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‘Pushed to leave’: Packing moods among Ukraine’s Jewish minority amidst far-right rise

Published time: March 15, 2014 18:42
Edited time: March 17, 2014 16:30

An ultra orthodox Jewish man says a prayer using a loudspeaker near the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in the town of Uman, some 200 km south of Kiev (Reuters / Konstantin Chernichkin)

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With the beating of the head of Hatzalah’s local branch in Kiev and an earlier attack on a synagogue, many from the Jewish minority tell RT they feel they will be forced to leave the country, where the far-right is capitalizing on the turmoil.

Unknown men have beaten up the leader of a Kiev Jewish movement, hitting him with bats and shouting anti-Semitic slogans, just a month after a rabbi addressed crowds on Square of independence, calling for peace.

The rabbi, Hillel Cohen, was attacked Thursday in the street by two men, who “struck him in the leg, shouting anti-Semitic slurs," the rabbi’s wife told Reuters. Then, the two ran off in a car.

Cohen is the head of the Ukrainian branch of Hatzalah, an international volunteer emergency services organization for Jewish communities. Police are now investigating the incident and looking for the assailants.

It comes as apprehension is on the rise in Ukraine’s Jewish minority, RT’s Paula Slier reports from Kiev. There are about a hundred thousand Jews living in the country where the nationalist violence is still ongoing despite promises that the self-proclaimed government would fight against any form of extremism.

Mikhail Kapustin, rabbi of Sevastopol and Ukraine, told RT that he could no longer stand it after he had found swastikas drawn on his synagogue – the first time in twenty years that his synagogue was vandalized. Police turned up two weeks after the incident had taken place.

I don’t want to leave, but I’m pushed to leave. I want my children to feel safe, I want my children to be free, to speak openly what they think, that’s the reason. This is not only for me, it’s for my children and for my family,” Kapustin said.

On the walls of his home, the rabbi also found a blood-chilling message, “Death to the Jews.”

We felt that nobody would do anything wrong to us because we are protected under the law, the Ukrainian law. Nowadays, there is no law because everything is changing so fast, I don’t expect anybody to protect the Jews if anything happened,” Kapustin told RT.

Another synagogue – in the southeastern city of Zaporozhye – was hit with Molotov cocktails in late February. No one was hurt, but the building’s walls sustained damage, according to Angrey Glotser, the spokesperson of Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia.

"As the authorities are weakened, extremists are lured to attack Jewish property,” Glotser told Interfax news agency.

To protect themselves, the Jewish people of Ukraine organized self-defense courses led by ex-elite fighters of the Israeli army. The participants of the courses still refuse to speak on camera, except for one, who asked to cover his face, so that he is not recognized.

Everyone should learn how to defend themselves, given the situation here. We know that Maidan movement is nationalist,” the man said.