Antisemitism in Ukraine

Antisemitism in Ukraine has a long history dating back to the 12th century.[1] In recent years according to officials of the Israel Embassy in Ukraine, it has manifested in a form of hooliganism rather than as a systematic issue.[2]

It is estimated that one third of Europe's Jews lived in Ukraine, which from 1791 to 1917 partly belonged to the Pale of Settlement. The concentration of Jews in this region made them an easy target for pogroms and massive, anti-Jewish riots.


For more details on the periods when Ukraine was incorporated into the Russian Empire, see Antisemitism in the Russian Empire.
For more details on the periods when Ukraine was a Republic of the Soviet Union, see Antisemitism in the Soviet Union.

The activities of the Union of Russian People and of other Black Hundreds organizations nurtured antisemitism in Ukraine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Early 20th century

During the Russian Revolution, between 1918 and 1921 a total of 1,236 violent incidents against Jews occurred in 524 towns in Ukraine. The estimates of the number of killed range between 30,000 and 60,000.[3][4] Of the recorded 1,236 pogroms and excesses, 493 were carried out by Ukrainian People's Republic soldiers under command of Symon Petliura, 307 by independent Ukrainian warlords, 213 by Denikin's army, 106 by the Red Army and 32 by the Polish Army.[5] During the dictatorship of Pavlo Skoropadsky (29 April 1918[6] to December 1918[7]), no pogroms were recorded. When the Directorate replaced Skoropadsky's government, pogroms once again erupted.[8]

Directorate of Ukraine (1918–1920)

In December 1918 Hetman of the Ukrainian State Hetmanate, Pavlo Skoropadskyi, was deposed and the Directorate (also called the Directoria) was established as the government of the Ukrainian People's Republic (Ukrayins'ka Narodnia Respublika, abbreviated UNR).[6][7]

This new Ukrainian government immediately reacted to the acts of violence which happened in January 1919 in Zhytomyr and Berdychiv. The Ukrainian government informed the Jewish leaders and the government of Berdychiv on January 10 that the instigators had been shot, and that the army squadron which took part in the action had been disbanded. The head of the government, Volodymyr Vynnychenko, stated that the pogrom actions were initiated by the Black Hundreds. He also stated: "the Ukrainian government will actively fight anti-Semitism and all occurrences of Bolshevism".[8]

The pro-Bolshevik delegate of the Bund, Moisei Rafes, who initially stated that “the special detachment that was sent to Zhytomyr and Berdychev to fight the Soviets initiated a pogrom”, later in a speech at the meeting of the Labour Congress of Ukraine on January 16, 1919 changed his mind: "The Directoria states that it is not to blame, that it is not to blame for the pogroms. None of us blames the Directoria for the responsibility of the pogroms."[8]

Symon Petliura made attempts to stop the occurrence of pogroms among Ukrainian detachments. When he discovered from the Minister of Jewish affairs of the UNR that the transiting squadron at the Yareska station had initiated violent acts against the Jewish population, he immediately sent a telegram to the military commandant of Myrhorod: “I command that the matter be investigated and reported back to me, and to use immediate measures so that similar excesses do not have a place and will be punished – 28 January – Head Otaman S. Petliura.[8]

When Petliura took charge of the Directoria in 1919, at his initiative the government investigated the Jewish pogroms in Kamianets-Podilskyi and Proskuriv, demanding that the commanders “use decisive actions to totally liquidate the pogromist anti-Jewish actions, and the perpetrators are to be brought before a military tribunal and punished according to the military laws of war”.[8]

A representative of the Jewish party Poale Zion, Drakhler, told Petliura: “We understand, having enough facts, that the Zhytomyr and Berdichev pogroms took place as acts against the (Ukrainian) government. Immediately after the Zhytomyr pogrom the Russian and Polish Black Hundred members boasted 'The planned pogroms had worked extremely well, and will bring an end to Ukrainian aspirations'”. Drakhler continued: “I am deeply convinced that not only we, but all Jewish democracy in its activities will take active participation in the struggle to free Ukraine. And in the rows of the army the Jewish Cossack hand in hand will fight, carrying its blood and life onto the altar of national and social freedom in Ukraine”.[8]

Petliura replied to the Jewish delegates that he would use "the strength of all my authority to remove the excesses against the Jews, which are obstacles to our work of establishing our statehood".

The Volunteer Russian Army led by General Denikin had a different attitude to the Jews and pogroms in Ukraine. In a special memorandum sent to the Central Committee for Jewish Aid who had suffered in the pogroms at the end of 1919 he stated: "The politics of general Denikin regarding these deceitful people (all Jewish Bolsheviks), is that they are in the dark, an invisible mass, responsible for the disgusting rows of cruelty and pogroms, which have no boundary."

One document states in reference to the Kiev pogroms of June–October 1919: "When General Dragomirov, known for his liberalism, had to leave Kiev because of the Bolshevik offensive, turned to his officers (recorded in a stenogram) with the following words: 'My friends, you know, as much as I do, the reasons for our temporary failures on the Kievan front. When you, my heroic and never dying eagles, retake Kiev, I grant you the possibility to take revenge on the grubby Jews.'"[8]

When Denikin's Volunteer army occupied Kiev ( 31 August [O.S. 18 August]  1919) it inflicted robbery and murder on the civilian population. Over 20,000 people died in two days of violence. After these events, the representative of the Kharkiv Jewish Community, Mr. Suprasskin, spoke to General Shkuro, who stated to him bluntly: "Jews will not receive any mercy because they are all Bolsheviks."[8]

The government of the Ukrainian People's Republic in a communication with the governments of the Entente dated October 7, 1919 stated:

"Especially disgusting are the violent acts by the representatives of General Denikin on the Jews, which along the roads taken by his army, instigate unimaginable pogroms, which by their size, brutality and obscenity have surpassed all other excess that we have had at any time in any place on the Ukrainian terrain."[8]

In 1921 Ze'ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky, the father of Revisionist Zionism, signed an agreement with Maxim Slavinsky, Petliura's representative in Prague, regarding the formation of a Jewish gendarmerie which would accompany Petliura's putative invasion of Ukraine and protect the Jewish population from pogroms. The agreement did not materialize and most Zionist groups heavily criticized Jabotinsky. Nevertheless, he stood by the agreement and took pride in it.[9][10][11]

In May 1926 the Jewish anarchist Sholom Schwartzbard assassinated Petliura (then head of the Ukrainian government-in-exile), in Paris. Schwartzbard fully admitted to the crime, citing revenge as his motive. His defence, led by the French lawyer Henri Torres, focused on Petliura's alleged responsibility for the 1919–1920 pogroms in Balta in which Schwartzbard had lost all members of his family. The court eventually acquitted Schwartzbard; this acquittal soured Jewish-Ukrainian relations in the West.

Other pogroms during the Russian Revolution

When the Tsentralna Rada proclaimed the III Universal in November 1917, the Imperial Russian Army initiated a pogrom in Uman in southern Ukraine. In February 1919 a brigade of UNR troops killed 1500 Jews in Proskurov.[4] In Tetiev on March 25, 1919, Cossack troops under the command of Colonels Cherkovsky, Kurovsky and Shliatoshenko murdered 4000 Jews.[12]

During the Russian Civil War the Jews of Uman in eastern Podolia were subjected to two pogroms in 1919, as the town changed hands several times. The first pogrom, in spring, claimed 170 victims; the second one, in summer, more than 90. This time the Christian inhabitants helped to hide the Jews. The Council for Public Peace, with a Christian majority and a Jewish minority, saved the city from danger several times. In 1920, for example, it stopped the pogrom initiated by the troops of General Denikin.[13]


The Jewish community suffered significant losses in the period of the Russian revolution. Many documents dealing with the pogroms, however, remained unavailable and indeed were deliberately concealed from the public in the Soviet-era anti-semitic climate. These documents remained hidden until the Ukrainian historian Volodymyr Serhiychuk (born 1950) discovered them in the Ukrainian State Archives. Study of the archives of the Security Service of Ukraine has shown that the government of the UNR directed by Petliura had no connection to the organization of Jewish pogroms in Ukraine. In fact the Directoria from its very conception fought against pogroms, but its power remained limited, even in the territory under its control.[14][15]

The propaganda organs of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union attempted to put the blame of all the Jewish pogroms on Symon Petliura.[16] The Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine prepared a special document in order to compromise Petliura in the Schwartzbard court case.[8]

Historians have claimed that Petliura himself did not have any history of antisemitism, and that he actively sought to stop anti-Jewish violence on numerous occasions, finally introducing capital punishment for the crime of pogroming.[17][18]

Modern sources claim that the White Volunteer Army was the main perpetrator of pogroms, and that some were instigated by the Directory's forces, especially by the irregular otaman-led groups.[19] The Red Army also initiated some pogroms.[20]

World War II

Operation Barbarossa of 1941 brought together native Ukrainian populations of both, Soviet Ukraine and the territories of Poland annexed by the Soviet Union, under the German administrative control of the Reichskommissariat Ukraine to the north-east, and the General Government to the south-west. Many Jewish historians argue that the destruction of the Jewish population of Ukraine, reduced from 870,000 to 17,000, could not have been accomplished without the aid of the local population, because the Germans lacked the manpower to reach all of the communities that were annihilated, especially in the remote villages.[21]

The nationalist OUN-Bandera faction of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army "openly advocated violence against Jews", wrote Jeffrey Burds.[22] In August 1941 at its Second Congress in Kraków OUN-B embraced anti-Semitism. "Twenty so-called 'foreign' nationalities were listed as enemies of Ukraine: Jews were first, Poles were second." The resolution stated: "OUN combats the Jews as the prop of the Muscovite-Bolshevik regime."[21] On September 1, 1941, Ukrainian language newspaper Volhyn wrote: "The element that settled our cities (Jews)... must disappear completely from our cities. The Jewish problem is already in the process of being solved."[23] The Lviv pogroms were two massacres of Jews that took place from 30 June to 2 July and 25–29 July 1941 during Operation Barbarossa. According to Yad Vashem six thousand Jews were killed primarily by rioting Ukrainian nationalists and a newly formed Ukrainian militia. The pretext for the pogrom was a rumor that the Jews were responsible for the execution of prisoners by the Soviets before their withdrawal from Lviv.[24] Ukrainian nationalists assisted German Security Police and the Einsatzgruppen.[25] They compiled lists of targets for the branch offices of the KdS and assisted with the roundups (as in Stanisławów, Włodzimierz Wołyński, Łuck), as well as in Zhytomyr, Rivne and Kiev among other locations.[26][27][28] In Korosten, the nationalists carried out the killings by themselves,[29] same as inn Sokal. Other locations followed.[30]

Independent Ukraine

There were a number of right-wing nationalist and antisemitic groups in Ukraine in the 1990s. Among the most conspicuous was the MAUP, a private university with extensive financial ties to Islamic regimes. In the March 2006 issue (No. 9/160) of the Personnel Plus magazine by MAUP, an article "Murder Is Unveiled, the Murderer Is Unknown?" revives false accusations from the Beilis Trial, stating that the jury recognized the case as ritual murder by persons unknown, even though it found Beilis himself not guilty.[31]

More recently Jewish organizations in and outside of Ukraine have accused the political party All-Ukrainian Union "Svoboda" of open Nazi sympathies and being antisemitic.[32] In May 2013 the World Jewish Congress listed the party as neo-Nazi.[33] "Svoboda" itself has denied being antisemitic.[34] In the 2012 Ukrainian parliamentary elections "Svoboda" won its first seats in the Ukrainian Parliament,[35] garnering 10.44% of the popular vote and the 4th most seats among national political parties.[36]

Jews overwhelmingly supported the 2013–2014 Euromaidan revolution which ousted the discredited Viktor Yanukovich from the presidency of Ukraine. Few antisemitic incidents were recorded during this period.[37][38]

A report published by Vyacheslav Likhachev of the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group revealed that the antisemitic vandalism and violence peaked in 2005-2006, and declined since then.[39] Earlier, a leaflet was handed out to the Jewish community in the city Donetsk as if by the pro-Russian separatists. The leaflet contained an order to every Jew over the age of 16 to register as a Jew, and also to declare all the property they own, or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated, ostensibly as retribution for being Ukrainian loyalists.[40] Denis Pushilin, head of the pro-Russian separatist Donetsk People's Republic, said it was a fake that was meant to discredit his movement. Donetsk Chief Rabbi Pinchas Vishedski also claims it was a hoax, and said that "Anti-Semitic incidents in the Russian-speaking east were rare, unlike in Kiev and western Ukraine".[41] An April 2014 listing of anti-Jewish violence in Ukraine in Haaretz no incidents outside this "Russian-speaking east" were mentioned.[42]

There were also cases of exploitation of anti-Semitism and “the Jewish question” in propaganda campaigns, such as speculations used by the administration of President Viktor Yanukovich in the first days of the Euromaidan mass protests.[39] The conclusion of the report describes a peak of antisemitic incidents in 2014, probably due to the instabilily in Ukraine.[39] In March 2014, Yaakov Bleich, the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, accused Russian sympathizers and nationalists of staging antisemitic provocations to be blamed on Ukrainians. He claimed that these provocations were used by the Russian Federation to justify the Invasion of Crimea.[43]

During October 2014, the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group published DATA concerning the status of the antisemitic incidents occurred in Ukraine. According to it, the number of antisemitic incidents through last ten years is declining.[44]

According to the Israel's Ambassador to Ukraine, the antisemitism occurs there much less frequently than in other European countries, and has more a hooliganism nature rather than systematic.[45]

According to Radio Liberty there was a significant drop in xenophobic violence in Ukraine, with the exception of the Russian-occupied ares in Eastern Ukraine [46]



    1. A Brief History of Antisemitism in Ukraine. Retrieved 29 June 2016
    2. The Ambassador of Israel denied that Ukraine has a systematic anti-Semitism. Ukrayinska Pravda. 19 January 2016
    3. "History and Culture of Jews in Ukraine ("«Нариси з історії та культури євреїв України»)«Дух і літера» publ., Kyiv, 2008, с. 128 – 135
    4. 1 2 D. Vital. Zionism: the crucial phase. Oxford University Press. 1987. p. 359]
    5. R. Pipes. A Concise History of the Russian Revolution. Vintage Books. 1996. p. 262.
    6. 1 2 Orest Subtelny, Ukraine: A History, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988, ISBN 0-8020-5808-6
    7. 1 2 Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States: 1999, Routledge, 1999, ISBN 1857430581 (page 849)
    8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 (Russian) Dr Sergeichuk, V. Symon Petliura kak protyvnyk Yevreyskykh Pogromov (Symon Petlura in opposition of Jewish Pogroms, Zerkalo Nedeli, № 21 (86) 25 — 31 May 1996
    9. Shmuel Katz, Lone Wolf, Barricade Books, New York, 1996, Vol. 1.
    10. Israel Kleiner, From Nationalism to Universalism: Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky and the Ukrainian Question, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Study Press, 2000.
    11. Joseph B. Schechtman, The Jabotinsky-Slavinsky Agreement, Jewish Social Studies, XVII (1955), 289–306.
    12. M. I. Midlarsky. The killing trap: genocide in the seventeenth century. Cambridge University Press. 2005. p. 46.
    13. Encyclopaedia Judaica, second edition, vol. 20, p. 244
    14. Serhy Yekelchyk, Ukraine: Birth of a Modern Nation, Oxford University Press (2007), ISBN 978-0-19-530546-3
    15. History of Ukraine – The Land and Its Peoples by Paul Robert Magocsi, University of Toronto Press, 2010, ISBN 1442640855 (page 537)
    16. "Jews & Ukrainian: Analysis of the CBS 60 Minutes Program The Ugly Face of Freedom, October 23, 1994". Retrieved April 17, 2015.
    17. Symon Petlura. Against pogrom. The Appeal to Ukrainian Army. Archived 31 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
    18. Symon Petlura. Articles, letters and documents. (in Ukrainian) 2006. – vol IV, p 704. ISBN 966-2911-00-6
    19. Subtelny, Orest (1988). Ukraine: A History (4 ed.). University of Toronto Press (published 2009). ISBN 9781442697287. Retrieved 2015-07-29. Although the White Volunteer Army – which moved into Ukraine from the Don in the summer of 1919 – was primarily responsible for the pogroms, the Directory's forces (especially the otaman-led irregulars) also perpetrated a series of pogroms.
    20. Orest Subtelny Ukraine. A History. Second edition, 1994. p. 363.
    21. 1 2 Alfred J. Rieber. "Civil Wars in the Soviet Union" (PDF). Project Muse: 145–147.
    22. Jeffrey Burds (2013). Holocaust in Rovno: The Massacre at Sosenki Forest, November 1941. Springer. pp. 24–25. ISBN 1137388404.
    23. NAAF Holocaust Timeline Project: September 1 , 1941, Ukraine.
    24. The Lemberg Mosaic, Jakob Weiss, Alderbrook Press, New York (2011)
    25. Symposium Presentations (September 2005). "The Holocaust and [German] Colonialism in Ukraine: A Case Study" (PDF). The Holocaust in the Soviet Union. The Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. pp. 15, 18–19, 20 in current document of 1/154. Archived from the original (PDF file, direct download 1.63 MB) on 16 August 2012. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
    26. PWL. "Mord w Czarnym Lesie (Murder in the Black Forest)". Województwo Stanisławowskie. Historia. PWL-Społeczna organizacja kresowa. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
    27. I.K. Patrylyak (2004), Військова діяльність ОУН(Б) у 1940—1942 роках (The Military Activities of the OUN (B), 1940–1942). Shevchenko University; Institute of History of Ukraine, Kiev, pp. 522–524 (4–6/45 in PDF).
    28. Іван Качановський (30 March 2013). "Сучасна політика пам'яті на Волині щодо ОУН(б) та нацистських масових вбивств" [Contemporary politics of memory about OUN (b) in Volhynia and the Nazi massacres]. Україна модерна. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
    29. Ronald Headland (1992), Messages of Murder: A Study of the Reports of the Einsatzgruppen of the Security Police and the Security Service, 1941–1943. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, pp. 125–126. ISBN 0838634184.
    30. Dr. Frank Grelka (2005). Ukrainischen Miliz. Die ukrainische Nationalbewegung unter deutscher Besatzungsherrschaft 1918 und 1941/42. Viadrina European University: Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. pp. 283–284. ISBN 3447052597. Retrieved 17 July 2015. RSHA von einer begrüßenswerten Aktivitat der ukrainischen Bevolkerung in den ersten Stunden nach dem Abzug der Sowjettruppen.
    31. "То есть изуверское убийство было совершено с ритуальной целью, но не Бейлисом, а кем-то другим. Кем?" ВБИВСТВО РОЗКРИТО. ВБИВЦЯ НЕ ВІДОМИЙ?, Yaroslav Oros
    32. Rise of Ukrainian Svoboda party. Also in:
      Ukraine election: President Yanukovych party claims win, BBC News (29 October 2012).
      Svoboda plays nationalist card.
      2012 Top Ten Anti-Israel/Anti-Semitic Slurs: Mainstream Anti-Semitism, Simon Wiesenthal Center (27 December 2012).
      – Winer, Stuart. Ukraine okays ‘zhyd’ slur for Jews, The Times of Israel, December 19, 2012.
      Svoboda: The rise of Ukraine's ultra-nationalists, BBC News (26 December 2012).
      Svoboda: The Rising Spectre Of Neo-Nazism in the Ukraine. International Business Times, 27 December 2012.
      Outrage as Ukrainian politician attacks Mila Kunis and labels her a 'dirty Jewess', London Daily Mail, December 20, 2012.
      Svoboda promoting hatred.
    33. World Jewish Congress calls Svoboda a neo-Nazi party, Ukrinform (14 May 2013)
      Oleh Tyahnybok: “The three opposition parties should not be required to act completely in sync”, The Ukrainian Week (31 March 2013)
      "Ukrainian nationalists protest over Jewish pilgrims". Kyiv Post. Reuters. 25 September 2011. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 25 September 2011.
      Ukrainian party picks xenophobic candidate, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (May 25, 2009)
      Tiahnybok denies anti-Semitism in Svoboda, Kyiv Post (27 December 2012)
      Ukraine’s Ultranationalists Show Surprising Strength at Polls, (8 November 2012)
      Ukraine party attempts to lose anti-Semitic image, The Jerusalem Post (21 January 2013)
    35. Ukraine election:President Yanukovych party claims win, BBC News (29 October 2012).
      2012 Top Ten Anti-Israel/Anti-Semitic Slurs:Mainstream Anti-Semitism Threatens World Peace, Simon Wiesenthal Center (27 December 2012)
      Winer, Stuart. Ukraine okays ‘zhyd’ slur for Jews, The Times of Israel, December 19, 2012.
      Svoboda: The rise of Ukraine's ultra-nationalists, BBC News (26 December 2012)
      International Business Times, Svoboda: The Rising Spectre Of Neo-Nazism In The Ukraine, 27 December 2012.
      Outrage as Ukrainian politician attacks Mila Kunis and labels her a 'dirty Jewess', London Daily Mail, December 20, 2012.
      Party of Regions gets 185 seats in Ukrainian parliament, Batkivschyna 101 – CEC, Interfax-Ukraine (12 November 2012)
    39. 1 2 3 Likhachev, Vyacheslav. "Anti-Semitism in Ukraine – 2014: report based on monitoring data". The National Minority Rights Monitoring Group. Retrieved 28 May 2015.
    40. "Vandals deface grave of Lubavitcher Rebbe's brother". CFCA. Retrieved 29 April 2014.
    42. Ukrainian Jews look to Israel as anti-Semitism escalates
    43. "Ukraine chief rabbi accuses Russians of staging anti-Semitic 'provocations'". JTA. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
    44. Zissels, Josef. "Anti-Semitism in Ukraine today". Euro-Asian Jewish Congress. Retrieved 28 December 2015.
    45. "Посол Ізраїлю заперечив, що в Україні є "системний антисемітизм"". Ukrayinska Pravda. Retrieved 19 January 2016.

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