Because I work in the media, I never believe a word anyone says or writes. (I know full well there is no such thing as an unbiased journalist, or an editor without an agenda.) Because I was born in Ukraine (then a part of the Soviet Union), I most especially never believe a word anyone says or writes coming out of that particular region of the world.
That’s why, when friends began emailing me the USA Today article, soon backed up (or maybe merely copy and pasted) by other outlets, that claimed Jews in the Eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk “emerging from a synagogue say they were handed leaflets that ordered the city’s Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated,” I refused to leap immediately into panic mode.
Within hours, another source, in The New Republic, claimed that while the leaflets may have been real, they were not issued by the local government, but by their opponents in order to deliberately smear the pro-Russian side of the Crimea conflict.
When asked what I thought, I told everyone that despite both CNN and John Kerry laying credence to the report, I was going to give it at least one, full news cycle for more details to emerge.
Sure enough, by the next morning, sources that had once reported the story as true, were now saying The Donetsk People’s Republic, pro-Russian militants who framed their most recent uprising as a battle against the fascism and anti-Semitism of the new government in Kiev, denied responsibility and that local Jews were dismissing the flyers as inflammatory “provocation,” insisting that “relations between the Jews of Donetsk and their neighbors were amicable.”
Here is the thing, though: Since I don’t believe media reports in general, I have no reason to believe one news outlet over another. (Especially when even they can’t seem to get their stories straight.)
What I do know is that Ukrainian anti-Semitism runs so deep that the reason some of my family members didn’t leave the Ukrainian city of Odessa even when they heard that the Nazis were coming in 1941, was because they believed the Germans would liberate them from the Ukrainians. The Germans, after all, were such educated, civilized people. They couldn’t possibly approve of the local barbarism.
I also know that Russian anti-Semitism can be equally virulent, and it isn’t just limited to Czarist-era pogroms. Lenin wasn’t a fan of Jews (in spite of, or maybe because of, his own alleged Jewish roots ). Neither was Stalin. Though he called it a battle against Zionism and imperialism, there is evidence he was planning to deport all of the Soviet Union’s Jews prior to his death. Brezhnev, on the other hand, swung in the opposite direction, and forbade Jews from leaving the Soviet Union (while also banning them from many universities and professions), until the US intervened.
So do I believe that both the pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian sides are capable of forcing Jews to register their property, pay a fine or lose their citizenship? Absolutely.
Do I believe that they’re doing it now?
I don’t know.
The same way that I don’t know if Russia’s (re)-occupation of Crimea is merely the continuation of a 500-year-old, regional conflict that’s none of the world’s business, or Poland circa 1939.
I am not a television pundit. I don’t claim to be able to foresee the future. (And, for the record, most political pundits are worse at predicting events than mathematical algorithms, pure chance, and “dart throwing monkeys.”)
And since I don’t believe media reports, that only leaves me one source that I trust about this whole thing.
I asked her what she thought. She told me that the people she knows still living in Ukraine are saying that everything is fine.
“But, then again,” she noted. “I knew people who even during the worst of Stalinist times were publicly swearing that everything was fine, too.”
Make of that what you will.
And, if you know anyone in Ukraine, strongly urge them to get the hell out.
It’s the only option.
According to my mother.