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During the Holocaust, the Nazis, their allies, and collaborators murdered 1.4 to 1.6 million Jews in Ukraine and destroyed hundreds of communities around the country, particularly in the western and central regions.  Before and after the Holocaust, the Jewish community faced repression at the hands of the Soviet regime, including nationalization of communal and private property and destruction and neglect of religious sites.  Wartime displacement to the Soviet interior and post-war emigration of Jews further impacted surviving Jewish community members’ ability to protect Jewish cultural heritage sites and property.

Estimates regarding the size of the current Jewish population vary.  The State Statistics Service estimated the Jewish population at 103,600 in the last available census in 2001.  The Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (VAAD) reported that as of mid-2019, there were approximately 300,000 persons of Jewish ancestry in the country.  The country’s prominent Jewish organizations include VAAD, the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine, the Religious Union for Progressive Jewish Congregations of Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Jewish Committee.

Ukraine has no specific legislation regarding the restitution of Holocaust-era private property or heirless property, and the new government has not announced any plans to introduce such legislation.  Citizens and non-citizens can file claims in court, but the Department of State is not aware of any ongoing or successful cases.

Under the 1994 U.S.-Ukrainian Agreement on the Protection and Preservation of Cultural Heritage, the Ukrainian government undertook, subject to the availability of funds, to “protect and preserve the cultural heritage of all national, religious, or ethnic groups that reside or resided in its territory and were victims of genocide during the Second World War.”  The government pledged to ensure protection and preservation of cultural heritage for those groups unable independently to do so.

The 1991 Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations and a number of government decrees allow Jewish religious groups to seek restitution of previously confiscated places of worship.  According to current law, only religious organizations are eligible for restitution of property nationalized during the Soviet period.  In addition, only places of worship and religious artifacts immediately necessary for religious services are subject to restitution.  Restitution of other forms of communal property (e.g., school buildings and community centers) formerly owned by religious organizations is not regulated by current legislation.  Religious buildings and property currently under state ownership may be returned to religious organizations.

In most cases, local municipalities make the decision of whether to return religious buildings or property.  The central government decides whether to return those properties designated as national heritage sites.

Numerous Jewish congregations have negotiated successfully with governmental authorities for worship space.  However, the resolution of more complex religious property restitution cases remains slow.  VAAD has identified approximately 800 synagogues confiscated by the Soviet regime.  Between 1992 and 2019, the government returned about 60 of them to the Jewish community.  Inadequate enforcement of court decisions often hampers efforts to identify Jewish sites and delineate the historical boundaries of older Jewish cemeteries.

The slow pace of restitution is partly a reflection of the country’s economic situation, which limits funds available to relocate occupants of previously seized religious property.  However, the Ukrainian government estimates that the majority of synagogues for which specific claims have been pursued have been handed over to the Jewish religious organization that made the claim.  Other confiscated religious properties for which restitution has been sought are occupied by state institutions or have previously been transferred to private ownership; Jewish and civil society organizations have questioned the legality of such transfers.  At times, disagreements among Jewish community representatives complicate the resolution of restitution issues.

The All-Ukraine Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, the country’s largest interfaith group, has repeatedly called on parliament to impose a moratorium on the privatization of previously confiscated religious buildings under state and religious community ownership.  A 1998 government resolution commits regional state administrations to pursue the restitution of unused or misused places of worship to religious organizations.  However, this resolution depends on implementation by local authorities, which has been uneven.

In 1998, Ukraine issued an ordinance prohibiting construction on and privatization of previous and current Jewish cemeteries.  Nevertheless, there are reports of construction occurring on land and in areas that were once Jewish cemeteries.  In 2008, the Jewish community in Vinnytsya reached an agreement with the city administration over the excavation of a building foundation on the site of a former Jewish cemetery.  The city arranged for the reburial of the human remains exposed by the digging.  Periodic digging to erect market kiosks disturbed the sanctity of a historic Jewish cemetery in Lviv.  The city made preparations to create a memorial park on the remaining, undeveloped part of the cemetery but explained it could not relocate the market because some of the buildings at the market had become private property, albeit under nontransparent circumstances.  In February 1999, the country’s president instructed the State Property Fund to take measures to ban the transfer of property formerly owned by religious communities to private (i.e., non-religious) owners.

In February 2018, the Volyn Oblast Appellate Court rejected a petition by the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (UCSJ) to remove a private industrial facility from the grounds of a Jewish cemetery near Toykut village in Volyn Oblast.

The UCSJ, meanwhile, expressed concern over the possible continuation of construction of a high-rise building at the site of a World War II Jewish ghetto in Lviv.  In 2016, a court suspended the project after human remains were reportedly found and removed at the construction site.

Jewish community representatives continue to experience difficulties with the Ternopil district government with regard to property restitution.  The Ternopil District Council has ignored local Jewish community requests to return a prayer house confiscated during the Soviet regime.

In April 2018, Ukraine revived the Interagency Commission to Realize the Rights of Religious Organizations.  The commission had been established in 2008 to address complex restitution issues and promote dialogue between the government and religious groups; it had been inactive since 2012.  Some observers expressed concerns about the commission’s effectiveness and the transparency of its procedures.

Ukrainian law does not regulate the restitution of Nazi-confiscated and looted art to private individuals, and the new government has not indicated whether it plans to introduce such legislation.  Pursuant to the 1998 Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, the Central State Archive of Supreme Bodies of the Government of Ukraine has digitized and presented online a significant portion of records from the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, the Nazi agency involved in looting cultural property in Nazi-occupied countries during World War II.  The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) sponsored the project.

Some experts say Ukraine lacks an established process for claims and the legal structure that would permit restitution abroad of items registered in Ukrainian state museums and institutions, as well as mechanisms to search abroad and receive back items taken from Ukraine.

The Department of State is aware of at least one case in which a U.S. citizen is seeking the return of a painting currently located in a Ukrainian museum.

The majority of Torah scrolls confiscated by the Soviet regime are now owned by the Ukrainian government and remain with the country’s National Archives.  Jewish community leaders estimate the Ukrainian government is in possession of about 1,000 scrolls and their fragments.  In 2007, the President of Ukraine issued a decree to transfer the scrolls to the Jewish community; however, the Law on the National Archival Fund and Archives allows their transfer to congregations only for temporary use.  In 2009, the National Archives returned 357 fragments of Torah scrolls that were beyond repair to the Jewish community for burial according to Jewish tradition.  The UCSJ suggested that the National Archives should keep the remaining unsalvageable fragments of the historic scrolls available for proper academic research before returning them to the Jewish community for burial.  In 2010, the Kyiv municipal government permitted the city’s Jewish community to retain 18 Torah scrolls it had received for temporary use from the Central State Historical Archive.  In 2013, the Kyiv Economic Appellate Court rejected a petition by the Archive to revoke the municipal government’s decision.

The National Archives are a repository of archival documents pertaining to Jewish properties in Ukraine.  The materials are generally accessible to the public.  The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) reports it has good cooperation and strong support from the archival administration in all central and regional state archives.  Both the State Archives Service of Ukraine and the Security Service of Ukraine’s Archive have cooperation agreements with the USHMM.

The government sponsors annual remembrance ceremonies for Holocaust victims and non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from extermination.  High-level national and local government officials participate in annual commemorations, including International Holocaust Remembrance Day, memorial events at Babyn Yar and at other Holocaust sites throughout Ukraine, and ceremonies honoring those designated by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

Holocaust history is a mandatory part of the high school curriculum.  The USHMM has worked closely in recent years with the Center for the Study of Genocides and Mass Atrocities at Taras Shevchenko University in developing academic study on the Holocaust.

Since the fall of Communism in Europe, the Ukrainian government has supported the opening of Holocaust memorials on the sites of massacres and mass graves around the country.  In 2012, a major Jewish community center opened in Dnipro.  The new facility includes the Jewish Memory and Holocaust in Ukraine Museum and the Tkuma Institute for Holocaust Studies.

The Tkuma Institute, the Kyiv-based Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies, and the Judaica Institute promote Holocaust history research and education.

In 2016, the government commemorated the 75th anniversary of the September 29-30, 1941, massacre at which the SS and Nazi police and their auxiliaries murdered 33,000 Jews at Babyn Yar, a ravine west of Kyiv.  In the months following the massacre, German authorities killed thousands more Jews and non-Jews at the site, including Roma, Communist officials, Soviet prisoners of war, and Soviet civilians.  It is estimated that some 100,000 people in total were murdered there.  Before the 2016 commemoration ceremony, the government enhanced the memorial site with landscaped alleys paying tribute to Jewish victims and non-Jewish Ukrainians who saved Jews.  Government and local Kyiv leaders have expressed support for creating a Holocaust museum at the site.

At the same time, some Jewish history preservation groups have expressed concern that one such initiative by the Babyn Yar Memorial Holocaust Center, a private organization with significant foreign funding, might promote an inaccurate historical narrative, for example by distorting the nature and extent of anti-Semitism in modern Ukraine in order to sow discord.  Several Jewish leaders and historians have stated that they would be willing to support the project only if planning and content reflected input from all Ukrainian voices.

In 2010, the Lviv city government hosted an international design competition for memorials to mark three Holocaust-related sites in Lviv.  One of these, a memorial space at the site of a historic synagogue complex, the Golden Rose Synagogue (also known as the Nachmanowicz Synagogue or the Turei Zahav Synagogue) that was largely destroyed by the Nazis, was inaugurated in 2016.  Other design projects included a memorial complex at the site of the Yanivsky concentration camp and the unrestored section of an ancient Jewish cemetery destroyed by the Nazi and Communist regimes.  Opinions are divided within the Jewish community over concepts for the Babyn Yar and Yanivsky memorials.

Approximately 2,600 Holocaust survivors live in Ukraine.  The Department of State is not aware of any Ukrainian government welfare programs for Holocaust survivors.  The American Jewish Joint Distribution Center (JDC) has a network of assistance centers providing support to elderly Jews, with a focus on Holocaust survivors, through funding from the Claims Conference.

Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report: Ukraine
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