KIEV, Ukraine—“When was the last time you personally experienced anti-Semitism?” I asked the executive director of the organized Jewish community for the city of Kiev. He gave me a puzzled look. “You mean, called me a Zhid or something like that?” “Anything.” He thought for a moment. “Back in Soviet times.”
I put the same question to a roomful of senior citizens in one of the country’s 32 Jewish social-service centers. The group, which was mostly women, laughed out loud. They faced plenty of problems: the standard old-age pension in Ukraine is only about $100 a month, pitifully little even in this poor country. But the Russian claim that gangs of neo-Nazis are roaming Ukraine, threatening its Jewish population, evoked unanimous scorn from every Jewish person I talked to in the country.
On the way out of the center, I stopped to talk to one of the two security guards in the driveway. As in all European cities, Kiev’s Jewish organizations take precautions. But this guard was nothing like the well-armed gendarmes you see patrolling Jewish institutions in France or Belgium. A friendly faced, middle-aged man armed only with a walkie-talkie, he told me that in four years on duty he had encountered not a single threat. I asked if the situation had changed in any way since the flight of the Soviet-backed president, Viktor Yanukovych, on February 22. “During the protests [in January and February], we had extra guards,” he said. “But now we’re back to normal.”