What we know about the ‘grotesque’ leaflet handed out to Jews in Donetsk


A pro-Russia activist stands guard in front of the flag of the so-called Donetsk republic outside the police regional building seized by separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 17. (Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images)

A leaflet calling for Jews to register has reportedly been handed out in Ukraine's eastern region of Donetsk. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has commented on the letter, saying that it is "not just intolerable; it's grotesque, is beyond unacceptable."

But what do we know about the leaflet? Let's break it down.

Where did this story come from?

It appears that the first English-language publication to report on the leaflet's existence was YNetNews, an Israeli news site that published an article on it late last night.

YNetNews wrote:

A leaflet distributed in Donetsk, Ukraine calling for all Jews over 16 years old to register as Jews marred the Jewish community's Passover festivities Monday (Passover eve), replacing them with feelings of concern.

The leaflet demanded the city's Jews supply a detailed list of all the property they own, or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated.

YNetNew's story was picked up by USA Today this afternoon and has since gone viral.

Did the Ukrainian press not pick up on it before?

Yes, they did.

On Tuesday, the well-regarded Web site Novosti.dn.ua reported on the leaflets, writing that they were handed out by three unidentified men carrying the flag of the Russian Federation. The site also reported that there was speculation that the men were trying to provoke a conflict and then blame the conflict on pro-Russia separatists.

What, exactly, does the leaflet say?

Photographs of the leaflet are circulating widely on Twitter.

The Interpreter's Paul Gobles gave this informal translation:

Respected citizens of Jewish nationality! Given that the leaders of the Jewish community of Ukraine support the Banderite junta in Kiev and are hostile to the Orthodox Donetsk Republic and its citizens, the Main Staff of the Donetsk Republic orders the following:

All citizens of Jewish nationality over the age of 16 who live on the territory of the sovereign Donetsk Republic must before May 3, 2014, appear before the Donetsk Republic commissar for nationality affairs in Room 514 of the government’s offices. The cost of registration is 50 US dollars.

In addition to the sum of 50 US dollars, those registering must bring their passports so that their religious affiliation can be entered, documents about the members of their families, and also notarized documents about all the real estate and means of transportation you own.

Those who refuse to register will be deprived of citizenship and forcibly expelled from the republic and their property will be confiscated.

So, who is behind the leaflet?

That's not exactly clear.

The leaflet is written in Russian and clearly had Russia's national symbol on it, as well as the symbol of the Donetsk People's Republic, the state declared by pro-Russians separatists. It bears the signature of the chairman of Donetsk's temporary government, Denis Pushilin. However, there are conflicting reports from Pushilin about the letter. According to the Times of Israel, Pushilin has denied involvement with the letter, though YNetNews reports that he has admitted that his men may have handed out the letter.

And who received the leaflet?

Again, this isn't exactly clear.

The Times of Israel cites reports from Novosti.dn.ua that suggests that the leaflets were given out by masked men wearing military uniforms and carrying a Russian flag Tuesday. The Post's Anthony Faiola has spoken to a couple of members of the Jewish community in Donetsk, who said that a few dozen of the leaflets were handed out a couple of days ago.

So, what is going on?

While the content of the letter is obviously offensive, there are plenty of reasons to be a little cautious aboutthis story, and groups like the Anti-Defamation League have been careful to add in news releases that they were "skeptical about the flier’s authenticity."

It certainly seems possible that the flier was the work of pro-Russia separatists, working with or without the support or knowledge of Pushilin. At this stage, however, it is also possible that the letter was written by someone seeking to discredit Pushilin and the separatist government, as Novosti.dn.ua reported.

How worried should we be?

Our reporters in Donetsk have spoken to members of the Jewish community, who say that while the letters do appear to have been handed out, it doesn't seem to be a big deal.

Whatever actually happened, there is one clear takeaway here: With both sides accusing the other of being "Nazis," and accusing the other of anti-Semitism, Eastern Ukraine's Jewish community is having an especially tough time during the Ukrainian crisis.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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