Saturday 7 December 2019

Pro-Russian rebels forcing Ukrainian Jews to register

Armed men, wearing black and orange ribbons of St. George - a symbol widely associated with pro-Russian protests in Ukraine, drive an armoured personnel carrier in Slaviansk
Armed men, wearing black and orange ribbons of St. George - a symbol widely associated with pro-Russian protests in Ukraine, drive an armoured personnel carrier in Slaviansk

David Blair Donetsk

THE Chief Rabbi of Donetsk spoke with controlled outrage, holding up a piece of paper bearing an elaborate stamp with two crossed hammers.

"The last time in history that someone wrote a text like that was in 1939 in the Nazi time," said Pinchas Vishedski.

He stood in the whitewashed calm of his synagogue, bearing a leaflet supposedly issued by the "Donetsk People's Republic", the pro-Russian separatists who have seized power over this city in eastern Ukraine.

On the second night of Passover, three masked men arrived outside Beyt Menahem Mendal Synagogue, carrying bundles of these notices. They posted one on the wall and then distributed the rest to about 200 Jewish worshippers who were leaving the ornate building.

The leaflet ordered all "citizens of Jewish nationality" to "register" with the Donetsk regional administration, now controlled by pro-Russian revolutionaries loyal to Vladimir Putin. They were told to bring a $50 (€36) fee to a "room 514" in the main government building, which was seized by separatists a fortnight ago.

The Jews were also instructed to take a "passport for us to make a note about your religion" and "documents about your family composition". The leaflet said they should furnish proof of ownership of all "property and vehicles".

Any Jews who failed to comply would be deprived of their citizenship and expelled from the "borders of the Republic", said the flyer. All their property would also be confiscated.

Rabbi Vishedski remembered the moment on Wednesday night when his congregation found this leaflet being pressed into their hands after a Passover service.

"The first minutes were very terrible for people to read out this text," he said. "People were very upset for the fact that someone could write this, someone could sit by the computer – someone could print a text like that."

The leaflet carries the crest of the "Donetsk People's Republic", whose leaders have taken over official buildings in nine towns and cities across this region, in reaction to the February Revolution in Kiev. Ironically, they claim to have seized power to protect local people from the "fascists" and "anti-Semites" who supposedly dominate Ukraine's new government.

Written threats of this kind summon particularly painful memories in Ukraine, where about 900,000 Jews – at least 60pc of the total population – perished during the Holocaust.

The leaflet purports to carry the name of Denis Pushilin, the leader of the revolutionary council of the "Donetsk People's Republic". But he is wrongly described as the "People's Governor".

Yesterday, Mr Pushilin denied any knowledge of the flyer, describing it as a "provocation" designed to discredit the pro-Russian cause. ( ©Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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