Since the Maidan protests, the Russian speaking community has been radically split on their opinions of what is happening. In all the arguments about the horrors in Eastern Ukraine (the situation is a tragedy regardless of your viewpoint, the only thing that changes is who you blame for the tragedy) there is always a lot of propaganda, biases, and just blatant lies. There is no point in contributing to the larger argument, seeing as 99.9% of the readers have already made up their minds and their opinion will not be swayed (no matter how wrong that opinion may be.) Instead, this article will look at the issue that hits closest to home: how it affects the Jews of the countries involved.
Anti-Semitism isn’t new in either of the countries, but it has been put on center stage in this conflict. In Ukraine, the idolization of Bandera isn’t new and unfortunately has crept into Ukrainian pro-Western politics, even to the more moderate parts: the leader of the Orange Revolution, Viktor Yushchenko, had decided to award Bandera the title Hero of Ukraine right before his term as President expired, luckily after worldwide criticism the decision was voided by the courts. Throughout Maidan, the moderate peaceful protestors failed to distance themselves from such extremists groups, mostly because they were the most effective in fighting the police and thus useful.
Because of their contributions, they were well represented in the Turchynov Government, getting between 15% and 25% of the minister portfolios (the composition changed along the way). With that being said, Russian media has greatly over exaggerated the size and power of the far-right but the arguments presented by the Western media have been equally as bogus. A major quoted statistic is that in the Presidential elections, both far right candidates got around 1% of the vote; using that to demonstrate the strength of the organizations shows a lack of any understanding of the political situation. Firstly, the far-right is divided and lacks a strong leader. It is not like the National Front in France in which every one of the ideology is united. Secondly and most importantly, the government was in turmoil and lacked legitimacy. A 2nd round of voting would stretch out the process and prevent real issues from being solved.
This led the front runner, Poroshenko, to get many votes that would have otherwise went to other candidates. What happened in the Rada elections was more peculiar and a direct result of Russian propaganda. Thanks to all the stories of Neo-Nazis in Ukraine, the voters strived to prove that it is a myth therefore voting for other parties just so the Russian media would lose its ammunition. The politicians were smart enough to sense this in advance, leading to numerous far right personalities running and gaining seats with other parties. Although parties like Svoboda failed to get over the 5% barrier, certain members were voted in from the single mandate districts and certain people got in with other parties. The far right presence in the Rada has decreased, but its presence has become more hidden as they are now independents or members of other parties. There are also worrying government decisions, such as the selection of a Neo-Nazi to head the Kiev Police or the awarding of Ukrainian citizenship to a well-known Belarusian Neo-Nazi for his service, but there is thankfully significant public outcry to such moves which gives hope to normalization of things and a return to the times where such groups were kept on the margins of political life.
The situation has been alarming for Jews. There have been a number of anti-Semitic attacks and a number of communities have had to organize self-defense groups to protect themselves. That being said, the mentality of going away from the far right groups to prove Russia wrong is beneficial for the bigger picture. The economic situation is hurting the Jews just like everyone else but this creates hope that when it all normalizes, the far rights influence will have shrank and the Jewish communities will be rewarded for their loyalty to the pro- Western government just like the Russian Jewish communities reap benefit from loyalty to Putin.
The ad hominem response by Western media to Russian accusations of Neo-Nazis in Ukraine is frequently to point out that Russia has a significant far-right as well—this response also shows a lack of understanding. The Russian far-right has always been adversarial to Putin’s regime, even at the peak of their support for him (during the early stages of the Ukrainian crisis) the far-right spoke out for him to take more extreme actions. Their political position has thankfully led to the far-right going the way of most others enemies of the government and has kept them almost completely out of government. Navalny, the opposition figure who the West idolizes and wants to lead the anti-Putin revolution is part of this far-right, I won’t bother listing his history but even now as he is under the international microscope he is still tweeting anti-Semitic messages (https://twitter.com/navalny/status/545214666474291200). In contrast to the oppositional far-right, the Jewish communities have remained relatively loyal to Putin and have remained in his good graces. Throughout Russia there are huge Jewish projects which would not be possible without the government support. Recently, a huge synagogue in Voronezh was renovated and reopened seeing its first minyan in 77 years. Similarly, the largest museum of Jewish history in Europe recently opened in Moscow funded in part by Putin and oligarchs that are close to him, and there was also a WWII monument built in Netanya with the support and funding from the governments of both countries. There are countless such stories and the current crisis has strengthened the need for the Russian government to make sure that Jews face no anti-Semitism; the political stance that Putin has taken (although arguably with certain other problems) stands up for the memory of the Holocaust and the events of WWII. This is especially important during this troubling time when many in Europe and the Middle East try to distort it. The negative from the crisis will dwell from the fact that many Ukrainian Jews support the government in Kiev (those in the East that oppose it have mostly left) and the actions of people like Kolomoisky will surely heighten anti-Semitic feelings in certain circles of Russian society.
Regardless of the political views, the fact is that the situation in Ukraine has hurt everyone; whether it be economically or militarily and regardless of whether they are Jews or not. The difference is that the Jews in Ukraine have an opportunity to move to their homeland, Israel, and many have taken this opportunity: immigration is up 190% as compared to last year. It is devastating that people are uprooted from their homes and daily lives, but it is relieving that they have the State of Israel to turn to in times of trouble and it is great to hear that they are finding peaceful and safe lives there and are adding to the strong FSU community in Eretz Israel.