A monument to Holocaust victims and 240 Jewish graves have been defaced with swastikas in southern Ukraine, an activist with a local Jewish community said Tuesday.

Unidentified vandals desecrated the Holocaust Monument late Sunday with red swastikas and with the inscription "Congratulations on the Holocaust" and painted swastikas on 270 graves in a Jewish cemetery in the Black Sea port of Odessa, said Boleslav Kapulkin, a spokesman for Odessa's Jewish community.

"It is awful. They insulted all Ukrainians and hurt Ukraine's image," Kapulkin told The Associated Press.

The monument was erected at the site where thousands of Jews were killed and burned by the Nazis between 1941-1944. Kapulkin said police launched a probe into the vandalism.

Ukraine is home to about 100,000 Jews. Hundreds of thousands of Jews perished over the centuries in pogroms staged by Ukrainian nationalists, and millions died during the Holocaust.