January 30, 2006
Jewish groups in Ukraine have criticized Ukraine's president Victor Yushchenko for honoring a lawmaker who was the head of a newspaper that published anti-Semitic articles. Last week, Yushchenko awarded Ivan Spodarenko with his country’s highest award, the 'Hero of Ukraine' medal. Spodarenko, a Socialist lawmaker, is the head of the editorial board and former longtime editor of 'Silski Visti'. In 2004, the newspaper published an article asserting that 400,000 Jews served in Nazi SS forces during the German invasion of Ukraine in World War II. With its circulation of 500,000, 'Silski Visti' is one of the most widely read Ukrainian newspapers, catering mainly to rural readers. In 2002 and 2004, the newspaper published a series of anti-Semitic articles that outraged the Jewish community. The paper was sued over anti-Semitic articles in 2004 but the case was closed in 2005 without a verdict. Last April, Spodarenko was among the signatories of an anti-Semitic letter calling 'to stop the criminal activities' of the organized Jewish community in Ukraine. The award is being seen as gratitude for the newspaper’s role in opposing the rule of former President Leonid Kuchma.