In Ukraine, it’s time for a Holocaust memorial at Babi Yar
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I have heard that there’s a saying in America that there’s no limit on what you can achieve if you don’t worry about who gets the credit. That’s the cooperative spirit that will lead to the success of one of the most important initiatives in Ukraine today: the construction of the Holocaust Memorial Center as the site of the Babi Yar massacre.

Regarding Babi Yar itself, there is no more poignant location in all Ukraine. Located within in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, Babi Yar is a ravine, where starting in September 1941, invading Nazi forces massacred up to 150,000 people.

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Jews were a particular target but not the only target, with the SS Einsatzgruppen slaughtering over 33,000 Jewish men, women and children over just two days, September 29-30. Further massacres took the lives of tens of thousands of Jews, Romani (Gypsies), Ukrainians and members of others nationalities.

 

As the 80th anniversary of the atrocity in 2021 approaches, there is a broad and growing consensus, in Ukraine and abroad, that a fitting memorial is needed. For years, all manner of politicians and government officials have come to Babi Yar to lay flowers, to speak in front of cameras — and then leave until next year. It seemed no one cared much for the condition of the site, which didn’t even have basic visitor amenities or lighting.

That began to change in last few years, when Kiev's mayor Vitaliy Klitchko ordered necessary improvements to set up a park zone, reconstruct reserve areas and so forth.

The Holocaust Memorial Center Babi Yar Foundation, of which I am honored to be a supporter, plans to open a memorial complex by the 2021 anniversary. The foundation's international supervisory board includes the chief rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine Yakov Dov Bleich, musician Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, former President of Poland Aleksander Kwaśniewski, the famous boxer Vladimir Klitchko (Mayor Klitchko’s brother), ex-Vice-Chancellor of Germany Joschka Fischer, shareholders of Alfa Group Mikhail Fridman and German Khan, and other well-known patrons. 

The memorial project is supported not only by the city but also by Ukraine’s central government authorities, which realize that this is an important international project. When completed, the project will only be matched by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

The organizers are careful to avoid the pitfalls that frustrated earlier attempts to erect a memorial, which never got past the laying of a foundation stone. Many different options must be considered, especially with regard to the sensitive issue of construction work on a mass burial site. We will begin to act only when the interests of all parties have been taken into account in order to avoid any conflicts. This is a painstaking and laborious process but a necessary one. In particular, we are working together with Jewish organizations, principally the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress, which includes more than 120 different associations and foundations. The Congress’s president, Vadim Rabinovich, has been an especially great help.

As a matter of principle, we are open to all international partners that support the purposes of the project. As well-known and influential philanthropists have joined this cause, the original concept has gradually evolved into a large-scale international project for the construction of a memorial complex.

It is important that there be no effort to politicize this issue. Discriminating among people on the basis of their race or nationality can only lead to more tragedies. On this very spot, tens of thousands of people were killed simply because of their nationality, language, religion and beliefs. We must constantly remind ourselves, our children and our grandchildren that a person's nationality or citizenship do not matter — only their actions are important. 

One of the steps on the way to our goal was made in late June when we held a conference dedicated to the project in the European Parliament. European Parliament leadership, Parliament members, ambassadors of Ukraine and the United States to the European Union and Ukrainian representatives attended the event. In his opening speech, Vice-President of the European Parliament Ioan Pascu said that such projects serve as the basis for the growth of democratic societies. Other European parliamentarians noted that this was a huge contribution to efforts to support Ukraine in Europe.

Now is the time to realize that projects like the Babi Yar Memorial are occasions for uniting Ukraine and the international community around the tragic lessons of the past, so that such catastrophes will not happen again. Considering the socioeconomic and political tensions not only in Ukraine but throughout the world, the need for such social projects is greatly increasing.

I am confident that the memorial center of the Babi Yar Holocaust will become a symbol of hope and reconciliation in Ukraine and throughout the world. For that reason, we must all strive to unite our efforts to bring this project to a successful conclusion, regardless of our political views, citizenship or nationality.

Pavel Fuks is the founder of the development company Mos City Group and a member of the supervisory board of the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center.


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