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Pomeshannye Ukrainian Jews

They are at home everywhere and at the same time they are outsiders

The special project “Pomeshannye” (a play on words, meaning both “mixed” and “crazy”) which was launched at the international art journal TheNorDar on 19 November 2013, tells of young Ukrainians with different ethnic backgrounds. The slogan of the project is: Remember your ancestry and share the history of your family.

Once a week the photographer Kris Kulakovska holds a photo session and interviews a different person. Over one and a half years, 45 Ukrainians have taken part in the project (both famous and not so famous) who have genes from different ethnicities. It is interesting that the project team has never repeated itself – each person has their own combination of ethnicities.

The project is super low-budget. The people do not receive money for participating, and there is no paid PR. Kris Kulakovska takes photos and interviews, and the head of the project and editor Lilit Sarkisyan is responsible for promotion, management and editorial work. The artists and designers receive modest wages, and the location for the photo shoots are often office spaces with white walls.

This spring, TheNorDar is preparing to present a special issue of Pomeshannye – it will include the stories of 50 people, publications about the ethnic minorities of Ukraine in the format of notes and useful statistics. The presentation of the special project in Kiev will have the format of an art exhibition with the support of Ukrainian media and partners – embassies, national diasporas of Ukraine and Ukrainian embassies around the world. The project team is holding talks with several venues, looking for partners, preparing photographs for print and organizing an events program. There are so far no dates for the presentation, but a media-kit has been prepared, where you can find out about the most famous people, goals and achievements of the project.

Jewishnews.com.ua has collected interesting excerpts of people interviewed in “Pomeshannye”, who are in some way or another connected with Jewry and Israel.

Emil Volski, graphic designer

Ancestry: Austrian, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, Jewish, and Georgian gypsy

I was Christened according to all the Catholic canons as Emmanuel-Dmitry, despite the fact that the name Emmanuel is Jewish. It was arranged over my head, so to speak. When I was a teenager, I even sang in the Catholic cathedral. I was brought up by my grandmother Emma, my father’s mother, who still remains my closest relative. That’s the way it happened – my parents passed away when I was very young.

I have Russian and Jewish ancestry from my mother, and from my father I have a mixture of Georgian gypsy, Polish, Ukrainian and Austrian ancestry.

I spent my childhood in many different places, I lived in Europe for some time, and in Iran for a while. For various reasons, when I moved from Poland to Kiev, I had to become a “Russian” quickly, so my birth certificate was forged, and I was registered as Dimitry Poroshin (Poroshin is a surname from my mother’s side), and it stated that my father was Alexander Leonidovich, a person who never even existed. At the age of 16 I once more became Emil Volski according to my passport, taking my grandmother’s name.

I am often told that I have a “Yid’s mug”. I simply spent time with Jews, and became “Jewified”. If you place a needle to gold, it turns golden, and I’m the same way. Although I’m only a quarter Jewish, from my mother’s father Mordukh Khaim Yevseevich Rossin. When my grandmother and I found Jewish ancestry in our family, I was sent to study at a Jewish school in Kiev, I joined the community, learnt Hebrew and became one of them.

I didn’t enroll in the Solomonov University under the simplified procedure, although I could have, but instead I chose the private Humanitarian University, so I wasn’t given special treatment as an orphan. I don’t like handouts. But because of delays in payment I wasn’t allowed to study in the second term, although I taught Hebrew at the university. In the end, at the age of 21, barred from the university, I found a job at the Israeli embassy as a coordinator of youth programs.

Ivan Siyak, laborer

Ancestry: Jewish, Ukrainian, German, Russian

I’m a Judeo-Ukrainian, i.e. a descendent of Jews and Ukrainians. I have a little Russian and German blood. These peoples have historically been so hostile that I hope their genes in me have repressed each other, and now I am ethnically sterile.

My Ukrainian blood is from my mother, my Jewish blood from my father. His story sounds like something out of a TV show: according to family legend, my father was expelled from school for anti-Semitism. He shouted “Heil Hitler!” in the class of a Jewish teacher who was tortured by the Gestapo for working in the underground movement. When he turned 18, he found out that his surname came from his adoptive father, and that his birth father was called Moisei Gartsman. Then they all went to Israel. It’s karma.

Katro Zauber, DJ, stylist

Ancestry: Jewish, German, Ossetian, Romanian and Ukrainian

I am a Ukrainian Jew with Georgian ancestry. My mother’s parents, an Ossetian and a German Jew, met in the Caucasus, where my engineer grandfather was sent to build an atomic power station. My grandfather admitted his Jewish ancestry to us quite recently, two years ago.

I consider myself more Jewish than German. This is shown by the fact that I simply like people, for example. I consider myself to be a strong woman, who can find ways to solve any tasks. This is the position of Jewish women, which is expressed in careerism and striving for success. I like the Jewish nation – they are very human in their behavior. It’s normal for them that in a difficult situation you can go for help to any house or temple, where you will be helped and not looked at with condemnation. Ukrainians are only starting to show this responsive attitude in themselves.

Yevgenia Dzhulai (Mikhailenko), photographer

Ancestry: Ukrainian, Polish, Jewish, Gypsy

My grandmother on my father’s side was a pure-blooded Jew. She worked as the head constructor at a design institute, she was a person with a big heart and a treasure trove of stories from all the places in the world that she had visited in her difficult life. My grandfather had Polish-Jewish ancestry. When asked: “Granddad, are you a Jew?” he would reply: “I don’t play those games”.

I spent my childhood in Kiev, Odessa and the Odessa Oblast. In Kiev we had a lot of friends and acquaintances who were Jews, I think it’s easy to tell who belongs to this ethnic group by their names or surnames. In childhood I constantly heard the names Sofochka, Tsilya, Betya, Moisha from my grandmother, and they seemed mysterious and cheerful to me. In fact the people always turned out to be this way. My grandmother told me many stories about the difficult post-war life in Kiev, about life in the barracks, and the German stables. Stories about Babi Yar and the diary of Anne Frank excited my imagination. We always had matsah in the house, but we observed Ukrainian traditions.

I classify myself as a Ukrainian, because I feel the Slavic spirit in myself, I feel enormous love for the nation and I sense that I was born in this land for good reason.

Antonina and Yelizaveta Smirnova, twins

Liza is a computer linguist, Tonya is a translator of English and German.

Ancestry: Finnish, Jewish, Polish, Ukrainian and Russian

We inherited our Jewish and Finnish ancestry from our mother. Our grandmother Yelizaveta Yefimova was half Russian, and half Ingermanlandian Finn. She married a pure-blood Jew, as she believed that Jewish husbands were the best, honest and decent with an agreeable nature. This turned out to be true.

As we grew up we became increasingly interested in the Jewish side of our family, which expressed itself in studying Hebrew, learning Jewish dances, songs, traditions of Shabbat, and a fondness for matsah, humus and Jewish relatives. Our Jewish relatives lived in Simferopol. But when the German troops occupied Simferopol in 1941, all the Jews who had not been evacuated, including our great-grandmother and great-grandfather, were executed on 11-14 December 1941.

Daniel Kresensiovch Rios-Solis, founder of Apple Pie Weddings agency

Ancestry: Indian, Spanish, Armenian, Jewish, Polish

My Indian and Spanish ancestry comes from my father – my Dad Cresencio Hermogenes Rios Solis (Eric to his friends) was born in Nicaragua. My parents met at a Latin American disco for students in Kiev. My father studied at the Kiev polytechnic institute, as part of a cultural exchange between socialist countries and Latin American republics.
My grandmother on my mother’s side was a pure-blooded Armenian, and my grandmother was Jewish. She was born on the border of Poland and Ukraine. After the collapse of the USSR my parents decided to move to Israel, where I spent over 10 years, and so I speak Hebrew, English and Russian fluently. Now I’ve started to think in Ukrainian. In Israel all emigrants from the CIS with Jewish ancestry are called Russians, and this isn’t because of the color of their skin, but rather because of their mentality (the Soviet system left its mark on everyone). The “Pomeshannye” project in Israel could go on forever: there are Afro-Americans, Argentineans, Japanese, Germans, Chinese and many other people. For me Israel is a state of the USA in the Middle East, because the country exists under the influence of the American spirit of freedom. But you’d be wrong to think that it’s easy to live under a market economy. The country’s economy is controlled by a few families, I’d even call them enormous clans, and you don’t have any chance to move any higher up if you’re an ordinary wage earner. It’s hard to start your own business or implement creative ideas. There is legislation that stops you from doing so.

I can’t say that any ethnicity dominates in my appearance. The phenotype of all the ethnicities in that are gathered in me is characterized by an oval face, a curved nose and curly hair. Once on the Andreevsky Hill a stranger remarked: “The boy forgot his kippah at home”. (A kippah is a Jewish cap – ed.) And recently when I was in Portugal, in a noisy pub on one of the main streets in Lisbon, the local barman took me for a Spaniard, and swore at me for talking to him in English.

I returned to Ukraine at the age of 17, because I consider this country my home, I was born here and I feel comfortable here. I don’t like everything, of course, but it’s better than living in a country where there is always a war on, when a bus can be blown up at any time, for example. Although now we are also in this situation. But in spite of all this, we were constantly taught to be peaceful at our Israeli school: once a year we met refugees from Palestine and taught them English.

The more languages a person knows, the more doors open for them. The same goes for blood. People with mixed blood are richer in a certain sense. They are inherently lacking in fanaticism and intolerance towards others. They are mixed – they are at home everywhere and at the same time they are outsiders.

Zhenya Leshchinskaya, graphic designer

Ancestry: Jewish, Ukrainian

I was born in the Soviet Union, I have a Ukrainian passport, I speak Russian and I classify myself as Jewish, because my parents are Jews who can trace their ancestry back several generations. One line on my father’s side comes from Polish Jews with the surname Leshchinsky, and the second comes from Kharkov. I always thought that my people were not the inhabitants of Israel. My people were born in the USSR, with Jewish ancestry. We were fed with the same bread on the same streets. But there are so few of us! As if you are an ethnic minority of an ethnic minority. If I go to Israel I will be a foreigner there, because I am from Ukraine. Here I am also a foreigner. To solve this problem for once and for all, I moved to Japan, so I could be 100% foreign and not worry about this question again.

If you are also “mixed” and want to take part in the project, send your “ethnic” history with a photo to info@thenordar.com.