NEW YORK (Dec. 3)
Advocacy groups for Soviet Jewry have generally welcomed the Ukrainian republic’s overwhelming vote Sunday for independence from the Soviet Union.
But many of the congratulatory statements issued this week indicated that Jews remain wary over the long history of anti-Semitism in the huge republic and are seriously disturbed by its most recent manifestations.
Shoshana Cardin, chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, urged the newly independent Ukraine, which has been part of the Russian empire for more than 300 years, to continue to allow Jews to emigrate freely and to guarantee that those who stay will be permitted to pursue their “religious and cultural identity.”
“We trust that the popularly elected new government will bear in mind the basic human rights of all of its citizens, including its sizable Jewish community,” Cardin said in a statement.
Like several other Jewish leaders, Cardin praised the Ukrainian government’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Nazi massacre of Jews at Babi Yar, near Kiev, in September and October.
Pamela Cohen, president of the Washington-based Union of Council for Soviet Jews, sent the group’s “profound best wishes” to the newly elected Ukrainian president, Leonid Kravchuk.
Cohen stressed that her group’s advocacy for Soviet Jews and human rights “has always encompassed the plight of all peoples and has compelled our understanding of your struggle.”
In Ottawa, the leaders of B’nai Brith Canada sent a letter of congratulations to Kravchuk.
Signed by President-elect Gabe Nachman and Frank Dimant, its executive director, the letter acknowledged that “relations between the Ukrainian and Jewish peoples have often been characterized by mistrust and pain over the centuries.”
‘MIXUTRE OF HOPE AND FEAR’
But it “welcomed the new openness which has been demonstrated in coming to terms with the good and the bad in our past,” specifically the Babi Yar commemoration.
The letter expressed hope that from now on relations between Ukrainians and Jews in the Ukrainian republic and throughout the world will be “based on a common commitment to justice and democracy.”
The New York-based Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry said Ukrainian independence “brought a mixture of hope and fear to that new nation’s Jews.”
“The leadership of Rukh, the Ukrainian nationalist movement, has repeatedly expressed its friendship with Jews, ” the Student Struggle noted. It maintained that Kravchuk “understands that his manipulation of traditional grassroots anti-Semitism would greatly harm the chances for Ukrainian acceptance in the community of democratic nations.”
The Student Struggle added, nevertheless, that “too many Ukrainian Jews remember the long centuries of bloody anti-Jewish pogroms, collaboration with the Nazis, virulent official anti-Semitism under the Soviet regime and anti-Jewish acts today,” including graffiti at Jewish cemeteries.
It recalled that only this past August, a monument was erected to officers and soldiers of the Nazi SS in the Ukrainian town of Yaseniv.