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Ukraine's New Leaders: From Neo-Nazis To A Muslim, A Jew And A Heavyweight Boxer

03/03/2014 15:43 GMT | Updated 03/03/2014 16:59 GMT
ASSOCIATED PRESS
An anti-Yanukovych protester holds an Ukrainian flag in Kiev's Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest, Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. The Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday delayed the formation of a new government, reflecting political tensions and economic challenges following the ouster of the Russia-backed president. Parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchinov, who was named Ukraine's interim leader after President Viktor Yanukovych fled the capital, said that a new government should be in place by Thursday, instead of Tuesday, as he had earlier indicated. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)

Amongst the swarm of blue-and-yellow painted faces and billowing flags on Independence Square in the bloody days leading up to the toppling of Ukraine's now-ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, on 22 February, some black flags had crept in.

It was a sign that Ukraine's far right, dubbed neo-Nazi by some, was now part of the opposition Maidan movement, orchestrating some of the most co-ordinated tactics against the riot police. And groups such as the ultra-nationalist Svoboda party, with its ominous talk of a "Muscovite-Jewish mafia", are now playing a key role in the new interim government - Svoboda controls three government ministries and the prosecutor-general's office.

The infiltration of the far right into the movement has played directly into the propaganda of Yanukovych and Vladimir Putin. Russia's president, immediately before he asked Parliament for permission to invade Ukraine, he condemned the "fascist hooligans" who had staged a coup against a democratically elected president.

In that debate which led to unanimous approval of the use of force by Russia in the Crimea, the opposition were repeatedly named as fascists. "Look who came to power now in Ukraine—radicals, nationalists, fascists," one legislator remarked.

Jewish members of the opposition, such as Aleksandr Feldman, president of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee and a member of the parliament of Ukraine, have also called on the protesters to "shun anti-Semitic elements" such as Svoboda.

Nevertheless, the political and ideological make-up of Ukraine's opposition-turned-government is far more complex and nuanced, and includes a practicing Jewish businessman and a campaigning Muslim journalist.

In the Crimea, meanwhile, where Putin says his army is protecting not only ethnic Russians but also minorities like Jews who are at risk from a fascist takeover, the Jewish community disagrees.

In a statement released Friday, Rabbi Michael Kapustin of the Ner Tamid Reform synagogue in Simferopol, said: “The city is occupied by Russians. Apparently Russians intend to take over the Crimea and make it a part of Russia,” Kapustin said. ”If this were the case I would leave the country. In this case, I will leave this country since I want to live in democratic Ukraine.”

From neo-Nazis, to a Jewish oligarch, from a heavyweight boxer to an Afghan immigrant, here are some of the more surprising key figures who are now in charge of guiding Ukraine into an uncertain future.

Ukraine's Key Figures