Kiev, Odessa, Zhitomyr, Uman...the cities of Ukraine are places marked in Jewish history for both horror and hope. Jews have lived in Ukraine for well-over a thousand years, and there is even mention of a Jewish Gate as one of the three gates into Medieval Kiev.
By the 15th century, Ukraine was home to one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe and was the region where, in the 18th century, the chassidic movement developed. Unfortunately, Ukrainian nationalism often led to tragic violence against the Jewish people, including the Chmielnicki Pogroms in the 17th century. Needless to say, the Holocaust was particularly horrific in Ukraine, and its Jewish population was persecuted brutally during the Communist era that followed World War II.
By 1989, there were approximately 840,000 Jews left in Ukraine (where once there had been close to 1.5 million).
Twenty five years ago today (August 24, 1991), the people of Ukraine declared their independence from the Soviet Union. Not surprisingly, in the new era of freedom, a large percentage of the Jewish population chose to leave Ukraine, and many moved to Israel.
Although anti-Semitism certainly still exists anti-Semitism in the country, Ukraine has made efforts to recognize the role played by Jews in its history and to show deeper appreciation for its current Jewish population. Organizations have been created to look after Jewish interests, and there has been a religious revival since communist restrictions were lifted. Beginning in Fall 2007, Ukrainian government has periodically released Torah scrolls from the government archives that had been confiscated by previous Ukrainian regimes.
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