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Flyer telling Ukrainian Jews to register, pay fine is likely a hoax or extortion scheme

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Flyers in Donetsk, Ukraine telling Jewish residents they need to register and pay a fee to pro-Russian separatists are likely a hoax or extortion scheme, TIME reports.

The news spread on Wednesday via a small local website based in eastern Ukraine. The site claimed that three masked men were passing out anti-Semitic flyers outside of a synagogue, which ordered Jewish residents to register with a militia, show proof of property they own, and pay a fee of $50 in U.S. currency. Eventually, the story made its way to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who told reporters in Geneva, "In the year 2014, after all of the miles traveled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable, it's grotesque. It is beyond unacceptable."

TIME points out that the evidence is leaning toward this all being propaganda or a badly thought out extortion plot. The signature at the bottom of the flyer is "the People's Governor of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin," but the actual man who calls himself the "People's Governor" is Pavel Gubarev. Pushilin has already stated that he has nothing to do with the flyer, telling Russia Today, "in reality, this is a fake, and a pretty unsuccessful one. It was all done with Photoshop."

An organizer who supports the unity of Ukraine told TIME that he believes the flyers are being used by a splinter group of separatists who are looking for money. As for the local Jewish community, no one has any plans to register or pay a fine. "It looked like a pretty stupid provocation," Larissa Loyko, a representative of the Jewish Foundation of Ukraine, said. "But this is not the kind of matter that can be turned into a prank. Someone will have to answer for this."