Information from the Ukrainian-American Bureau for the Protection of Human Rights on the situation of Jews [UKR27673.E]

The following information was provided by the deputy director and the coordinator of the Ukrainian-American Bureau for the Protection of Human Rights in a meeting in Kiev on 24 September 1996. The opinions expressed in this Response are those of the deputy director and the coordinator.

About the Ukrainian-American Bureau for the Protection of Human Rights

The Ukrainian-American Bureau for the Protection of Human Rights was formed with the assistance of the Union of Councils. While the Union of Councils helped to register the bureau, the bureau is now independent and is funded by various grants. It does not receive funding from the Union of Councils. In addition to monitoring human rights issues, the bureau has initiated a program to distribute the documents of various international organizations such as the United Nations and the Council of Europe. Recently, it has prepared a report on medical issues, which it is distributing throughout Ukraine's medical community.

The Situation of Jews

In general, the situation of Jews is much better than it was during the Soviet era. Churches and synagogues are open and religious expression is permitted. It is very easy for Jews to learn and study. There are Jewish schools throughout the country and a Jewish university, Solomon University, in Kiev. Solomon University is not restricted to Jews, but is accessible to all Ukrainians.

During Soviet rule, people sometimes hid their Jewish heritage, but now it is up to the individual to decide how he or she wishes to identify himself or herself. Some identify themselves as Ukrainians and some as Jews. Some Jews have chosen to leave Ukraine, and some have chosen to stay. An important factor for understanding the issue of Jewish emigration is that now all Jews may exercise their choice to leave now or at some time in the future. Some Ukrainians do not understand why all Jews do not leave now that they have the option.

There may be grassroots level anti-Semitism in Ukraine, but there is no official policy of anti-Semitism. Of course that does not mean that there are no anti-Semites in Ukrainian government structures. In the workplace too, a Jew may run into an anti-Semitic boss who refuses to give him a job. But that is because of the prejudices of the boss, not because of any state directive.

The economic situation in Ukraine makes things more difficult. There are many successful Jewish business people in Ukraine living amongst poorer Ukrainians and this makes them more visible targets for harassment. Jews who are not business people do not feel threatened by such harassment. The police cannot protect businessmen, Jewish or otherwise. Business people are not the only targets of harassment, but with the current economic situation, they are an important target and many business people have been murdered. A worsening of, or improvement in, the Ukrainian economy could have a corresponding effect on the situation of Jews.

In Western Ukraine, the situation for Jews is probably not as good as elsewhere in the country. The propiska system makes it very difficult for someone from Western Ukraine to move to another part of Ukraine. However, a person who has money can easily move. If someone can afford to buy a flat, then it is very easy to get a propiska changed. But for most people flats are too expensive to be an option, not only in Kiev, but in other Ukrainian cities as well.

There are examples of anti-Semitic incidents occurring in the country. For example sometimes there are cases of anti-Semitic graffiti being put on the doors of Jewish homes, but these incidents are infrequent. Then there are other incidents which are less clearly identifiable as anti-Semitic. For example, one day in an apartment building in Kiev someone wrote "Jew" or "Ukrainian" on all the mail boxes. They wrote Jew on some of the mail boxes belonging to Ukrainians and they wrote Ukrainian on some of the boxes belonging to Jews. The persons responsible or reasons for it have not been identified.

The situation with the militia is very bad. The police services have very limited resources, inadequate equipment and the pay levels are very low. It is impossible to catch criminals without equipment and money. This is an economic issue not an anti-Semitic one. All people in Ukraine suffer because of the economic state of the police.

Jews in Ukraine are frightened. It is a historical fear of what may happen based on what has happened. This fear is independent of the current situation. But, because the situation is quite unsettled in Ukraine, it is not possible to say if the situation will improve or worsen for Jews in the near future. Some people in Ukraine feel persecuted. Their feelings are steeped in history and they do not understand that everyone does not see or understand their situation, so they do not understand why they should or even how they could prove they are being persecuted.

This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Ukrainian-American Bureau for the Protection of Human Rights. Kiev. 24 September 1996. Interview with the deputy director and coordinator.