The head of the self-proclaimed provisional leadership in Eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk has disavowed fliers issued in his name that call on the city’s Jewish population to “register” with his separatist government.
Denis Pushilin, the leader of the pro-Russia “People’s Republic of Donetsk,” confirmed to the Ukrainian press on Thursday that such fliers were distributed around the city’s synagogues. But he both rejected their content and denied that his organization was behind their distribution, according to Think Progress.
The fliers, which were first reported by Ukraine’s Novosti Donbassa and later picked up by USA Today, instructed Jews to bring proper identification to the regional administration and pay a $50 registration fee. Failure to do so would result in loss of citizenship, confiscation of property and deportation, the pamphlet read.
Раздавали около синагоги в Донецке pic.twitter.com/sQZGt6GyY3
— Новости Донбасса (@novostidnua) April 15, 2014
It was not immediately clear who printed or distributed them, but five men in masks were reportedly seen handing them out in the community.
Following the announcement Thursday of an agreement to de-escalate the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry cited the “grotesque” fliers as evidence of the extent of the crisis.
But the fliers that bore Pushilin’s signature called him the “people’s governor,” a moniker he told the Ukrainian press he does not use to refer to himself. The fliers were also met with skepticism beyond the separatist leader’s public disavowal.
The U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the leaflets were likely distributed by radicals.
“Everything that we’re hearing suggests that this is the real deal, and that it is coming from somebody on the ground there among these radical groups,” Pyatt said, “either to stir fear or to create provocation justifying further violence.”
The Anti-Defamation League, a group founded to combat anti-Semitism, cast doubt on the pamphlet’s authenticity in a statement.
“We have seen a series of cynical and politically manipulative uses and accusations of anti-Semitism in Ukraine over the past year,” Abraham H. Foxman, the group’s national director, said. “The perpetrators and their targets are opposing politicians and political movements, but the true victims are the Jewish communities. We strongly condemn the anti-Semitic content, but also all attempts to use anti-Semitism for political purposes.”
And when a reporter for the Daily Beast went to the administration office where the fliers instructed Jews to go pay the registration fee on Thursday, she found the room was empty.
The fliers “could have been the work of provocateurs hoping to discredit the pro-Russian movement” in Ukraine, according to the Daily Beast.
Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.