countries of Former Soviet Union (FSU) with repressive regimes without costs to the recipients.
Builds support for the preservation of Jewish cultural heritage and human rights in Ukraine and elsewhere.
Builds partnership with non-Jewish NGOs to increase resilience of the human rights movement in countries of the FSU, including but not limited to encourage implementation of the economic sanctions and support human rights respect in that territory.
Develops coalitional activities in fighting xenophobia, hatred, and intolerance, including participation in horizontal networking, such as International Religious Freedom Round-table and lobbying for new legislation that benefits NGOs in the FSU.
Our supporters include individuals around the world who are concerned about human rights transgressions, as well as the fate of the 1.3 million Jews who still reside in countries of the former Soviet Union (FSU). Many are aware that neo-Nazi activity and xenophobia are all part of a host of human rights problems in this region. As a result, our supporters today include non-Jews and organizations that understand the need for UCSJ and its NGO partners to continue acting as a voice for the voiceless in these countries.