Ukraine’s Jews denounce myth of rampant Nazism

Russia Ukraine War
Honor guard soldiers prepare to rise the Ukrainian national flag during State Flag Day celebrations in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Ukraine’s Jews denounce myth of rampant Nazism

Jewish Ukrainians want the world to know that their country does not have a significant Nazi problem and that attempts to smear Kyiv as a Nazi-led regime are nothing more than “Russian propaganda.” The Nazi myth has infuriated Ukraine’s Jews. Not only does it ignore their voices. It puts Jewish lives in danger.

Before Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion in February, vibrant Jewish communities could be found in most major Ukrainian cities. They might have been a shadow of their pre-Holocaust selves, but they were much larger than official statistics suggested. Take Odesa. Before the Holocaust, one-third of the city’s population was Jewish. But Ukraine’s last census, which was conducted in 2001, counted only 12,000 Jews (1.2% of the city’s population). Local Jewish leaders, however, estimate the real figure is about 50,000, based on conversations with local synagogues and the fact that, before the war, Odesa’s main Jewish newspaper was delivered to 20,000 households.


According to Igor Shatkhin, a representative from Chabad Odesa, Jews in major Ukrainian cities lived comfortably before the war. They worshiped in relative peace while maintaining Jewish kindergartens, schools, newspapers, and social clubs. “We had all the aspects of Jewish life. You could be born Jewish and die Jewish — but the world doesn’t know about this,” said Shatkhin. When he was told that some North Americans still believe that Ukraine has a Nazi problem, he replied, “Before the war, we didn’t even realize how strong the propaganda was, but we Jews who live here know the truth. In recent memory, there were only two countries where both the president and prime minister were Jewish: Israel and Ukraine.”

Alexander Shatkhin (of no relation to Igor) is a lifelong Odesa resident who attended a Jewish school as a child. He characterized Ukraine as “super safe” for Jews and said that antisemitism hasn’t been a serious issue since the 1990s, when “Soviet thinking” was the norm. A seasoned traveler, he believes that Ukraine is safer for Jews than many Western European states where antisemitism is becoming increasingly normalized.

Yet Putin’s invasion shattered this peace, turning countless Jews into refugees. This month, Hanukkah will be observed in darkness and under air raid sirens. However, the exodus of refugees fleeing east Ukraine inadvertently created a Jewish renaissance in the country’s western regions. Synagogues in major west Ukrainian cities, such as Lviv, have seen skyrocketing attendance and increased community solidarity. Considering Russia’s narrative that west Ukraine (and Lviv specifically) is a hotbed of Nazism, this is both ironic and a powerful rebuke of the Kremlin’s propaganda.

The rage these refugees feel toward Russia has been echoed by the nation’s Jewish intelligentsia. In November, 111 Ukrainian Jewish leaders signed a public letter calling Ukrainian Jews victims of Russian war crimes and denouncing Putin’s destruction of Holocaust memorials, synagogues, and Jewish cemeteries. Those who believe that Ukraine is full of Nazis should listen to these Jews, who are natural experts on this subject.


Adam Zivo is a Canadian columnist and policy analyst who relocated to Ukraine earlier this year to report on the Russia-Ukraine war. He is writing a book on how the war is experienced by average Ukrainians.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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