With some 200,000 Ukrainians in Kiev’s Independence Square to protest the government, Jewish leaders said security details are being tightened to ensure protection from protesters with anti-Semitic tendencies who might try to scapegoat the Jewish community.
“Now that streets across Ukraine are full of civilians, the community’s safety is becoming our primary concern,” said Oleksandr Feldman, a Ukrainian lawmaker, president of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, and Algemeiner blogger, according to i24 News on Sunday. The protests are “a tour de force by various opposition parties, from liberals who support ties with the European Union, to the ultra-nationalist and anti-Russian Svoboda party,” Feldman said.
The involvement of Svoboda “and other elements with anti-Semitic tendencies may lead to a situation where the Jewish community is made into a scapegoat,” Feldman warned. “We are on high alert.”
Feldman co-founded the Institute of Human Rights and the Prevention of Extremism and Xenophobia with Amanda Paul, an analyst from the Brussels-based European Policy Center, according to a profile in the Kyiv Post, which listed him as Ukraine’s 43rd richest man in 2010. Feldman is the founder of AVEK Group, a conglomerate of some 50 companies, many of which are in his native Kharkiv. He also manages the Barabashovo Market there, a sprawling wholesale and retail marketplace, the size of 150 football fields. Its 70,000 traders generate annual revenues of almost $2.5 billion, the Kyiv Post said.
Feldman said, “To a considerable degree, the Ukrainian Jewish community supports promoting a path toward merger into the European Union… but it is important to adopt a neutral and comprehensive position.”
The two weeks of protests are a sign of the unrest in Ukraine. Protesters seek to force President Viktor Yanukovych to resign after he rejected political and free trade agreements with the EU, which reports say was because of pressure from the Kremlin, i24 News said. Yanukovych added fuel to the fire by discussing the signing of a new strategic partnership treaty with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Friday. On Saturday, opposition leaders said that they would not meet with Yanukovych unless he dismissed the government, released arrested protesters and punished riot police officers for crushing an opposition rally last week.
“This is an ultimatum of the Ukrainian people and not just the opposition,” said Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of the Batkivshchyna – “Fatherland ” party, according to i24 News.
Jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, who had hoped to walk out of prison as a result of the EU deal, has called on the West to impose sanctions against Yanukovych and his family including his son Olexander, one of the country’s richest men, whose wealth was estimated by the Kyiv Post at $291 million in 2010.
Analysts believe Russia offered Ukraine cheaper natural gas and billions of dollars in aid in exchange for joining a Moscow-led customs union. The Economist’s senior editor Edward Lucas, citing sources, tweeted that during the Friday talks Yanukovych had promised Putin to join the customs union by 2015 in return for aid.
Both Ukrainian and Russian authorities said no deal was signed in Sochi, i24 News said.