Ukrainian Officials Deny Reports of Pogrom in Uman

“Be strong and resolute, be not in fear or in dread of them; for Hashem your God Himself marches with you: He will not fail you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 

Ukrainian officials deny a report of a mob attack at a religious compound adjacent to the burial site of a Jewish holy man in Uman. If true, the incident is deeply disturbing as Ukraine has a long and dark history of anti-Semitic violence.

A group of religious Jews on a pilgrimage to the site reported to Israeli media that on Saturday, a mob of approximately 30 locals armed with sticks and knives ran rampant through the compound.

“The police did show up at the scene but didn’t lift a finger to help the Jews,” one witness told Kikar Shabbat. “They just stood by and watched what was happening, while the Jews were being beaten up. What they did do was prevent the dozens of thugs from entering the tzion [the tomb of the holy man].”

It was reported that four Jews were taken to the hospital, though this could not be confirmed.

Uman is the burial site of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov who founded the Breslov branch of Hasidic Judaism in the late 18th century. Every Rosh Hashana, there is a major pilgrimage by tens of thousands of Hasidim and others from around the world to his burial site though many of his followers now visit the site all year round. 

The pilgrims are a major source of income for Uman but there is tension between the ultra-Orthodox foreigners and the residents. In 2010, an Israeli Hasid was stabbed and killed in an altercation that broke out following the vandalism of a car owned by Jews. Also that year, several cases of violence and riots broke out among Hasidic pilgrims after members of the Jewish Evangelical Church arrived from Odessa to preach their faith, leading to 10 Hasidic pilgrims being deported

Uman also has a permanent Jewish population of several hundred people, almost all from Israel.

Eduard Dolinsky, the head of Ukraine’s Jewish Committee, posted a report of the incident on his Facebook page, stating that the community was concerned and that “due to many incidents and inaction by the police, Uman Jews are organizing a special self-defense unit to protect themselves from bullies.”

It was later reported that this description of the violence was inaccurate. Uman Shalom, a Hebrew language news service of the Breslov Hasidic community, reported that the violence resulted from an argument between Israeli teens and a local security guard over an elevator. The argument became violent and the guard was later joined by other locals.

Uman Shalom reported that meetings between the local police and heads of the Jewish community resulted in plans to increase security measures which would include installing security cameras, which would be paid for by the Jewish community. It was also agreed that the guards currently stationed at the site would be changed.

Antisemitism in Ukraine has been a historical issue in the country but became even more widespread in the twentieth century with hundreds of pogroms. A third of the Jews of Europe previously lived in Ukraine between 1791 and 1917. It was believed that about 900,000 Jews were murdered as part of the Holocaust in Ukraine. Many historians argue that the destruction of the Jewish population of Ukraine, reduced from 870,000 to 17,000, could not have been accomplished without the aid of the local population, because the Germans lacked the manpower to reach all of the communities that were annihilated, especially in the remote villages. Uman was the site of several horrific pogroms in the early 18th Century in which tens of thousands of Jews were killed.