Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman begins a four-day visit to Ukraine on Thursday.
According to a statement by the foreign minister’s bureau, the Deputy Prime Minister is scheduled to meet with Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich and Ukrainian counterpart Konstantyn Gryshchenko as part of the trip.
He will also meet with Jewish community leaders in Ukrainian capital Kiev, as well as inaugurating a diagnostic medical centre, the result of a joint project between (Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation) MASHAV and the municipality of Vinnytsia. Israel has provided the centre with diagnostic systems, medical equipment and professional training.
Ukrainian territory has been home to a Jewish community since the 11th century and before WWII, almost a third on Ukraine’s urban population was made up of Jews. At the start of the 20th century, anti-Semitic pogroms occurred across the Russian Empire, including in Kiev in 1911 and continued during the establishment of the Ukrainian People’s Republic in 1919-1920, when approximately 35-40,000 Ukrainian civilians were killed.
In 1923, a motion was passed to resettle some 50,000 families in the autonomous republic of Crimea, which led to growing anti-Semitism in the region. During Nazi occupation of Ukraine from 1941-1945, approximately 1 million Jews were killed by the German occupying forces, in association with local Nazi collaborators.
In 1989, Soviet figures placed the Jewish population of Ukraine at 487,000, but following Ukrainian independence in 1991, some 266,300 Ukrainian Jews emigrated to Israel, as part of the exodus of about 1 million Soviet Jews since the dissolution of the USSR.
Today approximately 106,000 Jews live in the country, the fifth-largest Jewish community in Europe and the tenth-largest in the world. The majority of Ukrainian Jews live in Kiev, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv and Odessa.
Ukraine is rated as the fourth largest provider of Righteous Gentiles noted as having saved Jews during the Holocaust, with over 2,400 recognised individuals to date, according to Israeli Holocaust memorial museum Yad Vashem.