II. Attacks on Places of Worship and Cemeteries
Acts of vandalism and property damage continue to occur with alarming frequency, according to NGO monitors. The majority of such incidents have been directed against Jewish cemeteries and places of worship. However, attacks against the minority community of Tatar Muslims have also occurred, particularly in the Crimea. Many acts of vandalism are committed at night, as most cemeteries are not guarded and poorly lit. Disturbingly, many attacks on places of worship and cemeteries are reportedly carried out by minors. Perpetrators in most cases of vandalism go unpunished. Some incidents from 2007 and the first half of 2008 include:
- On June 27, 2008, two youths broke into an Orthodox cathedral in the Chernihiv Oblast. The vandals assaulted several monks, shouting “you have nothing to do around here! Leave immediately!” The attackers also tore down several icons.
- In April 2008, the UNHCR and the Crimean Tatar Mejlis expressed particular concern about acts of vandalism (which resulted in 290 destroyed graves in Nizhnegorsk and Chistenkoe) and the xenophobic inscriptions on objects in the in outskirts of the city of Simferopol. No offenders had been identified by police as of August 2008.
- On April 16, 2008, vandals burned the protective shed above the tomb of an important Jewish spiritual leader Rabbi Aaron of Zhytomyr. The memorial was covered with neo-Nazi graffiti and writing. This was the second act of vandalism at this important memorial in the prior six months.
- On March 4, 2008, a Jewish cemetery was vandalized in Berdychiv, Zhytomyr Oblast. The perpetrators painted swastikas and neo-Nazi symbols on the walls of a historic mausoleum and attempted to break into the tomb of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, a prominent eighteenth century Jewish leader. Two weeks later the police arrested three minors and a 21-year-old man in connection to the incident. The local rabbi stated that law enforcers asked him to declare that this act of vandalism was not ideologically based.
- On February 9, 2008, a dozen hooligans desecrated an entire Muslim cemetery in Nizhnegorskiy, a small city of ten thousand people in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The vandals killed a guard dog, partially destroyed the cemetery’s fence, and toppled over or smashed each of more than two hundred gravestones. Two suspects were detained in March; they turned out to be members of a Cossack security battalion Sobol, well-known for its xenophobic ideology and frequent attacks on Crimean Tatars. However, it appears that the identity of all perpetrators was known to the police as early as the morning following this act of vandalism. Law enforcement officials in the Crimea initially refused to acknowledge Sobol’s involvement in the incident, but Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko confirmed the fact that the detained suspects were members of Sobol, also calling the Nizhnegorskiy incident “one of the biggest and unparalleled acts of vandalism in Ukraine.”
- In October 2007, a Jewish school in Kyiv was torched in an apparent antisemitic attack. No one was hurt in the attack, as the school was closed for vacation. According to the school’s rabbi, Moti Levenhartz, a week earlier, a rock was thrown through a school window with a threatening antisemitic note.
- On May 23, 2007, 19 gravestones in a Jewish cemetery were vandalized in Chernihiv. Police brought state and local units into the search for perpetrators, resulting in the arrest of a fourteen-year-old youth.
- On May 3, 2007, vandals splashed black paint on a synagogue in Dnipropetrovsk. The same day, an unidentified individual set fire to an exhibit organized by the Jewish Agency for Israel in Kharkiv.
- On May 2, 2007, a Holocaust memorial was vandalized in Khmelnytskyi. Many graves and other portions of the monument were desecrated. The monument was erected after World War II, on the site of a Nazi massacre of eight thousand Jews.
- On April 30, 2007, vandals destroyed more than 400 tombstones at the Old Crimea cemetery in Mariupol; police arrested the offenders, and the trial was pending at the end of the year.
- On April 20, 2007, three youths vandalized homes being constructed by Crimean Tatars in Simferopol. The vandals damaged eight homes before they were chased off.
- On April 12, 2007, about 70 tombstones of Holocaust victims were destroyed in the historic cemetery of Chernivtsi. Local businesses are helping pay for repairs. In April, vandals daubed a swastika on the Armenian Apostolic church in Kiev, and the next day damaged the church’s bell tower where construction work had just been completed.
- On March 20, 2007, vandals damaged a Holocaust memorial inside a Jewish cemetery and painted swastikas in Kalush. They stole a marble tomb covering and damaged the fence that was built around the site of a mass execution of Jews during World War II.
- On March 6, 2007, two Holocaust memorials were desecrated in the city of Oleksandriia. One monument was covered in black paint; and vandals also signed the name of a nationalist organization, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.
- On February 20, 2007, a monument to Holocaust victims and 240 Jewish graves were defaced with swastikas in the Black Sea port of Odessa. The monument was a site where thousands of Jews died during the Holocaust between 1941 and 1944. Police started an investigation and detained two teenagers that confessed to committing the crime. They admitted to being intoxicated, but claimed no antisemitic motivation. The teens stood trial on the charges of hooliganism.