The Jews of Ukraine constitute the third largest Jewish community in Europe and the fifth largest in the world. Jews are mainly concentrated in Kyiv(110,000), Dnepropetrovsk (60,000), Kharkov (45,000), and Odessa (45,000). Jews also live in many of the smaller towns. Western Ukraine, however, has only a small remnant of its former Jewish population, with Lvivand Chernovtsy each having only about 6,000 Jews. The majority of Jews in present-day Ukraine are native Russian/Ukrainian speakers, and only some of the elderly speak Yiddish as their mother tongue (in 1926, 76.1% claimed Yiddish as their mother tongue). The average age is close to 45.
The idea of a distinct Ukrainian Jewry has been revived. In former times, Jews living in various parts of the territory of present-day Ukraine had identified themselves as Russian, Polish, Galician, Romanian, Bessarabian, Hungarian, or even Austrian Jews-and more recently, as Soviet Jews.
In the 19th century, Ukraine, as a part of the Pale of Settlement, was densely populated by Jews. Despite restrictions, Jews played a prominent role in the development of commerce and industry in the region, and especially in the growth of its major cities, such as Kyiv, Odessa, and Kharkov. Many of the most important Jewish thinkers of the modern age were born there.
Throughout this time, religious and Zionist activity was forced underground. The Soviet authorities established four Jewish autonomous districts in the southern part of the republic and in Crimea. These settlements lasted until World War II, when they were overrun by the Germans and their inhabitants murdered. More than half the Jews living in Ukraine were wiped out. The Jews of Ukraine account for a great proportion of the Soviet victims of the Holocaust, with the worst slaughter taking place at Babi Yar outside Kyiv.
Many Ukrainians played an active role in the murder and despoliation of their Jewish neighbors. After the war, returning Jews were often met with hostility, and the repression of Jewish cultural and spiritual life was especially severe in Soviet Ukraine. Moreover, Kyiv became a center for anti-Semitic publicistic activity.
The collapse of Communism and the re-creation of an independent Ukraine set the stage for the revitalization of Jewish life. The Ukrainian government has been sensitive to the needs of Ukrainian Jewry. Still, the precarious economic situation has been a decisive factor in the aliya of Ukrainian Jews.
The leading umbrella organizations are the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine and the Jewish Council of Ukraine. The community is made up of many different Jewish religious and cultural groups, including various Zionist organizations.
The Jewish population is in decline, largely due to emigration and to the aging process. The community, together with international Jewish welfare groups, is striving to alleviate the poverty of the many destitute Jews in the country, a large portion of whom are elderly. Among the community’s priorities is securing the return of nationalized Jewish property.
The horrible slaughter at Babi Yar inspired the great Russian writer, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, to pen a powerful ode to the victims. It later became the theme of composer Dimitri Shostakovitch’s 13th Symphony. In 1963 both the poet and the composer were denounced by the Soviet authorities.
Ukraine has about 75 Jewish schools in some 45 cities, among them some 10 day schools (in Chernovtsy, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov, Kyiv, Lviv, Odessa, Vinnitsa, and Zapozoshye) and 65 Sunday schools. Several newspapers and journals are published, including the Kiev-based Hadashot. There is also a weekly TV program called “Yahad” on state television.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, religious life has undergone a revival, and Jewish communities in many cities and towns have been reconstituted. Synagogues and mikvaot are now functioning in all cities and towns with a significant Jewish population. Religious leadership is provided by a number of foreign rabbis.
Ukraine and Israel have enjoyed full diplomatic relations since 1991. Aliya: Since 1989, 200,000 Ukrainian Jews have emigrated to Israel.
Among the sites which attract large numbers of Jewish visitors is Uman, the burial place of Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav, and Gadyach, the tomb of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the Alter Rebbe-the founder of the Lubavitch Chassidic movement.
G.P.E.-S , Lesi Ukrainki 34
Tel. 7 044 295 6216, Fax. 7 044 294 9748
Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine
Kurskaya Str. 6, 252049 Kyiv
Tel. 7 044 276 3431, Fax. 7 044 271 7144
Jewish Council of Ukraine
Nimosnkaya St. 7 , 252103 Kyiv 103
Tel. 296 3961, Fax. 295 9604
Esplanadna St, 24, Kiev, Ukraine, 01023
+380 44 235 7418
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