Jews Find Complex Ties with the New Ukraine despite Encouragement from the Moderate Nationalist Government, Ukraine's Jewish Community Says Anti-Semitism Lingers

By Daniel Sneider, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 2, 1994 | Go to article overview

Jews Find Complex Ties with the New Ukraine despite Encouragement from the Moderate Nationalist Government, Ukraine's Jewish Community Says Anti-Semitism Lingers


Daniel Sneider, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


ON the outskirts of the Western Ukrainian city of Rivne, a sign written in Cyrillic and Hebrew points the way to a hillock above the road. From the crest of the hill, you can look down into a round pit, at the center of which rises a stone memorial. Around the edge of the pit, on dark marble sheets, the names of more than 17,000 Rivne Jews are inscribed in Hebrew.

On Oct. 7, 1941, the Jews of Rivne were driven from their homes by German invaders. According to eyewitness accounts, they were marched to this pit, ordered to undress, shot, and shoved, many of them still alive, into the mass grave.

The memorial here is freshly built, in parts still unfinished, constructed less than two years ago by Ukrainian Jewish organizations with support from the Yad Veshem Institute in Israel and the Ukrainian Council of Christians. But already there are signs of vandalism, a few fence posts knocked to the ground.

The memorial itself captures the complicated situation in which the Jews of Ukraine - and of the entire former Soviet Union - find themselves.

The Ukrainian government of President Leonid Kravchuk has visibly encouraged the Jewish community, which numbers about 500,000. The government has supported the return of synagogues, has officially marked Jewish holidays, and openly acknowledged the horrible events that took place here during the Nazi occupation period. `Wave of anti-Semitism'

At the same time, however, there is what Lvov Jewish community leader Kotlik Bension calls a "wave of anti-Semitism." Much of it is associated with extremist Ukrainian nationalist groups, which embrace anti-Semitic ideas as part of a broader anti-Western and anti-Russian outlook. In western Ukraine, where such groups have the strongest support, five extremists won seats in the Ukrainian parliament in elections held last month.

The most prominent group is the Ukrainian National Assembly (UNA) and its paramilitary arm, the Ukrainian Self-Defense Organization (UNSO). The UNA newspaper, Golus Natsii (The Voice of the Nation), regularly features anti-Semitic cartoons and writings.

"Old and worn-out Europe is in trouble again," wrote Dmitro Donzob in a recent issue. "The brutal Uncle Sam with his leveling and ruinous cosmopolitanism, cult of money, and Coca-Cola ideology is exerting his pressure upon Europe. Both international Zionism and Russian chauvinism are also engaged in their vicious business."

UNA leader Andrei Shkil denies any anti-Jewish views: "We don't want to build an anti-Semitic or anti-Russian state. We want to build a pro-Ukrainian state."

Ukrainian nationalist groups were particularly active in protesting the trial and continued detention of John Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian emigre to America tried for war crimes in Israel but later released when his conviction was overturned. Ukrainian protesters gathered at the Lvov synagogue carrying slogans such as "All the gold of Ukraine is in the hands of Jews," reports Mr. …

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