Synagogue firebombing signals bleak horizon as chaos swirls in Ukraine

The scene outside Donetsk’s regional government buildings, recently occupied by pro-Russia militants (Photo: AP)

The scene outside Donetsk’s regional government buildings, recently occupied by pro-Russia militants (Photo: AP)

It is unclear who is behind a wave of antisemitic incidents in different parts of Ukraine, but many believe them to be part of the ongoing propaganda war between Russia and the new government in Kiev.

Jews arriving at a synagogue in Nikolayev on Shabbat morning discovered that petrol bombs had been thrown at the building.

Surveillance footage showed a single man throwing two bombs at around 2am. No major damage was caused, although the main door was scorched.

This is the second firebombing of a synagogue in Ukraine since the beginning of the year. The previous incident took place in February in Zaporizhia.

Both cities in the south of Ukraine have seen clashes between police and pro-Russian protesters but remain largely under control of the Kiev government.

The Russian media has tried to portray these and other anti-Jewish attacks as the result of the presence of “neo-Nazi” and “fascist” elements within the government that took power following the Maidan protests two months ago.

Many Ukrainian Jewish leaders have, however, accused the Kremlin of orchestrating “provocations” to undermine Kiev. In an open letter, they called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop using accusations of antisemitism as a political weapon.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday morning, residents of Sevastopol, the main port in the Crimean peninsula annexed last month by Russia, found the city’s Holocaust memorial defaced.

Among the slogans painted over the memorial was “CCCP”, the Russian acronym for the Soviet Union, indicating that the perpetrators wanted the desecration to be linked to pro-Russian elements.

In the eastern city of Donetsk, which has been under control of a pro-Russian militia for the past two weeks, the identity of those who printed leaflets demanding all Jews register with the authorities, list their property and pay a registration fee, is still unclear.

The leaflets were signed by Denis Pushilin, the leader of the temporary city government, but he has denied any connection and the incident has since been branded as a hoax.

Whatever the source, the fact that the leaflet accused Jews of having sided with Kiev underlined how the community has become a political football.

A few days before Pesach, a report appeared on City Evening, a website based in the western Ukrainian town of Volodymyr Volynskyi, reprising the ancient blood libel of Jews kidnapping Christians to use their blood in matzo. It disappeared from the website the following day, without explanation.

“Antisemitism undoubtedly still exists widely within Ukrainian society,” said a senior Jewish official in the country, who asked not to be named. “But it seems that to a large degree, the recent incidents are less meant to harm Jews — rather, to help both sides manufacture provocations and gain propaganda points.”

- Separatists in the eastern town of Sloviansk said this week they were holding US-Israeli journalist Simon Ostrovsky, a reporter for Vice News. The pro-Russian militants denied he had been kidnapped, claiming he had started working for a pro-Russian militia in Sloviansk.

Last updated: 12:58pm, April 24 2014