ODESSA, Ukraine — Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine warned Friday of rising nationalism in the country after the erection of a new statue of a Ukrainian nationalist who is blamed for the murder of tens of thousands of Jews during the Russian Revolution.
On Saturday, officials unveiled the monument to Symon Petliura in Vinnitsa, in an area of the city once known as Yerusalimka (Jerusalem), just some 200 meters (600 feet) from a small, functioning synagogue.
“What really matters is not this specific statue in Vinnitsa, but the trends. There is a trend, nationalism is on the rise,” said Israeli Ambassador Eliav Belotzercovsky, speaking at a conference organized by Limmud FSU, a Jewish educational outreach group, at the Black Sea port of Odessa.
Vinnitsa, located 260 kilometers (160 miles) southwest of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, already has a street named for Petliura.
Soldiers of Petliura’s Ukrainian People’s Republic were responsible for 493 out of the recorded 1,236 pogroms and other violent incidents against Jews in 524 Ukrainian towns during the Russian Revolution, from 1918 to 1921. Between 35,000 and 50,000 Jews were killed in the violence, although Petliura’s actual role remains unclear.
The erection of the statue is part of an ongoing move by Ukrainian authorities to replace Russian street names and monuments with Ukrainian ones as a reaction to the ongoing war against Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Ukrainian areas of Donetsk and Lugansk.
Israel has remained largely silent on this issue in accordance with her policy of neutrality on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
Belotzercovsky said Israel has excellent ties with Ukraine and was working to try and end the glorification of anti-Semites.
“This trend is something that Israel’s representatives are dealing with, and we are trying to see how we can deal with this phenomenon with the best means we have,” he said.
“Nevertheless, the authorities here have their own interests, and they are not always in line with ours, not only in Vinnitsa. This is also the issue with several streets of Kiev, as well as all kinds of other nationalist trends that are on the rise in the country,” he said.
Last year, Ukraine observed a minute of silence for Petliura on the 90th anniversary of his assassination in Paris.
A French court acquitted Sholom Schwartzbard, a Russia-born Jew, of the murder, even though he confessed to the crime, after the court found that Petliura had been involved in or knew of pogroms by members of his militia. Fifteen of Schwartzbard’s relatives perished in the pogroms.
Earlier this year, the western municipality of Kalush near Lviv was sued for deciding to name a street for Dmytro Paliiv, a commander of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, also known as the 1st Galician.
In the city of Uman — a major pilgrimage site for Breslov Hasidic Jews — a new monument recently appeared to commemorate Ivan Gonta, an 18th-century Cossack involved in a massacre of Jews, Poles, and Eastern Catholics.
Also before the revolution, Stepan Bandera, Roman Shukhevych and other nationalists accused of complicity in the murder of Ukrainian Jews have received honors from state authorities for their fight against Russia.
Vinnitsa’s pre-war Jewish population estimated at 28,000 was murdered by the Nazis and was immortalized in the iconic photograph “The Last Jew of Vinnitsa.” The photograph, found in an album belonging to a German soldier, shows a member of Einsatzgruppe D about to execute a Jewish man who kneels before a mass grave.
Ukraine’s prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman, is Jewish on his father’s side.
Sue Surkes and JTA contributed to this report