These days, Ukraine pays tribute to the memory of the victims of the mass executions at Babyn Yar. The tragedy happened 79 years ago after the Nazi occupation of Kyiv. Within a few days, the Germans killed almost the entire Jewish population of the city, which did not have time to leave. In the first two days, almost 34,000 people were killed - men, women, children.
"Corridor of death" instead of evacuation from Kyiv
On September 19, 1941, units of German troops entered Kyiv. Immediately after the occupation of the city, the Nazis began to persecute the Jewish population.
The first shootings at Babyn Yar took place on 27 September. The victims were Jews and Jewish prisoners of war, arrested by Wehrmacht patrols, Sonderkommando 4a.
Terrible massacres took place on September 29-30, 1941. In Kyiv, announcements were spread with the order for Jews to gather September 29, at 8 am “at the corner of Melnykova and Dehtiarivska streets (near the cemeteries).” It was ordered to take documents, money, warm clothes, bed linen with them. Rumors spread throughout the city that Jews were being gathered for resettlement.
"They left their dwellings even after dark in order to get early to the train and take their seats. With roaring children, with the old and the sick... Flowerbeds tied with ropes, stripped plywood suitcases, patched baskets, boxes with carpentry tools. Grandmothers carried them, throwing them over the neck, like giant beads, knitting of onions - a supply of provisions for the road," writer Anatoly Kuznetsov recalls in his Babyn Yar documentary novel.
On Monday morning, police began cordoning off the streets along which their victims were supposed to approach to Babyn Yar. The road along which the Jews walked was called the "corridor of death." At first, no one knew what would happen at the end of the route, and then people were trapped.
Those who did not voluntarily leave their apartments were forcibly taken out by German police, sometimes, they were killed on the spot.
The Germans directed the Jews who arrived at the Jewish cemetery to the left to the eastern fence of the nearby military cemetery, where they took away their warm clothes, jewelry, and documents.
The translator told the arriving Jews that their luggage would be delivered by rail. At that moment, many victims realized what awaited them.
People were trapped by a wall of a military cemetery and a police cordon.
At the edge of the site, there were hills, and between them, there were narrow passages through which the Jews were driven to the center of Babyn Yar. There, several SS teams, Sonderkommando 4a and the 45th Police Battalion, distributed along the southern part of the Yar, shot the Jews in the back of the head.
Former driver of Sonderkommando 4a Fritz Hefer called what was happening in Babyn Yar a "conveyor belt:" “It was a conveyor belt that did not distinguish between men, women, and children. Children were left with their mothers and shot along with them. I watched all this for a short time. According to the Memorial Center, 22,000 people were killed during the first day, and about 12,000 during the second.”
According to available data, German troops shot 33,771 Jews in two days. On the evening of September 30, soldiers of the 113th engineer battalion blew up the edges of Babyn Yar to hide the bodies, and then, as shown by a number of German photographs, about a hundred Soviet prisoners of war leveled the surface of the burial site.
Then, until October 11, those who did not appear on the orders were shot – about another 17,000 people.
The murders at Babyn Yar continued after that. In addition to Jews, Roma, Karaites, patients in psychiatric hospitals, underground communists, and Soviet prisoners of war were shot in Babi Yar.
A monument to Ukrainian poet Olena Teliga, who was shot by the Nazis on February 22, 1942, has been erected near Babyn. Yar too The day before, Mykhailo Teliga and the poet Ivan Roshko-Irlyavsky were executed there.
Actress Dina Pronicheva is one of the few survivors of the mass shootings. On September 29, Pronicheva planned to spend her parents and sister, and then return to her husband's home.
She recalls that large masses of people, including old people and children of all ages, were moving along the streets of the city, carrying mainly things and food with them. They were accompanied by their relatives and friends, Ukrainians, Russians, citizens of other nationalities. The streets leading to the gathering place - the area near the cemeteries - were filled.
Dina Pronicheva's parents came forward and got lost in the crowd, she never saw them again.
She managed to escape because she fell from a cliff on the dead bodies before the shot and pretended to be dead. German officers walked over the bodies and checked if there were any survivors, and they stepped on her hand. Dina tried to get out of the Babyn Yar for three days. On the third day, she managed to hide in a barn. However, the owner of the barn informed the Germans about it - and Pronicheva got to Babyn Yar for the second time. This time she was put into a truck, but Dina and her friend Lyubov Shamin managed to jump out somewhere in the Shulyavka area. They hid with the wife of their cousin Dina Pronicheva, and then moved to Darnytsia, which was then a distant outskirt of Kyiv. After the end of the war, in January 1946, Dina acted as a witness at the Kyiv trial, when a number of German officers were tried and executed. There she told about the tragedy of Babyn Yar.
Another one who was lucky enough to survive is Genya Batasheva. She said that at the time of the tragedy in Babyn Yar she was 17 years old. She and her friend approached a German policeman and said that she was actually a Russian woman and asked him to help. The German believed and agreed to hide them in his car.
“I said that we were sisters, the Germans wrote down our address, and then they asked for our last name. And, I thought, we were almost dead then. I said that my surname is Batasheva, and Manya said – Chernetska (we had a neighbor in the yard with such a last name). The Germans were surprised, and I showed them by the gestures that were cousins. In a while, the driver brought me and Manya to the corner of Melnykova Street and let us go," Batasheva recalls.
Tribute to the memory of the Babyn Yar victims
September 29, on the territory of Babyn Yar, the Holocaust Memorial Center opened an audio light installation. The installation is located at least 10 meters from the likely farthest line of the Jewish cemetery.
Visitors will be able to hear the names of those killed in Babyn Yar, fragments from memoirs, testimonies, historical documents, Jewish and Christian religious texts, famous musical works, as well as compositions of outstanding modern Ukrainian and world composers and performers. Some of these pieces of music were specially written for the project of the Babyn Yar memorial center.
The Memorial Center representatives say that today the territory of Babyn Yar is not at all like the site of the tragedy of 1941-1943. The relief has been changed, the cemeteries have been destroyed. There is a park and high-rise buildings nearby.
Memorial Center General Director Maksym Yakover says that for many years, there was a policy of oblivion, and there was even a driving school at Babyn Yar, but now this must change.
The Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center was founded in 2016. It was planned that in 2023 a memorial will be opened in Kyiv. However, work is still ongoing on the concept of the center.
Several controversial issues have already arisen around the center. Firstly, in 2019, Russian director Ilya Khrzhanovsky accepted an offer to become the artistic director of the Memorial - this caused a wave of criticism due to the concept of a psychological experiment. The director also remembered his project "Dau", where it was not entirely legal to film crying babies from the Kharkiv orphanage.
Secondly, the Memorial belongs to Russian oligarchs of Ukrainian origin Mikhail Fridman and German Khan - and the Russian project in Kyiv was dubbed the "Trojan horse."