On Thursday, a splinter group of pro-Russian militants in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk handed out leaflets to Jews leaving Passover services. These leaflets demanded that Jews declare all possessions and pay a registration fee or “else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated.”
There has been an outcry from leaders around the world, condemning all responsible. The problem is, nobody is taking responsibility. Denis Pushilin, leader of the pro-Russian movement in Donetsk denies allegations that he commissioned these leaflets, though his name appears on the masthead.
The group, following the outcry, does not really have a basis to operate. It seized a government building in Ukraine and wants a referendum to secede, much like in Crimea.
The supposed reason behind these pamphlets stems from Jewish Ukrainian nationalism in the past. The city of Donetsk is operating under pro-Russian rule, and these leaders believe Jews represent some threat to their authority in Ukraine.
Regardless of reason or rationale, this is an absolute travesty. To resort to Third Reich tactics in the 21st century is frightening. And, unsurprisingly, this anti-semitism has only existed in Donetsk since Russians stationed themselves there.
Olga Reznikova, a Jewish woman in the Ukrainian city, expressed surprise over the leaflets. In an interview with USA Today, Reznikova said, “We don’t know if these notifications were distributed by pro-Russian activists or someone else, but it’s serious that it exists.”
Jewish officials around the world still don’t know whether the pamphlets were released by official pro-Russian sanction or some splinter group, but either way, it is scary for the future of Russian and Ukranian Jews. I believe it is paramount that people are made aware of this story, because only awareness can stop tyranny and oppression. It may not seem pressing now, but evil grows gradually, and then manifests itself when people least expect it.
Michael Salberg, speaking for the Anti-Defamation League, shared my sentiments. “The message is a message to all the people that is we’re going to exert our power over you,” he said. “Jews are the default scapegoat throughout history for despots to send a message to the general public: Don’t step out of line.”
During the conflict in Ukraine and indeed around the world, we have to keep committed to religious freedom around the world. The resurgence in antisemitism in eastern Ukraine gives rise to new worries but also new commitment to this ideal.
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