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Date of birth – 2 December 1946

Place of birth – Tashkent, Usbekistan

Interviewed - 2 May 2014, Toronto

Interviewers: Iroida Wynnyckyj and Chrystina Isajiw

Audio interview

Language - Ukrainian


· Joseph Zissels was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 1946 and moved to Chernivtsi, Ukraine in 1965.

· His world vision was greatly influenced by the Russian army invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968; he became increasingly anti-Soviet and wanted to take on “public and social questions.”

· He was imprisoned twice, in 1979 and 1984, for his anti-Soviet work.

· He discusses the distinction between Soviet Jews and Ukrainian Jews.

· In 1987, he started the first Ukrainian Jewish organization in Ukraine, in Chernivtsi; he was also part of the national movement (RUKH) which started in Kyiv in 1989.

· Judaism in Ukraine began flourishing after Ukraine's independence in 1991 - synagogues, schools began opening and operating,  and Ukrainian Jews began developing their own identity.

· In modern Ukraine, Jews have become active in forming Ukrainian political nation and were very active during the Euromaidan/Revolution of Dignity in 2014.

Excerpt from full interview:

JZ - In school, I learned the Ukrainian language. However, I attended a Russian speaking school and so, I can’t brag about my achievements in the Ukrainian language at the time. But, afterwards I was at the University in Chernivtsi where I enriched my Ukrainian.

My parents lived in Moldova and I entered the university in Kishinev, Moldova. (During Soviet times, anti-semitism was rampant as a state ideology. And, it was generally accepted that it was very difficult for Jews to get accepted into university.) After my first year at the University of Kishinev, Moldova, where I had been accepted at the Faculty of Physics, my father died. I then moved to Chernivsti, Ukraine in order to help my brother, sister and step-mother.

IW – What  year was this?

JZ - It was 1965. And, then I began studying Physics in Ukrainian, because most of the lectures at the time were in Ukrainian.

IW - In Chernivtsi, at the University of Chernivtsi?

JZ – Yes, in Chernivtsi. I knew the language a bit from school. But, it was at the university that I improved  my Ukrainian language.

IW - Could we just return briefly to the question:  what values were nurtured  in your family, and how were they representative of the social environment?

JZ - This is an interesting question. My family had a very small influence on me and my development. My parents died at an early age. Therefore, I did not have a stereotypical Jewish family upbringing that would have developed certain characteristics in the children. As a result, I was partly influenced by this and partly, not. In some ways – yes; in others – no. In terms of the yes – I inherited a desire for education.

I changed my major and became a radio engineer. And, I started working as an engineer at a TV centre. As I mentioned previously, I was a technical worker, on the front-lines of an ideological sphere of influence. But this didn’t last long, because I quickly found myself in the middle of a conflict. After all, the TV centre was a politically motivated  ideological institution.

My first conflict involved a co-worker – a young man – at the time when his family decided to emigrate. This was already 1971. And,  the management started to harass him: called a workers’ meeting, criticized him, threatened to fire him. And, I interceded on his behalf. At that time, I already knew about the Declaration of Human Rights and that we were entitled to the freedom of movement, the right to choose our place of residence.

Coming from an over-riding democratic position with a view of human rights, I made a statement questioning how they could persecute him simply because he was choosing where he wanted to live. This was particularly relevant since the family had relatives there. As far as I remember, he and his family were not even planning to move to Israel. Sorry, not true – it was Israel. And this manifested into an open conflict.


  1. An interview with Mr. Zissels was published in The Ukrainian Weekly on August 17, 2014, when he last visited the UCRDC and explained how former Soviet Jews in Ukraine have today become Ukrainian Jews and are identifying with Ukraine and its struggle against Russian aggression.

  1. Ukrainian Jewish Leader Josef Zissels in Toronto: The Truth About Ukraine


The interviews can be accessed at the UCRDC. Please contact us at: office@ucrdc.org