Ukrainian Jews rate high on list of nation’s most influential people


KIEV, Ukraine — For Ukrainian Jews, success can be considered a dangerous thing.

The large number of Jews on a list of the 100 most influential Ukrainians has created a mixture of pride and anxiety in the country’s Jewish community.

About 20 of those who made it to this year’s list are Jewish. The list is published annually by Korrespondent, a Russian-language Kiev weekly.

Jews make up no more than one-half of one percent of Ukraine’s population of 47 million, and some fear the overrepresentation of Jews among the country’s business and political elites may strengthen anti-Semitic stereotypes.

“In the eyes of the public, this can create a wrong impression that Jews in Ukraine are very wealthy and the Jewish community is prospering,” said Ilya Korchman, a Jewish pensioner from Kiev.

Yet Ukrainian Jews have a reason to celebrate, he said: The heavy Jewish representation on the list “is a result of the many talents of Jews, who are really influential in Ukraine.”

One Kiev Jewish activist and researcher agrees.

“Ukrainian anti-Semites will use this list for their propaganda purposes,” Alexander Nayman said. “And at the same time, the good people will have more respect toward Jews.”

The general public hasn’t seemed to pay much attention to the preponderance of Jews on the list. Instead, many focused on the fact that for the first time in four years, Ukraine’s president didn’t top the list.

Business tycoon and lawmaker Rinat Akhmetov, believed to be the wealthiest man in Ukraine, moved up to the top spot from fifth place last year. He replaced President Viktor Yushchenko, who was second this year.

The shift is being attributed to the changing nature of the Ukrainian elite, where business leaders came to play a more prominent role after the 2004 “Orange Revolution” and subsequent political turmoil.

“Business is taking political power into its hands,” political expert Vladimir Malinkovich told JTA.

All the Jews but one on this year’s list are business leaders.

The highest-ranking Jew on the list is Igor Kolomoysky, 42, a co-owner of the Privat business group, which has interests in the metal and financial sectors. Kolomoysky, who was eighth on the list last year, moved up to the sixth spot.

Viktor Pinchuk, 45, another Jewish business tycoon and son-in-law of former President Leonid Kuchma, was ranked 12th on the list, the same as last year.

Eduard Shifrin, 46, president of the Zaporozhstal steel holding and co-chairman of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, was ranked 87th.

One of the Jews whose influence fell after the Orange Revolution is Yevgeny Chervonenko, 46, former minister of transport and communications who now serves as a regional governor in eastern Ukraine. Chervonenko, who is vice president of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, slipped from 27th to 89th.

The only Jew on the list who is a not a member of the country’s business elite is Rabbi Ya’akov Dov Bleich, 42, who ranked 62nd.

Ukraine’s longest-serving rabbi, the Brooklyn-born Bleich has lived in Kiev since 1989 and has been chief rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine since 1990. Bleich appears on the list for the fourth year in a row, but his authority has been somewhat undermined over the past few years by the election of two other chief rabbis of Ukraine.

Bleich is the only non-Christian cleric on the list.

A longtime Ukrainian Jewish leader, Josef Zissels, was among 20 experts from different fields on the board that helped the magazine compile the list.