Sephardic Jews in Central, Eastern, and Southern Ukraine
by Kevin Alan Brook

in ZICHRONNOTE, newsletter of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society,
volume 39, number 2 (May 2019)
on pages 14-15

      Descendants of Sephardic Jews settled in a great many areas of Ukraine that became part of the Russian Empire late in the 18th century. Long before then, there had been many Jewish migrations in a west-to-east direction from Poland into western and central Ukraine. Southern areas of mainland Ukraine were settled relatively late by Jews of Ashkenazi and Sephardic descent; those Jews came from elsewhere in the Pale of Settlement, including by migrating south from Belarus and Latvia.

      The Spanish Jewish surname Abarbanel was held by Jewish families from the central Ukrainian city of Kiev (modern Kyyiv) as well as from Chernigov (modern Chernihiv, northeast of Kiev) and Mena (east of Chernigov). A Jewish family in the city of Poltava (302 km southeast of Kiev) was named Barbanel. A member of JewishGen’s Family Finder database lists Abravanel from the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa as an ancestral family. They all possibly descended from the original Abarbanels, as Cecil Roth suggested.

      According to the 1895 business directory Vsia Rossiya, a Jewish man with the Russified Sephardic surname Abugov worked in the fabric and grocery businesses in the town of Orekhov (today’s Orikhiv, which became a city in 1938) in the Berdyansk district in Taurida province, now in southeastern Ukraine. Osher Osipovich Abugov was born into a Jewish family in Orekhov in 1899 and went to school there too. His father, Iosif Abugov, was a merchant. Osher served in a number of assignments in the Soviet Union from 1918 to 1937, including in leadership positions in the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), until he was removed from office in 1937, arrested later that year, and sentenced to death by the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR in 1938 as part of Joseph Stalin’s Great Purge. An 1893 census by I. V. Kankrin listed Gersh Abugov as a member of a Jewish agricultural colony in Yekaterinoslav province, now in southeastern Ukraine.

      Aleksandr Abugov was born to Jewish parents in Odessa in 1913 and later lived in Kirovograd (today’s Kropyvnytskyi, a city in central Ukraine). Previously a locksmith and fencing instructor, Aleksandr’s life changed dramatically after Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, although he had already served in the Soviet army before it. Starting in 1941, Aleksandr served in Soviet anti-Nazi resistance army forces, at first as a second lieutenant and later as a commander of a unit of partisans. At one point, the Nazis captured Aleksandr as a prisoner of war, but he pretended to be an ethnic Russian and managed to escape their clutches. Had he not done so, the Nazis would have killed him, just as they killed other Jewish prisoners of war. In 1944, Aleksandr became ill, so he was transferred out of his partisan unit.

      Efrus, Efrussi, Efros, and Efrosman are among the surnames that Alexander Beider identified as deriving from the Sephardic surname Efrati from late Medieval Spain. Some Jewish individuals living in Kiev were born with the surname Efrosman. In Odessa, from 1880 until 1900, there were two Jewish children born with the surname Efros and five with Efrus. The Jewish Ephrussi family has had many prominent members in many European countries. Their common ancestor was Chaim Efrussi, who was born in 1792 in Berdichev (modern Berdychiv) in west-central Ukraine. Chaim moved to Odessa, changed his name to Charles Joachim Ephrussi, and became involved in the wheat and oil industries. Chaim’s first son, Leonid Efrussi (later Léon Ephrussi), was born in Berdichev in 1826, while his other three sons and two daughters were born in Odessa. Chaim and his sons Leonid, Ignace, Maurice, and Michel opened banks called Ephrussi in Odessa, Vienna, and Paris. Ignace had the Palais Ephrussi built for himself and his family in Vienna in the 1860’s. The Nazis seized Palais Ephrussi in 1938 and stole its works of art and literature. Ignace’s son Viktor Ephrussi and Viktor’s son Rudolf Ephrussi owned it at the time but were able to leave Austria, with Viktor moving to England. Jews named Efrussi had also lived in Galician Ukraine and Galician Poland, and Rudolf von Granichstaedten-Cerva believed that the family previously lived in Greece.

      Beider told me that he found the Sephardic surname Curiel under the spelling Kuriel among Jews in Odessa circa 1900. According to Yelena Zhalkovsky, they had been there decades earlier: Sophie (Sonya) Kuriel was born circa 1862 in Odessa and married fellow Odessite Moshko Zhalkovskiy. The Curiels originated in Castile, Spain.

      Portugalov, a variant of Portugal, was used as a surname by Jewish families in Kiev and Poltava. According to Beider, the surnames Portigula, Partigula, and Partygula could possibly mean Portugal as well. Portigula and Partigula were found among Jews in the Uman district, while Partygula was found in the Kamenets-Podolskiy district. Jewish families with the surname Portugalo evidently lived in Talne, a city within the Uman district’s Cherkasy Oblast in central Ukraine. Beider also located the surname Portigal (another variant of Portugal) among Jews in the city of Balta in southwestern Ukraine.

      As for disputed Ashkenazi surnames resembling the Sephardic surname Maimon, Ilya Majman and Usher Majman were apartment-dwellers in Berdichev as of 1906, while the merchant Movsha-Zel’man Mejman was living in Radomysl’ (modern Radomyshl’) in central Ukraine as of 1907.

      A particular branch of the paternal (Y-DNA) haplogroup R-M269 (R1b1a2) may be suggestive of a Sephardic origin, since it is shared at least at the 37-marker level by a New Mexican Hispano whose paternal-line ancestor was from Santa Fe and by Ashkenazi Jews, including one whose paternal-line ancestor lived in Kiev and another whose paternal-line ancestor lived in the industrial city of Kremenchuk, which is likewise in central Ukraine, 258 km southeast of Kiev.

      The maternal (mtDNA) haplogroup U6a7a1b was characterized as a “Sephardic Jewish cluster” in a 2014 study by Bernard Secher and his six co-authors. Within GenBank and Family Tree DNA and from samples Secher’s team gathered itself, this haplogroup has been found among Ashkenazi Jews from multiple central and eastern European regions as well as among two Spaniards (one from Jaen in south-central Spain, the other from an unspecified town but declaring knowledge of Jewish roots), a Mexican, a Cuban from Havana, a person from Algeria, and a person from southern Italy. Several carriers of U6a7a1b descend from Ukrainian Jewish maternal-line ancestors and one of these people (William Gerald Katz, GenBank sample DQ856317) specified Kiev as the place where his maternal-line ancestress (Chaje Chiprin, born in 1850) lived. Secher estimated “1,500 years ago” for the coalescence time for U6a7a1b having emerged as a descendant branch of U6a7a1.

      Special thanks to Debra Katz for giving me permission to name her late father and his ancestress as relevant carriers of U6a7a1b.


      Alexander Beider, A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire, 2nd edition, New Jersey: Avotaynu, 2008.
      Alexander Beider, “Exceptional Ashkenazic Surnames of Sephardic Origin”, Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy, Winter 2017, pages 3-5.
      Dennis Breiter, comments at on 10 March 2014.
      Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010., Family Finder, Odessa Birth Indices, and Vsia Rossiya databases.
      I. V. Kankrin, Yevreyskie sel’skokhozyaystvennie kolonii Yekaterinoslavskoy gubernin, Pechatnya S. P. Yakovleva, 1893.
      N.K.O. (People’s Commissariat of Defense), document issued to Aleksandr Abugov on 20 April 1944, housed in the Ghetto Fighters’ House Archives, Catalog Number 39216.
      Nikita Vasil’evich Petrov and Konstantin Vladislavovich Skorkin, Kto rukovodil NKVD, 1934-1941: Spravochnik, Zvenia, 1999.
      Mike Potegal, comments at on 25 November 2013.
      Cecil Roth, “Abrabanel, Abravanel”, in Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd edition, Detroit, Michigan: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007.
      Bernard Secher, Rosa Fregel, José M. Larruga, Vicente M. Cabrera, Phillip Endicott, José J. Pestano, and Ana M. González, “The history of the North African mitochondrial DNA haplogroup U6 gene flow into the African, Eurasian and American continents”, BMC Evolutionary Biology, May 19, 2014, including Supplement 1 at
      Bernard Secher, “U6 mtDNA: Results”, Family Tree DNA,
      Shmuel Spector, “Abugov, Aleksandr”, in Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, volume 1, New York: Macmillan Library Reference USA, 1995, page 3.
      Rudolf von Granichstaedten-Cerva, “Ephrussi”, in Altösterreichische Unternehmer: 110 Lebensbilder, Vienna, Austria: Bergland-Verlag, 1969, pages 30-31.
      Yelena Zhalkovsky, “Zhalkovsky Web Site”, MyHeritage.

Kevin Alan Brook is the author of The Jews of Khazaria, Third Edition (2018), whose tenth chapter discusses Jewish origins and migrations, and is a genetic genealogy consultant specializing in using autosomal DNA to track Sephardic descendants around the world. His previous articles in the Sephardic series appeared in the May 2016, August 2016, February-May 2017, and February-May 2018 issues of ZichronNote.

April 2023 update: At least one Jewish family in Odessa had the surname Abuev (another variant of the Sephardic surname Abohab) according to Alexander Beider's A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire. Meanwhile, the spelling Abugov was also encountered among Jews in Kiev.

Other articles in this series:
Sephardic Jews in Galitzian Poland and Environs
Sephardic Jews in Lithuania and Latvia
Sephardic Jews in Central and Northern Poland
Sephardic Jews in Belarus

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