Babi Yar

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The site on the outskirts of Kiev of one of the worst massacres of Jews that the Nazi "Einsatzgruppen" ever perpetrated during the pre-death-camp phase of the Holocaust

>More background info

>What there is to see


>Access and costs

>Time required

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More background info: Kiev had (and to a lesser degree still has) one of the oldest, largest and historically most important Jewish communities in the world. When Germany pushed forward during its invasion of the then Soviet Union and reached Kiev in September 1941, this Jewish community predictably became a target for the Nazis' genocidal zeal (and about 50,000 had not fled before the arrival of the Germans).
At that time, the "common practice" was still that of SS "Einsatzgruppen" rounding their victims up, herding them to mass graves and shooting them en masse. (The systematic "industrialized" killing centres of the Operation Reinhard death camps came later).
Babi Yar is the very worst example in terms of the scale of the killings. On 29 and 30 September, Kiev’s Jews were first rounded up (under a vaguely veiled pretext of deportation to somewhere else). But instead they were marched to a ravine outside the city, namely Babi Yar, where they were forced to undress and then line up in "batches" at the edge of the ravine, where they were then mowed down by machine guns. This two-day killing spree is regarded as the single largest massacre of its kind. 33,771 were murdered – this exact figure was even recorded by the perpetrators. After the killing was done, the mass graves containing heaps of corpses were covered with earth.
But it wasn't the end yet. More executions were carried out at Babi Yar until the Germans had to give up their occupation of Kiev. The victims were more Jews but also Roma and Soviet political prisoners. There are no precise figures available regarding the number of later victims, estimates vary widely between ca. 50,000 and over 200,000.
As with other sites of their mass killings, the Nazis sought to cover it up when they realized they had to retreat. So, almost two years after the initial massacre, Sonderkommandos were forced to exhume the corpses at Babi Yar and burn them on makeshift racks made of railway tracks (the same practice as was later employed in the death camps in eastern Poland).
Still, at least the initial massacre was well recorded – and there had even been survivors who were able later to report what they had witnessed. In the Nuremberg Trials, Paul Blobel, the SS commander ("Standartenführer") primarily responsible for the Babi Yar massacre, was sentenced to death and hanged. Many of his accomplices, however, including Ukrainians, got off free (as all too often was the case).
Babi Yar was the site of yet another tragedy, this time an accident which resulted in a massive mudslide, after a dam constructed at Babi Yar broke in 1961. Officially 146 were killed in the mud flow, but it's alleged that it could actually have been up to 2000.
What there is to see: not so much, but the site itself and the memorials at the site are sobering enough if you know what happened here.
In a meadow close to today's metro station, stands the youngest monument commemorating Babi Yar – the 2001 children's monument, which in a strange way is both sad and sweet at the same time. It's a group of bronze statues, one child is raising its arms to heaven, another is standing upright but looks as if she is sleepwalking, and next to her a clown-like figure with pointed hat and ruche collar is slumped by her leg like an abandoned doll.
At the actual site of the massacre, stands a larger monument (put here in 1991) – a bronze sculpture in the shape of an oversized Menorah standing on a plinth, flanked by memorial plaques in Hebrew and Ukrainian. There's also a newer memorial stone in English (also from 2001). Behind the Menorah, in the forest, you can just about make out the depressions in the ground that must have been the ravine.
Further south, on the other side of the metro station, there's also a much older, monumental Soviet-era memorial, which is typically more drastic and at the same time inadequate in that it hushes up the fact that most of the victims were Jews, instead only commemorating the "Soviet citizens and POWs" shot by the Nazis.
Furthermore, there are several more smaller monuments around Babi Yar, wooden crosses or stones, in memory of certain individuals or groups of victims. A bit further east along Melinkova lies a large Jewish cemetery (a few hundred yards from the metro station and the Children's and Soviet memorials), it's just at the foot of the TV Tower.
Allegedly there are vague plans for a museum at the site, but nothing has yet come of this (as far as I can tell).
When I visited the site at the end of September 2006 it was of course the anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre – and the place was crowded with (mostly) Jewish visitors gathered for memorial services. They collected what must have been every last loose pebble in the area for the common practice of placing them in piles at the memorials.
It was a strange sight: half the crowd scouring the undergrowth in the forest for any pebbles that may be left on the ground, the other half gathered in throngs around the Menorah monument. Sentimental Jewish music was played by a small live band. Many mourners waved flags and there was a lot of walking about and chatting. It gave the whole atmosphere an almost festive twist. At other times, especially in winter the site is quiet and feels really quite remote.
Towering over the district is Kiev's distinctive 1260 foot (385 m) TV Tower, not exactly a beauty but remarkable for being the tallest free-standing lattice steel structure in the world (but not open to the public).
Location: in the north-western outskirts of Kiev, in Babyn Yar park.
Google maps locators:
Actual site and Menorah monument: [50.476,30.458]
Children's memorial: [50.47422, 30.44958]
Old Soviet monument: [50.4713, 30.4493]
Access and costs: not central but quite easy to get to by metro; sites freely accessible at all times.
Details: to get to Babi Yar take the green line metro from central Kiev to Dorohozhychi station (it used to be the terminus but the line's been extended) – only two stops from the Golden Gate ('Zolotoi Vorota'), three from the Palats Sportu. But it's still way out – the distances between Kiev's metro stops are unusually long!
In contrast the fares are minuscule by Western standards: the flat fare for a metro ride of any length has apparently been increased to 2 UAH (used to be a mere 0.50), but that's still nothing, really, only about 8 Euro cents (as in June 2015)! You have to buy plastic tokens from either ticket offices or machines and insert them at the gates. Wait for the green light before proceeding.
At Dorohozhychi station either take the southern exit to go to the older Soviet memorial first – just across the street at the far end of the park opposite. Or take the northern exit and walk straight up the tree-lined meadow to the Children's monument.
At the far end of this more open area, a path branches off to the right and leads through the forest to the Menorah monument by the old ravine (and the other monuments), just past some old factory buildings and an open space, from where you can see the TV Tower piercing the sky. 
Access to all the monuments is free, round the clock (but it only really makes sense in daylight hours).
Time required: walking around the park area and taking a look at all three main monuments takes about half an hour to an hour, depending also on how long you would like to linger at the respective sites.
Combinations with other dark destinations: see Kiev..
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see Kiev.
  • Babi Yar 01 - main Soviet monumentBabi Yar 01 - main Soviet monument
  • Babi Yar 02 - it is hugeBabi Yar 02 - it is huge
  • Babi Yar 03 - and very Soviet indeedBabi Yar 03 - and very Soviet indeed
  • Babi Yar 04 - plaqueBabi Yar 04 - plaque
  • Babi Yar 05 - a dusting of snow, in December 2013Babi Yar 05 - a dusting of snow, in December 2013
  • Babi Yar 06 - monumentBabi Yar 06 - monument
  • Babi Yar 07 - children monumentBabi Yar 07 - children monument
  • Babi Yar 08 - with a few flowers in December 2013Babi Yar 08 - with a few flowers in December 2013
  • Babi Yar 09 - overflowing with flowers in September 2006Babi Yar 09 - overflowing with flowers in September 2006
  • Babi Yar 10 - the main menorah monument on 30 September anniversary 2006Babi Yar 10 - the main menorah monument on 30 September anniversary 2006
  • Babi Yar 11 - menorah in winter 2013Babi Yar 11 - menorah in winter 2013
  • Babi Yar 12 - 60th anniversary memorial stoneBabi Yar 12 - 60th anniversary memorial stone
  • Babi Yar 13 - Kiev TV tower nearbyBabi Yar 13 - Kiev TV tower nearby


©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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