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While Yanukovych was still president, bands of government-funded thugs were frequently hired to intimidate anti-government protesters and provoke fear and discord in the anti-government protest movement. These groups were especially active in Ukraine’s south and east, a region where Zaporozhye is located. Their presence became so common that a special word entered the vernacular to describe them: titushki.
Zissels said it was not unreasonable to think that groups like the titushki were responsible for this attack, using it to spread fear that the new Euromaidan-backed government will allow a new wave of anti-Semitism to hit Ukraine. “Mainstream events that are going on in Ukraine don’t involve anti-Semitism in any way,” he said.
According to Rabbi Yaakov David Bleich, one of the country’s other chief rabbis, the big challenge now is putting the government back together again so that there can be comprehensive order in society.
Still, Bleich echoed U.S. Department of State advisories urging against travel to Ukraine at this time. Bleich said he advised a group of rabbis who were planning a tour in Ukraine to reschedule their trip. “I can’t guarantee their safety and neither can anyone else,” Bleich said.
Bleich also expressed concern for the safety of his community, though not, per se, as Jews. Unlike foreigners or tourists, they have nowhere to flee, he said. Bleich has set up an online fund to help raise money for the protection of Jewish schools and community centers, which he said is needed as the country transitions. Bleich’s community currently relies on a private security service that costs $1,000 per day.
The rabbi advised Jews in Ukraine that “they should stick around [but], don’t go around at night, don’t go places you shouldn’t go, that’s it.”
Bleich, who met with top members of Ukraine’s provisional government on February 25, said he found the acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, intent on the key issues. “The issues are not national minorities,” he said, but restoring order to Ukraine. And on this he was hopeful.
“The most important part of events on Maidan is that Ukraine was given a new dawn, a new opportunity to reorganize a democratic society,” said Bleich.
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