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Intellectual group warns against Russian annexation of Ukrainian historical memory in “Holocaust Disneyland”

Babyn Yar is a ravine in suburban Kyiv, an infamous site of a mass Jewish massacre during the German occupation of Ukraine. On September 29-30, 1941, over 33,000 Jews were led to the ravine and executed. During the overall German occupation, it is estimated that 100,000 to 150,000 Jews, Ukrainians, Roma, and other peoples labeled undesirable by the Germans were killed at Babyn Yar. The Soviets refused to allow a memorial commemorating the Holocaust. Instead, in 1976, they erected a memorial to all the Soviet people killed. Photo: open source
Intellectual group warns against Russian annexation of Ukrainian historical memory in “Holocaust Disneyland”
Amid increasing controversy around a Russian-funded project to memorialize the Holocaust at Babyn Yar in Kyiv, Ukrainian intellectuals from the First of December Group have released a statement dubbing it a violation of Ukraine’s cultural identity akin to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and war in Donbas.

On October 13, 2020, the members of the First of December Group – founded on the 20th  anniversary of Ukraine’s independence referendum – published a statement outlining the dangers posed by the implementation of the private project named Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Centre, dubbed “Holocaust Disneyland,” which is proposed and funded by Russian billionaire businessmen.

The group of Ukrainian intellectuals believes that a project funded by Russian billionaires, while Russian is waging a war against Ukraine, can be neither impartial nor fair-minded.

The members underline that cultural and political memory are an integral part of Ukraine’s sovereignty and identity. Sovereignty and identity depend not only on how well the country’s borders are protected, but also on whether it is able to duly protect its cultural and information space.

The Russian-funded Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial project is not the only one in the limelight. In August 2015, Ukrainian historians and the Cabinet of Ministers launched a project on the comprehensive memorialization of Babyn Yar. Its purpose is to focus on the memorialization of WWII tragedies, in particular Babyn Yar and other tragic events that took place during the German occupation of Ukraine.

“The memory of this tragedy cannot be privatized. Therefore, we consider the implementation of a private project involving money from Russian billionaires – without control of the Ukrainian state, the Jewish-Ukrainian community, and Ukrainian humanitarian and historical institutions – to be a serious violation of Ukraine’s cultural and historical identity, just as Russia’s illegal occupation and annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas are violations of Ukraine’s political sovereignty”, – reads the statement.

Moreover, the members of the First of December Group declare the following:

“Today, Ukraine is the target of both military and information aggression by the Russian Federation. This aggression is mirrored in various attempts to impose the following on Ukraine:

  • a political system (in particular, changes to the Constitution, “special status for the Donbas”, federalization, etc.),
  • a disinformation agenda (through a whole network of pro-Russian media, including TV channels, websites, Telegram channels, troll armies)
  • cultural and historical memory (in particular, Russian versions relating to events during World War II)

Like all sovereign states, Ukraine cannot allow anyone else – let alone the aggressor state or any business associated with the aggressor state – to interfere in the country’s sovereignty and decide or outline its borders, its Constitution, its political and administrative system, and its cultural and historical memory.”

The First of December Group calls on Ukrainian society not to be indifferent to this issue as it is part of Ukrainian history and tradition, both of which constitute the foundation of the modern Ukrainian political nation and of Ukraine’s cultural memory.

The statement was signed by the members of the First of December Group:

Oleksandra Hnatiuk, Volodymyr Yermolenko, Yevhen Zakharov, Yosyp Zisels, Ihor Kozlovsky, Myroslav Marynovych, Ihor Yukhnovsky, Yaroslav Yatskiv.

In May 2020, the Ukrainian cultural and scientific community addressed an Appeal on the memorialization of Babyn Yar to President Zelenskyy, PM Denys Shmyhal and Mayor of Kyiv Vitaliy Klitschko. It was signed by more than 750 persons, including well-known human rights activists, writers, historians, politicians, diplomats, philosophers, educators, scientists, journalists, artists and public figures. It also drew attention to the fact that the Russian-funded Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Centre was established “at the initiative and expense of Russian businessmen”, a fact that is extremely alarming during ongoing Russian military and hybrid aggression against Ukraine.

In September 2020, the Ukrainian-Jewish community also addressed a Statement to Ukrainian civil society. The signatories of the letter – from Ukraine, Israel, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Russia, the USA, France, the Czech Republic – drew the attention of the Ukrainian public to the dangers associated with the implementation of the Russian-funded Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Centre.

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