Let me preface my remarks with a caveat. This is a personal analysis but not anecdotal with few stereotypical examples and conclusions and, unfortunately, some bias. Also, this is a very sensitive topic, which may offend even some of my friends who are Jewish, those who are very thin skinned. Nevertheless, fences or distance make good neighbors and Ukrainians and Jews were close neighbors with few fences for a long time. However, that proximity of habitation does not explain today’s existing albeit perhaps irrelevant conundrum. Why is there so much animosity between the two peoples, mostly on the Jewish side? For most Ukrainians contemporary irrelevance has healed old wounds.
After all they are not neighbors today, nor are they dependent upon each other in any meaningful way. For centuries they lived next to each other in a colonial environment not by choice. Oppressors governed through divide et impera. Israel became independent in 1948, Ukraine in 1991. Whatever cohabitation exists today is by choice and even the most ardent Ukrainophobe has to admit that there is no governmental, institutional or societal antisemitism in Ukraine, merely individual bigotry. Ukraine has had two Jewish presidents. Jews are disproportionately represented in government, business and media.
I have never been to Israel so I am unable to address societal Ukrainophobia there. Unfortunately, governmental, institutional, including media, are out of control.
Animosity on issues of historical significance or self-pity is flagrant. A case in point is the refusal by Israel to recognize the Holodomor, insisting that there was only one genocide in history – the Holocaust. Granted, Jewish lack of empathy is a minor issue perhaps to be best addressed by their religious leaders if it pervades society.
Today’s negative interaction mostly comes from the Jewish side. In fact, the only interaction has been institutional and governmental accusations that have emanated from the Jewish side. This is rather ironic since it would appear that Ukrainians have gone out of their way to heal old wounds. Consider the Babyn Yar observances in September 2016 initiated by Ukraine’s president and shamefully marred by Israel’s.
Jewish accusations against Ukrainians date back to Bohdan Khmelnytsky, then again with Symon Petliura and resound with Nazi collaboration, particularly, Bandera, Shukhevych, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Interestingly enough while there is ample documentation and evidence of the events available, there is no proof which anyone may consider evidence that Khmelnytsky or Petliura were involved in Jewish pogroms. The Middle Ages as well as the halcyon period following World War I were quite free spirited. As to actual documentation there is no document where Petliura directed a pogrom. To the contrary there is documentation of Petliura’s orders that imposed the death penalty on those who carried out pogroms. As to accusations of Nazi collaboration in the extermination of Jews, there is so much Jewish historiography that Ukrainians were reluctant to collaborate despite animosity or even revenge considerations. The preeminent Jewish scholar on this topic Raul Hilberg wrote as much in his “The Destruction of the European Jews.” Hilberg is not very popular among purporting Jewish scholars today.
The state of Israel and the Jewish people are and will always be in peril. They are surrounded by psychopathic foes and treaties come and go. Eighty years ago, the Jewish people experienced an attempted genocide. To prevent a recurrence a safe haven was formed – the state of Israel, armed to the teeth with nuclear capability that everyone ignores even though it contravenes international norms. Every Ukrainian who knows his own tragic history cannot help but feel empathy for the Jewish people. That empathy is rarely reciprocated.
How do you get into the Jewish mind? Without determining who has suffered more, I would venture to say that Jews have caused Ukrainians much pain, suffering and killing.
My saintly mother who was extremely opinionated and partially Polish told me on many occasions that we have at least three enemies who have persecuted and murdered us over the years: Russians, Poles and Jews. I understood the first two accused inasmuch as they invaded and occupied Ukrainian territory several times. The last I could not understand until she explained. She was not a witness to the Holodomor. But she was a witness to the Soviet invasion into western Ukraine in 1939. According to her, every Jew she knew collaborated with the Soviets in perpetrating atrocities, except for the one who worked for her father, who joined the Soviet administration, but then used his influence to protect her family.
Leonard Shapiro, another Jewish historian, wrote in his “The Communist Party of the Soviet Union,” that 75 percent of the Soviet special services in Ukraine in the 1930s were Jews. I cannot help but understand that to mean that the Holodomor in Ukraine, during which some 7 million Ukrainians starved, was directed from Moscow, but implemented in Ukraine by Jews.
Today Poles are strategic allies. Jews are not relevant to Ukraine’s defense, but those that live in Ukraine are germane to help build a strong and prosperous Ukraine. My friend the rabbi of Kyiv insists that Jews love Ukraine and are coming back even from Israel.
The problem is not with the Jewish people. The problem is with the hate mongers, the Holocaust industry, and many in leadership. Jews have murdered or been accomplices to the murder of many more Ukrainians than Jews who were murdered by Ukrainians in pogroms or in collaboration with the Nazis. Blaming Ukrainians for the sad history of the Jewish people is an attempt to whitewash Jewish sins against Ukrainians. We Ukrainians forgive them.
Askold S. Lozynskyj is an attorney at law based in New York City who served as president of the Ukrainian World Congress in 1998-2008.