Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

The concept of a new memorial

An album-catalog about the Babyn Yar tragedy was presented in Kyiv
5 October, 2017 - 11:47
Photo by Borys KORPUSENKO

It is often alleged now that the 21st century is an era of “half-truth,” when basic human values and categories “assume new meanings” (or perhaps lose any meaning?), everything must be interpreted and perceived in the spirit of the postmodernist “relativity” of fundamental principles, and good and evil are covered with a haze of “fuzziness” (who knows what is good and what is evil?).

But it must be clear, especially to young Ukrainians: what was done in Babyn Yar, particularly from September 29 and 30, 1941, when the Nazis shot dead about 30,000 innocent people in two days, is and must always remain in people’s minds as Absolute Evil. This must not depend on the ever-changing political expediency and the whimsical “winds of time.” We presume that these considerations prompted some well-known Ukrainian historians, experts, and public activists to hold the presentation of a new album-catalog – Babyn Yar: Memory against History’s Background – at the Museum of Kyiv History on September 28. This publication is about the crimes we must not forget. Otherwise, we shall be forgotten – forever and quite deservedly.

Those who took part in the event organized by the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance (represented by its head, the well-known historian and political writer Volodymyr Viatrovych), the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies (represented by its director Anatolii Podolsky), and the Museum of Kyiv History (represented by its senior research associate Vitalii Nakhmanovych) are not indifferent people. They discussed how to make an integrative (not corporate, narrowly ethnic, or private) approach to the problem of properly venerating the memory of Babyn Yar victims. Obviously, it is impossible to overestimate the importance of this question.

Mr. Viatrovych particularly emphasized that the presented interactive album-catalog would undoubtedly trigger a lively public debate on both the concept and the concrete content of details. And it is good because Babyn Yar victims must be memorialized with as active participation of the Ukrainian state as possible, for those horrible events are an extremely important component of Ukrainian history. Yes, the Holocaust is an exclusive and terrible part of the tragedy, but, at the same time, Babyn Yar is not confined to the Holocaust alone. Besides, the Holocaust as such is also an integral part of Ukraine’s national history. We should bear this in mind whenever we think of memorializing those killed in Babyn Yar. “And I cannot help noting,” Mr. Viatrovych said, “that the idea of the so-called Memorial Complex ‘Holocaust in the CIS’ [Commonwealth of Independent States. – Ed.], actively endorsed by Marek Siwiec, Mikhail Fridman, German Khan, and Pavel Fuks (the latter three are citizens of Russia), and the non-governmental organization Ukrainian-Jewish Encounter, testifies to a powerful Russian resource.” (Our newspaper has more than once written about this in 2017.)

Mr. Nakhmanovych, a historian and Babyn Yar tragedy researcher, emphasized that the problem is in there being no “algorithm” of interaction between the state, civil society, and experts. Unfortunately, each of these elements works in its own field. One must, above all, understand why and for whom we are doing such things as the international architectural competition of ideas to lay out the memorial park “Babyn Yar – Dorohozhychi Necropolis” and the multimedia exhibition “Babyn Yar: Memory against History’s Background” on which the album is based. It is important to know, Mr. Nakhmanovych added, that the “consumers” in this case will mostly be the people who have nothing to do with those awful events. It is a public space which nobody has the right to turn to their advantage, even if they are descendents of the victims. For it is not a private affair of individuals. And what can the so-called “man in the street” see when he enters this public space? A totally neglected territory. Yes, three alleys were put in good order, but it is only a fraction of the whole Babyn Yar. There is not a single museum that would give a comprehensive account (first all, to school and college students) of what occurred there. Nobody has in fact addressed this problem in 25 years. The main thing was to mark this event on a large scale (with participation of our and foreign presidents, premiers, and minister) once a year. Yes, there is even the National Babyn Yar Preserve, but very few know at least where its boundary is. That’s the end of the “governmental policy”! But we are in bad need of a state-sponsored solution of the problem. There are two aspects: the tragedy of Ukrainian history and the Holocaust tragedy. This should be taken into account when the museum complex is being established, Mr. Nakhmanovych noted. It is necessary to combine both components – the question is how to do this concretely. We are open to discussions and proposals. The interactive and virtual exhibit “Babyn Yar: Memory against History’s Background,” as well as the album-catalog, can be important for framing the concept of a future museum (or two museums).

Mr. Podolsky, director of the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies, focused on the necessity to create an integrated educational resource: firstly, it is a virtual exhibit; secondly, the album-catalog being presented now; thirdly, a manual for teachers, and, finally, a proper-level documentary film. Only a combination of all the components of this educational resource can tell people, first of all young ones, what Babyn Yar means to Ukraine and humankind. And what do we have now? The National Babyn Yar Preserve was established as far back as 2006, but it does not work in fact. Instead, foreign private persons come and say: “We will do everything OK…”


Babyn Yar is about each of us. It is about how to remain human in inhuman conditions. It shows that a human can become more terrible than a beast of prey, and that memory of a tragedy like this must not be “privatized.”