Kiev, Ukraine. In September of last year, I attended commemorative events in honor of the 75th anniversary of the events at Babi Yar, where during the Holocaust for two days it was shot more than 33 thousand Kiev Jews. I was listening to the incendiary speech of the President of Petro Poroshenko about why these atrocities should not be repeated. Having spent the last 10 years, the Director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, which is one of the most influential in the country, Jewish organizations, I was glad to hear it.
But my joy was poisoned by what I saw at Babi Yar earlier: a commemorative bench in honour of Ivan Rogač. The stag was editor of the radical nationalist newspaper, which in 1941, when there was a mass murder at Babi Yar, called Jews “the greatest enemies of the people”. He was also a leading activist of the Organization of Ukrainian nationalists, whose members actively participated in the Holocaust in Ukraine. On the stand this was not a word.
The OUN and its military wing, the Ukrainian insurgent army (UPA) today praise, calling the freedom fighters. This says nothing about the xenophobic and anti-Semitic ideology of the OUN, the adherents of which called the Jews “an alien body within our national organism”. Doesn’t mention that members of the OUN-UPA participated in the Holocaust and destroyed from 70 to 100 thousand poles for the sake of creating an ethnically pure Ukraine.
Despite these atrocities, many Ukrainians, especially in Western Ukraine, I think members of the OUN-UPA as heroes, because they are in 1950-e years fought a guerrilla war with the Soviets, which, in their opinion, resonates in today’s struggle against Russia.
For the rehabilitation of OUN-UPA are government departments. Under the leadership of the Ukrainian Institute of national memory to rewrite the history of world war II and glorifies the OUN-UPA, and the crimes of this organization are ignored in every way. In 2015, Ukraine has adopted a law in which members of the UPA called the “fighters for Ukrainian statehood,” and said that anyone who “openly showing disrespect” to the organization, will be prosecuted by law.
Since 2015, many streets were renamed in honor of the leaders and prominent members of the OUN-UPA. The remembrance Institute is currently preparing a draft law that retroactively exonerate the individual members of this organization, which after the war was convicted by the Soviets for the murder of Jews and poles.
It’s not just a fight for history. In recent years, violent nationalist right-wing groups gained popularity and influence in Ukrainian politics. Although extremist political parties in Parliament constitute a small minority, far-right groups repeatedly come into conflict with the authorities for a number of reasons. Many Jews fear that the government will never reject the cult of the OUN-UPA, fearing to provoke opposition from the extreme right.
Historical revisionism in Ukraine is gaining momentum, and at the same time, the country is increasingly polluted sites and monuments of the Holocaust. Vandals in 2015-2016 nine times desecrated the memorial at Babi Yar. They drew swastikas on a Jewish New year tried to burn the menorah there. And recently, in the city of Ternopil in the West of the country the radicals defaced the monument of the Holocaust, swastikas and SS runes.
Unfortunately Ukrainian Jewry, these cases remain unsolved. In fact, the police often deny the existence of this problem. January 1 in Kiev held a torchlight procession in honor of the OUN leader Stepan Bandera. Its participants chanted the slogan “Jews get out”. Safety during the procession was provided by 700 police officers, but when the next day the journalists asked the police to comment on the incident, its staff said they did not hear anything anti-Semitic.
The spirit of anti-Semitism can be found in other places. Frequently committed acts of vandalism on Jewish cemeteries and synagogues. MP pilot Nadia Savchenko, who became the heroine when she was captured by the Russians, has recently appeared on television with anti-Semitic complaints. “I have nothing against Jews, she said, but I don’t like Jews.” Then she added: “two percent of Jews who live in Ukraine, we in the government of the Jews, 80 percent”.
For more than 20 years of work in Ukraine as a Jewish activist I proudly watched, as after 70 years of Soviet persecution, we have revived the Jewish community. Although many Jews emigrated to Israel and the West, we still energetic community numbering around 300 thousand people. We love and support our country, and many Jews participated in the revolution of Euromaidan.
The majority of Ukrainian Jews want to participate in building a modern democratic state, free from widespread corruption from which we suffer the last quarter century. We support the choice of Ukraine and its desire to integrate with the West. That is why during the seizure of Crimea failed attempt by the Kremlin to set up the Ukrainian Jews against Kiev. We, like other citizens, do not wish to live under the rule of Moscow.
The surge of anti-Semitism is troubling not only the Ukrainian Jews. Holocaust memorial Museum in Washington, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and 70 leading scientists condemned the law 2015 about memory.
Speaking last year in the Ukrainian Parliament, the President of Israel Reuven Rivlin, who came to Kiev for the event in honor of the anniversary of the events at Babi Yar, said: “Many accomplices of the crime were Ukrainians. And of particular note were the fighters of the OUN, who mocked the Jews, killed them, and in many cases given to the Germans”. Poland also outraged by the glorification of the OUN. In February, the leader of the ruling party of Poland, said President Poroshenko, “Bandera Ukraine to Europe will not be”.
Unfortunately, the actions of rehabilitation of the OUN continued. This raises concerns about the fact that some Ukrainian politicians are ready to sacrifice our country’s relations with the USA, Poland and Israel, not to mention the security of living in the Ukraine of the Jews, for the sake of “peaceful coexistence” with the extreme right.
The last three years, the United States and Europe to provide Ukraine with invaluable support in its struggle for independence. In part, this support aims to Kiev is not descended from the chosen path and did not abandon its goal to make Ukraine a European country. For example, Newspapers, including this publication, as well as politicians, including former us Vice-President Joe Biden openly condemn corruption. Western leaders also should emphasize that the glorification of such organizations as the OUN-UPA is incompatible with Western values. We need the help of the United States and around the world — for the sake of the memory of the murdered and tortured the Jews, for the sake of Ukraine’s future.
Eduard Dolinsky — Director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee.