Skepticism Over Reports of Neo-Nazis Fighting in Ukraine

Investigative reporter, Robert Parry, famed for his role in revealing the Iran-Contra affair, reported what he called the “inconvenient truth” of neo-Nazi groups playing a key role in Ukraine’s fight against pro-Russian insurgents. Despite the bloody anti-Semitic history of Ukrainian nationalism, contemporary Jewish voices are, largely, steadfast in their support of the Ukrainian cause.

The story, which appeared in Parry’s Consortium News, detailed the pivotal role that two ultra-nationalist groups, Svoboda and Right Sektor, played in a February coup that overthrew pro-Russian President, Viktor Yanukovych. Both groups have openly expressed anti-Semitic views in the past.

“The Ukrainian government’s offensive against ethnic Russian rebels in the east has unleashed far-right paramilitary militias that have even raised a neo-Nazi banner over the conquered town of Marinka, just west of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk,” wrote Parry, telling of the continuing role of these groups in the hostilities.

Parry goes on to accuse the U.S. State Department and media of attempting to downplay the facts in light of American support for the Ukrainian cause.

Leon Geyer, a Russian-English translator, was dismissive of such claims.

“I am very supportive of [the] Ukraine cause,” he said. “Even though I left Ukraine many years ago because of anti-Semitism, now the reports are very exaggerated. If you ask the Jewish leaders in Ukraine, they are not worried about it.”

Geyer added that although Svoboda and Right Sektor were awarded cabinet positions in the interim government, they received a negligible percentage of the vote in recently held presidential elections.

“The Jews play a very important role in the present upheaval in Ukraine, he explained. “Russia has marketed this conflict as a struggle against fascism, using World War II-era symbolism, and that Russia is coming to rescue Ukraine. Part of this image is to portray that Jews are at risk.”

Geyer said that in his home city of Odessa, a heavily Russian and Jewish city, many relatives do fear anti-Semitism from Ukrainian nationalists, but questioned the legitimacy of their fears;

“It’s very hard to get to the bottom of what is going on. Peoples views depend on whether they are watching Russian or Ukrainian media.”

Igor Kaslovsky, the Director of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine’s refugee center in Kiev, told Hamodia that “Ukrainian nationalism is totally different today. A lot of Jews are on the nationalist side.”

He also dismissed the basic Russian claim that ethic Russians living in Ukraine want independence.

“People in Ukraine want to have one country. This war is about people coming from another county, Russia, [who] want to fight with us.”

Efriam Zuroff, Director of the Simon Weisenthal Foundation’s Jerusalem office, said that Ukraine’s past anti-Semitism is impossible to ignore, citing the direct participation of Ukrainian nationalists in the mass murder of Jews both in and out of their own country during the Holocaust.

“The nationalist heroes are those that fought communism,” he said. “This involves covering over their past connections with Nazi collaboration and [an]active role in genocide.”

As to wide support of Ukrainian Jews for the Kiev government, Zuroff said that he thought many Jews in more culturally Russian parts of the country were pro-Russian and that any claims to know where support lays was conjecture.

Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, told Hamodia that while acknowledging the undeniable facts of Ukraine’s history of pogroms and Nazi collaboration, the choice of Ukraine’s Jewish community is clearly with Kiev.

“Today we are stuck between the Russians who are cruel murderers and the Ukrainians who are bending over backwards to be good to the Jew, despite their history,” said Rabbi Bleich.

“When a society changes their form of government, the whole society changes,” he said, addressing how such a change could take place.  “In an authoritarian government your mind is controlled. Once people are not being fed misinformation, their mind’s open and they think differently. The new society obligates them to be different.”

When asked whether he feared a return to anti-Semitic hostility after hostilities are resolved, Rabbi Bleich answered that: “Right now there is tremendous goodwill. After this ends, why should we go back to 1917 or 1942?”