A flyer distributed in the eastern Ukrainian city Donestk is telling the city’s Jewish community that they need to “register” with the separatist government, but the head of the self-appointed new leadership in the region has denied involvement.
In a set of flyers handed out to Jewish Ukrainians leaving synagogue on Monday, members of the community over the age of 16 were allegedly ordered to register at the government’s main building, which is currently being occupied by pro-Russian gunmen and protesters. Additionally, they would be forced to pay a registration fee of $50 and list all pieces of property, including real estate and vehicles. “Evasion of registration will result in citizenship revoke and you will be forced outside the country with a confiscation of property,” a translation of the flyer reads.
The original report from Novosti Donbassa said that the leaflet was passed out by “three unidentified men wearing balaclavas and carrying the flag of the Russian Federation” with the aim of causing a conflict, then “to blame the attack on separatists.” The flyers were distributed in the name of the “People’s Republic of Donetsk,” the title that the pro-Russian separatists in the region have given themselves. They also bear the signature of Denis Pushilin, who has been referred to in reports from the region as the “people’s governor.”
In an interview with Ukrainian press, Pushilin confirmed that the flyers, marked with the emblem of his organization, were really distributed in Donetsk. But unlike various English translations, in the original interview with Ukrainian media, Pushilin not only rejected the content of the flyers, but also denied that his organization was behind their printing. “Some idiots yesterday were giving out these flyers in targeted areas,” he said, claiming that he had never himself used the “people’s governor” title the flyer bestows on him. Pushilin did not suggest who else may have been handing out the antisemitic flyers, but went on to criticize the original site for posting it online.
Regardless of who printed and distributed them, the Jewish community was less than thrilled by the presence of the flyers. “The Jewish-Ukrainian leadership supports Ukraine’s new government, but it’s hard to tell whether the leaflet is valid or simply a provocation,” Alex Tenzer, a Kiev native and one of the directors of the National Association of Immigrants from the Former USSR in Israel, told Israeli news site Ynet when asked about the flyer’s origin. “Anyway, the material is very anti-Semitic and reminds me of the kind of material distributed by the Nazis in WWII.”
The Russian government has for months now argued that members of the protest movement that ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was composed of facists and neo-Nazis, pointing to the far-right wing Right Sector as evidence. Kyiv’s interim government has denied this charge as propaganda from Russia, insisting that charges of antisemitism and bias against Russian speakers was a fabrication. A United Nations report on the human rights situation in Ukraine, released on Tuesday, appears to back the Kyiv government’s assertions.
After noting two instances of attacks on Jewish communities, the report concludes that “when interviewed by an impartial and reliable source representative of the various Jewish communities in Ukraine, it appears that these communities do not feel threatened, as confirmed also by the Association of Jewish Organisations and Communities of Ukraine, publicly in a letter to the President of the Russian Federation on 5 March 2014.” Likewise, the report judges that violations of the rights of Russian speakers in Ukraine are “neither widespread nor systemic.”
The full version of the flyer can be seen below:
Several outlets are confirming that the separatists in Donetsk have not acted on the threats in the flyer — leaving just who produced them still a mystery — including the Daily Beast attempting to visit the office where registration would take place and finding it empty. The chief rabbi in Donetsk also confirmed the existence of the flyers but called them a “provocation.” NPR’s Ari Shapiro actually attempted to register with the separatists and failed. And while U.S. officials have condemned the leaflets, they remain uncertain just who printed them up.