Prominent Jewish figures and themes on coins and banknotes of Ukraine

In recent years, the National Bank of Ukraine has issued dozens of commemorative coins on various topics. Several coins are dedicated to prominent Jewish writers and scientists who lived and worked in Ukraine, as well as religious buildings of Judaism in Ukraine.

Let’s start not with a coin, but with a banknote that was released last in December 2017. This souvenir banknote of 100 karbovanets is a replica of the first Ukrainian banknote issued by the Central Rada a hundred years before. The author of the sketch is the famous artist Heorhii Narbut. The back of the Ukrainian banknote features an inscription in Yiddish—as in the original of 1917.

In November 2012, a ten-hryvnia “Synagogue in Zhovkva” silver coin was issued in honor of the 320th anniversary of the construction of this architectural masterpiece (1692). The Zhovkva synagogue was built in a late Renaissance and Baroque “fortress” style and is one of the largest defensive structures in Europe. The design of this Ukrainian coin was executed by the artist Volodymyr Atamanchuk.

It must be said that the synagogue in Zhovkva was “lucky” twice. The building is depicted not only on a coin, but also on a Ukrainian postage stamp issued in 2016 as part of the series “National minorities of Ukraine. Jews”. The artist was Mykola Kochubey. Unfortunately, the beautiful synagogue in Zhovkva is under the threat of destruction as sufficient funds have yet to be found for necessary repairs.

A five-hryvnia silver coin was minted by the National Bank of Ukraine in 2009 in honor of the 150th anniversary of the birth of the renowned Jewish writer Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916).

The obverse of the coin shows the seal of Sholem Aleichem, and on the right—a fragment of an affectionate cartoon on the writer’s work. The reverse of the coin shows a portrait of Sholem Aleichem and the inscription “Mir Vam” [Peace unto You] and on the left—Rabinovich Sholom. The painters and sculptors who created the design of this coin included Borys Hrudenko, Yuliya Skoblikova, Anatoly Demyanenko, and Volodymyr Atamanchuk.

In 2008, a two-hryvnia commemorative coin was issued in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great physicist Lev Landau, a Nobel Prize winner. The coin was minted from nickel silver.

Lev Landau from 1932-37 headed the theoretical department of the Ukrainian Physical-Technical Institute (UFTI) in Kharkiv, then the capital of Soviet Ukraine. In 1935 he headed the Department of Experimental Physics at Kharkiv University. During the Stalinist repressions at the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology, many of Landau’s friends and colleagues were arrested and shot. The future Nobel laureate was arrested in Moscow in 1938 but miraculously escaped the death sentence.

Speaking of Ukrainian coins in honor of prominent Jews, we can also mention a two-hryvnia nickel silver coin released in 2005 that commemorated the 160th anniversary of the birth of Ilya Mechnikov, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine (1908).

Mechnikov was born in the Kupyansk district of the Kharkiv province to a Jewish mother named Emilia Nevahovich. Mechnikov graduated from Kharkiv University, then worked in Odessa. Today, the Odessa National University of Ukraine is named in honor of Ilya Mechnikov.

Text: Shimon Briman (Israel).
Edited by Peter Bejger.
Photos: National Bank of Ukraine.