Eight Ukrainian Jews with martial art skills or experience in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) have set up a self-defence group to fight back against anti-Semitic attacks on the country's 110,000-strong Jewish community.
Founder Tzvi Arieli told JTA that Kiev Shomrim group memebrs were armed only with baseball bats but were funds for bulletproof vests.
Arieli, a Latvia-born former soldier of a special forces unit in the IDF who lives in Ukraine, said he formed the taskforce after a series of anti-Semitic attacks in Kiev in the aftermath of the toppling of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich.
The group was formed at the request of Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, chief rabbi of Ukraine.
"In talks with officials, it became clear the authorities could offer limited protection to the Jewish community so we needed to take security into our own hands," said Arieli.
In March, Arieli helped organise a medical evacuation of Ukrainian Jews to Israel. In a 7 March Facebook post he wrote:
We, as concerned Jews living in Ukraine, took it upon ourselves to organize the transport of a small group of the injured to Israel for further treatment. We love our fellow Ukrainians, and we are proud of the Jewish state, Israel, whose first class medical treatment will give our countrymen the best chance at resuming a normal life.
He said the taskforce was acting in tandem with Ukrainian authorities. He blamed "well-planned" attacks on pro-Russian militants who he said were trying to justify Moscow aggression.
There had been four recent attacks on members of the local Jewish community in Kiev, the group said.
Many among Ukraine's Jewish population are reported to have actively supported the revolution.
Russian president Vladimir Putin seized on the nationalist roots of Ukraine's interim government to claim it was made up of of "neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites".
The Right Sector movement, which first emerged as a paramilitary far-right alliance in the Euro Maidan protests in Kiev and then played a key role in forcing Yanukovich out, has always denied Putin's claims. A senior Right Sector member travelled to Odessa after vandals defaced a Holocaust monument with Nazi symbols to show solidarity with the local Jewish community.
One of the three main political parties that led the three-month-long protests which ousted Yanukovich, the ultra-nationalist Svoboda – Freedom – party, has been accused of anti-Semitism in the past.