The Chassidic movement got its start in Ukraine and put on the Jewish map towns such as Medzibuzh, Berdichev, Hanipoli, Chernobyl, Breslov and Uman. Ukraine was also home to one of the founders of Yiddish literature, Shalom Aleichem, the modern Hebrew poet Chaim Nachman Bialik, and the father of cultural Zionism, Ahad Ha’am.
Yet very few Jews identified themselves as “Ukrainian.” This was partly due to the area’s shifting identity. For instance, a Jew born in Lemberg in 1915 would have been a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After 1918, he became a Polish citizen living in Lwów. After 1939, his hometown was called Lvov and he was a Soviet citizen. If he lived until 1991, his residency in Lviv made him a citizen of Ukraine.
This lack of a Ukrainian identity was also due to the area’s domination by one of its neighbors, Russia, an influence that was both political and cultural – and maybe because of Ukraine’s bloody history throughout much of the last two hundred years. Not only was Ukraine the home of many blood libels – in 1911, for example, Kiev resident Menachem Beilis was accused of murdering a Christian boy to use his blood to bake matzos – the beginning of the 20thcentury was also a time when a Russian word began to appear all too frequently in the news: pogrom.
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