Ukraine’s prime minister voiced outrage at reports that masked men in east Ukraine’s main city handed out leaflets demanding Jews register or be expelled, demanding “these bastards” be brought to justice.
Members of the Jewish community in the pro-Russian protest hub of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine said Friday that they were left shaken by the distribution of tracts demanding the registration of Jews.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said he wanted to “make a clear statement and urge the Ukrainian military and security forces and Ukrainian Department of Homeland Security urgently to find these bastards and to bring them to justice,” in excerpts from an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” which is set to air on Sunday.
The incident happened as around 20 Jews were leaving the synagogue after marking the second day of the Jewish holiday of Passover. The three hooded men handing out the pamphlets were carrying a Russian flag and the symbol of the separatist Republic of Donetsk.
The United States on Thursday condemned as “grotesque” the distribution of the leaflets. US officials also denounced other instances of religious intolerance that are inflaming tensions in the crisis in Ukraine and said no such behavior could be tolerated.
Speaking in Geneva after top diplomats from the US, European Union, Russia and Ukraine reached agreement on steps to de-escalate the situation, Secretary of State John Kerry denounced the leaflets.
“In the year 2014, after all of the miles traveled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable; it’s grotesque,” Kerry told reporters. “It is beyond unacceptable. And any of the people who engage in these kinds of activities, from whatever party or whatever ideology or whatever place they crawl out of, there is no place for that.”
Kerry also denounced apparent threats to members of the Russian Orthodox Church from members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. He noted that the agreement signed on Thursday “strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism.”
In Washington, US officials said the anti-Semitic leaflets, which recall the days of czarist pogroms and Nazi-era persecution of Jews, have appeared recently in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk. The State Department said it was looking into who is responsible but said it took the threat seriously, no matter who was behind the leaflets.
The leaflets seen by US officials purport to come from the Donetsk People’s Republic, a self-styled, unrecognized breakaway authority that seeks to join Russia. The Donetsk Republic press office denied any involvement in the matter and says the leaflets are fake.
AP contributed to this report.