Injured Yeshiva student in Kyiv hospital. Photo by synagoga.kiev.ua
Attack on Student of Kyiv Yeshiva: Versions Currently Being Investigated
15.04.2012, Xenophobia and anti-Semitism
The tragic incident that happened on April 8th to a Kyiv yeshiva student had immediately become the focus of attention both for the community and the mass media. Journalists of local and foreign media cited representatives of the Jewish community of the Brodsky synagogue, and vied for the right to present a new heart-wrenching detail about yet another atrocious anti-Semitic crime committed by the hands of Ukrainian neo-Nazis and skinheads, who beat a Jew returning from the second Passover seder to near-death.
As the incident led to heavy, life-threatening physical trauma for the young man, and as it received such a wide resonance, it is very important to leave aside emotions and unfounded fantasies, and use the information given to us by the law enforcement agencies and other sources to attempt to reconstruct what actually took place.
Alexander (Aron) Goncharov, a young man of 25 years of age, a citizen of Ukraine born in the Russian Tyumen', came to Kyiv from Donetsk. He was recommended to undertake giyur (a fairly complex procedure for converting to Judaism) and to study at a yeshiva by the Rabbi of Lugansk. He was circumcised just two weeks prior to the incident, which took place around 1 AM on the 8th of April, after the second Passover seder. The student of the Ukrainian Jewish Theological Academy “Tomchei Tmimim” left the Central Synagogue of Kyiv (also known as “the Brodskaya synagogue”), located at the corner of Rognedenskaya street and Shota Rustavelli street, and disappeared.
The surveillance cameras of the Brodsky synagogue showed the young man lighting a cigarette and walking down the street. He did not return.
As Goncharov's place of residence in Kyiv was the yeshiva dormitory, members of the community began a search for him in the morning of April 8th, when it became obvious that he left in the night and did not return. The police knew nothing about what happened to him. The young man was located on the morning of April 9th, unconscious in a hospital, where he was taken with a major open craniocerebral injury. Representatives of the synagogue first took care of transferring the injured young man to a private clinic. On April 11th, thanks to the aid of patrons, he was taken to Israel for medical care on a private plane equipped with everything required for intensive care. That same day, he had been operated on. At the moment this material is being written (evening of April 13th), he has not regained consciousness yet; however, according to Patrick Sorokin, the head of the resuscitation department of the Ichilov clinic, his life is no longer in danger.
In the days that have passed since the incident, representatives of the Brodsky synagogue Jewish community have given a multitude of comments, in which they described the incidents as an anti-Semitic crime. This unfounded supposition was reproduced as a “known fact” by the media hundreds of times.
On April 11th, the President of Ukraine made a special statement, in which he called for the police to find the criminals and prosecute them. “This incident should rouse people from all walks of life. Tolerance towards people of different faiths and nationalities was always a great achievement of our society. We must do everything within our power to preserve this achievement,” the statement reads. “We cannot allow rampant sentiments of radical intolerance or hate on the basis of faith, language, or nationality. We will preclude all such attempts at provocation strictly and harshly.”
That same day, criminal proceedings were instigated in accordance with article 121 of the Criminal Code. The police is investigating two main versions of the motive of the crime, not excluding either simple hooliganism or intentional injury on the grounds of national or religious hatred. However, the police also does not rule out the version that the young man received his grievous injury as the result of a tragic accident.
As far as can be surmised from the available information, including preliminary analysis of the data recorded by external surveillance cameras, Alexander Goncharov received his injury on April 8th, between 07.12 and 07.14 AM on Kruglouniversitetskaya street. At 7:18 AM he was noticed by a car driver passing by. The driver notified the traffic police, whom he met in several hundred meters, and they called an ambulance. The doctors diagnosed him with a closed craniocerebral injury, a result of a strong blow to the frontotemporal zone. Later, the diagnosis was rectified to open craniocerebral injury and basal skull fracture. The doctors did not see any sign of violence, and thus did not notify the police. They believed that the youth could have received the injury as a result of an accident – he might have fallen asleep sitting on a parapet, and then fell face-down.
The surveillance cameras placed on certain houses on Kruglouniversitetskaya street, unfortunately, did not record the very moment of the incident. However, the data available to us allows a fairly certain assumption that the student was not a victim of a crime immediately after leaving the synagogue (and certainly not “on the way home” after the seder, as certain media stated), and that he did not lie on the street for the entire night. Neo-Nazis could have attacked a victim in the city center at 1 AM, especially if it's Saturday night; however, it is difficult to imagine skinheads looking for a victim until 7 AM. In the statistic that I have collected over more than ten years of work, there has not been one incident from the several hundred incidents in my collection of a neo-Nazi attack occurring in the early morning.
From the words of those who had seen Alexander before his exit from the synagogue, it can be assumed that the pain of the recent circumcision interfered with the youth's sleep cycle, and, sleepless, he wandered the center of the city until morning.
It is necessary to note that the young man was not dressed as an ultra-Orthodox Jew, as the Brodsky synagogue and its yeshiva are part of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. He was wearing a brown suit , which is now attached to the case and is now being studied by the criminal expertise, as are samples of the blood splatters on the pavement at the scene of the incident. Goncharov did not look like a Jew, because he is not an ethnic Jew. The synagogue surveillance cameras did note that he was leaving the synagogue in a kippah, as he was a yeshiva student, and could not have been in a synagogue without a kippah. However, when he was found by ambulance doctors, the kippah had been nowhere to be found.
Thus, not only does the currently available information not give any basis for a statement that a hate crime took place, but is in general is obviously insufficient to state that any intended violence had actually taken place. Nonetheless, the investigation continues, and right now the police is investigating all possible versions, including hate crime.
The fact that similar incidents have especially strong resonance makes it necessary to be especially strict in verifying relevant information.
There has been more than one incident when a crime committed against a religious Jew in Kyiv was interpreted as an anti-Semitic hate crime without sufficient evidence for such an interpretation. For instance, two years earlier (in May 2010), the mass media allowed for wide circulation of the violent murder of a student from that same yeshiva, committed by a neo-Nazi gang in honor of Hitler's birthday. The result of our own investigation showed that the murder, which had been quickly solved by the police, was done out of a personal motive, and there had been no motive of ethnic or religious hatred.
This does not mean that we do not have (or do not nearly have) neo-Nazi crime, as our law enforcement authorities like to state. I have been implementing the only existing Ukrainian program of systematic monitoring and analysis of hate crime, and have ample information to state that racist violence is a serious problem in Ukraine. Moreover, according to the information I have gathered, there have been more victims of hate crime in the last year and a half. In 2011, at least 48 people have been hurt in racist attacks, and this considering only those incidents about which we have sufficient information to be certain of the criminals' motives being racial or ethnic hatred. At the same time, the number of anti-Semitic incidents has been consistently declining. Excepting the Uman' conflicts, where there is a particular situation connected to the mass pilgrimage of ultra-Orthodox Jews, there was not a single incident of violence in 2011 which could be characterized as anti-Semitic with any kind of certainty.
The victims of street racists in Ukraine are mostly from Africa, Central, Southern and South-East Asia, states of the South Caucasus and Russians from Northern Caucasus regions.
Let me provide just a few examples. That same night of April 8th, at the time when Alexander Goncharenko left the synagogue, five teenagers beat a foreign student from Guinea on the street. As a result, the African is now in the hospital. On the next day, when the student of the yeshiva was found by members of his community, a trial should have begun in Lugansk for the organizator of a racist pogrom at the local university campus, the result of which was the hospitalization of four students from India, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan. On that same day, there should have been a trial in connection with a racist attack on two students from Nigeria. Unfortunately, the President of Ukraine did not deem it necessary to make a statement on these crimes; in fact, not one of the 48 victims of racist hate crime in the last year was honored with the attention of the President. Moreover, we believe there to be a marked problem with adequately classifying and justly investigating many similar crimes, including the aforementioned cases.
Racism in Ukraine, unfortunately, exists without relying on fantasies based on unverified information.