• In Donetsk, there is a sense of powerlessness.

    In Donetsk, there is a sense of powerlessness.

    Roman Polonsky, The Jewish Agency for Israel ©
  • In Enakievo, the Jewish community is small and shrinking.

    In Enakievo, the Jewish community is small and shrinking.

    Roman Polonsky, The Jewish Agency for Israel ©
  • In Donetsk, there is a sense of powerlessness.

    In Donetsk, there is a sense of powerlessness.

    Roman Polonsky, The Jewish Agency for Israel ©
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Live from Ukraine: View from the Edge, Day 2

UKRAINE - May 12, 2014. "In the evening, we meet Jewish youth and businessmen of Donetsk. There is a sense of powerlessness, that “we all are pawns in a game of oligarchs and politicians.”

Today, we were supposed to go to Kramatorsk, but at the very last moment the news came that the town is restless -- shooting in the streets caused our security officer to ban the trip. His instinct proved correct: As it turned out, according to some unconfirmed reports, there were casualties among civilians.

We chose another direction –Enakievo, an industrial town with a population of about 100,000, the birthplace of the ousted president Yanukovych. We carried a letter from Rabbi Vyshetsky of Donetsk confirming that we have no political agenda, only concern for the situation of the Jewish community. Apparently, neither pro-Russian, nor pro-Ukrainian groups want to appear to have an official quarrel with the Jewish community.

We passed rather quietly through several check-posts, both of the Ukrainian police and of the pro-Russian self-defense forces; nobody stopped us.

A repainted inscription announcing that we had entered the town of Enakievo attracted our attention: the Ukrainian yellow and blue colors had been repainted with the Russian red-blue-white tricolor. And yet - it is pretty quiet here – there are no troops, and the town's administrative building is in the hands of the Ukrainian self-defense forces

The Jewish community is small and constantly shrinking. There are only 160 members registered in the community today; there were about 700 at the turn of the millennium. Young people either move to a bigger city or go to Israel. In the local Jewish welfare center, the only Jewish site in town, we met its director and a group of Jewish residents, all well over 60 years old.

The mood here is different from in Donetsk, the statements are harsher, distrust torwards the central governments is stronger. Recent violent clashes in Odessa and Mariupol have significantly influenced people, and many of those who had not intended to participate in the referendum did so after the violence.

The people are very nervous. “The fact that the troops have not yet arrived here means that we were deserted,” they say. When we leave the town, we see graffiti: “Odessa: we will never forget and never forgive!”

Mariupol is a workers’ town and a port. There are about 2,500 Jews, and about 4,000 throughout the Lugansk region. There is a collective holding of breath as citizens wait to  learn of next steps after the referendum, which resulted (as had been expected) inthe victory of the pro-independence (from Kiev) forces.

The ballot papers – in Ukrainian and Russian – asked one question: "Do you support the Act of State Self-rule of the Donetsk People's Republic/Lugansk People's Republic?" According to  official sources, 74% of the citizens participated in the vote, 89% voted for independence, 10% were against and 1% of the ballots were invalidated.

However, nobody knows what this “independence” means or where its borders are, and the vote is seen as more of a protest than a democratic statement.

Rabbi Vyshetsky of Donetsk is greatly concerned; for many years his community has been supported only by donations of local businessmen. For the first time this year, that many of them could not give a penny: the industrial plants have stopped working, there is no income at all, and there is a feeling that businesses are simply crumbling.

We met the Rabbi in the synagogue which made headlines a few weeks ago, where leaflets had been distributed demanding that Jews register or be fined. It's commonly agreed that this was a provocation, and that historically it is especially dangerous when Jews become the object of provocation.

The Rabbi expressed his gratitude to The Jewish Agency for the support the community received from The Jewish Agency Security Fund. They bought security cameras and hired additional security guards. (The grant of The Jewish Agency also allowed them to install security cameras in the community center, in the Yeshiva, in school, and in the kindergarten.)

In the evening, we meet Jewish youth and businessmen of Donetsk. Here, unlike in the older generation, there is no common point of view. The situation is complicated and nobody feels they know the truth. There is a sense of powerlessness, that “we all are pawns in a game of oligarchs and politicians.”  The evening news announces that Donetsk has already asked the Russian Federation “to consider incorporating the region into Russia, citing Sunday's referendum as reflecting the desires of its residents.”

Another message arrives by the end of the day: More anti-Semitic leaflets have been distributed, this time in the town of Mariupol.

Increasingly, the anti-Jewish theme is louder and more intimidating.

Tomorrow – Odessa.

13 May 2014 / 13 Iyar 5774 0
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