Balaclava-clad far-right paramilitaries fire into the air at the funeral in Ukraine of an anti-government protestor. This is not a tribute to a fellow right-wing nationalist, but to a Jewish construction worker, Alexander Scherbanyuk.
Of the approximately 100 people killed during the protests in Kiev that swept Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich from power in February, three were Jews, according to Vyacheslav Likhachev, a Ukrainian anti-Semitism expert.
Scherbanyuk, 46, a construction worker and political activist from Chernivtsi, was killed by sniper fire on February 20.
The same day, snipers in Kiev killed two more Jewish anti-government protesters, Josef Shiling, a 61-year-old construction worker from Drogobych and Evgeniy Kotlyar, a 33-year old ecological activist from Kharkiv. Each of the three men, whom the Ukrainians consider as martyrs to their revolution, were known by their local Jewish communities, Likachev said.
Scherbanyuk “was buried with a gas mask, a hardhat, and a kippah,” Likhachev wrote on the website of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.
The inclusion of a far right group, Right Sector, at Scherbanyuk’s funeral in Chernivtsi on February 23, underlines the diversity of the Ukrainian revolution.
It also shows how Jews and right-wing nationalists get along in today’s Ukraine.
Right Sector is an umbrella organization that represents many groups, including the Neo Nazi Social-National Assembly, Likhachev said. But other paramilitary groups that included Jews also fought under the Right Sector umbrella, he said.
David Fishman, an expert on the former Soviet Union at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, said that the experience of fighting alongside Jews may have had an effect on the Right Sector’s language towards Jews.
Right Sector’s leader, Dmitry Yarosh, recently met with the Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine to allay concerns and to pledge to fight racism and anti-Semitism in Ukraine.
“They speak the language of force, they speak the language of violence,” said Fishman. “What’s interesting is that they are not speaking the language of anti-Semitism.”