Editorial | Situation in Ukraine calls for vigilance

The stunning collapse of Ukraine’s government, the disappearance of its deposed leader, Viktor Yanukovich, and the saber rattling of Russian President Vladimir Putin has the region on edge.

The whole world is watching.

Ukraine faces a stark choice: whether to hold to its traditional alliance with Mother Russia or turn to the West and throw its lot in with democracy.

As the violence and chaos of recent days shows, Ukraine is bitterly divided on this question. Pro-Western forces seem to have the upper hand for now, but they mostly represent Western Ukraine. The East has always been pro-Russian, and thus the potential for ongoing civil strife remains.

Then again, Putin just may don his commissar’s hat and invade. Just this week, he ordered massive war games to take place close to the Ukrainian border. Should the worst happen, and Russian troops move into Ukraine, it would undo years of progress in democratizing the region.

What does this all mean for the Jews of Ukraine?

In a country that has harbored some of history’s worst anti-Jewish violence, recent years have been relatively good for the Jewish community, which numbers some 200,000 to 400,000 people. Now, as all Ukrainians wait to see what the future holds, the country’s Jews have the added fear that continued turmoil may spill over into attacks on minorities, including themselves.

So far, except for isolated incidents, that has not occurred. But the dark underbelly of the pro-Western forces is Ukrainian nationalism, which historically has not been kind to the Jews.

This week, the neo-Nazi Ukrainian Insurgent Army marched in the western city of Lviv. A synagogue in the town of Zaporizhia was firebombed. Beatings of Jews and other acts of vandalism have occurred in Kiev in recent days. One Kiev-based rabbi advised all Jews to leave Ukraine, or at least stay home to avoid violence.

Jewish leaders in Ukraine are scrambling for reassurances of safety.

Israel and the global Jewish community stand poised to assist in whatever ways are needed. The Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee have stepped up their aid to the elderly homebound in particular, as described in our story this week.

We join our voices to those calling for calm in Ukraine and a peaceful transfer of power, and urge American Jews to support the Jewish Agency and the JDC in their relief efforts.