Kharkhiv Jews Stay Calm Amid Separatist Storm Elsewhere in Ukraine

No Nerves in Bubble of Stability 20 Miles From Russia Border

getty images

By Katherine Jacobsen

Published May 08, 2014, issue of May 16, 2014.

(page 2 of 3)

In the media war between the West and Russia, both sides have continued to paint their opponents as anti-Semitic in an effort to sway, or frighten, the Ukrainian Jewish community to their side. But winning the support of Jews as a bloc has proved impossible — not least because the Jews in Ukraine come from highly diverse backgrounds and political inclinations.

Daniil Padafa, a 21-year old Jewish student from Crimea who studies in Kharkiv, said he gets most of his news from his parents, who just don’t understand why eastern Ukraine can’t have a referendum on breaking away from Ukraine the way Crimea did in March. No member country of the United Nations except Russia — which soon thereafter annexed the territory — recognized the Crimean referendum, in which 97% of those voting backed annexation by Russia. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, later acknowledged that unidentified militiamen who seized control of government buildings in Crimea prior to the vote were Russian military.

But in the eyes of his parents, Padafa said, Westerners illegally ousted the constitutionally elected Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, who leaned toward Russia, during mass anti-government protests in February, and Crimeans peacefully demanded a referendum in response. It stands to reason for them that eastern Ukrainians should be allowed to demand the same, he said. Padafa said that he himself is nervous about ultra-nationalist factions taking part in Ukraine’s new interim government.

“The red-and-black flag of the far-right groups in Kiev should still make Jews nervous,” he said.

Padafa was referring to the flag of the World War II-era Ukrainian Insurgent Army that is used by the present-day, ultra-nationalist “Right Sector” group in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army at one stage collaborated with the Nazis and participated in the Nazis’ mass murder of Ukrainian Jews, though it is not clear to what extent. “World War II wasn’t so long ago,” Padafa said.

Elena Dankina, 49, said she isn’t worried about Svoboda’s ultra-right rhetoric. An avid supporter of the new government in Kiev ­— her nails were painted blue and yellow in support of Ukraine — Dankina said Svoboda has changed.

Dankina said that last November she protested alongside members of Svoboda when the so-called Euromaidan protests calling for Yanukovych’s ouster started in Kharkiv.

“If someone told me a year ago that I would stand calmly next to people from Party Svoboda, I would never have believed it,” Dankina told the Forward during an interview at Kharkiv’s Israel Cultural Center. “I categorically thought that Party Svoboda was not a party that I could stand next to.” But, she said, after the party was elected to parliament in 2012, it dropped its anti-Semitic rhetoric and went more mainstream.

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.