Anti-Semitic leaflets distributed near a shul in eastern Ukraine warning Jews to register with a self-proclaimed local authority or face consequences have instilled great fear in the local community, Ukraine’s Chief Rabbi told Hamodia.
Rabbi Yaakov Bleich, who said he participated in a teleconference with the country’s interim prime minister over Pesach on the matter, said Wednesday that while the initiator of the leaflets was still unknown, it is more likely to be the Russian-backed regime in Donetsk than Ukrainian nationalists.
“It is hard to believe that Ukrainians would distribute the leaflets right under the noses of the revolutionaries,” said Rabbi Bleich, although he declined to speculate whom he thought was responsible for the letters.
However, he added that Jews in the breakaway region are anxious about their future.
“This leaflet has done more to create fear among the Jews than all the other attacks and the firebombing of the shul in Nikolayev,” he said. “This brings back memories of what the Nazis did.”
The Chabad shul in Nikolayev, also in the pro-Russian eastern part of the country, was bombed early Shabbos morning in an attack caught on video camera.
Condemnations of the leaflets poured in from across the world, with the U.S. condemning the act as “grotesque.”
The leaflets were distributed by masked men a block away from the local Chabad shul, purported to come from the Donetsk People’s Republic, a self-styled, unrecognized breakaway authority that seeks to join Russia. The Donetsk Republic press office denied any involvement in the matter and says the leaflets are fake.
The flyer, which also ordered Jews to pay a fee for having “supported the nationalist junta of [Stepan] Bandera in Kiev” during World War II, was written in Russian and addressed to the region’s Jews.
“ID and passport are required to register your Jewish religion, religious documents of family members, as well as documents establishing the rights to all real estate property that belongs to you, including vehicles,” the paper ordered.
Investigators are still unclear who was behind the alleged fraud.
Even more worrisome for Jews in the Eastern European nation straddling both Russia and EU nations was Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement Wednesday that an attack on a Russian citizen would be treated as an attack on Russia itself.
Previously, Russia had said that it would seek to protect its citizens but would not attack Ukraine.
“This is a game-changer,” Rabbi Bleich said Wednesday.
“If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians [in Ukraine] have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia, for example,” Lavrov told reporters, “I do not see any other way but to respond in full accordance with international law.”
Community leaders said that Jews are showing an increased interest in emigration, primarily to Israel, Germany, the U.S., and Canada.
In Slavyansk, which has a small Jewish community, pro-Russian groups have seized control of the city’s media station, and replaced Ukrainian channels with Russian stations. One of the new media stations has been broadcasting an extreme anti-Semitic view, blaming Jews for the ouster of Ukraine’s former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych and calling for an investigation into the Jewish background of key interim government figures, such as Dnepropetrovsk regional governor Ihor Kolomoysky.