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Kyiv Post | 05Dec2012 | Yulia McGuffie
Why the word ‘zhyd’ stirs
fighting in Ukraine
would like to tell a personal story about why the word “zhyd,” a
reference to Jews, stirs so much emotion in Ukraine. The reason I am
is discussion around a recent comment by my former university
of parliament from Svoboda Party, Ihor Miroshnychenko. He called the
actress of Ukrainian descent Mila Kunis is a “zhydivka.” [Demonization
of Svoboda and Mr. Miroshnychenko?]
great-grandfather's name was Efim Abramovich Kalishevsky. The name is
but in Soviet days people used to hide very carefully the Jewish roots
relatives. Actually, my great-grandfather was a christened Jew, and
ago he married my [great-]grandmother
Varvara Radzievska. They had two
daughters, the elder
Susanna and younger Agnessa, my grandmother.
In the 1930s, my great-grandfather was a bishop of the
Ukrainian Autocephalous [Orthodox]
Church. In 1937, he was shot in the dungeons of
October Palace for membership in counter-revolutionary church-based
nationalistic organization. I only found out about it in 1990.
UAOC in Ukraine was dissolved following the Bolshevik occupation and
annexation of eastern and central Ukraine in the 1920s" ?
Were not the vast majority of the Christian clergy banished to the
Gulags? Were the Jewish rabbis also banished to the Gulags?
As a hierarch in the UAOC, Rev. Kalishevsky must have spoken
in Ukrainian and supported Ukraine's independence. Did he also speak
big happy family lived in a semi-communal apartment on 24/7 Instytutska
in the very heart of Kyiv. The reason I say it was semi-communal was
of the vast rooms in this flat were taken up by my family, while the
was used by the authorities for lodging various underclass [?] folks, with
had to share our everyday existence and the mailing address. [Did
this big happy family speak Ukrainian? Russian? Yiddish? Did/do they
support Ukraine's independence? Do they support the Ukrainian language?]
My grandmother's name was Agnessa Efimovna, and this Jewish name she
to hide. For her colleagues and the rest of the people around her she
Until the age of five, I used to know her as “Granny Alla,” until one
picked up the phone when her close friend was calling.
friend asked to talk to Agnessa, and I was scared and said that Agnessa
live here. I told this story to my parents and they explained to me
granny, who headed a lab in one of Kyiv's infectious hospitals, wore
Chanel at the age of 60, used bright red lipstick and smoked Belomor
cigarettes, had two names. This is how my granny turned from Alla
neighbors also knew my granny's real name. In the late
fourth room in our flat was taken over by Uncle Yura, his wife and two
daughters. Uncle Yura was a militiaman from Fastov, I think [a suburb
outside Kyiv]. It is because of his job that he was lodged in a room of
in the very center of Kyiv.
Yura had a tough job, so he got drunk rather frequently. A few times he
very drunk and called me “little zhydovka” because my granny's real
haunted him. One day my father heard him say it, and he simply smashed
in our communal kitchen. [Was
Uncle Yura speaking Russian or Ukrainian?]
when Svoboda, in an attempt to whitewash their party member
says that the word zhyd, or
Jew, is a Ukrainian literary archaism, and the rest of their
am not buying it. I know everything about it, and I know that the way
particular word is used in our country is unfortunately offensive. [Why does she find it offensive?]
rest of my story has little to do with my main point, but
it's interesting and relevant. My fraternal grandfather, the husband of
favorite granny Agnessa Efimovna, was called Taras Hryhorovych
was a distant relative of another great Ukrainian, Taras
Shevchenko, through artist Fotiy Krasitskiy, the grandson of
fact of distant kinship with the great Ukrainian poet, who used the
word zhyd (Jew) in his
literary work, did not prevent my grandpa from marrying the daughter of
enemy of people [Jews
were not considered an "enemy of the people", people promoting
Ukraine's independence were.] with a disreputable name and
surname. And he
the word about my granny. My father was born in this complicated
family, and so
of the people mentioned in this family story are living any more. Mila
has probably not heard the words of my ex-university mate
Miroshnychenko, but I
did and it stirred a lot of emotions.
don't mean to moralize. This is just my personal family story that
the complex connections. And it also shows why I am still ready to
face of anyone who calls someone a zhyd in
my presence. I also think that people should avoid the word to make
don't start hiding who they are and what their real name is.
Yulia McGuffie is the chief editor
one of Ukraine's
language] online news portals.
We have inserted several question marks throughout Ms.
McGuffie's rambling diatribe above. The question remains how and why
did the Jewish inhabitants of Ukraine develop such an antipathy to the
normal Ukrainian word zhyd? Orysia Tracz (see comments below and jpg
image at bottom) has made available a 1964 statement of Solomom
Goldelman defending the use of the word zhyd in his scholarly
writings since 1918. Roman Serbyn has posted several particularly
enlightening comments on the Zhyd/Yevrei controversy. Allow me to add
several of my own personal comments to the discussion.
up in Saskatchewan in the 1940-50s, my parents and all
Ukrainian and Polish acquaintances exclusively used the term Zhyd and
never the term Yevrei. While on a PDF scholarship in Germany, I had
occasion to drive through Ukraine in late August 1969 with a German
friend enroute to a plasma physics conference in Bucharest, Romania. On
our first evening at the "campgrounds" in Lviv, we were approached by a
very inquisitive girl asking everything about the West, about the
latest scientific developments, etc. (She probably reported to the KGB,
since we later saw her carrying a radio -- or radio transmitter? -- as
she walked between tents.) As the conversation somehow brought up the
subject of Jews and I automatically used the term "Zhyd ", she
interrupted me to say that the term now used in Ukraine was "Yevrei". I
told her that nobody in the West used that term.
later in the 1980-90s, I had occasion to discuss the
term with co-choir member of Ste. Sophie Orthodox Cathedral in
Montreal, Walter Zymovetz from Eastern Ukraine. (After WWII, he barely
being forcibly repatriated to the Soviet Union by diving out the window
of a moving train.) He told me that the Jewish influence in
Ukraine was so strong that using the term Zhyd was punishable by
imprisonment for six months and the term "parkhatiy Zhyd" (lousy Jew)
by a two-year sentence in the Gulags.
understanding, that Ukrainians developed a split categorization of the
two terms: "Zhydy" were the people who had lived for centuries amongst
them; "Yevreii" were the Russified Jews sent or recruited by Moscow to
subjugate Ukrainians to Muscovite rule. (Perhaps a similar dichotomy
exists for the distinction between Russian and Muscovite.) Is it any
wonder that patriotic Ukrainians resent being forced to use the Russian
term Yevrei and are penalized/demonized for using the age-old Ukrainian
term Zhyd? Why not use Zhyd when speaking Ukrainian, and Yevrei when
speaking Russian? In my opinion, for a Ukrainian to use the term Yevrei
is to show disrespect toward the Ukrainian language and Ukrainian
independence. To use the term Yevrei is to condone the anti-Ukrainian
and Russification policies imposed by Moscow for so many years.]
*** Edward Drebot 1 ***
The word in Polish for Jew is Zyd which is still prevelant in Western
Ukraine as the word was in common usage in Polish and Ukrainian and by
the Jewish orginizations in that area. In eastern Ukraine the word Zhyd
because of Russian influence was a derogatory term.
*** Roman Serbyn 1 ***
In Soviet Ukraine the term did not simply become derogatory under
Russian influence; it was prohibited by the totalitarian Communist
regime towards the end of the 1920s, as a part of the Russification
process of the Ukrainian language and of tying Ukraine to what is now
referred to as "Russkii mir" -- the Russian world.
*** Walter Szafranski ***
Zhyd in Ukrainian Means Jew
The Encyclopedia of Ukraine, published by the University of Toronto
Press, says that the word Jew has two Ukrainian equivalents: Zhyd and
Yevrei. Zhyd is the common and correct word in Western Ukraine, as it
is in Poland, while Yevrei is more common in Eastern Ukraine due to
Russian influence. Some Jewish scholars such as Solomon Goldelman
insist that Zhyd is the only correct word in Ukrainian for Jew. In the
Ukrainian language Zhyd (Jew) and Yevrei (Hebrew) mean simply Jew and
neither is pejorative. However, it should be noted that the Russian
language uses Yevrei for Jew and does use Zhid as a pejorative.
*** Roman Serbyn 2 ***
The lady doth protest too much. I suggest she read
Professor Aleksandr Ponomariv's interview in the generally
Ukrainophobic Russian-language Kyiv newspaper 2000: В украинском языке
слово «жид» не имеет негативной окраски, - профессор КНУ. posted
The word zhyd is common to all Slavic languages and only in Russia did
it become derogatory in the first half of the XIXth century and was
recognized as such by the Russian intelligentsia, but not all of it. I
have a French-Russian dictionary composed by N.P. Makaroff (approved by
the Russian Academy of Sciences), titled Dictionnaire français-russe
complet. Saint-Petersbourg (onzième édition), published in 1902. Page
624 has the following entry:
Juif, -ive, adj. жидовскій, іудейскій; || s. жид,-жидовка; ||* et fam.
This entry is very interesting and useful because it shows that in
Russian the term originally meant simply the same thing as the term
"juif" in French, i.e. -- a Jew. The second (familiar or popular)
meaning reveals why the term acquired a pejorative meaning, according
to Makaroff, both in French and in Russian. ростовщик, лихоимецъ mean:
moneylender, deceitful man.
The above explanation concerns the Russian language. In the Ukrainian
language the term zhyd was the only popular and literary term for that
people throughout Ukrainian history and it was only under Soviet rule
that it was outlawed. Actually the question of the term zhyd was raised
by a Jewish student in 1861 and became a subject of heated discussion.
I shall explain the fascinating debate after lunch. =))
*** Roman Serbyn 3 ***
Just to continue... The first public discussion on Ukrainian-Jewish
relations in the Russian empire took place in 1861-62. It began with an
exchange of jibes between the Russian-language Jewish journal Sion,
published in Odesa and the Ukrainian journal Osnova printed in
St.-Petersburg, in Ukrainian and Russian. The debate was over the use
of the term "zhyd" by Osnova and ended with the question of whether the
Jewish minority in Russian Ukraine should integrate into the Ukrainian
or the Russian milieu.
I discuss this debate, in which eventually all the major newspapers of
the Russian empire participated, in my paper "The Sion-Osnova
Controversy of 1861-62" in Peter J. Potichnyj and Howard Aster (eds.).
Ukrainian-Jewish Relations in Historical Perspectives. (Edmonton,
2010), pp.85-110. A synopsis of the discussion can be found online in
"Шовкова русифікація української діяспори″ (підрозділ: «Дев'ятдесят
жидів» чи «девяносто євреїв») у книжці: Роман Сербин, За яку спадщину?
Див․ онлайн Українське життя в Севастополі
Відповіді на дві теми редакції Сіону:
″Мы находим смешным, когда немецкий еврей обижается словом Jude из уст
християнина тогда как он сам себя иначе и не называет, и словом
Judenthum (по буквальному переводу: жидовство) обознамает всю
совокупность своих национальных и религиозных особенностей.[...] Пока
редакция доказывает, что в слове «жид» нет ничего обиднаго и что в
южно-русском наречии не следует его заменять никаким другим, с нею
нельзя не согласиться во всем.″ (Основа и вопрос о
национальностях//Сион № 10, 10․08․1861․) In other words, Sion agreed
with Osnova that as long as the editors claim that there is nothing
insulting in the word zhyd and that in Ukrainian [South-Russian in
text] it should not be changed, then there is no reason not to agree
As to the question of Jewish integration, while Osnova was complaining
that while living amongst Ukrainians, Jews were integrating into the
Russian language, culture etc., Sion's answer was the following. Jews
are living in the Russian empire and integrate into the main culture
etc., which has all the benefits of a culture of state, which the
Ukrainian culture lacks. It is interesting to note in this respect the
attitude of one of the Jewish organizations in Ukraine, during the
recent debate over the new language law. Yosyf Zisels, head of VAAD
Ukraine put out a declaration which ended with the following:
"Запропонований документ становить загрозу українському суспільству,
оскільки нехтує державним статусом української мови, не захищає
загрожені (миноритарні) мови і вносить розбрат і напругу в українське
Національні громади України прагнуть інтеґрації у громадянське
суспільство України, вони хочуть будувати спільний дім, який не
руйнуватимуть заради кон'юнктурних інтересів."
It should be noted that this Jewish community, followed the same logic
that did their ancestors 160 year ago: desire to integrate into the
state and society within which they are living. If only Ms. Julia
McGuffie would follow their lead...
(to be continued...)
*** Roman Serbyn 4 ***
The Ukrainian National Republic was very liberal in the
treatment of its ethnic/national minorities, their languages, etc. Even
in the first years of Soviet rule the term "zhyd" was regarded as the
normal designation of that ethno-cultural population. Thus in 1928 the
All-Ukrainian Academy of Sciences published a first volume of articles
under the title "Збірник праць жидівської історично-археографічної
комісії" and a year later as "Збірник праць єврейської
історично-археографічної комісії." This was part of the gradual
Russification of the Ukrainian language.
In the beginning of 1990s I had the privilege of meeting an eminent
archivist in Kyiv who told me how the term "zhyd" was physically beaten
out of high school kids in Poltava, when school authorities overheard
them using the term. The archivist's story came to mind when
I read Ms McGuffie's
bellicose "still ready to smash the face of anyone who calls someone a
zhyd in my presence." I chalk it to the unbridled bravado of the
youthful editor (she is only 37) and even though she boasts that
"Настроение в редакции у нас всегда боевое," I don't really believe she
would have smashed my face if she heard me use that word when I gave my
paper at a Holocaust conference in Dnipropetrovsk, and later laid my
brick in the corner foundation of the new standing Holocaust museum.
Still, an editor of an important periodical publication must be more
knowledgeable of controversial subjects, more sagacious in her
arguments and duly circumspect in her choice of appropriate words.
*** Orysia Tracz ***
John, the words you mention were meant to be derogatory from the very
beginning. But zhyd is/was the term for a Jewish person, that's it.
There was no subjectivity to it. This person was a poliak, and that one
was a zhyd. And the Jewish population identified itself as zhydy.
Again, it was only because of the influence from the northern
"neighbour" that it changed. Maybe someone will call up that quote from
that was posted here a while ago.
*** Orysia Tracz ***
So zyd/zhyd in Polish is ok, and juif in French is, just as zhyd was ok
in the Ukrainian National Republic of 1918, when there was a Ministry
of Zhydivskykh Sprav, headed by Goldelman. It was because of
russification that the word got a negative connotation as it had in
Russian. Before Soviet times, there was no negativity connected with
zhyd in Ukraine. Dr. Roman Serbyn of Montreal has written on this.
*** Lubomyr Luciuk 1 ***
It's how you say/use the word "zhyd" that counts. In western Ukraine
(and Poland) it did not necessarily have any pejorative import, but it
might have depending on who used it, when, where and why….stating that
you will smash in the fact of anyone who says "zhyd" suggests to me
that you need help yourself.
*** Edward Drebot 2 ***
Talked to a few people from various parts of Ukraine. In the Kyiv
region a person using the word Zhyd is usually one who doesn't like
them. The same goes in the Volhyn region. There one would never use
that word in the presence of someone Jewish. However it's usage by
person is at times innocent. In the Lviv district I always heard and
used the word Yevray and once Zhyd, when talking to some elderly ladies
whose usage was innocent. The one place that it was in usage was by a
fascistic rally in the town center by speakers in a negative way. They
also started their rally with "Slava Isysu Khrystu" which I thought was
a disgrace as they at time would give straight arm salutes as if we
were back in the second world war times. A few years ago a comedian
used that term at a malanka which was broadcast on TV in the Toronto
area which caused me to write and complain about this insensitive
action to the TV station.
After living in Ukraine it was impossible to use the word Zhyd with a
clear conscience. To my ears one using the word now is insensitive
except where there is innocence and no malice intended.
The word Zhyd is now used to connote persons of wealth, being cheap
etc. and covers both Jew and Gentile.
*** John Shep ***
I also grew up thinking that the word, "zhid" was the common word for
Jew or Jewish. But history has a way of teaching us wisdom, so "yevrei"
is fine by me. If "zhid" is too hurtful and offensive, then have the
sensitivity and courage to change. Afterall, I take offense at the
word, "kokhol" or "malo ros" so be nice and open to our Ukrainian
brother who is hurt and offended by depicting him as "zhid." In the
states, we no longer have Indians but Native Americans. We have no
negores in America but African- Americans, and, thank God, I am no
longer a "bohunk" but a Ukrainian-American.
*** Roger Kovaciny ***
You never were a Bohunk! I was a Bohunk! (Or rather my grandfather was
... kind of. Slovakian, rather than Bohemian.
*** John Shep ***
In the early 20th century, Ukrainians were called "bohunks" in places
like the coal mines and steel mines of Pennsylvania, and even the
prairies of Manitoba, Canada. Ukrainians were lumped together with the
We should also remember that during WWII, the slavs were next to be
exterminated after the Jews
*** Elmer Mack ***
So in English we would eliminate the word "Jew" and just use the word
That doesn't make sense.
Or we should eliminate the word "Yiddish," maybe.
Your analogy to the word "khokhol" is misplaced.
Using the word "khokhol" is akin to using the word "hebe" -- or, for
that matter "katsap" (to denote Russians) -- all are intended by their
nature to be derogatory and pejorative.
"Jew" and ""Hebrew" and their analogues in Ukrainian are not.
*** Elmer Mack ***
Well, I grew up with the word жид not being pejorative or derogatory.
Jew is akin to жид or жидівське -- Jewish.
Hebrew is єврей, or in adjective form -- єврейське.
Hebrews in the plural is євреї.
Jews in the plural is жиди.
For some reason, in certain parts of Ukraine, the word жид or Jew is
taken as pejorative by some people.
Vitaly Portnikov is Jewish -- he is a brilliant analyst. He is probably
the best Ukrainian patriot and defender and upholder of democracy,
along with his friend, Mykola (Nicholas) Knyazhytsky, in Ukraine.
Firtash is Jewish -- the self-styled "savior of Ukraine." But Firtash
Pinchuk is Jewish -- but he is also a crook.
Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest thief, is a Tatar.
It seems to me that the above article dwells on artificially implied
meanings, rather than on facts -- or, for that matter, what is
*** Lubomyr Luciuk 2 ***
I recall quite clearly being called a "garlic eater" and a "bohunk" as
a young lad in Kingston, Ontario, and I certainly heard the word
"bohunk" applied to Ukrainians (and other Slavs) when I lived in
western Canada. "Bohunk" has been used as a pejorative in reference not
only to Ukrainians but to other eastern Europeans as well.
*** Daria Jmil ***
Don't smash the face of anyone. Just explain that the word zhyd is
Solomom Goldelman letter of January 1964 re zhyd