Ukrainian Jews cautiously optimistic on Russia-brokered cease-fire


(JTA) — Leaders of Ukrainian Jewry reacted with cautious optimism to news that Russia and Ukraine worked out an agreement designed to bring about a cease-fire along their border.

Yaakov Dov Bleich, a chief rabbi of Ukraine, said he was “hoping for the best while remaining prepared for the worst” following statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday morning that he and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, had worked out an agreement for ending hostilities between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists in enclaves along the border.

According to Putin’s statement following 16 hours of talks in Minsk with Poroshenko and his delegation to peace talks in the Belarussian capital, the cease-fire would become effective on Sunday and entail the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the conflict areas, where 5,000 people have been killed in fighting that erupted last year.

But Bleich said that “the most effective way to end this war is to shut down the border to Russia because then all parties would come to the table and work out terms for a lasting peace,” an element absent from a cease-fire draft presented by the delegations. Bleich added that separatists, whom he called terrorists, were feeling emboldened by “the flow of arms and personnel from Russia.” As long as the border remains open, he said, conflagrations of violence are likely to recur.

Several attempts at reaching a negotiated cease-fire between rebels and government forces have failed in recent months.

Bleich, a harsh critic of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, also warned against “trying to appease those terrorists because this has been proven to be a failed strategy.”

Vadim Rabinovich, a Jewish Ukrainian lawmaker who chairs the Ukrainian parliament’s subcommittee on human rights and founded the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress, struck a more optimistic note. In a Facebook post on Thursday about the agreement, he wrote, “I spoke with the guys in Minsk. People, there is hope for the world. Today, the main thing is to stop the war.”

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