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Now an independent country, about half of the former USSR’s three million Jews lived there before World War II. The Jewish population has been quickly dwindling, most leaving for Israel and the U.S.

Jewish-Khazarian settlement in Kiev can be traced to the 10th century; the Russian-speaking community was later absorbed by Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Central Europe. In the 17th century, Jews suffered from the Chmielnicki uprising against the Polish gentry, and thousands lost their lives. Despite 19th century restrictions, Jews played a prominent role in the development of commerce and industry and in the growth of major cities such as Kiev, Odessa, and Kharkov.

Ukraine was the venue of some of the worst pogroms of Tzarist Russian rule. In the Civil War and during the struggle for an independent Ukraine, about 100,000 Jews were slaughtered in 1919-1920. With the collapse of the Ukrainian state in 1920, plans for Jewish National Autonomy were ended. Yiddish culture flourished until the Stalinist regime liquidated most Jewish institutions. Religious and Zionist activity was forced underground, and most of the leaders arrested.

Four autonomous Jewish districts were established in the southern part of the republic and in the Crimea, which lasted until World War II when the Germans overran the communities and murdered the occupants. More than half of the Jews living in the Ukraine were wiped out, with the worst slaughter taking place at Babi Yar. Many Ukrainians were active in the murder and despoliation of their Jewish neighbors. After the war, returning Jews were met with hostility; repression of Jewish cultural and spiritual life was severe.

The collapse of Communism and the creation of an independent Ukraine set the stage for the revitalization of Jewish life. There are 78 Jewish schools in the country in 45 cities, including Chernovtsy, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov, Kiev, Lvov, Odessa, Vinnitsa, and Zapozoshye. In 1998, the Jewish population was 180,000 out of a general population of 53 million.

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