Historical Ukrainian Jewish Town Hit by Russian Missiles

As Russian President Vladimir Putin claims “denazification,” Ukrainians compare him to Adolf Hitler.

By , a journalist based in Toronto.
Ukraine’s chief rabbi walks inside a synagogue.
Ukraine’s chief rabbi walks inside a synagogue.
Moshe Reuven Azman, chief rabbi of Ukraine and Kyiv, walks inside a synagogue located in central Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 22, 2019. Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

Hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin offered “denazification” as a flimsy pretext for his invasion of Ukraine, Russian missiles hit the Jewish hub of Uman, Ukraine, killing at least one civilian. Ukraine has begun evacuating its cities of civilians, including Uman.

Just before dawn, videos were posted to Twitter showing the glow of explosions approaching Uman in the Ukrainian countryside, roughly between the capital, Kyiv, and the coastal city of Odessa.

Around 7 a.m. local time, security camera footage showed a missile hitting a street in front of a pizza parlor in Uman, just a short walk from where synagogues line the roads. The video shows the missile connecting directly with a civilian biking down the road.

Hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin offered “denazification” as a flimsy pretext for his invasion of Ukraine, Russian missiles hit the Jewish hub of Uman, Ukraine, killing at least one civilian. Ukraine has begun evacuating its cities of civilians, including Uman.

Just before dawn, videos were posted to Twitter showing the glow of explosions approaching Uman in the Ukrainian countryside, roughly between the capital, Kyiv, and the coastal city of Odessa.

Around 7 a.m. local time, security camera footage showed a missile hitting a street in front of a pizza parlor in Uman, just a short walk from where synagogues line the roads. The video shows the missile connecting directly with a civilian biking down the road.

Images and video posted to pro-Russian Telegram channels show the pizza shop—its windows blown out and the cyclist lying dead in the street.

Russia has insisted its operations have been targeted to knock out military and command infrastructure in Ukraine. These images, however, show the human toll already being levied on Ukraine.

Amid the bombardment, Breslav Union Bauman, a Jewish cultural center and charity, uploaded video of smoke rising from outside the city. “Uman residents were prepared,” the union’s leadership wrote in Hebrew.

“The place is equipped with heating and refreshments as well as with a stock of mattresses,” a spokesperson for the union told Foreign Policy. They have also opened a clinic and are trying to diffuse information to the local Jewish population.

“We hope for good news and pray very much for peace and that peace and quiet will return soon without further casualties and without sorrow,” the spokesperson added.

Irena Plantova, a lawyer for Breslav Union Bauman, told Foreign Policy that bombing began around 5 a.m. local time. At first, airstrikes targeted a military base outside the city. “After, they began to damage here,” Plantova said. She said it’s “unpredictable” where the strikes may hit. Strikes continued until around 1 p.m. Thursday and remained quiet as evening fell.

Plantova confirmed that one woman died in the town and said 25 individuals have been injured.

In the morning, she said there was a scramble to leave town, but many stayed. “First, it was panic,” she said. “Everybody was running to buy food.”

Uman has had a significant Jewish population since its inception in the 18th century. However, the local population was the target of anti-Jewish pogroms. Despite that, the Jewish population stayed in the town: By the start of World War II, Uman had a Jewish population of more than 22,000 people. An estimated 17,000 Jews were exterminated by the Nazi regime during the Holocaust.

Plantova drew the comparison to what the village faced then and now. “People are comparing Hitler and Putin,” she said.

Since the end of the war, Uman has reemerged as a cultural and religious hub for Jews in Ukraine and further abroad. Nachman of Breslov—father of the Breslov Hasidic sect and great-grandson of the rabbi considered the founder of the modern Hasidic movement—is buried in Uman. Every year, tens of thousands of pilgrims flock to Uman during Rosh Hashanah to visit Breslov’s grave. The most recent pilgrimage, in December 2021, earned it the title of “Jewish Burning Man.”

Even though some have fled, Plantova said she will stay in Uman. “I’m going to stay. I need to care about the grave,” she said.

First and foremost, though, she said, “We need to care about community.” She expects Uman will try and defend itself if Russian troops approach. “We are trying to help whenever we can,” she said.

“Right now, we can just prepare.”

Justin Ling is a journalist based in Toronto.

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