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Kyiv honors memory of 34,000 killed in first days of Holocaust in Babi Yar

At the procession on 1 October 2017. Photo: Alya Shandra
Article by: Alya Shandra
The first mass executions of the Holocaust started in Kyiv on 29 September 1941, 10 days after it was occupied by the Nazis. First, the patients of the psychiatric hospital were shot, then the Romani, Jews, Ukrainian nationalists, and other groups. During the first days, over 34,000 Kyivan Jews were brutally murdered in a ravine on the outskirts of the city. The executions continued until the city was liberated from Nazis. Altogether, 120,000 people were executed in a ravine which is now hidden under a street and a park which was literally built on bones.

On 1 October 2017, an event to honor their memory took place in the Podil part of the city, where many Jews lived and from where they went on their final death journey. Participants of the Jewish and Roma communities, the righteous and witnesses of Babi Yar, Kyiv schoolchildren and authorities took part in a procession organized by the International Community of Sant’Egidio, a Christian organization focusing on serving the needy. Among the participants were delegates to the 5th International Congress “Youth of Europe for a world without violence,” which took part in Krakow-Auschwitz in September 2017.

“Babi Yar is not a distant story, not a ‘stranger,’ only Jewish tragedy, this is a part of the history of our city, our history,” the organizers wrote in the description of the event, hinting at the fact that Ukraine has yet to start digesting the extent of the tragedy of the Holocaust. 1.5 mn Jews were killed on the territory of Ukraine during World War II, with most being shot in mass executions outdoors, like in Babi Yar. During the Soviet times that followed, the reality of the Holocaust was swept under the rug, as Jews were branded as anti-Soviet “cosmopolites.” Neither was it addressed in the years of Ukraine’s independence: discussions about a Holocaust memorial at Babi Yar are only taking place now. This is a shame, as there are few living witnesses of the events left. This is also absurd: over 100 memorials to the Holocaust in Babi Yar exist around the world, but not a single one in Babi Yar itself.

Discussions about such a memorial are especially timely now, as Head of the Kyiv Sant’Egidio Community Yuriy Lifanse said at the commemoration: the tragedy of Babi Yar happened because of the war, and demons of hatred come to live at time of war. This is especially important for Ukraine now, as its undeclared war with Russia drags into the fourth year, bringing all the bitterness and callousness that a war can bring with it.

Right now, activities to establish a Holocaust memorial in Babi Yar are being undertaken by the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, which on 29 September held a memory march titled “History matters” at Babi Yar.

You can find out more about Babi Yar in the video they created:

/Photos by Alya Shandra


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