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On the state of anti-semitism in Ukraine and what Ukrainian government can do to address it

Lesley L. Weiss is the Deputy Director of NCSEJ. She travels frequently to Eurasia and Eastern Europe, where she coordinates democracy initiatives, community education and outreach efforts, and promotes partnerships between American Jewish communities and communities in the region. She monitors compliance by the governments of the region in the areas of free emigration and religious and cultural rights.

Lesley has extensive experience in program development and fundraising, community relations, legislative outreach, hate crimes training, combating anti-Semitism, and Holocaust education. She works closely with the governments and the Jewish communities in the region on the restitution and preservation of Jewish communal property.

1. What do you think about the state of anti-Semitism in Ukraine? Has the situation improved or deteriorated since 2014?

We are hopeful about the future for Ukraine in general and in addressing anti-Semitism. The fact that Ukraine elected a Jewish president in a land with so much history of persecution and bloodshed is powerful evidence that most Ukrainians seem to have united around a national identity that transcends faith. Public opinion polls have also shown that attitudes toward Jews are slowly changing for the better in comparison to some other countries in the region.

2. What should the Ukrainian government do to combat anti-Semitism in Ukraine better?

The government needs to investigate incidents of anti-Semitism and prosecute the perpetrators. There also needs to be a loud condemnation of anti-Semitism from government officials to send the message that acts of intolerance and hate will not be tolerated in Ukraine.

3. What steps should the Ukrainian government take to facilitate the development of the Jewish community in Ukraine? What mistakes should it avoid?

We have seen positive developments in the support of Jewish community life in Ukraine. Additional support concerning the preservation of Jewish cemeteries and other endangered cultural sites could be improved. Also, security enhancement at major Jewish institutions and Holocaust memorials is needed in light of the number of incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism and desecration.

4. What is your view on the institutionalization of historical revisionism aimed at political rehabilitation and heroization of the OUN and the UPA? Do you see substantial risks for Ukraine’s image abroad and political stability?

We are concerned about the distortion and revisionism of World War II history, particularly as it relates to the Holocaust. We are hopeful that the Institute of National Memory will reverse its five-year effort to distort the role of World War II-era nationalist groups who collaborated with the Nazis in implementing the Holocaust. Instead of honoring leaders’ whose forces killed Jews with a procession of posthumous honors such as street naming and statues, the real heroes of the Holocaust are the over 2,500 Ukrainian “Righteous Among the Nations” who risked their lives to save Jews and others, While we understand the need to develop a historical narrative that underlies the country’s identity as an independent state, separate from Russia, an historically accurate reckoning with the Holocaust is an important step toward Ukraine’s desire to join the West.

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