Ukraine mayor accused of anti-Semitism

By Associated Press
September 4, 2009

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KIEV - Jewish leaders in Ukraine and Russia yesterday condemned the mayor of a Ukrainian city who called a presidential hopeful “an impudent little Jew,’’ and Russia’s chief rabbi said he would travel there in a show of support for the local Jewish community.

The incident was a worrying sign of persistent anti-Semitism in a country that lost hundreds of thousands of Jews in the Holocaust, but also evidence of a heated presidential campaign in a politically chaotic country and Ukraine’s tense relations with neighboring Russia.

Prosecutors have charged Serhiy Ratushnyak, the mayor of the western city of Uzhhorod, with hooliganism, abuse of office, and xenophobia, said Viktoriya Popovych, a spokeswoman for the regional prosecutor’s office.

The investigation was opened after Ratushnyak assailed former Parliament speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk and allegedly attacked one of his campaign workers last month.

Popovych would not provide further details.

Yatsenyuk accuses Ratushnyak of attacking and injuring a young woman who campaigned for him in Uzhhorod on Aug. 6. The mayor rushed at the woman, grabbed her by the throat, and threw her to the ground, causing bruises and a concussion, according to Yatsenyuk’s office.

Later, Ratushnyak called Yatsenyuk “an impudent little Jew’’ and said the politician was confusing the January presidential vote in Ukraine with small town elections in Israel, according to Yatsenyuk.

Yatsenyuk has been vague about his heritage, saying that both of his parents are Ukrainian.

Ratushnyak denied he attacked the campaign activist, calling the incident a “myth.’’ He did, however, confirm his remarks regarding Yatsenyuk but said he believed they were not offensive.

“Is everybody obliged to love Jews and Israel? If I don’t like Jews and Israel, does that make me an anti-Semite?’’ he said by phone.