Jewish community was key to successful Ukraine poll

Pro-Russia militants fire into the air in Donetsk this week (Photo: AP)

Pro-Russia militants fire into the air in Donetsk this week (Photo: AP)

EXCLUSIVE

Jewish leaders in Kiev have welcomed the election of Petro Poroshenko as Ukraine’s new president amid hopes that the establishment of a new government will bring stability back to the country. Jews in the east of the country were less hopeful, however.

The leaders of the main Jewish organisations in Ukraine publicly congratulated Mr Poroshenko on his election with nearly 55 per cent of the vote.

This has been a very tense period for the Jewish leadership. Since the Maidan revolution, the Russian government has tried to delegitimise the temporary government in Kiev, saying it was filled with “fascists, neo-Nazis and antisemites”.

In a rare move two months ago, a long list of Jewish figures published an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, demanding he stop interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs, supporting the temporary government and denying his claims of antisemitism.

Prominent Jewish businessman Igor Kolomoisky was appointed temporary governor of the Dnepropetrovsk region and has invested his own resources into maintaining calm in his city.

Yuri Kipperman, a business partner of Mr Kolomoisky, said in an interview: “The Jewish community certainly helped to make these elections a success. A group of businessmen along with Kolomoisky worked very hard to make sure that in Dnepropetrovsk, things went smoothly.” Separatists in other parts of eastern Ukraine disrupted Sunday’s elections.

A major source of satisfaction for Ukrainian Jews was the poor showing by candidates from the ultra-nationalist parties Svoboda and Pravy Sektor, which together received less than two per cent of the vote. “Vadim Rabinovich [a prominent Ukrainian-Jewish businessman and leader] did the Jews a great favour by running,” says one community activist. “He had no chance of being elected but the fact that he got 2.3 per cent of the vote, more than the ultra-nationalists combined, proved that Jews are accepted here in public life.”

However, in the east of Ukraine, where government forces have been fighting a series of fierce battles against pro-Russian separatists since Monday, views are mixed.

“The Jewish leaders who took a clear stand against Russia took a major risk and may have jeopardised the community,” said one local Jewish leader in the east, who asked to remain unnamed. “It’s impossible to know how things will turn out. The Jews here should be careful.”

In Mariupol, the local Jewish centre and synagogue have been at the heart of the fighting situated as they are just 100m from one of the buildings seized by the separatists.

Rabbi Mendel Cohen, the local rabbi and Chabad emissary, said that “no one has tried directly to harm or threaten us, but we are at the eye of the storm and trying to keep Jewish life going. We are not taking sides of course and remain in contact with everyone.”

Last updated: 1:45pm, May 30 2014