3350 M Street, NW · Washington DC 20007 · 202/333-0606 · 202/333-0817 (fax)
15 January, 1998
[Press Releases Home]
by Yuri SHCHERBAK
Ambassador of Ukraine to the USA
at a roundtable 'Recent Developments of Jewish Community in Ukraine'
Dear Chief Rabbi Bleich of Kyiv and Ukraine,
Dear participants of the roundtable discussion,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of Ukrainian Government I am pleased to welcome you at the Embassy of Ukraine and wish the participants of the roundtable a constructive discussion on the recent development of Jewish Community in Ukraine and the prospects of future cooperation between the Ukrainian and Jewish communities in the USA. Let me remind you that in March of 1996 the Embassy of Ukraine and the American Jewish Committee held in Washington D.C. a roundtable forum "Examining the New Realities of Ukraine".
This open forum for the exchange of opinion marked a turning-point in strengthening relations between the Ukrainian and Jewish communities in America.
Improvements in Ukrainian-Jewish relations have been recognized in several Jewish publications, including the 1997 World Report on anti-Semitism by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research and the American Jewish Committee which stated that "...the rights of the Jewish minority are fully respected in democratic Ukraine".
In his address to Jewish people of Ukraine on the occasion of Rosh-Hashana High Season His Excellency Leonid Kuchma, President of Ukraine, noted that the Jewish people of Ukraine actively contribute by their work into state building processes and transformations in all spheres of public life. President Kuchma underlined that the Ukrainian State will continue to provide consistent measures aimed at securing the right for free development of the Ukrainian citizens of all nationalities.
We are proud that Ukraine has once and for all done away with state anti-Semitism which was actively supported by the Russian and Soviet empires. At the same time, we acknowledge that the Jewish community still faces some problems. First of all, it has to do with low standards of life and poverty, which plague big part of Ukrainian population, and not only Jews, as a result of severe economic crisis and low incomes.
Secondly, there are manifestations of aggressive nationalism and anti-Semitism in Ukraine as well. Some radical groups who interpret democracy as impunity and all-forgiveness use anti-Semitism for their political purposes. Fighting this phenomenon is impeded by the uncertainty of the legislative base, low level of legal culture in the Ukraine society.
Lately, during the meetings with President Kuchma in Washington, last May the Jewish organizations of America raised the issue of restitution of the Jewish property in Ukraine. The President of Ukraine indicated the lack of appropriate legislature, but confirmed his readiness to study the complicated issue of restitution. He stressed that the first steps in transferring the religious buildings have been already taken. By the decree of Kyiv Mayor Mr.Omelchenko the famous Brodsky Synagogue was handed over recently to the Jewish community of the city of Kyiv.
The Ukrainian-US Commission, comprising representatives of both - Ukrainian and American Jewish communities, has been established in the framework of implementation of the Ukrainian-US Agreement on preservation of cultural heritage. The issue of preservation of Jewish cemeteries in Ukraine was discussed during the first meeting of the Commission last May in Kyiv. The security issue of the ancient Jewish cemetery in Lviv has been resolved by the Commission and the controversial decision of the local city administration has been abolished.
15 acting and 44 closed Jewish cemeteries have been surveyed in Ukraine. The work on locating the sites of execution of Jews by Nazis on the territory of Ukraine during the World War II is going on. It should be noted that administration of Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil, Zitomir, Lviv, Cherkassy and other regions of Ukraine carry out activities on restoring Jewish cemeteries and memorials despite significant economic difficulties. A new memorial is being built in Baby Yar. We hope that these activities will be supported by the Jewish organizations of the US.
We would also like that cooperation between Jewish communities of Ukraine and the US grow closer. And we have good examples of such cooperation. Thus, the Philadelphia chapter of the American Jewish Committee has enjoyed a number of successes in conducting dialogues with local representatives of Ukrainian Americans, Polish and Lithuanian communities.
Let me remind you that there are some 278 thousand of Jewish Americans, 317 thousand Polish Americans, 49 thousand of Ukrainian Americans and 37 Lithuanian Americans within the total 4 mln 857 thousand metropolitan population in Philadelphia area.
Last year I met with the representatives of both communities in Philadelphia and I was pleasantly surprised by high level of dialogue, warm atmosphere and involvement in concrete activities for helping Ukraine in health care.
The Embassy of Ukraine in the US and myself are open for all the constructive initiatives designed to improve mutual understanding between the Ukrainian and Jewish people, root out negative stereotypes which still exist in our societies. I believe that history should be left for historians. And politicians and statesmen should build the present and future based on tolerance, democracy, mutual understanding and respect.