Jewish life in east will disappear, says Ukrainian leader

The head of the Ukrainian Confederation of Jewish Organisations believes that in the long term, Jewish life in eastern Ukraine is doomed.

Mr Zissels, speaking ahead of a conference on Jewish life in the Ukraine at University College London last week, estimated that around one third of the Jewish population in the east had already left, with a large majority looking to escape.

“People didn’t think that this conflict would last; now they see that it will and are trying to get to more peaceful parts of the country,” he said.

“Jews have a very low alarm threshold. On the other hand, it is easier for Jews to move to another place. There is also Israel, which will accept them at any time.”

Mr Zissels said that his organistation – along with the Joint Distribution Committee, which is very active in the Ukraine - had discussed organising transport to take out Jews of war zones. However, he said that they did not have the money to pay for such an evacuation.

He added that he has had regular discussions with the prime minister’s legal adviser on inter-ethic relations on the situation of Jews in the country’s war zones.

Mr Zissels blames Russia for the drastic situation in which Jews in eastern Ukraine now find themselves. “Statistics show how things are changing. Last year 1,800 people emigrated to Israel from Ukraine. That’s about 0.5 per cent of the Jewish population of the Ukraine. This year, in January and February, we had around 130 people a month leaving. It wasn’t the Maidan that provoked the rise of immigration – it was the invasion of Crimea. In March, 300 left; in April 465; and in May, 495.”

He added he was the one who drafted a much-publicised open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin accusing him of disingenuously manipulating concerns about antisemitism to justify Russia’s actions, signed by a number of Ukrainian Jewish leaders.

Last week, The Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, in February stopped funding its Kiev office, which is run by Mr Zissels.

“I don’t know for sure why they stopped the funding, but I think it may be connected to my statements on Russia,” Mr Zissels told the JTA.

Last updated: 6:23pm, July 11 2014