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Jewish Tours around Ukraine

Ukraine Jews History

The Jews first appeared within the territory of modern Ukraine on the eve of the existence of Christianity through the migration of gelenized Neo-Asiatic and Bosporan Jews (after which the archeologists from the 2nd century BC left the Hebrew inscriptions). For the first time they arrived to the eastern coast of the Black Sea and to the Crimea. They are known since the 4th century BC in the Crimea and among the Greek colonies on the north-eastern coast of the Black Sea. On the peninsula preserved thirty tombstones delivered to Jerusalem priests till 555 AD. In Kerch, two necropolises were also found. The monuments are depicted with menorahs (seven-candlesticks) and inscriptions: Greek and Hebrew.

Jews migrated from the Crimean peninsula to the north along the Don, the Volga and the Dniper rivers. They had active relationships with Persia and Byzantine. In 8th-10th centuries Jews emigrated into Khazar Khaganate, where Judaism became a religion of the state rulers (Khakans) and the highest nobility. Very soon Judaism became an official state religion of Khazar Khaganate. 

The consequence of the conquest of Khazar Khaganate in 964 by the Prince of Kiev, Svyatoslav Igorevich, the Jews settled therein in Kiev, Crimea (Karaites), and in the Caucasus.
The first written mention of the city of Kiev is found in the Jewish letter of recommendation drawn up by the Khazarian-Jewish community of Kyiv on Hebrew (known also as "The Kiev Letter", 10th cen).

During the 11th and 12th centuries Jews from Khazaria continued to migrate to the north. Some of them also settled in Ukraine. One of the Kyiv city blocks was called "Kozari" (the area where the Pochayna River fell into the Dnieper), the other - "Jewish" (north-west of St. Sophia Cathedral). Later the Jewish Gate was renamed into the Lviv Gate, because the way to the city of Lviv laid through it . Jews who escaped from the Crusades came to Ukraine as well, and the first European Jews began to come from Germany, probably in the 11th century. The presence of a large community of Khazar Jews in Kyiv is also evidenced by the "Kiev Letter" dating back to the IX-X centuries.

The further degradation of the people's life during the era of the Mongol conquest of the Crimea and Kievan Rus did not touch the situation of Jews. The establishment of the unified state order (unification of duty, taxes, mail) throughout the Mongolian state - from the capital of Beijing to the Far East and to the western borders in Eastern Europe - gave wide opportunities to diverse commerce. Matvei Shestopal noted that, along with usury and trading, the Jews immediately started to play the role of the tribute extollers from the local population to the Mongol khans, and this brought prosperity to many Jewish communities even until the time of the Lithuanian-Tatar War of 1396-1399.

In "The Treatise on Two Sarmatians" (1517), compiled by the Krakow canon Matthew of Mikhova, in the chapter about Ukrainian lands, is noted that Judaism was one of the most important denominations in Kievan Rus and later in Ukraine in the 14th and 16th centuries. Unlike West European Jewish mercenaries, Ukrainian Jews were artisans, landowners, or large merchants who often held public taxes in their hands. They used their own Jewish writing and reading, they were engaged in astronomy and medicine.

Later Jews began to use new opportunities in the selection of professions also in the economy of the border areas of Ukraine. When the Polish and Lithuanian magnates accumulated more lands, the Jews came to serve them as the resellers, providing the services and the order in the absence of owners. Many of them were renters of the large estates, tax collectors, estates managers (with the right of making justice, including the executing), business agents, owners of the taverns and hotels, creameries, mills, of sawmills and distilleries. In trading they displaced Armenians and local Ukrainians. In particular, they monopolized the carving and production of vodka. 

The situation of the population deteriorated considerably in the 17th century. The restriction of the rights and freedoms, the neglecting, abuse and fraud from the side of Polish and Jewish exploiters caused dissatisfaction with the difficult living conditions of the enslaved peasantry and the Cossacks, and led to the liberation rebellion of the year under the leadership of Bogdan Khmelnytsky. Polish landowners, Catholics, and Jews were the main opponents. In many cities, especially in Podolia, Volhynia and Ukrainian Left-Bank of the Dnipro, the Jewish population was almost completely exterminated. The Jewish chronicler - witness Nathan Hanover in the work of the Deep Mule estimated the death toll of more than 100,000. Comparing the number of the Jewish population in Ukraine in 1648 (51,325 people - this figure, according to historians, is much exaggerated). Some Jews became Christians to avoid the persecution. During Khmelnytskyi's in Ukraine, for the first time, there was the biggest outbreak of anti-Semitism, caused by the struggle of the oppressed people with Catholics, szlachta and Jews, who occupied a dominant position in the economy of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwelth.

Under the conditions of the Zboriv contract of the year, those who professed Judaism were forbidden to live in Cossack Ukraine. Subsequently, the statement of not allowing the foreigners and people of other confessions to the positions was consolidated by Y. Khmelnytsky. The same requirement is mentioned in the first Cossack constitution of Pylyp Orlyk. But since the reign of Ivan Mazepa, vortices like Gertsiki and Markovichi were able to join the eldership of the Hetmanate.

At the time of Tsar Alexander I (1801-1825), the situation of the Jews first improved, as restrictions on their movement and on admission to educational institutions were simplified. Economically, the Jews have flourished in southern Ukraine, where they played a major role in the grain trade. They also had a particularly strong presence in commercial centers like Odessa, Kremenchuk and Berdychiv. In 1817 for example, Jews owned of 30% of all manufactories of the then Ukraine.

At the time of Tsar Nicholas I (1825-1855), the persecution of Jews by the authorities increased significantly. It was adopted 1.200 regulations and laws that influenced the life of Jews between 1649 and 1881. Among these conditions were: compulsory military service of Jews (1827), eviction from cities (Kiev, Kherson, and Sevastopol, Yalta), prohibition to use of Hebrew and Yiddish in public places and further restrictions on travel and place of settlement (1835).

The reign of Alexander III (1881-1896) and Nicholas II (1896-1917), announced the period of the pogroms, which were sponsored by state (1881-1882, 1903, 1905). The Russian authorities also began the expulsion of Jews from Kyiv (1886) and from Moscow (1891), and introduced a system of segregation of the Jewish population in The Pale of Settlement, the so-called "provisional rules" (1882). On a large scale, pogroms (wallopings) were acquired in October 1905, when only 690 pogroms were committed in one month.

During the reign of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, Jews were considered to be the most loyal subjects of Emperor (Kaiser) Franz Joseph, which guaranteed them the protection of rights and immunity and felt an aversion to anti-Semitism. Almost 350,000 Jewish soldiers served in the First World War. Front lines swept over the largest area of ​​Jewish settlements in Galicia and devastated it. 

During the liberation struggles (1917-1920), the Galician Jews also took an active part in the UGA (Ukrainian Galician army). The Jewish Kurin, an independent operational military unit of the 1st Corps of the Ukrainian Galician army, was created. Formed in June 1919 during the Chortkiv's offensive from the Jewish militia of Ternopil. The commander is the lumberman Solomon Leinberg. On June 16, the shooters of the UGA repelled Ternopil from the Poles, and under the authority of the Jewish Ternopil Executive Committee - the "Jewish National Council" - Leinberg appealed to Colonel Mykytka with a proposal to join together with several hundred Jews in a Kurin (unit) of Ukrainian Galician army. In the military lists it was called as a "Jewish Breakdown (Shock) Kurin", the official name was - "Breakdown Kurin of the First Corps of Galician Army". Counted in its ranks to 1200 soldiers.