The battle for the right to create a Holocaust museum at the location in Kyiv where the Nazis massacred Jews, Babyn Yar (Babi Yar), is proving no less hot than the “live” battles in Donbas.
Two projects, one Ukrainian and the other Russian , are competing for the right to build a Holocaust museum there. While the project backed by Russian-linked oligarchs Mikhail Friedman, Pavel Fuks, and German Khan has already rented land on the site of the massacre, the Ukrainian historians’ project must rely on public support and the protected status of the land.
The competition took a new turn on 19 March 2020 as 30 MPs submitted their draft resolution to parliament forbidding Russian influence over the Babyn Yar memorialization process.
At the same time, a Ukrainian team of historians finally presented their concept for a museum to the parliamentary committee, to underpin the resolution.
Last but not least, the 60th anniversary of the Kureniv Tragedy in Kyiv remembered how Soviets tried to destroy the Baby Yar , flooding it with waste, and why they can’t be glorified by the new Memorial.
The Russian project is indeed a “Trojan horse”, as Yost Zissels, a Ukrainian dissident of Jewish origin and president of the Association of Jewish Public Organizations and Communities of Ukraine, named it.
“[This project comes] more from politics than from culture – from the so-called pobedobesie (victorrage) that Putin has proclaimed at all the crossroads… The role of the Soviet Union in victory, the role of the Soviet army, as if no one else fought against Nazism. This is the basic point today that the policy of today’s Russian leadership is based on,” Zissels said.
Yosyf Zissels, a Ukrainian dissident of Jewish origin and president of the Association of Jewish Public Organizations and Communities of Ukraine. Source: Ukrinform
Problems with the Russian-linked project
As pressure mounts, Russian propaganda may start crying about “the oppression of philanthropists who wanted to commemorate the Holocaust in Ukraine.”
In fact, there are several problems with the Russian-linked project, as MPs see it.
- The land Russian oligarchs rent and plan to use for construction is located literally on the graves of the Jewish cemetery, as was proven in 2020 during excavations. It is not ethical to build anything at that place.
- The appointment of notorious Russian director Khrzhanovskyi as art director of the Russian project turned Holocaust memorialization into Disneyland. According to the presented concept, visitors will participate in psychological experiments and virtual reality simulations (VR); and further immersing themselves by taking the roles of Nazi soldiers, collaborators, or even victims.
- And last but not least, the planned concept of the museum promotes a Russian version of WWII history. Soviet troops are portrayed as innocent, while Ukrainian nationalists who were killed together with Jews in Babyn Yar are not mentioned. Instead, the emphasis is put on members of the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police who in Babyn Yar were responsible for the custody of Jews. This is portrayed as “the crude participation of Ukrainians generally.”
- Read also: “Holocaust Disneyland” on mass graves in Kyiv – result of weak national memory policy
Prisoners of war level the land at Babyn Yar, where the executed lie. Photo: Johannes Helle, October 1941.
Babyn Yar is a ravine in Kyiv, an infamous site where Jews were killed en masse during the German occupation of Ukraine. On 29-30 September 1941, over 33,000 Jews were executed at Babyn Yar. Overall, 100,000 to 150,000 Jews, Ukrainians, Roma, and other peoples were killed at Babyn Yar. The Soviets refused to allow a memorial commemorating the Holocaust and partially destroyed the ravine in 1950s.
- Read also: Jewish survivors of Babi Yar Holocaust massacre recall events, reconstruct exact shooting location