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Five Shifts in Ukrainian-Jewish Relations
Image: ​A photograph from 1935 of a music lesson given by Peva Grinshpon. Visual Memory Photo Collection, NLI

Five Shifts in Ukrainian-Jewish Relations

Prof. Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, Northwestern University, USA

Five Shifts in Ukrainian-Jewish Relations

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Five Shifts in Ukrainian-Jewish Relations One Needs to Know


Ukrainian-Jewish Voices series


The ongoing war in Ukraine has radically changed the Ukrainians as a people.

Prof. Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern argues that Ukrainians have reimagined themselves as Cossacks - not as unruly mercenaries at the boundaries of the southern steppe, but as urban, modern fighters, loyal to national sovereignty.

The new Ukrainians have discovered their multi-cultural character and embraced the multiple ethnicities that have joined the defense of the country, first and foremost, the Jews. The xenophobic prejudices of the past, idiosyncratic to the early modern Cossacks, have been left behind. Many Ukrainian Jews, predominantly urbanized and Russophonic, changed their attitude as well and embraced the Ukrainian language, which has become a symbol of resistance and survival. Ukrainians and Jews in Ukraine and elsewhere in the world joined efforts to poke fun at their enemies and at themselves, proving that the multi-ethnic Ukrainian nation is a strong-willed and free people.

The war mobilized others who have joined the media-war seeking to present Ukrainians through old-fashioned stereotypes based on biased historical narratives that conveniently ignore the societal changes in Ukraine over the last thirty years.

A new conceptualization of Ukrainian-Jewish relations in historical perspective has become a scholarly desideratum for pundits, researchers, and students. Without such a new vision one fails to explain the changes in Ukrainian-Jewish relations over the last thirty years, and particularly during the course of the Russian-Ukrainian War.


Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern is the Crown Family Professor of Jewish Studies and a Professor of Jewish History in the History Department at Northwestern University. He teaches a variety of courses that include early modern and modern Jewish history; Jewish material culture; history and culture of Ukraine; and Slavic-Jewish literary interaction.  

His research was supported by the DAAD Foundation, Rothschild Foundation, Fulbright Foundation, Davis Center at Harvard University, Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Toronto, the Kosciuszko Foundation, Memorial Foundation of Jewish Culture, National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter, the Lady Davis Foundation, and the Institute for Advanced Studies at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, among others.  

He has published more than a hundred articles and ten books and edited volumes, including The Jews in the Russian Army: Drafted into Modernity (2008, 2nd ed. 2014); The Anti-Imperial Choice: the Making of the Ukrainian Jew (2009); Lenin’s Jewish Question (2010); Jews and Ukrainians: Polin, vol. 26 (2011, co-edited with Antony Polonsky); Cultural Interference of Jews and Ukrainians: a Field in the Making (2014); The Golden-Age Shtetl: a New History of Jewish Life in East Europe, 2014, 2nd ed. 2015); Jews and Ukrainians: a millennium of coexistence (2016, co-authored with Paul Robert Magocsi; 2nd ed. 2018). His essays, books and book chapters have appeared in Greek, Spanish, Ukrainian, Polish, Russian, Hebrew, and German. 


For his expertise, Petrovsky-Shtern has been appointed a Fulbright Specialist on Eastern Europe; a Fellow at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute; a Full Professor at the Free Ukrainian University in Munich, a Recurrent Visiting Professor at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, the Lady Davis Professor at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, the Kosciuszko Visiting Professor at Warsaw University, and the honorary doctor of the National University Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Kyiv.   

As a keen observer of the situation in Ukraine, YPS appeared with commentaries at CPR, APR, NPR, Hromads’ke Radio, Radio Freedom/Free Europe, WBEZ, Al Jazeera, and also on TV at ZiK (Lviv), Espresso TV (Kyiv), WTTW, ABC, and CBS.  



Sunday, February 26, 8 pm Israel /7 pm CET /6 pm UK /1 pm EST


Sunday February 26th 5 Adar 08:00 - 09:15


Prof. Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, Northwestern University


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Image: ​A photograph from 1935 of a music lesson given by Peva Grinshpon. Visual Memory Photo Collection, NLI