(FJC.ru) Flanked by the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine and the Chief Rabbi of Zhitomir, the country's chief rabbi, Rabbi Azriel Chaikin, called on state authorities to release 17 Torah scrolls seized from Zhitomir's Chabad-Lubavitch synagogue.

Speaking at a press conference, Chaikin pointed to a Ukraine Department of Internal Affairs report as proof that the state archive falsely accused the Jewish community of damaging the scrolls, leading to their seizure in February. Because the country has not adopted any formal restitution law dealing with former Jewish communal property, the government sees itself as the official caretaker of Torah scrolls and other items that fell victim to the ravages of World War II.

"We understood immediately that this claim could not be asserted," said Chaikin. "Today, I am glad that there is finally evidence that these allegations were fabricated."

Meir Stambler, president of the FJC in Ukraine, demanded the scrolls' immediate return and the government's transfer of legal ownership to the Jewish community. He expanded his call to include the more than 500 other scrolls retained by the state archives.

"Torah scrolls, holy texts for Jews, were taken away from Jewish communities and they must be returned to them," stated Stambler.