Antisemitism and the Ukrainian Far-Right

Historical political traditions have led to antisemitism playing an important part in the ideology and propaganda of right-wing radical, ethno-nationalist forces throughout Europe. Antisemitism has gained and lost significance in different countries at different times and in different contexts, but it has never completely disappeared from the ideology of the far right. In the case of Ukraine, the far right are not the only ones prone to expressing antisemitic prejudices and exploiting antisemitism for political purposes.

Antisemitism is not the most common form of xenophobia in Ukraine today. Ukrainians express more willingness to engage in social contact with Jewish people than they do with other non-Slavic ethnic groups, according to the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology’s annual study on the question.“МІЖЕТНІЧНІ УПЕРЕДЖЕННЯ В УКРАЇНІ, ВЕРЕСЕНЬ 2019” [Inter-ethnic prejudice in Ukraine, September 2019], Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, September 7, 2019, While it is fair to critique measuring “xenophobia” and “tolerance” in terms of comfort engaging in social contact, there are unfortunately no other sociological approaches to utilize.

Antisemitic hate crimes

The number of recorded hate crimes is another measure of the level of antisemitism in the country. The Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities in Ukraine (VAAD) has systematically monitored antisemitic related violence and vandalism for more than 20 years. From 2017 to 2019, VAAD did not record any incidents of antisemitic physical violence.Unfortunately, this does not mean that Ukrainian Jews do not experience antisemitism. According to a survey by the Institute for Euro-Asian Jewish Studies, 16% of respondents reported that they or their relatives had been the target of antisemitic remarks or incidents. One third of respondents reported knowing people with such experiences. Half of respondents in small cities said that they themselves had encountered antisemitism. See: “Antisemitism in Russia and Ukraine: Reports and Debates,” Institute for Euro-Asian Jewish Studies, February 24, 2019, It is important to note that the research questions were not properly formulated in our view because a respondent’s subjective belief of being targeted with antisemitism is not always an honest and adequate indicator of antisemitism. However, in 2020, four such incidents were documented. For comparison, 13 attacks were recorded in 2005, and eight were recorded each year in 2006 and 2007.“Политолог Вячеслав Лихачев: антисемитского насилия в Украине просто нет” [Political scientist Vyacheslav Likhachev: antisemitic violence does not exist in Ukraine], Hadashot, February 18, 2019, Over the past 15 years, the number of documented cases of antisemitic violence has been steadily declining.

However, the desecration of Jewish memorials and cemeteries occurs more frequently, while synagogues and other types of Jewish community infrastructure are only sometimes vandalized. Fourteen such incidents were recorded in 2019, and from January – October 2020, there have been a total of 20 incidents. In 2017, VAAD recorded 24 such cases. Therefore, despite the increase in the number of violent, antisemitic incidents in 2020, there has been an overall decrease in the number of antisemitic crimes committed in Ukraine compared to previous periods.

According to publicly available information, members of organized far-right groups were not responsible for any of the violent antisemitic attacks perpetrated in 2020. Nonetheless, in most of the recorded cases between 2005 and 2007, the attackers were members of right-wing radical youth subculture groups such as nationalist skinheads.

Regarding antisemitic vandalism, however, it can be argued that far-right ideology served as the motive behind some of the most recent incidents. On April 20, 2020, there was an attempted arson attack targeting a synagogue in Kherson, a city in southern Ukraine. Two assailants set fire to a bottle of flammable liquid and threw it at the building’s facade. Law enforcement officials later detained the two suspects. The arson attack was timed deliberately, taking place on Adolf Hitler’s birthday, as acknowledged by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), “[the] criminals who adhere to Nazi ideology decided, in collusion with their allies, to ‘celebrate’ the Nazi leader’s birthday."“СБУ встановила особи та затримала двох підпалювачів синагоги у Херсоні” [The SBU identified and detained two synagogue arsonists in Kherson], Security Service of Ukraine, May 9, 2020, In early 2020n International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27), unknown vandals desecrated an outdoor informational display on Jewish history in the western Ukrainian city of Ostroh, Rivne region, with Nazi symbols.Hryhoriy Arshynov, “І, ніби, такий толерантний інтелігентний Острог…” [And, as it were, such tolerant, intelligent Ostroh…], Facebook, January 27,2020,

In previous years, criminals have used graffiti of Celtic crosses, swastikas, runes, and other far-right symbols used by the Nazi SS (such as the Wolfsangel), to desecrate the facades of synagogues and Holocaust memorials. For example, on December 24, 2019, vandals drew a swastika on the entrance of a synagogue in Rivne.National Minority Rights Monitoring Group, “Свастика на табличке у входа в синагогу в Ровно…” [A swastika on a sign near a synagogue door in Rivne…], Facebook post, December 25, 2019, Although the perpetrators of these acts of vandalism generally remain unidentified, it is safe to assume they hold far-right beliefs in most cases, although they are not necessarily tied to far-right organizations.

Generally, Ukrainian law enforcement does not classify instances of antisemitic vandalism as a hate crime, not even the most egregious incidents or ones involving either neo-Nazi or Nazi graffiti. Even when investigators conclude that a crime was, as was the case with the arson attack on the Kherson synagogue on Hitler’s birthday, “hooliganism motivated by national and religious intolerance,”See, for example: Case 766/6545/20, Kherson City Court in the Kherson Region, May 13, 2020, the case is not officially classified as a hate crime. Incidents of vandalism, such as graffiti on the outside of a building, at most are classified as either property damage or simply as hooliganism, depending on the severity of the damage.

The under-classification of these crimes affects not only state statistics on hate-motivated incidents, but also the degree to which investigations are prioritized and the severity of the punishment for offenders. While a perpetrator’s motive can be difficult to objectively prove, there are tools available to investigators. For example, the expressions used in the graffiti can determine a perpetrator’s motive, with the help of linguistic experts if necessary. Such was the case in 2019 when a memorial at a site where the Nazis executed Jews during their occupation of Mykolaiv Region was vandalized with the phrase "Jews, come to your senses and stop, because the sale of Ukrainian land will quickly lead you to a Holocaust."“Провокатори осквернили пам’ятник жертвам Голокосту на Миколаївщині” [Provocateurs desecrated a monument to Holocaust vicitms in the Mykolaiv region], Ukrainska Pravda, September 16, 2019, In this case, the crime was classified as both a desecration of a mass grave and violation of a citizen’s right to equality under the Ukrainian Criminal Code (Article 297, Section 2 and Article 161, Section 1, respectively).“Поліція розпочала два кримінальних провадження за фактом пошкодження пам’ятника жертвам Голокосту у Доманівському районі Миколаївщини” [Police launched two criminal proceedings over the damage to the Holocaust monument in the Domanivkyi district of the Mykolayiv region], National Police in Mykolaiv region, September 16, 2019,

Perhaps the problem of under-classification could be remedied if a list of recognized hate symbols, especially Nazi and neo-Nazi ones, was developedIn Ukraine, there is a ban on producing and displaying Nazi symbols, but only the official state symbols of the Third Reich and the NSDAP fall under this ban. Even a minor modification to a swastika can enable a perpetrator to avoid punishment. in cooperation with law enforcement authorities and possibly the Ministry of Justice. In such cases, incidents where recognized symbols were used in the vandalism of synagogues could be automatically classified as a hate crime.

Of course, antisemitism is not only violence and vandalism. The most common manifestation of antisemitism in Ukraine, as well as in other countries, is hate speech. While hate speech is usually a sincere articulation of one's own beliefs for the far right, it can also be deliberately exploited to create a negative image of one’s opponents and to mobilize support.

Antisemitism is present in the ideology and propaganda of virtually all major Ukrainian far-right parties and political groups, however, its centrality and importance has waned with time.

The All-Ukrainian Svoboda Party

According to one study on antisemitism in Ukraine, antisemitism is an important component in the ideology and propaganda of the Svoboda political party.Vyacheslav Likhachev, “Место антисемитизма в идеологии и пропаганде Всеукраинского объединения «Свобода»” [The place of antisemitism in the ideology and propaganda of the All-Ukrainian Party ‘Svoboda’], Forum of Contemporary Eastern European History and Culture (Russian Edition), no. 1 (January 2013): 111-134. Party leader Oleh Tiahnybok’s statement at a memorial event dedicated to the soldiers of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) on Yavoryna Mountain in 2004 is a prime example. While honoring the cadets of the UPA officers' school who died there, he said: “They were not afraid, as we should not be afraid now. They put a machine gun around their necks and went into those forests. They prepared and fought with the Muscovites, fought with the Germans, fought with the Jews, and other evil spirits.” He described those present at the event as "the force that the Muscovite-Jewish mafia, which now rules in Ukraine, is most afraid of."WitchhunteR82, “Яворина 2004 (Повний, не змонтований запис)” [Yavoryna 2004 (Full, unedited recording)], YouTube video, September 13, 2009, Although this speech was not intended to be made public, it was later released and caused a scandal. Tiahnybok emphasized that he was simply describing “things as they are" and was "not going to apologize to anyone."Tara Kukhar, “ЗІК. Інтерв’ю з приводу виключення Олега Тягнибока з фракції” [ZIK. Interview on Oleh Tiahnybok’s expulsion from the faction], Svoboda, July 20, 2004, Members of Svoboda actively defended their leader against criticism. One of the party’s most prominent figures, Iryna Farion, insisted that the attacks on the head of Svoboda were "created by those whom O. Tiahnybok had successfully called the Muscovite-Jewish mafia."I. Farion, “Політична двоєдушність чи доконане рабство?” [Political duplicity or complete slavery?], Postup, August 13, 2004.

Svoboda actively pushes common antisemitic claims, such as depicting Soviet power as Jewish, especially in connection with the crimes of the Stalinist regime, including the man-made famine in Ukraine, known as the Holodomor. Tiahnybok has repeated this theme and has cited old propaganda materials allegedly from the early twentieth century, though they have been largely dismissed as forgeries and first appeared in the 1990s.This document was a forgery created by Symon Petliura's supporters in 1920 as part of an anti-Bolshevik propaganda campaign — the so-called "Instruction to Communist Agitators in Ukraine” was allegedly the text of a speech by Lev Trotsky. Oleh Tiahnybok repeated the statement that the “Ukrainian peasant hated the Jewish commissars to the depths of their soul” (“Радіо Ера. Про голодомор та репресії проти українців” [Radio Era. On the Holodomor and the repressions against Ukrainians], Archives of Maidan Forums, November 27, 2005, For more on the counterfeit document, see: Yurii Fedorovskyi, “Троцький і Україна” [Trotsky and Ukraine], Live Journal, May 19, 2009,

Leading members of Svoboda, including the party's spokesman and those elected to parliament in 2012, spoke of "Bolshevik-Zionism," "the American-Zionist occupation of Ukraine," and "Jews who do not recognize the Holodomor."Vyacheslav Likhachev, “Место антисемитизма в идеологии и пропаганде ВО «Свобода»” [The place of antisemitism in the ideology and propaganda of “Svoboda”], Jews of Eurasia, October 28, 2013,

In the years since the 2014 Maidan protests, Tiahnybok and other Svoboda spokespeople have stopped making antisemitic statements. Moreover, the most explicit antisemitic commentaries, such as several articles by Yurii Illienko, have disappeared from the party's official website following an upgrade.However, far from all of them. For example, see: “Запит фракції ВО “Свобода” стосовно діяльності жидівського товариства 'Хесед Ар’є'” [The Svoboda faction's inquiry into the activities of the Jewish society ‘Hesed Arieh’], Svoboda, December 18, 2008, See also: “Відозва Юрія Іллєнка ‘До зброї!’” [Proclamation of Yurii Illienko “To arms!”], Svoboda, July 10, 2010, It is likely that the content may have disappeared from the website due to technical problems. Other materials remaining on the website have been modified, suggesting a concerted effort to soften their image; for example, a quote from Tiahnybok’s speech on Yavoryna Mountain was removed from the Party History section of the website, where it was once featured unapologetically.

From 2010 to 2013, Svoboda held demonstrations such “Uman without Hasids,” which featured harsh and hostile language and attracted party supporters from outside the city to Uman — a Ukrainian city famous as the gravesite for the founder of one branch of Hasidic Judaism. Hasidic Jews make pilgrimages to Uman every year. Since the 2014 Maidan protests, only the local Svoboda party branch continued to use anti-pilgrimage rhetoric and even then, the degree to which they use it has declined.Vyacheslav Likhachev, “Место антисемитизма в идеологии и пропаганде ВО «Свобода» (ч.2)” [The place of antisemitism in the ideology and propaganda of “Svoboda” (part 2)], Jews of Eurasia, October 10, 2013,

Of course, Svoboda has not removed antisemitism within the party. Its leaders have continued to make statements that provoke scandals from time to time. In 2018, Yurii Gorbynko, the head of the party’s Fastiv branch, posted antisemitic drawings about violence against Jews online and claimed that he regretted that Hitler had not finished his work.Tsvy Aryiely, “Антисемитизм — не основание для уголовного дела против активиста ВО 'Свобода'” [Antisemitism is not the basis for a criminal case against a Svoboda activist], Hadashot, October 2017,; “Представників українського єврейського комітету обурив антисемітський допис "свободівця"” [Representatives of Ukrainian Jewish Committee outraged by Svoboda member’s antisemitic post], TSN, October 10, 2018,; “ВАНДАЛІЗМ І ОСКВЕРНЕННЯ ПАМ'ЯТНИКІВ: ДОЛІНСЬКИЙ ПРО ПРОЯВИ АНТИСЕМІТИЗМУ В УКРАЇНІ” [Vandalism and desecration of monuments: Dolinskyi on manifestations of antisemitism in Ukraine], Volyn News, May 14, 2018, Gorbynko ran as a Svoboda candidate for the Fastiv district council in the 2020 local elections.“Київська область, Фастівська районна рада” [Kyiv Region, Fastiv District Council], Central Election Commission, October 25, 2020, Another party candidate who ran for the Ternopil district council in the 2020 elections, Vasyl Ivasechko, recently declared "a plan to exterminate all Jews." Since the plan referred to extermination through "the strong will of Ukrainians,” the statement should probably be interpreted figuratively.“До Тернопільської райради висувається кандидат, який закликав українок “відкинути приязнь до ж*дів”” [A candidate nominated to Ternopil district council called on Ukrainians to 'reject the affection towards Jews], Zmina, October 6, 2020,   

National Corps

Antisemitism has not been as important for the National Corps party’s propaganda as it has been for Svoboda. That said, the National Corps has only been around since 2016. When its leader, Andrii Biletskyi, was head of the Social National Assembly (SNA) and the far-right organization Patriot of Ukraine, he made antisemitic remarks publicly.

At a Patriot of Ukraine general meeting on February 13, 2009, Biletskyi stated:

In order to emerge victorious, you need to know the enemy — whom must we fight. How can you define our enemy? The authorities and the oligarchs. Do they have anything in common? Yes, they have one thing in common — they are Jews or their real masters behind them are Jews. Of the hundred richest people in Ukraine, 92 are Jews.Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Расизм і ксенофобія в Україні: реальність та вигадки [Racism and xenophobia in Ukraine: reality and fiction], (Kharkiv: Human Rights, 2009, 83), (

An article titled “Ukrainian Social Nationalism,” which Biletskyi wrote as part of the movement’s political program, stated the following: "The historical mission of our Nation in this crucial century is to head and lead the White Peoples [sic] of the whole world in the last crusade for their existence. It is a campaign against Semitic-led inhumanity."Andrii Biletskyi, “УКРАЇНСЬКИЙ СОЦІАЛ-НАЦІОНАЛІЗМ” [Ukrainian Social Nationalism], Social National Assembly, last updated October 16, 2011,

After his release from prison in 2014, Biletskyi stopped making public antisemitic statements. In the spring of 2014, all archival materials were removed from both the SNA and Patriot of Ukraine websites. The sites were later taken down altogether.

Nonetheless, antisemitism is sometimes manifested at the local level of the National Corps party.

On January 20, 2019, a small antisemitic rally took place in Uman, where representatives of the National Corps and its sister movement, the National Guard, organized. Officially, the demonstration took place to support the ongoing anti-corruption protests in Odesa. However, the speakers made openly antisemitic remarks in their speeches. Apparently, the antisemitic rhetoric at the event was connected to a then-recently vandalized crucifix statue.“Вандализм в Умани: подозреваемые задержаны” [Vandalism in Uman: suspects detained], Jews of Eurasia, January 22, 2019,; “’Ж@ды порочат нашу веру и нашу страну’. Нацкорпус превратил митинг против повреждения статуи Христа в антисемитское собрание” [“Zh@dy will tarnish our faith and country”. National Corps turned a protest against damage to statue of Christ into an antisemitic gathering], Strana, One of the speakers claimed that Jews had mocked the Christian faith and the state, adding that if they do not follow the rules, they will be treated cruelly.“В Умани прошел антисемитский митинг” [Antisemitic rally held in Uman], Jewish News, February 6, 2019,

Another speaker, the head of the local National Guard branch, Yevhen Ustynovych, addressed "everyone who cares" as follows:

We are in a very difficult situation with these Jews. They believe that they can buy people, the land of faith and our hope, with their dollars. But this will not happen. We will prevail. And these Jewish freaks, who have taken to defaming Jesus Christ, they will answer for their actions, criminal actions. They insulted our faith and freedom. They are a disease in our city, and the disease must be treated. If it is gangrene, then it should be cut off and discarded. So, I ask those of you who are not indifferent to support us at this time.Gleb Derkulov, “Украинские нацистские штурмовики провели в Умани антисемитский митинг” [“Ukrainian Nazi stormtroopers hold antisemitic rally in Uman”], YouTube video, February 5, 2019,

Later in the evening, six young people, likely participants of the rally, moved to the area around ​​Pushkinska Street, where the tomb of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the founder of one branch of the Hasidic movement, is located. They threw a bottle with a flammable mixture towards the tomb. Because the incident took place far from the site, it is difficult to classify it as an act of antisemitic vandalism.“Умань на грани войны между хасидами и православными: уже пошел в ход ‘коктейль Молотова’” [Uman is on the edge of a war between Hasids and Orthodox Christians: Molotov cocktail used], 9tv, January 21, 2019,

Right Sector

The Right Sector party always had a different approach: from its inception at the turn of 2013–2014, it was important for the organization to avoid accusations of antisemitism that pro-government media outlets were making during the protests. Boryslav Bereza, an ethnic Jew and former Israeli citizen, was involved in the party’s external communications. The movement's leader, Dmytro Yarosh, met with Israel’s ambassador. Right Sector’s regional leaders covered over antisemitic graffiti with members of the Jewish community and provided protection for Jewish sites at critical times. After Yarosh left Right Sector, he continued to make very complimentary statements about Jews.For example, see: “"Пане Володимире, випадково потрапивши на посаду, Ви ще маєте шанс увійти в історію, як перший єврей, який очолив Україну і став Українцем з великої літери..." - Ярош до Зеленського” [“Mr. Volodymyr, by taking the office accidentally, you still have a chance to go down in history as the first Jew to lead Ukraine and become an Ukrainian with a capital ‘U’…” Yarosh to Zelenskyi], Patriots of Ukraine, January 28, 2020,

However, since then, Right Sector has carried out antisemitic attacks, which has been accompanied by a gradual radicalization of its rhetoric and the marginalization of the party. In an interview in July 2017, the party's new leader, Andrii Tarasenko, claimed that Ukraine was ruled by “privileged minorities” namely “Jews and Russians” and that “Ukrainians remained enslaved.”Mylan Lechyn, “У нас нет выбора: только наступление и война до победного конца, – Андрей Тарасенко, Правый сектор” [We have no choice: only an offensive and war to the bitter end — Andrii Tarasenko, Right Sector],, July 29, 2015,

In a June 2017 article, titled “Right Sector responds to Eduard Dolinskyi,” Right Sector described the work of Dolinskyi, the director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee known for his laser focus on suspected incidents of antisemitism, as "provocative articles [that] raise many questions," including:

Is it true that all Jews are as bloodthirsty as Rosalia Zemliachka, Yagoda, Bela Kun, and others? Is it true that all Jews do not love their homeland as much as Leiba Davydovych Bronstein [Lev Davydovych Trotsky], who was born in the Kherson province and sold it to the Germans, as well as all of Ukraine, in the Brest-Litovsk Treaty? Is it not true that during the Second World War about 100,000 Jews fought in the Wehrmacht, and some were even in the SS? There were also generals…“Правосекторівці відповіли Едуарду Долінському” [Right Sector members respond to Eduard Dolinskyi], Pravyi Sektor, June 13, 2017,

The Right Sector also advocated for Rebbe Nachman’s ashes to be moved from Uman and reburied in Israel. In response to those who argued that Nachman's burial site is part of Ukraine’s national heritage, an anonymous author of a Right Sector article wrote: "It is clear that this is an exclusively foreign national heritage."“Ізраїль має право забрати останки Нахмана з Умані” [Israel has the right to remove Nachman's remains from Uman], Pravyi Sektor, November 8, 2017,

At a rally in May 2018, the leader of Odesa’s Right Sector branch, Tetiana Soikina, said that power in Ukraine should belong to Ukrainians, not Jews.Information Agency Ukrainian News, “Правый сектор пообещал, что Украина будет принадлежать украинцам, а не 'жидам'» [Right Sector promised that Ukraine will belong to Ukrainians and not to 'zhydy'], YouTube video, May 3, 2018, The movement's leadership has expressed solidarity with her statements.“Відповідь Правого сектору скептикам та фантазерам” [Right Sector's answer to the skeptics and liars], Pravyi Sektor, May 3, 2018,

Other groups

While smaller far-right groups generally are not ashamed of being antisemitic, it does not play an important role in their worldview.

C14 leader Yevhen Karas has admitted that he treats Jews "not very well."Viktoriia Gerasymchuk and Dariia Badior, “Євген Зірвиголова” [Yevhen Zirvyholova],, April 13, 2013,  In January 2021, Karas organized a rally in front of the Israeli embassy. Officially, the rally was provoked by statements made by the Ambassador of Israel to Ukraine on the leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), Stepan Bandera. However, participants’ key demand was that Israel apologize for the Holodomor. In addition to supporters of C14, people associated with Tradition and Order were prominent participants in the rally. In a letter to the National Police, the president of VAAD characterized the rally as an antisemitic provocation organized for, “’Покайтеся за геноцид. Визнайте Голодомор’ - акція під Посольством Ізраїлю” [“Repent for the Genocide” – action in front of the Israeli Embassy], YouTube video, January 6, 2021,

According to experts from the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group, it is likely that the far-right group Karpatska Sich was involved in the desecration of a Holocaust Memorial in Uzhhorod in 2016.Vyacheslav Likhachev, “Антисемитизм в Украине, 2016” [Antisemitism in Ukraine, 2016], Jews of Eurasia, December 21, 2016,

The leader of the far-right Brotherhood party, Dmytro Korchynskyi, has repeatedly made antisemitic remarks about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi's Jewish heritage, both during the presidential election campaignSee, for example: Artur Hor, “Я не боюся Зеленського, я боюся його виборців - Дмитро Корчинський” [I’m not afraid of Zelenskyi, I’m afraid of his voters — Dmytro Korchynskyi], Apostrophe, March 17, 2019,; Всесвітньо-Броварське Телебачення, “Корчинський підтримує Зе Президент. Чому треба підтримати Володимир Зеленський?” [Korchynskyi supports Ze President. Why should we support Volodymyr Zelenskyi?], YouTube video, April 12, 2019, and after Zelenskyi’s election to the presidency.Dmytro Korchynskyi, “Нетаньяху в Києві. Сара Нетаньяху, хліб і скандал.” [Netanyahu in Kyiv. Sarah Netanyahu, bread, and scandal.], Facebook, August 21, 2019,


Antisemitism is present to varying degrees in the ideology and propaganda of virtually all major Ukrainian far-right parties and political groups. However, it is not a central component of their ideology. Further, for most Ukrainian far-right groups, the importance of antisemitism has waned with time. To a certain extent, it can be argued that antisemitism is more of an atavism; a relic of an outdated tradition.