Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Ukraine: Jews need serious help—and nobody is listening

Via Mosaic Magazine:
In early 2014, political disruption in Ukraine devolved into unrest, a Russian invasion of the country, and a war that is still not over. Yet today, almost six years later—and despite a phone call between the U.S. president and his Ukrainian counterpart that dominated the American news cycle for weeks - even those who closely follow international events remain, for the most part, in the dark about Ukraine’s overall present situation, its history- or, in particular, the condition of its Jews.

That’s reason enough to appreciate Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews, a recent book by the journalist Sam Sokol. Based largely on the author’s prolific firsthand reporting for the Jerusalem Post between late 2013 and 2016, the book is so far the only one on the “Donbass War” to tackle the subject encapsulated in its subtitle: “Anti-Semitism, Propaganda, and the Displacement of Ukrainian Jewry.”

When Sokol’s story begins in 2013, Viktor Yanukovych, Ukrainian president and Putin ally, had pulled back from signing an association agreement with the European Union. Protesters came out en masse to Kiev’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”), and things soon spiraled out of control. By late February 2014, military-police actions to quell the demonstrations had resulted in more than 100 dead. Within a week, Yanukovych was gone; the protesters seemed to have won. But Russia was not about to relinquish its grip on a territory that had been in its sphere of influence since the 17th century.

From the moment the protests began, Ukraine’s Jews - numbering anywhere between 70,000 and 350,000 (the gap reflecting the difference of opinion between Israeli demographers and local Jewish leaders) - feared how the unrest would affect them. Even by European standards, their country had an ugly history of anti-Semitism, and its national movement had for centuries been intertwined with a special antipathy toward Jews.

Stepan Bandera
These concerns seemed justified when, in the midst of the Maidan protests, anti-Semitic Ukrainian nationalist symbols appeared, speakers called on Ukrainians “not to give in to the Jews,” and a crowd of 15,000 marched to celebrate the birthday of Stepan Bandera, who during World War II had led a paramilitary group that, siding with the Nazis against Soviets and Poles, assisted in the extermination of Jews. Later on, two synagogues would be firebombed and a handful of visibly Orthodox Jews near a Kiev synagogue would be brutally assaulted.

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