Chronicle of Antisemitism in Ukraine & Russia: 2005-2006
(February 2, 2007)
(For release January 2007)
Antisemitism remained a serious problem in Ukraine and Russia in 2005-2006. Both countries have yet to overcome the historical legacy of Tsarist and Soviet mistreatment, violence, and discrimination against Jews. Both confront similar problems of corrupt and dysfunctional criminal justice systems that are ill-equipped to deal with relatively complicated legal issues like hate crimes and hate speech. Antisemitic attitudes among the general population are widespread, and several politicians in both countries have been elected and re-elected while openly espousing antisemitic beliefs.
Nevertheless, conditions in both countries differ in five significant ways:
- The neo-Nazi movement has expanded rapidly in both countries, though to a much greater extent in Russia, where it laid down roots much earlier than in Ukraine.
- The frequency of violent attacks on Jews is higher in Ukraine than in Russia, where the main targets of neo-Nazi gangs are dark-skinned migrants. These migrants greatly outnumber the Russian Jewish population, while in Ukraine non-Russian migrants are present in much smaller numbers. The additional factor of Islamophobia stoked by the wars in Chechnya further aggravates Russian nationalists’ attitudes towards dark-skinned migrants, pushing the Jews further down the list of “enemies” than they were in the past.
- Ukrainian media frequently ignore antisemitic attacks, in contrast to the Russian media, which does a better job of reporting both antisemitic and racist violence. Most of the attacks that UCSJ learn of in Ukraine are never reported in the mainstream Ukrainian press.
- In both countries, there is an unfortunate tendency by some local authorities and law enforcement agencies to cover up hate crimes by lumping them under the vague rubric of “hooliganism.” Some local authorities have denied the existence of neo-Nazi gangs in their region, despite clear evidence to the contrary. However, in recent years, this kind of disingenuous official rhetoric has become less common in Russia as the problems of extremist nationalist groups and inter-ethnic violence spin increasingly out of control. In Ukraine, the neo-Nazi movement is at an earlier stage of development than in Russia, and most of media is indifferent to this issue, which allows some local officials and agencies the political cover to deny that extremist nationalist groups and antisemitic violence are serious problems. Russia’s hate crimes laws, which were effectively moribund in the 1990s, are being applied more frequently in recent years, while in Ukraine, UCSJ is only aware of one successful hate crimes prosecution this decade.
- In Russia, a coalition of human rights NGOS (made up of UCSJ, the Moscow Helsinki Group, the Sova Center, and others) has been very effective in voicing concern, engendering media attention, and putting pressure on Russian officials when it comes to hate crimes. No equivalent to this coalition currently exists in Ukraine. On the other hand, the Kremlin’s crackdown on NGOs—society’s first line of defense against antisemitism and other human rights abuses—could make the situation much worse in the near future in Russia. Correspondingly, Ukraine’s climate of greater political freedom since the Orange Revolution may in time have the opposite effect.
This report details only the most serious antisemitic incidents reported in 2005-2006 in Ukraine and Russia—those that involve violence or the direct threat of violence against Jews and incidents of official actions and inaction that have a negative impact on the Jewish community. The numerous incidents of vandalism or other property damage targeting Jewish communities that took place during the period covered by this report are for the most part omitted.
- On January 7, 2005, ten Orthodox Jewish youths (all around the age of 13) and three adults were assaulted by neo-Nazis as they made their way from a synagogue to their rabbi’s home in Simferopol, Ukraine. According to Anatoly Gendin, chairman of the Reform Jewish community in the city and a partner with UCSJ's Chicago affiliate, the Jews were ambushed by around 20 skinheads who appeared to be 5-10 years older than their victims. Yelling “Here are the Jews!” the neo-Nazis threw the children and the rabbi’s wife to the ground and started to beat them. Two 13-year-old girls were hospitalized, one with a broken skull, and another with severe damage to her face which necessitated an operation.
Just as dispiriting as the attack was the police’s reaction to it. Mr. Gendin criticized local police for trying to hush the matter up by declaring it ordinary “hooliganism” rather than an antisemitic hate crime. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, including other neo-Nazi attacks on the local Crimean Tatar minority group, police denied that skinheads even exist in the city. Mr. Gendin added that over the previous four months, vandals broke the Jewish center’s windows five times.
- Shortly after the attack on the Jewish children, Mr. Gendin reported to UCSJ that in the early evening of January 20, 2005 two young men approached a Jewish youth leader on a downtown Simferopol street and called him a “kike face.” The Jewish youth was armed with a gas powered pistol and immediately pulled it out, warning the attackers not to approach. When this didn’t stop them, he fired, knocking one to the ground. Attracted by the sound of a pistol, police arrived shortly thereafter and detained the two attackers.
- A synagogue in the western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankovsk that was vandalized on multiple occasions last year was once again targeted by antisemites in late January 2005, according to a February 1, 2005 report by the AEN news agency. The attack resulted in “significant damage” according to AEN—shattered windows and swastika graffiti. Police treated the incident as “minor hooliganism” rather than employing the rarely used section on the criminal code for hate crimes. A local Jewish community leader expressed his frustration with this situation to AEN in the following way: “This was not just hooliganism. The attack was ethnically motivated. Right next to the synagogue is a [Christian] cathedral, but for some reason the hooligans only broke our windows.” UCSJ is not aware of any arrests in connection with this incident.
- According to a February 7, 2005 report by the Russian Jewish web site Jewish.ru, antisemitic incidents continue to plague Jews in Donetsk. Yehuda Kelerman, chairman of the Donetsk Jewish Religious Community, told Jewish.ru that antisemitic incidents are becoming more frequent in the city. “Over the past year, there have been more incidents than there were in the preceding ten years,” Mr. Kelerman said, including a skinhead “parade” near the city synagogue. “More and more, youths are falling under the ideology of Nazism. If they see a Jew on the street, some of them yell out ‘Heil Hitler!’” The Jewish.ru report added that there are at least five extremist youth gangs operating in the city, some of them openly antisemitic, and that the city has been inundated by “a sea of antisemitic literature” mostly produced in Russia.
- In March 2005, a project manager for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) was attacked in Kiev by skinheads and suffered a broken nose. UCSJ is not aware of any arrests in connection with this incident.
- On March 17, 2005, the Ukrainian Jewish web site Jewish News (jn.com.ua) reported that a Jewish youth was attacked by skinheads near Kiev’s Brodsky synagogue on March 1. The youth, a university student named Aleksandr Koshman, was walking by the synagogue that evening with a friend when he noticed a group of around 15 skinheads wearing heavy boots and clothes reading “White Power.” He started walking quickly towards his car, but was hit behind the head. When he turned around, he was called a “kike” and thrown to the ground, where the neo-Nazis started to kick him. On March 17, 2005 a large swastika was painted on the Brodsky synagogue. The vandals reportedly avoided identification by parking a large truck in front of the synagogue’s security camera. The local rabbi reported the incident to police. UCSJ is not aware of any arrests in connection with these incidents.
- In May 2005, JTA reported that two young men assaulted Rabbi Shlomo Wilhelm, his son, and two other members of the Jewish community on Sunday evening in downtown Zhitomir as the men were heading home on the second night of Passover. The attackers were later arrested.
- In August 2005, Mordekhay Molozhenov, an Israeli yeshiva student, was put into a coma after being beaten and stabbed by neo-Nazis in Kiev. Another yeshiva student suffered minor injuries. Mr. Molozhenov finally emerged from his coma in November 2005. Three of the attackers were later arrested.
Later in August 2005, showing the continuing problem of Ukrainian police officials denying that neo-Nazi violence is a serious problem in their country, the deputy minister of internal affairs publicly asserted that the attack on Mr. Molozhenov and two other violent assaults on Jews in the preceding months were not motivated by antisemitism, according to a September 1, 2005 report posted on the Russian Jewish Congress’ web site Antisemitizmu.net. Deputy Minister Gennady Moskal made this assertion after meeting with the Israeli ambassador to Ukraine shortly after the attack on Mr. Molozhenov.
Information gathered from a variety of Ukrainian and Jewish media reports about the August 28 attack on Mordechai Molozhenov contradicted Deputy Minister Moskal’s claim. An August 29 report by the Ukrainian Jewish web site jn.com.ua reported that the group of men who attacked Mr. Molozhenov and his friend screamed “kikes!” as they threw bottles at them and then started beating and stabbing them with broken bottles. In addition, other yeshiva students were cited in the report as saying that a few days before, the same group of neo-Nazis attacked a group of yeshiva students in approximately the same location, but were driven off. Some Jewish leaders publicly contradicted the deputy minister. The head of the Jewish Agency called the attack: “A terrible act of antisemitism [which] unfortunately was not a surprise to us. A sharp rise in antisemitic acts has taken place in Ukraine recently: desecrations of Jewish graves, antisemitic graffiti on Jewish community buildings, and now attacks on Jews.”
Responding to a separate announcement by the Ministry of the Interior stating that there is no proof that the attack on Mr. Molozhenov was motivated by antisemitism, the chief rabbi of Kiev, Moshe Azman, was quoted in the August 31, 2005 Ukraine edition of the Russian daily Kommersant as saying that the attackers shouted antisemitic slogans, that such attacks are becoming more common in Ukraine, and that: “This problem is getting worse because nobody is taking it upon himself to eliminate it.”
- A few weeks after the attack on Mr. Molozhenov, on September 11, Rabbi Mikhail Menis and his 14 year old son visited a beer festival at the Kiev Expo Center and were set upon by seven young men and a young woman armed with chains and other weapons, according to a September 12, 2005 report by the MIG news agency (mignews.com). After a sustained beating, during which some of the attackers reportedly yelled neo-Nazi slogans, the attackers left. Both the rabbi and his son then approached some police officers, who within five minutes detained the group of suspects. Two of them were charged with “hooliganism” while the other six were held as witnesses.
Although the police response was commendable in its swiftness, the MIG news reporter covering the incident was flabbergasted by police statements that deny antisemitism had anything to do with the attack. Police officials publicly asserted that they “firmly believe” that the attack on the rabbi and his son, both of whom are Israeli citizens, was nothing more than “hooliganism.” Meanwhile, Vadim Rabinovich, head of the Ukrainian Jewish Congress, claimed that when he visited the suspects in jail, they told him in front of police guards that: “We will beat the kikes in the name of the purity of the nation.”
- An October 6, 2005 article in the Ukraine edition of the Russian national daily Komsomolskaya Pravda mentioned in passing an incident which took place sometime in the spring of 2005. Within the context of an article on recent incidents of people being pushed onto the rails of the Kiev subway or jumping in front of trains in suicide attempts, the article briefly described the following incident: A Kiev neo-Nazi, believing that a man standing on a subway platform was Jewish, pushed him onto the rails. Luckily, the man was pulled off the tracks before the train came. Police later arrested the skinhead. It is not clear if the victim of the assault was Jewish or not, but the incident was just one of a rising number of incidents of antisemitic violence in Ukraine over the past two years, many of which have not received broad media attention, or received only the kind of cursory, dismissive coverage that this Komsomolskaya Pravda article gave it.
- On February 3, 2006 a man entered Kiev’s Brodsky synagogue brandishing a knife and screaming that all Jews should be killed, according to a report that day by the Jerusalem Post. The man was detained by security guards and later arrested. Jewish leaders criticized the local prosecutor’s decision to only charge the man with weapons possession rather than a hate crime, despite the fact that since his arrest, he has vowed to murder Jews upon being released from custody.
- On February 8, 2006 the Global Forum Against Anti-Semitism—an Israeli quasi-governmental agency charged with monitoring antisemitic incidents around the world—reported that antisemitic incidents had decreased worldwide in 2005. The only two exceptions to the rule were Ukraine and Russia, where the report found that antisemitic incidents noticeably increased.
- On May 19, 2006 JTA reported that Ukrainian rabbis called on authorities to ensure the safety of the country’s Jews and adopt legislation against antisemitism. “We are trying to calm down Jews in our communities. We are trying to lower the level of anxiety,” rabbis said in a statement after a rabbinical meeting in Kiev. “Unfortunately we do not see any adequate or unequivocal response toward manifestations of xenophobia from the Ukrainian authorities.”
- On May 29, 2006 JTA reported that Ukrainian Jewish leaders announced their intention to appeal a court decision that found a school teacher innocent of making antisemitic statements. A court in the Kirovograd region acquitted Nikolay Yakimchuk, a public-school teacher, of hate speech charges. Several of his students testified that he allegedly said during his lesson that “Jews are bad and impudent people,” that Jewish students are only “taking space in our school” and there should be “no place for them among people.”
The JTA report did not mention that the teacher called for the extermination of Jews in Ukraine (he reportedly told his students: “They need to be exterminated, they have no place among people” according to a May 26, 2006 AEN report). This goes well beyond the realm of un-PC talk to clear incitement of violence. Ukraine's hate speech law has only been successfully applied once, against the newspaper Silski Visti, a decision that was overturned after the Orange Revolution. President Yushchenko subsequently awarded that paper’s editors medals.
- According to May 29, 2006 and June 5, 2006 reports by the AEN news agency, the parents of a Jewish youth who was shot by his neighbor in an alleged antisemitic attack accused police and prosecutors in Kiev of covering up the crime. On April 30, Nikolai Melchuk allegedly shot his neighbor, Konstantin Rukhlis, “while insulting his ethnic dignity.” Mr. Rukhlis and his mother filed a complaint with police, but no criminal charges were brought against Mr. Melchuk. Fearing that the police were dragging their feet, the victim’s mother took her son to a doctor for a forensic medical exam, which could be used later in court. The exam found that Mr. Rukhlis sustained non-fatal injuries to his ear and arm, as well as temporary loss of hearing, as a result of a gun shot. Allegedly, police investigators didn’t bother going to pick up the results, and when over a month later the Rukhlis family received official notification that no criminal charges were being brought against the alleged shooter, there was no mention of a gun shot or of the medical exam in the text of the refusal. The family has appealed the decision.
- On June 29, 2006 JTA reported that Ukraine’s Education Ministry called for seven branches of a Ukrainian university known for supporting antisemitism to be disbanded. The move is seen as a blow against MAUP, a Kiev-based private university that has printed antisemitic articles in school publications and supported conferences with antisemitic speakers.
- Vandals threw stones through the windows of a Jewish orphanage in Zhitomir according to a July 23, 2006 report by the AEN news agency. The orphanage's director, Brakha Tamarin, was cited in the report saying that a few days before, stones shattered the windows of her home, and that antisemitism is rising in the city.
- As a result of losing a libel suit against an academic institution that is the most prolific source of antisemitic literature in Ukraine, journalist Vladimir Katsman’s property was confiscated by bailiffs so that proceeds from the sale of his property can go to the winning side, according to a July 27, 2006 report by the UNIAN news agency. Mr. Katsman was sued by the Interregional Academy of Personnel (MAUP) after he authored several articles asserting that it publishes antisemitic literature and hosts conferences dedicated to spreading antisemitic ideas. He was also reportedly beaten (on April 8, 2006) and received death threats from people claiming to represent MAUP. None of these crimes have been solved, which Mr. Katsman attributed to the police’s “inaction.”
- Fans of a Tel Aviv soccer team who traveled to Odessa, Ukraine to lend their support in a match against the local Chernomorets club were attacked by soccer hooligans, according to a September 15, 2006 report by the Russian Jewish web site Antisemitizmu.net. The September 14 attack came after the local team lost 1-0 to the Israelis. It is unclear how many people were injured, though at least one Israeli had his eyeglasses broken. No arrests were in connection with this incident.
- A few days after this attack, the Russian Jewish web site Jewish.ru reported on September 20, 2006 that a group of youths beat up a Jew in front of numerous witnesses in Odessa’s downtown area. Chaim Veitsman was set upon during the evening of September 18 on a crowded street. A gang off youths, who witnesses say often hang out on that street, approached Mr. Veitsman. One screamed in his face, “I don't like kikes!” and started to attack him. “The hooligans were not afraid of any witnesses or that anybody would stand up for him [the victim]” the report’s author wrote.
After the beating was over, Mr. Veitsman, who was covered in his own blood and was suffering from a busted lip and a concussion, had to call the police himself. The officers who responded were reportedly not very interested in investigating the attack. A witness came forward and named one of the attackers. Mr. Veitsman then went to the police station with the officers and waited 40 minutes before someone took down his complaint. Sources within the local Jewish community told Jewish.ru that Odessa’s streets are becoming increasingly dangerous. People interviewed at the Migdal Jewish Cultural Center reported that over the past two years, five Jews affiliated with their organization have been attacked, and that police have not been able to solve even one of those cases.
- On November 2, 2006 the Russian Jewish web site Jewish.ru reported that antisemitic literature, including the infamous forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” was being sold openly inside the building of the Ukrainian parliament. The report cited Aleksandr Feldman, a parliamentary deputy, who listed several antisemitic titles on sale in the parliamentary bookstore, including “The Jewish Syndrome” by Eduard Khodos and several publications by the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management (MAUP), the country’s leading purveyor of antisemitic literature.
Mr. Feldman was quoted in the article as saying that this sort of literature had been on sale before inside the parliament, but that his earlier complaints put a temporary stop to it. In recent years, several members of the Ukrainian parliament have made public antisemitic statements, including glorification of anti-Jewish violence during the Holocaust and accusations that Jews were behind the terror famine of the 1930s that took the lives of millions of Ukrainians. In December 2006, Mr. Feldman was quoted in the media saying that the distribution of antisemitic literature inside the parliament building had stopped.
- On December 7, 2006 JTA reported that one in three Ukrainians do not want Jews to be citizens of their country, according to a survey conducted by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology. The survey also found that 36% of respondents do not want to see Jews as citizens of Ukraine, compared to 26% in a similar survey conducted in 1994. A Regions.ru report from December 6 added that the poll found 45% of 18-20 year olds in Ukraine don't want Jews to live in Ukraine—a higher rate than older respondents.
- On December 16, 2006, three Orthodox Jews were attacked in Kiev by a gang of young men screaming antisemitic abuse, according to a report from UCSJ's Kiev monitor Vyacheslav Likhachyov. The attack took place in the evening in the city’s Podol district as the Jews were returning from their synagogue. In a December 17 report, the AEN news agency quoted one of the victims as saying:
“Suddenly around 10 young people with bottles in their hands ran out of a courtyard. Screaming ‘kikes, get out of here’ along with several curse words they attacked us and started to savagely beat us. I and a friend managed to escape and called the police. However, when we called 02 [the local equivalent of 911], a voice told us to call back tomorrow because it was already late and the police couldn’t come. We found out later that our third friend [who didn't escape] was thrown to the ground and kicked. A passerby came out of a parked car and tried to help him. He tried to explain to the hooligans that it isn’t right to beat a man who is down on the ground. They beat him up too. We haven’t been able to find him. Our friend has a concussion and several other injuries.”
The police arrived the next day and began investigating the attack. They questioned the owner of a nearby apartment after learning from the victims that someone spat on them from its balcony. According to the AEN report, the Ukrainian media has been silent about the attack, and UCSJ has been able to find only one local media report (in the newspaper Stolichnye Novosti) on the incident.
- On January 1, 2005 a synagogue in the Moscow region town of Saltykova was torched by arsonists. Izidor Vayzer, head of the local Jewish community, alleged in a January 6, 2005 interview with the AEN news service that local police dragged their feet in investigating the crime. According to Mr. Vayzer, extremist nationalists were probably responsible for the arson. “There is a powerful branch of the RNU [a violent neo-Nazi organization] in Saltykova,” he said. “Two of our youths have been beaten up… One of their mothers told us: ‘Don’t under any circumstance do anything in response to this, otherwise they’ll come to our homes and cut our throats.’ So we had to back off.”
- In any event, police were not particularly helpful, according to Mr. Vayzer: “When it comes to this [antisemitism], the law doesn’t work. When I go to the police and say ‘One of us Jews has been insulted’ they just answer ‘Ya, ya, ya’” and don’t do anything about it beyond going through the motions. Even worse, Mr. Vayzer claimed, the RNU’s presence in Saltykova came about because the local police invited the RNU in to “bring order to the market place,” where, presumably, many non-Russians trade. “They began to bring about a Russian order. They beat up Koreans, then Azeris.” Police officials then had second thoughts, and ended their cooperation with the neo-Nazis. However, by then, the RNU leaders had bought control over the market place. In the late 1990s, several similar cases of police/RNU cooperation were reported to have taken place in Voronezh, Bryansk and Stavropol.
- Throughout January 2005, five antisemitic attacks occurred in Moscow’s Marina Roscha district, home to Moscow’s largest Jewish facility, according to a January 17, 2005 report by RIA Novosti. On January 14, Rabbi Alexander Lakshin was beaten by a group of youths who shouted “kikes!” while kicking him and hitting him with bottles. He received multiple head injuries and a bone in his lower back was broken. Rabbi Lakshin told the Associated Press that: “Any person who looks different or dresses differently is under threat” from growing racism and antisemitism in Russia. A week later, three suspects were arrested in connection with the attack.
- Two hours before Rabbi Lakshin was attacked, an Orthodox couple was beaten in the same underground street crossing, according to a January 17, 2005 JTA report. Chief Rabbi of Russia Beryl Lazar sent a letter to law enforcement agencies asking for greater protection for Jews in Marina Roscha, and issued a statement criticizing local law enforcement authorities for classifying such attacks as ordinary “hooliganism” rather than hate crimes.
- On February 22, 2005 an Israeli student was attacked in St. Petersburg by between 10-15 neo-Nazis. The victim was hospitalized with head injuries. UCSJ is unaware of any arrests or convictions in connection with this incident.
- On May 9, 2005 a synagogue in the Moscow region town of Malakhovka was burned down by an arsonist, who was subsequently arrested.
- On January 11, 2006, a young neo-Nazi named Aleksandr Koptsev stabbed eight worshipers inside Moscow’s Bolshaya Bronnaya synagogue. One of the victims was operated on as a result of the attack, while another three had to be taken to the emergency room. He was subsequently arrested after being subdued by the rabbi and his son. Antisemitic literature was found in the suspect’s apartment along with ammunition and the addresses of three synagogues.
The obvious connection between Mr. Koptsev’s reading habits and his vicious crime was pointed out by Rabbi Beryl Lazar, one of two chief rabbis of Russia, who told the press: “Wherever propagandists of fascism spread their ideas, they will eventually put their ideas into action.” Borukh Gorin, a spokesman for Rabbi Lazar’s Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FEOR), called the attack: “[T]he logical result of the complete inaction of society and the lack of a response to an obvious rise of fascism in the country. We hope that this incident will force society and the authorities to wake up and understand that the future of Russia is in real danger.” Mr. Koptsev was later convicted and sentenced to prison.
- Mr. Koptsev’s crime inspired at least one copy-cat incident. In Rostov, a man menaced Jews inside a synagogue with a broken bottle before being subdued by security guards. A court later found him mentally incompetent to stand trial.
- Two youths in Kostroma accosted the city’s rabbi at a trolleybus stop, according to Andrey Osherov, a local Jewish leader. Mr. Osherov told UCSJ that the incident took place on February 13, 2006. Rabbi Nison Ruppo was waiting at the stop when two youths approached him, spat in his face, screamed antisemitic abuse, and waved their arms around in a threatening manner. Rabbi Ruppo reported the incident to police, but no arrests were reported in connection with this incident.
- During Passover in April 2006, neo-Nazi gangs accosted and threatened Jews in Izhevsk and Rybinsk. The head of the Jewish community in Izhevsk barely escaped a likely attack when he ducked into a hotel lobby upon seeing a mob of youths screaming “Sieg Heil!” coming down the street. No arrests were reported in connection with these incidents.
- In July 2006, Jews were attacked at a museum exhibit in Moscow, according to a July 6, 2006 report by the Sova Information-Analytical Center. The exhibition featured displays from a variety of faith traditions at the All-Russian Exhibition Center. A group of around 10 Russian Orthodox religious extremists reportedly attacked a group of Jews in front of their exhibit, screaming “Kikes killed our Tsar!”—a reference to the belief popular in some nationalist circles that Nicholas II was ritually murdered by Jews. Security was called in to stop the attack, though it is unclear if any arrests or injuries took place.
- Hanukkah services were disrupted in Pskov when someone threw a gas canister into the Jewish community center, according to a December 18, 2006 report by the AEN news agency. Worshippers were sickened by the gas and had to leave the Friday night service. Community leaders called the local FSB, which promised to investigate the incident. The Jewish community center is located inside the same building as a student dormitory, and this has at times led to harassment and vandalism targeting the community. Nevertheless, the local Jewish community remained undaunted and held services two days later without any further disruptions.
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