Photo Credit: Timon91
By Irelan Fletcher
On Tuesday, March 1st, Ukrainian officials and the State Emergency Service confirmed that five people were killed after a Russian airstrike hit Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. The projectile was aimed at the main radio and television tower in Kyiv, close to the Babyn Yar Memorial—a Holocaust memorial placed at Babyn Yar to commemorate the murder of Jews at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. Babyn Yar is one of the largest Holocaust memorials in the world, holding great significance to the Jewish community in Ukraine. It was reported that no damage had been done to the memorial or to the large menorah—a newly built synagogue. However, the message of the airstrike is clear, the intentional erasure of the Jewish community of Ukraine.
The airstrike, which was as proximate as 1,000 feet to the Holocaust memorial, is consistent with efforts by Russian leader Vladimir Putin to erase Ukraine’s historical connection to the Holocaust. Putin has employed the “denazification” of Ukraine as a justification for his invasion and subsequent war. Putin went as far as to call Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, “a neo-Nazi”. Quite the opposite however, there exists a robust Jewish community in Ukraine, including President Zelensky himself, with family members who died in the Holocaust. The airstrike is reminiscent of Soviet Union dreams of an Empire—the same dreams now being revived by Putin—which hold a shadow effect of devastating wars of the past. The chair of the Babyn Yar’s advisory board, Natan Sharansky, believes Putin wants to “distort and manipulate the Holocaust to justify an illegal invasion of a sovereign democratic country.”
President Zelensky remarked on Twitter, “What is the point of saying ‘never again’ for 80 years, if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site of Babyn Yar? At least 5 killed. History repeating…”. President Zelensky’s remarks reflects a growing sentiment among Jewish communities globally that the airstrike was an intentional and deliberate attack. The intention being to stir fear within the Jewish community in Ukraine. Additionally, President Zelensky’s words illustrate the importance of Babyn Yar to members of the Jewish community both in Ukraine and throughout the world.
The bombing of Babyn Yar has drawn international attention. In a show of support for the people of Ukraine, Jewish communities and institutions around the world have publicly condemned the bombing, including the Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, and the U.S. Holocaust Museum. The Yad Vashem Memorial issued a statement calling on the international community to “safeguard civilian lives as well as these historical sites because of their irreplaceable value.” At the same time the U.S. Holocaust Museum expressed outrage at “the damage inflicted on the Babyn Yar memorial by Russia’s attack today.”
Babyn Yar holds precious significance, as thousands turn to it to honor the estimated 70,000 to 100,000 Jews who were killed at the site during World War II under Hitler’s Third Reich. The attack signifies an attempt to dismiss the horrific events that occurred at the location of the most prominent Nazi massacre. In addition, the attack further contributes to the erasure of the Ukrainian Jewish community and their history. At the onset of the invasion, there were an estimated 43,000 Jews living in Ukraine. Fearing persecution, many of them have fled from their homes to seek refuge in other countries. As the conflict in Ukraine unfolds, there remains hope that the international community will come together to provide protections for those fleeing and to combat the fear and fighting meant to silence them.