By Leonid Bershidsky

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Members of the Hasidic community straddling the border of Ukraine and the Soviet Union left their trash and resentment behind as their tensions eased markedly on Thursday following the drawdown of troops from the site of a major conflict.

The Hasidic community’s exodus followed arguments about the construction of temporary housing that turned on whether the lawmakers should support a deal earlier in the day with the Russian-backed government in Kiev, with approval needed to begin the work.

“Nobody will pay the price. There is no revenge,” said Talal Saashvili, one of thousands of Hasidic Jews who packed last-minute trains, buses and charters to leave.

“We are paying to live here and now that is finished, and who will benefit? Do we deserve it?” he said, as he drove to the Siberian city of Ussuriya, an hour’s drive from Moscow.

The increased animosity was less pronounced on the outskirts of the Rostov region, where hundreds of thousands of Jews live, despite the Orthodox Church’s opposition to the revival of more than a century-old practice.

As with the Hasidic settlement near the city of Tula, where some Jews recently fled, the emigration south of Moscow also seemed motivated by economic necessity.

“Ukraine is too far away for us to spend time there. We want to go back to our country,” said 30-year-old civil servant Maria Panyolytko, carrying what appeared to be a can of curry powder.

Asked if she and her father agreed with her decision, Panyolytko replied: “Of course.”


The tension between the two houses of parliament was at its worst just three months ago when legislation proposed by Russian authorities to change the code of the Western-backed Kiev government.

But the sanctions against Russia – including two rounds of U.S. and European Union sanctions over the crisis – have been more effective.

A spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the watchdog for the Ukraine peace process, said the revamp of the law would give the Russian-backed authorities two weeks to comply.

But this appeared unlikely, as pro-Russian leaders threatened to do everything they could to defeat the proposed legislation.

Last week, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko reiterated his opposition to the proposed legislation.

The Hatzor Shechter movement of Jewish communities in Russia and the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community, which represents only a fraction of the 450,000 population, showed no desire to give up its petitioning for the legislation to become law, near the ceasefire line.

“We have a fundamental problem in this country. We want the agreement of the Ukrainian government,” said Rabba Shlomo Dov Zakharov, one of the leader of Hatzor Shechter, held up to the waiting journalists by a group of his congregants.

“We are the haggadah (book)ators of the people of God and we will fight against that agreement and until that agreement is signed we won’t let go of this document. Once we pass this agreement, the nationalists of this land will come to their knees,” he said.

They echoed his sentiments at all the other settlements and Jewish religious sites outside the breach.

“Without the agreement there won’t be an inch of the territory of the territory of the Russian Federation,” said Rachid Dov Saad, another president of Hatzor Shechter.

“This agreement shows the world that we are here and the nationalists of this land, they just can’t stand us.”

(Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

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