Like the Dreyfus Affair: An innocent Jew released from prison in Ukraine

UKRAINE –  A tragic story has come to a happy conclusion. Israel Rifkin, a Jewish Ukrainian who had been imprisoned for years on false charges of attacking an elderly woman, was released from confinement recently. He won his release because the central witness in his case admitted to lying and framing Rifkin after having been badly mistreated by the government.

"The man, whose name is Sartzinsky, was himself a suspect and framed Rifkin. Afterwards, he admitted that he lied, but the prosecutors did not pay attention," said the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine Moshe Azman, who was involved in Rifkin‘s release. "Regarding the woman who was attacked, who said she saw Rifkin in her house in 2006, there is proof that he was out of the country at the time."

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The head of the parliamentary friendship with Israel committee, Georg Lugionsky, a Jewish Ukrainian, was also a critical figure in Rifkin‘s release. "They caught a Jew from a small city, brought him to a police station and beat him so that he would admit to the crime. For four and a half years there was no judgement. The accused approached me asking for help, because they were holding him in a temporary prison in very harsh conditions. I traveled to the prison and found his health in a critical situation. I was in with the prison and posted bail for him, but the judge rejected the request. The chief rabbi of Ukraine also became involved, and the Jewish community rallied to his cause."

"They accused him because he was a Jew," Lugoinsky said. "He didn‘t do anything wrong."

"In 2012, Israel Rafkin was accused of stealing a telephone from a nearly-90-year-old woman," explained Shimon Bariman, a journalist and historian who is an expert in Israel-Ukraine relations. "Despite the evidence that he was not in the country at the time, Rifkin was sentenced to 14 years in prison. In the Kiev Jewish community I heard the same voices over and over again: ‘Such a cruel judgement could only have been given for antisemitic reasons.‘"

In the Ukranian Jewish community, people have said recently that the release of the Jewish prisoner is "like the release of the Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus in France," the famous antisemitic affair that took place 120 years ago.