Although polls show that most Ukrainians want their country to stay united, historical grudges continually conspire to drive them apart. Whether the vote in a rump referendum over the weekend genuinely reflected public opinion in the eastern-most regions is doubtful. But Kiev in the west and Donetsk in the east aren’t just soccer rivals, after all. Easterners vividly recall how a leader from the west sided with Nazi Germany in World War II. But there are just as many Ukrainians who remember that Soviet agricultural policies led millions to starve to death in the 1930s, a mass murder that a 2006 law officially recognized as genocide.
The most common epithet thrown around Donetsk to describe the current government in Kiev and its supporters is “Banderovtsi”—“followers of Stepan Bandera”—a Ukrainian nationalist politician who worked with the Nazis to help them invade the Soviet Union, hoping to secure an independent Ukraine in the process.
En hoewel extreem- en nationalistisch-rechts een belangrijke rol speelde in de protesten tegen Janoekovitsj, is het – onder invloed van Russische propganda – gemakkelijk hun denkbeelden en invloed uit te te vergroten:
A neo-Nazi alliance called Right Sector, which was active in pro-Maidan violence, is another bogeyman. The south and east are full of unconfirmed reports of “Pravosek” (Right Sector) violence and abuse, including graffiti saying “Death to the zhids!” with swastikas on Odessa’s holocaust memorial.
The Right Sector not only has denied these charges, its spokesman personally met with Odessa Rabbi Avraham Wolff to condemn the acts and paint over the graffiti. The group said it is honor-bound to track down and “punish” the perpetrators of what it claims is false-flag vandalism intended to discredit the Right Sector and the Kiev government in world opinion.
Ukraine’s Jews, meanwhile, are leery of the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s designs on their country and a few sent him an open letter, condemning his fearmongering. Among the signatories were the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine, the lead rabbis of both progressive and traditional Judaism in Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies.
“We are being warned that ‘banderovtsi’ and ‘fascists’ are coming to power in Ukraine and that Jewish pogroms await us,” the letter said. “Yes, we know that the political opposition… consists of many groups. Some of them are nationalistic, but even the most marginal among them don’t allow themselves to demonstrate anti-Semitism or other forms of xenophobia. And we know that our few nationalists are under the firm control of civil society, which can’t be said about Russian neo-Nazis being supported by your secret service.”