In a disturbing reminder of an era that's supposed to be bygone, an image has been circulating of what appears to be a leaflet asking all Jews over the age of 16 in Donetsk, Ukraine, to "register" with separatist militants. The leaflet, reported by Ynet and picked up by USA Today, bears the signature of the head of Donetsk's temporary pro-Russia "government" Denis Pushilin. However, the Ukranians attempting to bring the region under Russian control have denied any involvement with the flyer.
Secretary of State John Kerry declined to assign blame for the leaflets in a Thursday statement. However, he condemned them as "'intolerable" and "grotesque."
According to Ynet's English report, the leaflet, written in Russian, reads:
"Dear Ukraine citizens of Jewish nationality. Due to the fact that the leaders of the Jewish community of Ukraine supported Bendery Junta," a reference to Stepan Bandera, the leader of the Ukrainian nationalist movement which fought for Ukrainian independence at the end of World War II, "and oppose the pro-Slavic People's Republic of Donetsk, (the interim government) has decided that all citizens of Jewish descent, over 16 years of age and residing within the republic's territory are required to report to the Commissioner for Nationalities in the Donetsk Regional Administration building and register."
The flyer continues to instruct its Jewish readers that an "ID and passport are required to register your Jewish religion," and that they should bring "religious documents of family members, as well as documents establishing the rights to all real estate property that belongs to you, including vehicles." Members of Donetsk's Jewish population say they were handed the flyers by three masked men on their way out of the region's synagogue last week. The flyer notes that registration will cost $50, and that anyone who doesn't comply will be, basically, deported.
According to the Times of Israel, Pushilin has gone on record to a Russian paper denying any involvement in the flyers, instead calling them a "provocation." Olga Resnikova, a Jewish resident of the region who saw the leaflet told Ynet that "we do not know if the leaflet was spread by pro-Russian forces or someone else, but it did manage to create quite a fear."
No matter where the flyer comes from, the very real issue of anti-Semitism in Ukraine following the change of power there has been a fraught one. Pro-Russian groups have taken pains to paint the new interim government in Kiev as in collusion with anti-Semitic nationalists. But a New York Times look into Jewish life in Ukraine following the change of power found that many in the country were more concerned about anti-Semitism coming from Russia than they were about nationalist backlash from the new Ukrainian government. It seems no matter the crisis, the worst bigots will always find a way to exploit it.