03/02/2014 Three times in the past month synagogue congregants were assaulted in Kyiv. Two of the attacks were unsuccessful and one of them resulted in injuries to a yeshiva student. Signature and circumstances of the assaults leave no doubt as to who might be responsible. Spontaneous outburst of aggression by “anti-Semites from the Maidan” is ruled out. For such a spontaneous outburst there is a nearby synagogue in downtown Kyiv. Today only the craziest of lunatics can deliberately plan such action from the Maidan. It would mean burying all hopes of aid from the West by one’s own hands. Yet, as for the other side … Firstly, the signature arrogance and sense of impunity. The congregants apprehended an individual who was casing the synagogue carefully sketching the routes of yeshiva students in his notebook. He absolutely unworriedly came along to the police station, where he had just disappeared. Secondly, the police have found no perpetrators, as they apparently have not been looking for any. This is a scene only too familiar in today’s Kyiv – the hired ruffians under police protection burn cars, smash store windows, attack passers-by and then disappear into the dark of night … The calculation is simple. Either Jews decide that they had fallen a victim of the “Benderites” and would demand that the government and international community put a stop to the turmoil on the Maidan, or realize that they had become a target of the government intimidation, and … the more so, would demand to shut down the Maidan just to avoid things getting even worse…
We came to this land a long time ago. Jewish communities in Crimea have lived there for more than two thousand years. Kyiv was first mentioned in a letter written in Hebrew. Our modern history in Ukrainian lands began just five hundred years ago. It was a varied story: great and insignificant, happy and horrible. The Golden Age and Hasidism, Haskalah (The Jewish Enlightenment) and Zionism, pogroms and the Holocaust, communism and “the struggle against cosmopolitanism ” – all of these we have experienced here. And so it turned out that all the time we have lived among the Ukrainians, but very rarely together with them. It was so because the land belonged to anyone but them. Lithuania and Poland, Turkey and Russia, Austria, Hungary, Romania and Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union and the Third Reich – empires and republics, monarchies and tyrannies, they all had at least one thing in common – the people of this land had to remain silent and submissive. And as we are motivated by the natural sense of self-preservation, always tried to be on the side of the stronger ones, on the side of the authorities, and therefore not on the side of Ukrainians. It also meant that during their each attempt to finally lose the foreign yoke, we would become one of the first objects of their spontaneous hatred or deliberate propaganda. Once and again, we would ask for protection from the authorities, and again and again would fall into the same vicious circle. Perhaps, if at least a single attempt by Ukrainians to achieve independence has been successful, our relationship would have turned out differently.
Twenty odd years ago, it seemed to be happening. Independent states arose or restored their past independence on the ruins of the last European empire an Ukraine and was among them. All these years the young country has been searching hard for its way and place in the family of free nations. The Baltic states were lucky as they got accepted into the European family right away. Moldovans and Georgians were pushed to wage fratricidal wars that split their countries. Ukrainians demonstrated miracles of calm and restraint resolving more and more political crises by bloodless means. And today the hour of truth has come. The revanchist imperial forces inside and outside of Ukraine blatantly staked on the most odious politician of the pro-Soviet camp, who combines petty crime past, ignorance and provincial viewpoint. In less than three years of his office, he managed to amass enormous wealth and a lot of enemies, while at the same time burying the country’s economy and its hopes for the European integration.
Two months ago, the citizens of Ukraine, having breathed the air of freedom in the previous twenty years, took to the streets with their only demand to stop the country’s slide toward dictatorship and restore people’s hope for a brighter future. Since then, they have stood on the Maidan in Kyiv and at multitude of protest venues throughout the country. Not only Ukrainians are among them, but also Russian, Armenians, Belarusians, Tatars. And the Jews. Riot police and interior troops, hired ruffians and intimidated state employees were thrown against them. All of those, who feel the Soviet-style indifference to the fate of their country and fear losing their chance to work for peanuts, provided by the omnipotent government bureaucracy.
Today, our word means a lot to these people and to the rest of the world. The blood and ashes of the Holocaust granted us the right to speak and be heard. Today, unfortunately, many of us are still trying to find a way to personally benefit in this situation or to stay away. This happened more than once in history. Today it is time to remember that three and a half thousand years ago our people got the right to immortality, pledging not only to fulfill the commandments of the Almighty, but also to bring the knowledge of Him to all nations. Today, 45 million people in this country where a lot of blood was spilled throughout the history, including our blood, are asking only for Justice and Mercy. These are the two things on which G*d has founded this world. Do we have a right to deny them that?
Vitaly Nakhmanovich, historian, Kyiv
translated by O.Berezhny