‘I Cried and Wanted to Leave Immediately’: Ukrainian Jewish Woman Speaks of Fear Generated by Police Demand for ‘List of Jews’
Members of the tiny Jewish community in the western Ukrainian city of Kolomyia have spoken publicly of the fear and unease that set in when a senior police official instructed communal leaders to supply a list of names, addresses and phone numbers of all Jews in the municipality.
“I cried and immediately wanted to leave the city,” 60-year-old Tamara Gavryliuk told the BBC’s Ukrainian service in an extensive interview on Wednesday. “My children living in Israel asked me to come to them as soon as possible. But there is the [coronavirus] quarantine. Planes do not fly, I have no way to get there.”
Numbering less than 100 people, the Jewish community in Kolomyia was shaken by the arrival of a letter from Mykhailo Bank, a senior official the Department of Strategic Investigations of the Ukrainian national police in the Ivano-Frankivsk region. Explaining that his department was “engaged in the fight against transnational and ethnic organized groups and criminal organizations,” Bank told the community to supply him with “a list of community members with addresses and mobile phones” and “a list of Jewish students in the universities of Kolomyia and Ivano-Frankivsk.”
Dated Feb. 11, Bank’s letter was made public over the weekend by Eduard Dolinsky of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, who pointed out that in the wake of the German invasion of 1941, “the Nazis and the Ukrainian auxiliary police also demanded a list of all Jews.”
Gavryliuk — whose family was decimated in the Holocaust — recalled that her father had warned her that “every Jew can experience a pogrom” at some point in their lifetime.
She said that some members of the community had wondered whether Bank’s letter was connected to a long-running dispute with city authorities over the restoration of Kolomyia’s historic Jewish cemetery, while others had voiced the more basic fear that “people still want revenge on all Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.”
One Jewish leader told the BBC that the letter from Bank was “someone’s provocative game.”
“But whose? A question to which we have no answer,” continued Moishe Leib Kolesnyk, head of the Jewish community in Ivano-Frankivsk. “It happens. Thank God, nowadays everything is relatively calm. And the fact that from time to time there are some provocations — we are used to it.”
On Monday, Sergei Klimenko — head of Ukraine’s national police force — promised an internal investigation into Bank’s letter, declaring that “we will not allow any manifestations of persecution of citizens on national or other grounds.”