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Ukrainian Synagogue Firebombed in Apparent Anti-Semitic Attack

Incident marks the second such attack in as many months; comes at a particularly tense time for Ukrainian Jews.
By Ari Soffer
First Publish: 4/21/2014, 8:57 PM

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine
Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine
Reuters

A synagogue in southern Ukraine has been targeted in a firebombing attack, in an incident that is bound to heighten fears of a spike in anti-Semitism amid the ongoing unrest in the country.

The synagogue in Nikolayev, Ukraine, was attacked by an unidentified attacker two days ago on Saturday morning, according to Chabad.org. The city has seen clashes between pro-Russian groups and factions loyal to the interim government in Kiev.

No one was injured in the attack, which took place before morning prayers and caused some damage to the front door and a window. It marks the second time a synagogue has been targeted in this way in the past two months, after a Chabad synagogue in the eastern town of Zaporizhia was firebombed in February.

"We came to synagogue on Shabbat morning, and it was quite scary," Rabbi Sholom Gotlieb, the chief rabbi of Nikolayev told the site. "We saw the front door and window of the synagogue were blackened."

"He tried to light the synagogue on fire, but thank G-d, there are gates on the windows, so it did not go inside, but the window did get burnt, obviously," added Gotlieb, who has served as the city's Chabad representative, or shaliach, since 1996.

CCTV footage taken just after 9 a.m. showed a young man lighting a Molotov cocktail and hurling it at the synagogue doors, moments after he was seen pacing in front of the building. Fifteen second later he threw the second firebomb at the window.

The fire was put out by a passerby, who used a fire extinguisher from his car to douse the flames. 

Police were notified of the attack, which comes at a difficult time for Ukrainian Jewry, which finds itself caught in the middle of a bitter power struggle between Kiev and Moscow.

The country's roughly 60,000 Jews have already been rattled by a spike in anti-Semitic incidents, including a particularly chilling episode in which pro-Russian separatists in the eastern city of Donetsk handed out leaflets calling on all Jews to register or be expelled.

But Ukrainian ultranationalist groups - who played a prominent role in the protest movement and violent clashes which eventually forced out former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych - are also accused of involvement in at least some of the anti-Semitic incidents.

On Sunday, Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk vowed to use all means at his disposal to track down and bring to justice those responsible.

The city of Nikolayev is famous for being the birthplace of Chabad's last grand rabbi (rebbe), Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, also known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who was born there in 1902.