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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.



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Copyright 2007 by UCSJ: Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union.