Ukraine’s Jewish community has gone into security lock-down following Saturday’s overthrow of the country’s disgraced president and a Molotov cocktail attack on a synagogue, writes Stephen Oryszczuk.
It comes after a national protest movement in the East European country toppled Viktor Yanukovich, police snipers and paramilitaries having earlier killed scores of unarmed activists in the capital Kiev.
Following a week of violence, there was concern on Monday night as a synagogue in the south-eastern city of Zaporizhia had a home-made fire bomb thrown at its outer wall causing “cosmetic” damage.
Across the country, extra precautions were being put in place, with the Jewish Agency extending emergency aid to strengthen security around the Jewish institutions visited by some of the country’s 200,000 Jews. “We have a moral responsibility to ensure the safety and security of Ukraine’s Jews,” said Agency chairman Natan Sharansky.
“Ukraine is one of the most vibrant Jewish communities in the world, but recent events show we must strengthen security measures.”
Religious leaders echoed that caution. Yaakov Bleich, one of four Chief Rabbis, said: “We have no information of Jews being targeted, but there is a danger because of vigilante groups. We are definitely worried about security and everybody should keep their guard up.”
However, other communal leaders sought to play down the headlines. Vyacheslav Likhachev of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress said no attack against Jews could be traced back to the protests and that isolated incidents of anti-Semitic violence may even be attempts to stir up opposition to them.
“There is no real special danger for the Jewish community due to anti-Semitism from protesters,” he said. “The question of ethnic minorities has never been on the agenda of the protest movement.”
Similarly, Vadym Rabinovich, President of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress, said Ukraine was “tolerant and peaceful”. He added: “I have spoken to the leaders of radical and nationalist groups, who assure me there is no anti-Semitism here, no reason to fear anti-Semitism.”
However, Chabad Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman said: “I told my congregation to leave the city and, if possible, the country too. There are constant warnings about intentions to attack Jewish institutions.”
Throughout the violence, Joint Distribution Committee volunteers wearing protective gear continued to provide food aid to Jewish pensioners such as Mihail Solomonovich, 82, homebound since the shooting began.
Hatzalah Ukraine chairman Rabbi Hillel Cohen said: “Until order is restored, we recommend everyone acts with great caution.”