Ukrainian Jews Form Independent Defense Force

Ukrainian Jews Form Independent Defense Force

A group of Ukrainian Jews with sophisticated military and martial arts expertise have come together seeking to protect fellow citizens from anti-Semitic attacks.

Tzvi Arieli, founder of the group, said the force is comprised of eight men who have either served in the Ukrainian or Israeli militaries or have sufficient martial arts skills. “We are trying to raise funds for bullet-proof vests which would greatly increase safety if the situation escalates,” said Arieli, who was once in a special forces unit in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces).

An unnamed American donor, whose family is based in Kiev, has donated supplies to the newly created Jewish defense force, arming the group with baseball bats.

Arieli said he was motivated to set up the force after convening with Yaakov Dov Bleich, a Ukrainian chief rabbi. The rabbi was dismayed and worried following the rampant increase of anti-Semitic attacks in Ukraine since the beginning of the recent tensions. The hostilities ultimately led to the exile of former President Yanukovych and the Russian takeover of the Crimea region of Ukraine.

“The current reality means that even tomorrow we could find 20 people with firebombs outside the synagogue. We need to be prepared,” said Arieli.

The unfolding political situation in Ukraine has worried many in the Jewish community. Anti-Semitic attacks, such as two firebombed synagogues and frequent assaults directed towards Jewish leaders, have occurred all too frequently. “In talks with officials, it became clear the authorities could offer limited protection to the Jewish community so we needed to take security into our own hands,” said Arieli. He noted that the Ukrainian forces were aware of the Jewish task forces’ presence, and had generally accepted that presence. Rabbi Bleich echoed Arieli’s statements, noting the Ukrainian police were already preoccupied and “overwhelmed” with other responsibilities.

Chief Rabbi Bleich told the The Jerusalem Post that the unit is modeled similarly to a Jewish neighborhood watch organization in Brooklyn, New York, called the Shomrim (guards).

The newly founded protection unit force is set to gather in Kiev Friday to try to prevent any potential attacks on Jewish targets in the capital. The day is of particular historical significance because Friday, May 9, 2014, marks the 69-year anniversary of Nazi Germany’s surrender to Stalin’s Russian army.

The group has created a Facebook page hoping to advance its goal: to protect Ukraine’s Jewish community.