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The Jews who revived the Sich

The Feldman family has a wide range of business interests: from manufacturing steel pipes to advertising and tourism. And they also restore Cossack sites.

The Feldmans from Nikopol in the Dnepropetrovsk Oblast are incredible people. Alexander Isaakovich, chairman of the Nikopol Jewish community and vice-president of the Jewish council of Ukraine, and his younger son Oleg, are renowned for supporting projects connected with the history of Ukrainian Cossacks. In many ways, thanks to them Ukraine learned that five of the seven Zaporozhian Siches.

Alexander Feldman: “I was the only Jew who was a blacksmith’s assistant”

- Alexander Isaakovich, let’s start from the beginning. How did you get started in business?

- I started at the Nikopol Southern pipe factory, where my father also worked. I was a blacksmith’s assistant. I was probably the only Jew on the staff of 20,000 people at the factory who worked as a blacksmith’s assistant.

I received higher education at the Dnepropetrovsk metallurgical institute – a diploma with honors in the field of metallurgical engineering. I worked as an engineer at a production engineering office, as the head of this office, the shift manager and the head of a cold rolling laboratory group.

At the end of the 1980s perestroika began, and the customary order of things changed for good. The Nikopol southern pipe factory, which was once a gigantic factory, faced a crisis and began to fall to pieces – later this process was called restructurizing. I founded a new company with my friends Gennady Kagansky and Sergei Mordynsky in August 1989 – the Trubostal production and research center. This idea was also supported by the former director of the factory Alexander Kutsenko. Kagansky was appointed the director of the newly created company, and I was appointed first deputy. The company was housed in one room of the Nikopol general technical faculty.

25 years have gone by since then. Now I am the general director of Trubostal, and the company is one of the largest manufacturers in Ukraine of centrifugally cast steel pipes and pipe fittings.

– Where did the idea come from to provide financial support for historical research on the Zaporozhian Sich?

– I think that everyone loves their country, the land where they were born and grew up. Although I was born in Dnepropetrovsk, my ancestors came from the Novovorontsovka and Stalindorf regions, they were farmers.

I also can’t rule out of the fact that some of my ancestors once lived in the early Sich. Many Jews, for example, served as scribes in the Cossack kurens. Additionally, historical facts confirm that Jews who were traders supplied food and other goods to the Sich. For example, the Kosh ataman Pyotr Kalnyshevsky not only permitted Jews to trade on Cossack lands, but even invested funds in their operations himself. The majority of Jewish merchants lived in the late Sich temporarily, but there were also some who settled there permanently.

– What projects in this area have been realized with your participation?

– For example, a trip was organized for Ukrainian historians to the Solovki Islands, where Pyotr Kalnyshevsky spent 28 years in exile. I also sponsored publication of a number of books on historical and area studies themes, such as Saul Borovoi’s monograph “The Jewish Vector in Ukrainian History”. Then the idea arose to immortalize memorable pages in the history of Nikopol – and so statues were unveiled of Nestor Makhno and Osip Shora, the prototype of Ostap Bender who was born in Nikopol.

Monument of Osip Shora

Very recently, on 6 December 2014, by the building of the city council, with my involvement and the support of the people’s deputy Andrei Shipko, a memorial granite plaque was unveiled depicting a piece of the map of Guillaume de Beauplan. The map was the first to show the settlement of Nikitin Rog, which later became the town of Nikopol. This confirms the date of the town’s foundation – 1639.

But the most important project, which my colleagues and I financed in 2012, was in my opinion the confirmation and establishment of protected zones around the monument of the legendary ataman Ivan Sirko, not far from the village of Kapulovka. The task that I set myself was to preserve the only grave of a historical personage of this level in Ukraine. This work was begun in 2009, and now the grave is not under the nominal protection of the state, but under real protection. The total area of the protected zones around the monument is over 90 hectares. In this area, any building must be approved by state structures in charge of protecting the cultural heritage of Ukraine.

The next stage should be building the revived Chertomlytsky Sich, where ataman Ivan Sirko was, with funds from charity and the state. A preliminary project for a historical and cultural complex has been prepared. But unfortunately the project is not destined to be realized at the moment – the land has been split up into lots, there are no legal conditions.

Monument of Ivan Sirko

– How has the local community reacted to all this? Haven’t people asked why Jews are involved with the Zaporozhian Sich?

– No one has asked this question. Our city is multi-national. Ukrainians, Jews, Russians, Poles, Belarussians and other nationalities live here. So it’s not important who – a Jew or a Pole – revives the historical legacy of the region, and Ukraine in general. Incidentally, in Nikopol there is a very strong Polish diaspora, which also makes a certain contribution to the development of the city. And this doesn’t surprise anyone. That’s the way it should be.

– What are the future plans in this area?

– In the present difficult economic situation, plans must be adjusted every day. At the moment I give a lot of attention to production, so that the people who work at my company can feel confident about the future and feel socially protected. But undoubtedly I will continue to support any project involving the Cossacks.

I will say a ritual but pithy phrase: the son has taken the baton from the father. Oleg is now the advisor of the acting mayor of Nikopol on developing tourism, and with a work group he studies the experience of such projects in other cities of Ukraine and abroad, and is preparing a program to develop tourism in Nikopol.

Oleg Feldman: “Why do I need Kiev, I’m already in the capital”

– Oleg, your personal projects involve printing and the media. Why did you choose these fields?

– Although I grew up in a metallurgical family, I was interested in creative processes. In my early youth I was interested in photography. When I was a senior school pupil, I published articles and photos in the local media. I was a permanent freelance correspondent of several city newspapers. In my student years, I was responsible for marketing the family business.

I wanted to create something of my own. So in February 2005 the advertising and printing center “Sich” was opened. It specializes in manufacturing full-color printed products, and integrated marketing. This company has also been included on the state register of publishing houses of Ukraine. We develop our own pocket printing solutions, Viper Card, which we have patents for.

I was the editor of the prominent city newspaper “Prospekt Trubnikov”. However, it’s impossible to do everything, so at the moment I mainly just provide consultation to the editorial office. My main sphere of activity is developing the tourism potential of Nikopol as an advisor to the mayor. Thankfully I have this opportunity. Now that Sich has existed for 10 years, work is now going smoothly, and it no longer requires serious assistance everyday

As a tourist, as a person who likes to travel, I understand how important tourism is for the development of cities like Nikopol. It’s sad that with such a rich history, Nikopol does not use this potential. For example, it was here that Bogdan Khmelnitsky was elected Hetman, and the liberation movement started.

– As a well-travelled tourist, have you never wanted to move to a large city? Kiev, for example?

–Why do I need Kiev, I’m already in the capital. The capital of the five Siches. But to be serious, you can find something worthwhile to do in any place, regardless of its geographical position and the size of its population.

– What are the prospects for regional business in Ukraine? What hinders its development?

– Regional business is hindered by the fact that entrepreneurs consider their business to be regional. A person who has decided to start a business shouldn’t consider it from the standpoint of its geographical location, but what goods or services they can provide to the greater market, and what to offer potential customers, wherever they live. You shouldn’t be afraid of thinking on a large scale. Additionally, any innovations used by business in the capital are applicable in any region of Ukraine, naturally taking into account the local realities.

– What are the tourism prospects of cities in eastern Ukraine?

– To understand the real prospect for a city’s development as a tourist destination, you must analyze its resources and potential, and find something special that is unique to this city. It’s important to create a brand for the city which reflects its identity.

There are few cities in eastern Ukraine where historical monuments have been preserved, they are industrial centers. But even the most unremarkable industrial town has every chance to become a tourist destination these days. For example, there is the concept of industrial tourism. People will always be interested in how steel is cast, pipes are made, ore is mined, sweets are made and books are printed.

Of course, to make people want to visit your city, it should have clean streets, good roads, green zones, museums and other elements of infrastructure. Look for something special and advertise it well, create your own tourism products, and create the infrastructure at the same time. Tourists are interested in everything that arouse emotions, enrich them culturally, make them feel better and create an emotional anchor, and the desire to tell everyone what they’ve seen.

– What conditions must be created to develop tourism as a business in small towns, so that entrepreneurs see an interest in these types of business?

– You need a program for positioning the city as a tourist destination, and to promote it. This program and the tourism products themselves (excursions, festivals) can create an initial flow of tourists. This will give the signal to small and medium business that they can make money from this.

But the city authorities, along with the tourist cluster, should create conditions to ensure that business does not expend its energy haphazardly, but within a strategy. It should determine the list of sites suitable for reconstruction, green areas for development, and a unified architectural style. The city should have convenient transport junctions.

Investments are an important factor. But investors will not come from outside of their own accord, you need to create conditions and deliberately sell them a certain project. Privileged conditions for local taxes are also a good idea to attract investors.

– In the future, will cities like Nikopol be able to approach the revenues from tourism that are earned by cities in western Ukraine? To level the “weight category”, let’s not take Lvov, but Kamenets-Podolsky, say.

– Cities should not be compared, because some already have a rich historical heritage, while others must restore lost monuments. Nikopol belongs to the second category. Despite its enormous historical significance, the city has few sights that show its Cossack past, and old architectural sites have either been destroyed or are in poor condition, the infrastructure leaves much to be desired, and we will have to start virtually from scratch. But it is encouraging that under the present city administration, for the first time Nikopol has got a sensible program for developing program.

You need to give attention to the city’s visibility. Many people still do not know where Nikopol is, let alone the fact that it was the capital of five Cossack Siches! To start with, we could organize thematic festivals, make use of the capabilities of the Kakhovka reservoir, hold excursions to Cossack sites, and activate industrial tourism.

– Could you apply the experience of Israel, which you often visit? Or perhaps the experience of other countries?

– I can say that Israel didn’t invent anything new, it simply borrowed the experience of European countries. Israel has a rich history and many preserved sites, which in itself provides great possibilities for developing tourism. Here we should rather talk about excellent tourist management and marketing.

Israel created high-quality service, attracted investors who built major chain hotels along the entire coastline, many leisure facilities to suit different tastes, and souvenir shops. You could put it all in three words: history, sea, service. Almost like in Nikopol. History, sea… But service is something we will have to work on.

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