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Despite Ukraine having a Jewish president, some Jews are conflicted about aiding the ongoing crisis due to the complex history of Ukrainian Jewry.

In the tenth century, Ukrainian Jews lived in relative peace, working as middlemen between peasants and the nobility. However, in the fifteenth century, Bogdan Chmielnicki, now considered a Ukrainian hero, brutally slaughtered tens of thousands of Jews.

In the years following the Chmielnicki massacre peace returned and Jews flourished. Jews and Ukrainians lived side by side, sharing both language and recipes that are still used today.

In the seventeenth century, Eastern Ukraine was absorbed by Russia and Jews suffered once more from pogroms, antisemitism and forced assimilation. Pogroms continued into the twentieth century, despite Jews taking part in the founding of Ukraine’s first attempt at a modern country in 1917.

Despite the atrocities Ukraine participated in during the Holocaust, Jews and Ukrainians found a middle ground once more in the 1960s and onward, even joining forces to free Ukraine from Soviet rule.

Today, while antisemitism still exists in Ukraine, so do flourishing Jewish communities and in 2019 Ukraine elected its first Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

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Image and footage credits:
Adam Jones
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Christopher Michel
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About Unpacked: We provide nuanced insights by unpacking all things Jewish. People are complex and complicated — yet we’re constantly being pushed to oversimplify our world. At Unpacked we know that being complex makes us more interesting. Because of this, we break the world down with nuance and insight to drive your curiosity and challenge your thinking.

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