«Jewish Observer»
June 2002
5762 Sivan

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Tatyana Yevstafyeva is head of the "Babiy Yar" department of Kiev history museum.

Babiy Yar, Babiy Yar...

After WWII this name of a Kiev ravine became a synonym to human tragedy. Babiy Yar in Ukraine and world-wide means significantly more than just a geographical name and one of tragic addresses of WWII mass genocide. In Shoah's chronicles this Kiev locality is an outset for Jewish Holocaust in Europe, a scene of first mass shootings of Jews. Historically Babiy Yar as a place of mass executions existed exactly two years to the day. From September 29, 1941 to September 29, 1943 100 thousand people perished there - Jews, Gypsies, military captives, sailors of the Pinsk navy flotilla Dnieper division, members of underground organizations, OUN activists, "Dynamo" Kiev football team players, all those considered enemies of Third Reich.

During first years past Kiev's liberation Babiy Yar did not change its looks. Local residents would come across burnt bones, belongings, ashes. A question on commemorating the dead emerged at that very time.

March 13, 1945 Sovnarkom and Central Committee of the Communist party of Ukraine passed decision #378 "On erecting a monument on the territory of Babiy Yar". Republican department of architecture submits title lists of monuments to be erected in1946 to Deputy Chairman of Council of Ministers of Ukraine Mykola Bazhan. Monument in Babiy Yar was among others. Its construction was to begin in 1945. Works' cost was estimated in 3 mln. roubles, 1,5mln of which were allocated for 1946. Architect A. Vlasov and sculptor I. Kruglov saw it in the form of a three-edged pyramid of black granite with a bar-relief in the center and a composition resembling Babiy Yar's landscape. But even personal friendship with N. Khrushchev failed to help the authors put their plans to life.

In 1951 the city executive committee decided to start works in clay sand-pits of the Petrovskiye brick plants. Useless strata were mixed with water and driven via pipes to Babiy Yar. Dams were erected to avoid landslides of alluvial soil, wells and branch channels constituted a water drainage system. Relief of the locality was gradually changing. By mid- 1950s some "wise minds" suggested filling up Babiy Yar and constructing a park with attractions there. In response writer Victor Nekrasov came out with an article in the "Literaturnaya gazeta" newspaper to avert blasphemy and to erect a monument to the dead, not a stadium with a park. But filling up Babiy Yar went on, which led to another tragedy. March 13, 1961 liquid pulp broke through a protecting dam, and a huge current of mud masses rushed to Kurenyvka smashing everything on its way. Many buildings of the Krasin depot were destroyed and, what was most awful, people got dead. A desire to turn Babiy Yar into a recreation zone brought about new destructions and victims. The public again raised a question on constructing a monument. In September 1961 poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko published in "Literaturnaya gazeta" his poem "Babiy Yar" which first words were: "No monuments over Babiy Yar...", and in December 1961 we heard Symphony 13 by D.Shostakovich. Its first part was written after Y.Yevtushenko's verses.

Another direction came from above: to announce a contest for the best monument project to time the 25th anniversary of the tragedy. The contest final was scheduled for September 1956 in the hope to complete the construction the following year. This very contest, which we know about very little till now, became a stumbling block in the question on Babiy Yar.

Though the contest was closed for public, many architects presented their projects. Some proposed even two, three projects at once. In public opinion, most interesting ones were memorials suggested by architects I.Karakis and A.Meletsky.

Project by I.Karakis represented seven symbolic ravines of Babiy Yar interconnected with small bridges (the preserved part of Babiy Yar turns into a reserve), a ravine's bottom is covered with red flowers (poppy) and stones as a reminder about the sea of Soviet citizens' blood shed here. He offered 3 variants of the central part of the monument memorial. The first variant - a statue of sorrow about the dead depicting heroism, sufferings, death... Fresh wounds... The second variant - a concrete monument presenting a wall with a through man's silhouette, along the right side of the ramp on a concrete breast-wall were placed mosaic panels of natural granite on the subject of Babiy Yar. The third - a group of turning to stone human bodies in the form of a split tree with a two-storied memorial inside where frescoes by Zinovy Tolkachev were to prevail. To the left from the entrance across a ravine - a memorial museum partially dug into the surface.

The project by A.Meletsky (he lost his mother and grandmother in Babiy Yar) envisaged creating an entire complex which was to begin with a granite block bearing the inscription "Babiy Yar" in several languages and end up in a breast-wall with seven artistic ravines - slopes. Each of them was to have objects within: a violin finger-board, ball, broken pram, umbrella etc. correspondingly.

A monumental project presented by sculptor A.Rybachuk and architect V.Melnichenko named "When the world collapses" was also rather impressive. Discussion of the works was heated. Some insisted on the necessity to depict prisoners of war who had perished in Babiy Yar. Others defended an opinion that seven slopes found in the projects by A.Meletsky and I.Karakis designated a Jewish Menorah - coat-of-arms of Israel. Majority of the officials were inclined to support an idea the Jewish theme as well as death of civil population should be taken away from the memorial.

An opinion book containing entries in support as well as fresh anti-Semitic ones was withdrawn and the contest was annulled. The second contest named "Road, death and revival of life" was announced. The Union of architects gave preference to a monument project depicting a figure with banner. This project was directed to the Secretary of Communist party of Ukraine Petro Shelest to be approved.

P.Shelest failed to catch toadying of the Union of architects and simply said, "I think this is not for Babiy Yar". The 25th anniversary of the tragedy saw no monument on the place of death of tens of thousands of Kievites. Shortly afterwards a stone with the inscription, "A monument to Soviet people-victims of fascist crimes under temporary occupation of Kiev in 1941-1943 will be erected here" was placed on the boundary of Dorogozhitskaya and Melnikov streets.

July 2, 1976, 35 years past the tragedy, upper reaches of Babiy Yar near the Dorogozhitskaya street became home to a monument bearing the words, "To Soviet citizens and prisoners of war-soldiers and officers of the Soviet Army shot dead by German fascists in Babiy Yar". For long it remained the only reminder of the Babiy Yar tragedy.

September29, 1991 a plaque was opened to mark the 50th anniversary of those tragic events. It represents a bronze depiction of Menorah covered with a bas-relief composition on the theme of sacrifice (architect Y. Paskevich, engineer B. Gilder, artists Y. Levich, I. Levich). At the same time additional plaques in Russian and Yiddish were attacked to the monument of 1975. A wooden cross was put near the monument to commemorate OUN activists shot by fascists.

Plaques reflecting various pages of the Babiy Yar tragedy were established: on the corner of streets Dorogozhitskaya and Shamrilo - to prisoners of the Syrets death camp, on the Grekov street 22a - to Kiev football players shot on the same place, on the territory of the Kirillovskaya hospital - to patients shot in 1941-1942. In 2000 near Menorah a cross was put with the inscription, "On this place November 6, 1941 clergymen archimandrite Alexander Vishnyakov and archpriest Pavel were killed for calling to protect Motherland from fascists". September 30, 2001 Babiy Yar saw another plaque to children killed in there (sculptor V. Medvedev, architects R, Kukharenko and Y. Melnichuk).

Considering the significance of Babiy Yar in the history of WWII the city executive committee as early as in 1992 passed decision #26 pursuant to which a museum "Babiy Yar", a branch of the Kiev History museum, should be opened in Kiev. September 30, 2001 a stone was laid in the place of a would-be museum.

G. Avramov writes in the newspaper "Zerkalo nedely" ("Weekly mirror") (# 7 from 1999) that residing now in Germany our countryman, State Prize winner, head of art collectives, which created Bulgakov, Pedagogical and Medicine museum in Kiev, A. Kryzhopolsky gathered enthusiasts who have developed a project of Holocaust monument-museum in Babiy Yar and are ready to commit themselves to its construction: finances, organizational issues and so on.


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