Tensions Increase in the Ukraine
By Sarah Ann Haves
Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to foment unrest in eastern Ukraine despite protests by leaders of the international community. Russian forces have conducted military drills on the border, currently amassing as many as 40,000 troops. Russia has denied that any ground forces are operating inside the Ukraine, but Putin is undermining Kiev’s authority by stirring unrest in certain regions of eastern Ukraine. Pro-Russian rebels recently took over Ukrainian public buildings in several eastern cities. In addition, they have now occupied a television station in the eastern Donetsk region of the Ukraine, demanding that the station broadcast only Russian programs.
On Monday, April 28, 2014, Gennady Kernes, the Jewish Mayor of the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, was shot in the back and seriously wounded. He had been accused, first, of supporting pro-Russian militias in the Ukraine; but, then later coming out in support of Kiev’s new political administration.
known to increase
when there is instability
in former Soviet Union
No one has claimed responsibility for the shooting of Kernes, and Ukrainian Jewish community leaders believe there is no Jewish connection to this crime. Most Ukrainians continue to deny that there has been an increase in anti-Semitism in the region, despite several attacks on the Jewish community in recent weeks.
Israel is also playing down anti-Semitic incidents in the Ukraine. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman recently claimed there is no connection between these attacks and the Russian stand-off with Kiev.
Yet, anti-Semitism is known to increase when there is instability in Russia and former Soviet Union countries, specifically because of militant nationalism.
This explains a recent incident in eastern Ukraine when Jews coming out of synagogue were handed leaflets demanding that they sign-up with local authorities. The language used was reminiscent of the Holocaust. No one claimed responsibility for the anti-Semitic leaflets.
Meanwhile, Russia continues to accuse the pro-Western Kiev government of anti-Semitism, and the Kiev government continues to accuse Moscow of provoking anti-Semitic incidents inside the Ukraine.
In March 2014, Oleksandr Feldman visited Israel. He is one of only 8 Jews that are members of the Ukrainian Parliament, out of 450 MP’s. He is also President of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee and, for more than 30 years, he has dedicated his life to helping Ukrainian Jews survive. As a businessman and community member his interest is in the schools, kindergartens, synagogues, hospitals, everything that is a vital part of everyday life.
“Everything that is going on now in the Ukraine, I do see through the prism of the safety of the Jewish Community.”
However, Feldman also denies that anything significant is happening in regard to anti-Semitism. He admits that there had been an outburst of anti-Semitism in 2012 during parliamentary elections, as small right wing groups expressed anti-Semitism freely, including on Ukrainian broadcasts. But, they received a harsh response from the Ukrainian public. According to Feldman, the European community and different embassies got involved and the anti-Semitism dissipated.
For now, Feldman insists that Ukrainian society is keeping quiet, despite continued reports of random acts of anti-Semitism.
“We think that anti-Semitism ideas are in their hearts, but it is not proper to express them…. It does not pay off anymore to be anti-Semitic today.”
So, what about Russian President Vladimir Putin claiming he wants to protect the Jews in the Ukraine from anti-Semitic incidents conducted by Ukrainian militia groups?
According to Feldman, “It is all lies. It is just a camouflage action. This just pretends to be. It doesn’t exist in reality.”
Under the international accord signed in Geneva last month, illegal armed groups in the Ukraine, including pro-Russian rebels occupying public buildings in eastern Ukraine, are supposed to disarm and go home. But, that has not happened; and, instead, random clashes continue to break out between pro-Russian militants and Kiev’s pro-government forces.
Tensions have mounted as Kiev’s government has refused to pay ever-increasing gas bills from Moscow, and Moscow’s gas companies have said they are going to cut off supplies to the Ukraine. But, European nations are protesting, as that would directly affect them. Many of the pipelines that deliver natural gas to the Europeans go through the Ukraine.
Meanwhile, U.S. and European sanctions have increased, the purpose being to hurt Russia’s economy and send a strong message to Putin to stop his expansionist policies. A recent third round of these sanctions was aimed at individuals and Russian businesses, similar to previous sanctions. The U.S. and Europe want to stop Putin from causing continued instability in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk recently declared that a military conflict in the Ukraine will lead to a military conflict in Europe. Already, Russia’s aggressions have led the U.S. military and NATO to prepare their forces to help their EU partners.
Though most Ukrainians have resigned themselves to Putin’s recent military annexation of Crimea in the south, they are not willing to stand by and let Russia take over other parts of the Ukraine. And, they fear Putin is getting ready to send thousands of his troops into eastern Ukraine.
|“If they enter
the eastern part
of the Ukraine,
there will be war.”
Eduard Dolinsky, Director General of the Ukrainian Jewish Community, who accompanied Feldman on his trip to Israel, said the Ukrainians are not ready to fight with Russia. But, according to Dolinsky, “if they enter the eastern part of the Ukraine, there will be war.”
How the Ukrainian Jewish community will fare in these circumstances is still an unknown factor, especially if random acts of anti-Semitism continue. Reportedly, there are approximately 200,000-400,000 Jews still living in the Ukraine, and it is expected that the Israeli Jewish Agency is already considering contingent plans if it will be necessary to bring them home.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
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