.
T

he site of Babyn Yar resides on the outskirts of the sprawling city of Kyiv, Ukraine. A park sits atop this buried ravine where German Nazis murdered more than 100,000 people during WWII. Known as one of Europe’s largest mass graves, Babyn Yar remains hidden for many, its bloody history lost within the ordinary landscape.

Eighty years ago, on September 29 and 30, 1941, Nazis and Ukrainian collaborators murdered nearly 34,000 Jews at this ravine that soon became known as Babyn Yar or Babi Yar in other spellings. An additional 70,000 people died there throughout the years leading into 1944, including Jews, Roma, disabled people, and Ukrainian resistors.

The site resides silently underneath the park just off the Dorohzhychi metro stop. The vast area contains only an array of sporadic memorials to denote the significance of the land and the mass grave tucked within. The Soviet Union sought to extinguish the memory of Babyn Yar during their occupation of Ukraine following WWII. They filled in the ravine, leaving only a section of the deep gully present today. 

“No monument stands over Babi Yar,” wrote Yevgeny Yevtushenko in his notable 1961 poem, 'Babi Yar,' which protests the Soviet expungement. “A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone. I am afraid.”

Soviet forces eventually constructed a monument in 1976 due to the widespread support for Yevtushenko’s poem, but they faced further criticism for refusing to explicitly mention Jewish victims. Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, ushering in a new era where Babyn Yar could be recognized anew without Soviet manipulation. As the country embraced its sovereignty, remembrance for Babyn Yar began to grow.

The site doesn’t have a “Big Mama” statue standing guard and signifying its location like the Motherland Monument above Kyiv’s main WWII museum. Yet, memorials continue to blossom across Babyn Yar today due to heightened efforts to remember. Progress must continue, though; one could still miss its existence. The expanse of the park makes it easy for visitors to disregard the land they walk over, indicating that more needs to be done to spur recognition.

Further plans await Babyn Yar to reinvigorate the buried memories of the atrocity. The Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (BYHMC) finalized plans to build 12 museums across the area. Buildings will include research and education centers along with various memorials and religious/spiritual centers. However, the BYHMC faces controversy despite Ukraine’s government and president supporting the project. Dieter Bogner, a curator on the venture, resigned in protest and likened the memorial plans to a “Holocaust Disney.” Others disagree with the choice of contended Russian filmmaker Ilya Khrzhanovsky as artistic director. Funding from both Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs further ignites concern about Russian involvement.

As Russia amasses troops on Ukraine’s border and threatens invasion, contention towards the BYHMC will likely continue and worsen due to fear of Russian involvement on all fronts. There’s no direct answer on how to best honor past events, especially as security threats loom from the country that originally sought to manipulate the history of the site. But it’s a discourse that must continue so Babyn Yar receives the commemoration it deserves. 

In the endeavor for remembrance, one thing stands clear: Babyn Yar is bound to Ukraine, reflecting the history and geopolitical strains of the country. However, in the struggles of Ukraine’s past and present, resilience always emerges, and efforts to properly remember Babyn Yar will persist even in the face of complications. 

About
Whitney DeVries
:
Whitney DeVries is a Diplomatic Courier correspondent currently pursuing a master’s degree in International Affairs and Global Enterprise at the University of Utah.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

a global affairs media network

www.diplomaticourier.com

Remembering Babyn Yar

Part of the ravine at Babi Yar and the Monument to Soviet citizens and POWs shot by the Nazi occupiers at Babi Yar.

Photo by Jennifer Boyer via Creative Commons license attribution.

February 20, 2022

More than 100,000 people were murdered by Nazis at the Babyn Yar site near Kyiv, Ukraine from 1941-1944. While international efforts are underway to memorialize the site, it remains almost completely unknown- a tragic blind spot that deserves remedying, writes Diplomatic Courier's Whitney Devries.

T

he site of Babyn Yar resides on the outskirts of the sprawling city of Kyiv, Ukraine. A park sits atop this buried ravine where German Nazis murdered more than 100,000 people during WWII. Known as one of Europe’s largest mass graves, Babyn Yar remains hidden for many, its bloody history lost within the ordinary landscape.

Eighty years ago, on September 29 and 30, 1941, Nazis and Ukrainian collaborators murdered nearly 34,000 Jews at this ravine that soon became known as Babyn Yar or Babi Yar in other spellings. An additional 70,000 people died there throughout the years leading into 1944, including Jews, Roma, disabled people, and Ukrainian resistors.

The site resides silently underneath the park just off the Dorohzhychi metro stop. The vast area contains only an array of sporadic memorials to denote the significance of the land and the mass grave tucked within. The Soviet Union sought to extinguish the memory of Babyn Yar during their occupation of Ukraine following WWII. They filled in the ravine, leaving only a section of the deep gully present today. 

“No monument stands over Babi Yar,” wrote Yevgeny Yevtushenko in his notable 1961 poem, 'Babi Yar,' which protests the Soviet expungement. “A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone. I am afraid.”

Soviet forces eventually constructed a monument in 1976 due to the widespread support for Yevtushenko’s poem, but they faced further criticism for refusing to explicitly mention Jewish victims. Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, ushering in a new era where Babyn Yar could be recognized anew without Soviet manipulation. As the country embraced its sovereignty, remembrance for Babyn Yar began to grow.

The site doesn’t have a “Big Mama” statue standing guard and signifying its location like the Motherland Monument above Kyiv’s main WWII museum. Yet, memorials continue to blossom across Babyn Yar today due to heightened efforts to remember. Progress must continue, though; one could still miss its existence. The expanse of the park makes it easy for visitors to disregard the land they walk over, indicating that more needs to be done to spur recognition.

Further plans await Babyn Yar to reinvigorate the buried memories of the atrocity. The Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (BYHMC) finalized plans to build 12 museums across the area. Buildings will include research and education centers along with various memorials and religious/spiritual centers. However, the BYHMC faces controversy despite Ukraine’s government and president supporting the project. Dieter Bogner, a curator on the venture, resigned in protest and likened the memorial plans to a “Holocaust Disney.” Others disagree with the choice of contended Russian filmmaker Ilya Khrzhanovsky as artistic director. Funding from both Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs further ignites concern about Russian involvement.

As Russia amasses troops on Ukraine’s border and threatens invasion, contention towards the BYHMC will likely continue and worsen due to fear of Russian involvement on all fronts. There’s no direct answer on how to best honor past events, especially as security threats loom from the country that originally sought to manipulate the history of the site. But it’s a discourse that must continue so Babyn Yar receives the commemoration it deserves. 

In the endeavor for remembrance, one thing stands clear: Babyn Yar is bound to Ukraine, reflecting the history and geopolitical strains of the country. However, in the struggles of Ukraine’s past and present, resilience always emerges, and efforts to properly remember Babyn Yar will persist even in the face of complications. 

About
Whitney DeVries
:
Whitney DeVries is a Diplomatic Courier correspondent currently pursuing a master’s degree in International Affairs and Global Enterprise at the University of Utah.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.