As much of the world expresses sorrow and solidarity with the Ukrainian people—and admiration for its president, Volodymyr Zelensky—the ironies of history abound. To students of Jewish history, it is a source of near incredulity that the same recurrent site of mass violence against Jews—from the Khmielnitsky massacres of the mid-seventeenth century to the brutal killing fields during and after World War I to the bloodlands soiled by Nazi murderers in Operation Barbarossa in 1941—is home to a fledgling democracy and an unlikely and inspiring Jewish president. And yet, Ukraine, like history itself, is multidimensional; it was also home at one time to the world’s largest population of Jews and the place of extraordinary Jewish cultural vitality from Poltava in the east to Lviv in the west, not to mention the jewel of Odessa in the south.
To help us make sense of these ironies, JQR has convened a group of four experts of Eastern European Jewish history to provide insight into Ukraine then and now: Eliyana Adler, Elissa Bemporad, Natan Meir, and Jeffrey Veidlinger. This online forum will not be the last word said on a grave political and moral crisis that is not likely to abate soon. But it is helpful to observe it with a thicker and more complex sense of historical perspective.