Antisemitism is rising in Ukraine following a year of attacks on the Jewish community, according to an Amnesty International report released today [Friday].
The human-rights group said neo-Nazism was “on the march” in the country after authorities failed to challenge racism, often classifying violence as “hooliganism” by “skinheads”.
The report quotes figures from the Eurasian Jewish Congress which recorded 29 violent attacks against Jewish people and their properties in 2007.
This included one incident in which the director of a Jewish girls’ school and his wife were assaulted.
In Odessa, 302 Jewish graves were damaged by the daubing of swastikas and the message “Happy Holocaust”.
A statue of Leon Pinsker, a 19th-century physician, and a memorial to victims of Nazism in the centre of the city were also vandalised.
It is estimated there are around 80,000 Jews in Ukraine, although the true number is thought to be higher.
Several attacks took place in Zhytomyr, 150km west of the capital, Kiev. Jews in the city were subjected to verbal abuse, threats and insults as they left the synagogue following evening prayers throughout July last year.
On one occasion, a group of young people attempted to attack the Chief Rabbi of Zhytomyr, Central and Western Ukraine, Shlomo Wilhelm, but were stopped by a synagogue security guard.
Although the incidents were reported to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, no action was taken because officials deemed them not racist.
A study by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, which questioned more than 25,000 Ukrainians, revealed that only 20 per cent of people “were willing to have a Jewish person as a close family member or friend” in 2006, as compared to 38 per cent in 1994.
Tim Hancock, Amnesty International UK campaigns director, said: “Neo-Nazism and other violent racism is definitely on the march in Ukraine and attacks against Jewish people are a very worrying aspect of this.
“Any country that can see a doubling of antisemitic views in a little over a decade has a serious problem on its hands.
“The Ukrainian authorities need to grasp this nettle urgently and they should start by setting up an inter-agency body to combat racial and religious discrimination.
“In the UK it took an outcry after Stephen Lawrence’s murder for the authorities to finally wake up to the challenge of confronting violent racism, and Ukraine effectively needs to do the same.”
The report says other minorities, including Roma gypsies and black people, are subjected to harassment, discrimination and abuse from state officials and members of the public.