Today, the Western press caught up with the Ukrainian rumor mill: apparently, the People's Republic of Donetsk had ordered all Jews over the age of 16 to pay a fee of $50 U.S. and register with the new "authorities," or face loss of citizenship or expulsion. This was laid out in officious-looking fliers pasted on the local synagogue. One local snapped a photo of the fliers and sent it to a friend in Israel, who then took it to the Israeli press and, voila, an international scandal: American Twitter is abuzz with it, Drudge is hawking it, and, today in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry slammed the fliers as "grotesque."
The Donetsk Jewish community dismissed this as "a provocation," which it clearly is. "It's an obvious provocation designed to get this exact response, going all the way up to Kerry," says Fyodr Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs. "I have no doubt that there is a sizeable community of anti-Semites on both sides of the barricades, but for one of them to do something this stupid—this is done to compromise the pro-Russian groups in the east."
Why? The Russian government has been playing up the (real but small) role of fascists and neo-Nazis in the victory of the EuroMaidan in Kiev. The Ukrainian government, utterly powerless to fight off the Russians and their local stooges, have had to rely on other methods, like leaking taped phone calls of allegedly local separatists getting their commands from Moscow. This may be just another tactic to smear the so-called anti-Maidan in the east of Ukraine: you think we're fascists? Well, take a look at these guys.
Indeed, the Russian web chatter has sniffed the hand of the Dnipropetrovsk city government. (Dnipropetrovsk is another eastern Ukrainian city, but one that has been spared this chaos, in part because of the firm hand of its new regional governor, Jewish businessman Ihor Kolomoisky. One (Jewish) blogger said he received a similar looking flier from an official in the Dnipropetrovsk city administration.
On the other hand, says Vladimir Fedorin, an independent Russian journalist working in Ukraine, we shouldn't totally dismiss these fliers. "I think the fliers are fake, but the anti-Maidan crowd is a collection of the hardcore 'alternative' variety and criminals, so it's possible some of them are capable of this." To wit, there were also reports of teenagers distributing these fliers.
So, in conclusion: the Jews of Donetsk and eastern Ukraine may have been asked by a leaflet to register, but it has not been enforced nor are any Ukrainian Jews registering themselves. If that changes, I'll be all over it, but so far, you can breathe easy. No Holocaust 2.0 just yet.