Blackouts and ballistic missiles don’t stop Ukrainians showing up to protect Jewish heritage

On the 14th, 18th and 19th December 2022, the ESJF was proud to meet with 50 Ukrainian Jewish heritage activists for a three-day EU Masterclass on the importance of preserving Jewish cemeteries. A total of 148 registered to receive the recordings of the event and shared their input via email. Connecting online from countries far away from their home as well as across Ukraine in between blackouts and ballistic missiles, participants were unanimous in declaring their hopes to continue protecting Jewish heritage despite the ongoing war.

Blackouts and ballistic missiles don’t stop Ukrainians showing up to protect Jewish heritage

During the event, ideas and experiences were shared on best practices gathered from activists over years of work and dedication. For example,Serhiy Prokhoda, deputy head of the Kryvyi Rih district military administration, stated that they have clear protocols on how to act, including saving memorials and other cultural heritage, and it is their responsibility and desire to follow them. The community from Ivano-Frankivsk, on the other hand, shared their wishes to install a surveillance camera close to their local Jewish cemetery to prevent vandalism. They also noted that while this year they had completed less Jewish cemetery preservation projects than usual because of budget cuts, they generally continued working as normal.

We also discovered that several monitoring expeditions were held during that year, both by community activists (Vitaliy Kamozin from the United Jewish Community of Ukraine) and academic researchers (Evheniy Levinson, who managed to find some missing Jewish cemeteries). Local activists shared their experience in research and protection of Jewish cemeteries (like school teachers from Lubny and from Luhyny) and an interesting report was made by Nataliya Vasylenko on the attempts to find a lost Jewish cemetery in the Bakhmut area.

Blackouts and ballistic missiles don’t stop Ukrainians showing up to protect Jewish heritage

Alongside several lectures on Jewish cemeteries as part of Ukrainian cultural heritage, current threats to Jewish cemeteries and their legal status, Dr. Lada Moskalets from the Center of Urban History, Iryna Kravets, lawyer, and Olexandra Fishel epigraphist from the ESJF discussed important methods and tools for the Jewish cemetery preservation. An interesting case study on the Jewish cemetery of Zbarazh was presented by a historian and activist Tetyana Fedoriv, showing how archive and genealogical research can lead from a tombstone to a full personal or family story.

The masterclass concluded with a kick off meeting for a Ukrainian Regional Cemetery Association, which will connect actors from across Ukraine to advocate for the protection of Jewish cemeteries. As a first step, a telegram chat will be set up to continue the exchange of ideas and organise further meetings.

“The ESJF and the EU grant consortium are very proud of every type of activity we manage to organise, be it in-person or online, in Ukraine in these challenging times. What makes us even more happy is that our Ukrainian partners, from all walks of life and involvement in the topic, are showing interest. Jewish heritage is a shared Ukrainian heritage, and the Ukrainian cultural heritage is the shared European heritage. We will continue working on organising similar events with great enthusiasm” said Klara V LIsinski, the ESJF’s EU Project Manager.

We would like to say a big thanks to our team, partners and friends who organised and attended this masterclass, which we hope will contribute to the long term protection of Jewish heritage in Ukraine.

This masterclass was co-funded by the EU within our project ‘Preserving Jewish Cemeteries’ which is implemented through a consortium with Centropa and Foundation for Jewish heritage.