Soviet prisoners of war covering a mass grave. Photo: Johannes Hähle, a German propagandist during World War II.

80 years ago, thousands of mostly jews were murdered in a Kyiv ravine. The event, later dubbed Babyn Yar, was the largest mass execution during the Holocaust. Starting yesterday, Ukraine will mark the massacre for the coming week. Babyn Yar has become the symbol of the holocaust in Ukraine and is a deep part of local Jewish culture.

On September 29-30, around 34,000 Jews were gathered in a ravine in Kyiv, where they were shot dead and stuffed into mass graves. It marked the beginning of a week long massacre that killed around 100,000 people. The victims were mostly Jews, but also mentally ill, Soviet prisoners of War, Romas and others were taken away.

Yesterday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy marked the anniversary with a speech at the Babyn Yar memorial.

“Babyn Yar. Two short words that sound like two short shots, but carry long and horrible memories of several generations. Because they know and remember that, unfortunately, not two shots were fired in Babyn Yar, but hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of times more,” Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

“Today, depending on age and education, someone will hear these two terrible words and these terrible numbers again, and someone for the first time. They will hear the fact that 80 years ago, on September 29, 1941, the Nazi invadrs began mass executions in Babyn Yar. The fact that in the next two days they killed almost 34,000 people. The fact that in the next two years in Babyn Yar, the Nazis, according to various estimates, executed from 100 to 200 thousand people. In addition to Jews, they were Ukrainians and Roma, prisoners of war, and patients from a psychiatric hospital. The fact that a total of at least six million Jews have fallen victim to the Holocaust in Europe. And that one and a half million of them, i.e. every fourth killed, were from Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said.

More events to come

More events of remembrance is planned for the coming week, according to Kyiv Post. On October 3, Sunday, activists will walk a March of Remembrance following the route that the victims took leading up to the massacre.

On October 5, the Babyn Yar Memorial Center will host a conference about the mass shooting while also opening an exhibition called “The Faces of the Babyn Yar People.” There will also be a premiere of the documentary “Babyn Yar. Context” by the Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa.

October 6 will be the largest commemoration. At a ceremony with Zelenskyy, the President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the President of Israel Isaac Herzog will unveil a memorial sculpture called the Crystal Wall of Crying by Marina Abramovich.

A new law on Anti-Semitism

There are still problems with the rights of the Jewish community in Ukraine. Of course, it does not compare with the Holocaust, but there are frequent cases of vandalism targetting Jewish graves around Ukraine and other incidents.

However, progress is being made. A week ago, Ukraine banned anti-semitism. Hate speech directed at Jews, their property, religious buildings, or communities is now prohibited, and the law also defines new punishments for antisemitism, allowing victims to claim compensation for both material and moral damage.