The Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union, the UCSJ, joins with over 50 Jewish citizens of Ukraine who have written to Russian President Vladimir Putin on behalf of the multi-national people of Ukraine, Ukraine’s national minorities, and the Jewish community.
President Putin has stated that Russia wants to protect the rights of the Russian-speaking citizens of Crimea and all of Ukraine and that these rights have been flouted by the current Ukrainian government. Historically, Ukrainian Jews are also mostly Russian-speaking. Thus, our opinion on what is happening carries no less weight than the opinion of those who advise and inform him.
We do not believe that President Putin is easy to fool. He consciously picks and chooses lies and slander from the massive amount of information about Ukraine. And he knows very well that Victor Yanukovich’s statement that Kiev is “full of armed people who have begun to trash buildings, places of worship, churches. Innocent people have begun to suffer. People have simply been robbed and killed in the street” are lies, from the first word to the very last.
The Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine are not being humiliated or discriminated against, their civil rights have not been limited. Falsehoods about “forced Ukrainization” and “bans on the Russian language” have been common in Russian media. President Putin knows that false reports about the growth of anti-Semitism in Ukraine also do not correspond to the actual facts. It seems he has confused Ukraine with Russia, where Jewish organizations noted the growth in anti-Semitic tendencies last year.
Right now, after Ukraine survived a difficult political crisis, many of us wound up on different sides of the barricades. The Jews of Ukraine, as all ethnic groups, are not absolutely unified in their opinion toward what is happening in the country. But they live in a democratic country and can afford a difference of opinion.
The Russian government has tried to scare them with reports of “Bandera followers” and “fascists” attempting to wrest away the helm of Ukrainian society, with imminent Jewish pogroms. Yes, we are well aware that the political opposition and the forces of social protests who have secured changes for the better are made up of different groups. They include nationalistic groups, but even the most marginal do not dare show anti-Semitism or other xenophobic behavior. And we certainly know that Ukraine’s very few nationalists are well-controlled by civil society and the new Ukrainian government — which is more than can be said for the Russian neo-Nazis, who are encouraged by the FSB security services.
Ukraine’s Jews have a great mutual understanding with the new government, and a partnership is in the works. There are quite a few national minority representatives in the Cabinet of Ministers: the Minister of Internal Affairs is Armenian, the Vice Prime Minister is a Jew, two ministers are Russian. The newly appointed governors of Ukraine’s region are also not exclusively Ukrainian.
Unfortunately, we must admit that in recent days stability in Ukraine has been threatened. And this threat is coming from the Russian government, namely from President Putin. His policy of inciting separatism and placing crude pressure on Ukraine threatens all Ukrainian people, including those who live in Crimea and the Ukrainian South-East.
We highly value President Putin’s “concern” about the safety and rights of Ukrainian national minorities. But Ukraine’s Jews do not wish to be “defended” by surrendering Ukraine and allowing annexation of its territory. We decisively call on Russia to end its interference in internal Ukrainian affairs, to return the Russian armed forces to their normal fixed peacetime location, and to stop encouraging pro-Russian separatism.
The Ukrainians are quite capable of protecting their rights in a constructive dialogue and in cooperation with the government and civil society of a sovereign, democratic, and united Ukraine. We strongly urge Russia to not destabilize the situation in the Ukraine and to stop attempts to delegitimize the new Ukrainian government.