It is very safe to say that anti-Semitism is on the rise all over the world. Jewish people are becoming more of a target as the days go by. In the small northern town of Konotop, Ukraine, there is just such a situation on the rise. The recently elected Mayor Artem Semenikhin is showing some very concerning and anti-Semitic behaviors. According to local news reports, Semenikhin drives a car with the number 14/88 placed upon it. Although this would seem harmless enough to the average person, the number is a numerological reference to the phrases “we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” and “Heil Hitler”. In addition to this, Semenikhin has replaced the picture of President Petro Poroshenko in his office with a portrait of Stepan Bandera, who is a Ukrainian national leader and Nazi collaborator. He also refused to fly the city’s official flag at the opening meeting of the city council, because he had objections to the star of David pictured on it.
Eduard Dolinsky of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee said “It is sad, but a reality when anti-Semites are being elected in local governing bodies, even mayors promoting hate and intolerance. Konotop is a clear case.” Semenikhin is a member of the Svoboda party, which has been known as the Social-National Party of Ukraine until 2004. Svoboda has been accused of being a neo-Nazi party by Ukrainian Jews, having made anti-Semitic statements in the past. The party toned down their extreme views in order to become more mainstream, but their support seemed to dissipate following the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, in which it played a central role. However, they managed to be seen in a more positive light in recent municipal elections, even obtaining 10 percent of the vote in Kiev.
The Jewish people of Konotop are shocked at the outcome of these elections because of the party’s stance on Jews. According to Ilya Bezruchko, the Ukrainian representative of the US-based National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry, he believed that residents, who generally get along well with local Jews, voted for Semenikhin, because he seemed to proclaim that he would be able to bring change to the corrupt system. Unfortunately, the people are much more focused on the desire for change, and the reality of Semenikhin’s radicalism is being brushed under the rug. Vyacheslav Likhachev, an anti-Semitism researcher affiliated with the Vaad of Ukraine and the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, told the Jerusalem Post that “Ukrainians are afraid of the Russian threat, not the threat of national radicalism” and that “Semenikhin has successfully created himself an image of defender of Ukrainian independence, and voters were able to support him, not paying attention to the radicalism of his views.”
While Mayor Semenikhin is careful to avoid outright anti-Semitic statements, he still makes comments that can certainly be understood as such. Nechayev said that the community does “understand that the mayor isn’t...crossing a red line with statements but saying borderline things that can be understood as anti-Semitic.” The Jews in Konotop are not scared, but they are cautious, because, as Nechayev said, “ Svoboda has a lot of activists [and] fighters in region and [they] can be dangerous.”
Konotop may be a smaller town, but as this world has seen before, anti-Semitism can rise quickly and harshly. While Ukrainian Jews are now having to grapple with this frightening reality, the Messianic Community will stand with them in prayer.
Sadly, this is a hard hitting reality and concern for the Messianic and tradition Jewish community. Many older Ukranian Jews were directly affected by the Holocaust and the Nazi regime, and now arises a severely anti-Semitic leader in a country which has already been in-battled with heavy anti-Semitism, not to mention Russian aggression.
This information was shared with the MT by Rabbi David Schneier, of Beth Hallel Messianic Congregation in Birmingham, Alabama. Schneier has been actively involved in Messianic Jewish ministry in Europe for years, including ministering in Ukraine and France directly. For up-to-date information on how the political climate is affecting the Messianic community in Europe, please read his blog, closeupsfromfaraway.blogspot.com.