Ukrainian president approves Babyn Yar memorial concept

Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center to include several museums and commemoration sites over 150 hectare complex

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky visits a memorial at Babyn Yar in September 2020 (photo credit: BABYN YAR HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL CENTER)
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky visits a memorial at Babyn Yar in September 2020
(photo credit: BABYN YAR HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL CENTER)
The physical and ideological concept for the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (BYHMC), constituting a massively ambitious educational project and commemoration of the Nazi murder of more than 33,000 Jews in a ravine outside Kiev, has been unveiled and approved by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
According to the BYHMC, the complex at the site massacre will cover an area of some 150 hectares and include a dozen buildings to educate the public about the Nazi-era atrocities and memorialize the victims at Babyn Yar and the Holocaust in Eastern Europe.
The project will include a museum; a structure depicting the names of the victims; a museum to commemorate the Holocaust of Ukrainian and Eastern European Jewry more broadly; a religious and spiritual center, including a synagogue, church and mosque; an educational and scientific research center; and a multimedia center, among other structures.
The very first synagogue at the site and an additional exhibition space are scheduled to be completed this year, ahead of the 80th anniversary of the Babyn Yar massacre, which will be commemorated in September.
The massacre was one of the first and worst single massacres during the Holocaust. More than 33,000 Jews were shot dead at the ravine outside of Kiev on September 29 and 30, 1941, after the Nazis conquered the region earlier that month.
In the following months, the Nazis shot and murdered tens of thousands of non-Jews at the same location, including Soviet prisoners of war, Soviet civilians, Roma and others, with some 100,000 people perishing at the site in total during the two-year Nazi occupation of Kiev.
Last September, Ukraine’s government, represented by Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko, under the auspices of President Volodymyr Zelensky, signed a memorandum of understanding and cooperation with BYHMC, represented by Supervisory Board member Ronald S. Lauder, to promote the construction of a fitting memorial to the Babyn Yar tragedy.
Last month, BYHMC presented its plans for the memorial center to Zelensky and Tkachenko. Zelensky welcomed the plans and instructed Tkachenko to promote the opening of a synagogue and additional exhibition space in the complex during this year, which marks 80 years since the Babyn Yar massacre.
Zelensky has given his approval to the plans and described the center as critical for memorializing the Holocaust.
“The Babyn Yar massacre and the Holocaust of the Jews of Ukraine are an important and tragic chapter in the history of our country,” he said. “As Europe’s largest mass grave, Babyn Yar represents unimaginable destruction. Thanks to these plans, it will become a place of peace, reflection and tranquility.”
The artistic concept for the museum complex is being formulated by BYHMC artistic director Ilya Khrzhanovsky, best known as a film director, in cooperation with several international experts in museum development.
Khrzhanovsky said the project would see the construction of a museum complex “expanding across the entire territory where one of the greatest tragedies of the Holocaust took place” and would be “a place of commemoration and learning, of observation and doubt... It will transform a place of killing and destruction into a sacred space. It is designed in a way that everyone can connect to a life that was and is no longer. The construction of this complex will keep the story of the Jews of Ukraine and Eastern Europe alive.”
Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center’s Supervisory Board and who was born in the Ukraine, said he knew nothing about the Babyn Yar massacre during his childhood due to the Soviet policy of suppressing memory of the tragedy after World War II.
“The concept which was presented is both very interesting and amazing,” Sharansky said. “It demonstrates how both the museum and educational center will not only be high quality, but at the same time different from many other Holocaust centers. As such, it will help fill a vacuum in the field of Holocaust studies.”