Ukraine’s prime minister is calling those behind leaflets calling on Jews to register with pro-Russian separatists “bastards” who must be brought to justice. This, as the Jewish community in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk where the flyers were reportedly distributed is asking for beefed up security.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he is pushing his military to find those responsible for the leaflets which have been widely characterized as anti-Semitic and reminiscent of the days of anti-Jewish pogroms in Ukraine at the turn of the last century and the Nazi policies during World War II.
“I made a clear statement urged Ukrainian military and security forces and Ukrainian Department of Homeland Security urgently to find these bastards and to bring them to justice,” Yatsenyuk told NBC according to a transcript of the pre-taped interview.
Members of the Jewish community in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine said they received the leaflets on Monday evening calling on all Jews over the age of 16 to register with separatists, list real estate and vehicles they own and pay a $50 fee, or face deportation, loss of citizenship and confiscation of their property.
Pro-Russian separatists who earlier this month occupied several government buildings in Donetsk have denied that they were behind the circulation of the intimidating document. Though photos of the flyer posted online displayed a stamp of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk and the name of its government chairman Denis Pushilin, Pushilin has denied he was involved, while his supporters blamed their detractors for fabricating the document to try to provoke an international outcry against them.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki suggested that identifying who wrote the offensive leaflets may be beside the point.
“Frankly, at this moment, we’re still looking into that, but the source is less important than how horrific the content was and the message it sent. But I don’t have any new details on the source,” she said at her Friday briefing.
According to the Times of Israel, the leaflets were handed out as Jews were leaving synagogue in the beginning of Passover week, as they were headed home for the traditional Seder marking the Israelites’ freedom from slavery as described in the biblical Book of Exodus.
Eyewitnesses said three men wearing hoods and carrying a Russian flag and a symbol of pro-Russian separatists handed out the papers.
President Barack Obama voiced “disgust” at the leaflets, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on Friday.
“The president expressed his disgust quite bluntly,” Rice said. “We all found word of those pamphlets to be utterly sickening, and they have no place in the 21st century.”
Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday called the development “grotesque.”
“In the year 2014, after all of the miles traveled and allof the journey of history, this is not just intolerable; it’s grotesque,” Kerry said. “It is beyond unacceptable. And any of the people who engage in these kinds of activities, from whatever party or whatever ideology or whatever place they crawl out of, there is no place for that.”
Bloomberg News reported that the Jewish community in the city has asked for stepped up police protection.
“Someone tried to use the Jewish community as an instrument of this conflict,” Chief Rabbi Pinchas Vyshedski told reporters in Donetsk.
Vyshedski earlier said the distribution of the papers “smells like provocation.”
“I’m asking those behind this not to make us tools in this game,” he told Reuters on Saturday.