Jewish residents of a city in northern Ukraine have spoken of their concerns after the election of a neo-Nazi mayor.
Two months after Mayor Artem Semenikhin, of the neo-Nazi Svoboda party, became mayor of Konotop, he has become notorious for his openly antisemitic behaviour.
Reports suggest he drives a car bearing the numbers 14/88, which refer to the 14-word phrase “we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” and “Heil Hitler”, the letter ‘H’ being the eighth in the alphabet. He reportedly replaced a picture of President Petro Poroshenko in his office with one of Ukrainian national leader and Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera, and refused to fly the city’s flag at the new council’s first meeting because it features a Star of David. The flag also includes a Muslim crescent and a cross.
Svoboda’s leaders have made numerous antisemitic remarks in the past, though they have spoken more carefully in recent years while attempting to present themselves as a mainstream party. Its general popularity has declined in the past year and it currently holds six seats in the Ukrainian parliament, but its fortunes improved in the recent municipal elections, when it won 10 per cent of the vote in Kiev and second place in Lviv.
Ilya Bezruchko, the Ukrainian representative of the US-based National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry, said that he thought residents, who generally have good relations with local Jews, voted for Semenikhin because he appeared able to bring change and tackle corruption.
Community activist Igor Nechayev told the Jerusalem Post: “The reaction of [the] community is shock. People are shocked it could happen in [a] city and nobody believed it could happen here but it happened somehow.”
Source: Jerusalem Post