Renewed fighting in Eastern Ukraine has led to dozens of casualties and is threatening a collapse of the already fragile ceasefire. Ukrainian media reported rebel attacks across the Donetsk region. On Wednesday, a major battle raged over Maryinka; after hours of fighting, the government forces secured control of the town.
The Jewish community of Donetsk reported difficulties in fleeing the fighting. Several train connections were closed and public transportation was not functioning. Older Jewish community members unable to leave the warzone need food and medical assistance. Local prices for basic necessities are high because the rebel-controlled areas remain isolated from the rest of Ukraine.
The escalation in fighting is spurring concerns. In a speech before the parliament, President Poroshenko said that the rebel offensive could be the beginning of a "full-scale [Russian] invasion." The EU also expressed concern and warned of new sanctions against Russia. EU leaders also have indicated that they will extend existing Russia sanctions until 2016.
Tensions with Russia are growing. Last week, Russia banned 89 European politicians and military leaders from entering the country. In response, the European Parliament is restricting access for Russian diplomats and lawmakers.
On Wednesday, the Latvian parliament elected Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis as the country's new president. Vejonis is known as a critic of Russia's policies and a proponent of greater NATO presence in the region.
In a disturbing development, Russian authorities have confiscated religious books from a Jewish school in Yekaterinburg to review them for extremism. NCSEJ has contacted the Russian embassy requesting a clarification on this issue.
In Ukraine, in an unusual move, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was appointed governor of the Odesa region. The update includes an
piece about this controversial appointment and its implication for Odesa and Ukraine as a whole. I also want to highlight a
Christian Science Monitor
article about traffic police reform in Ukraine, which draws on the successful experience of such reform in Georgia.
I also want to draw your attention to an article that details Russia's unending propaganda efforts to portray the Ukrainian government as anti-Semitic. A letter of concern about the "outrageous revival of Nazi Germany traditions" in Ukraine, purportedly from European Jewish Association President Rabbi Menachem Margolin, was recently published in Russian and international media. The letter turned out to be a hoax, as have several other stories aiming to distort the real situation in Ukraine.
On Tuesday, we held a very successful Board of Governors meeting, featuring U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rubin, Estonian and Bulgarian Ambassadors Eerik Marmei and Elena Poptodorova, representatives from JDC, World Jewish Restitution Organization, USAID, and other distinguished speakers. Our guests included representatives of member organizations and diplomats from thirteen countries in the Eurasia region. Summaries of all speakers' remarks will be available shortly on NCSEJ's website.
Finally, on behalf of NCSEJ and its board, I extend heartfelt condolences to our good friend Vice President Joe Biden and his family on the loss of their son, Beau. May his memory be for a blessing
Mark B. Levin