abi Yar


September 29-30, 1941 & June 21, 2002

Note: We have tried to use the Ukrainian spelling (or rather, transliteration) for the names of people and places in Ukraine. Sometimes, however, as with Kiev, the Russian version has become a kind of standard and so we have used it instead.

Ukrainian Flag

There is a ravine at Babi Yar that, as Abraham Lincoln might have said, the world would little note except for the attrocity committed there by the conquering Nazis.

In 1939 Germany and the USSR signed a non-agression pact and divided Poland between them. In 1941 one dictator broke his word and attacked the other. A few months later, German troops reached Kiev and in September of that year the Jewish poplulation was told to report to a then rural area about 5 km from the center of Kiev. They did and over two days, September 29-30, 1941 about 33,000 were slaughtered. Their bodies were thrown into the ravine of Babi Yar. 

After WWII the events as described so far became known to experts but not the general public. But in 1961 Russian poet Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Yevtushenko,  (1933- ),  wrote about  Babi Yar; it was an impassioned attack against both World War II Nazi and contemporary Soviet anti-Semitism. This became famous in the west as much because Yevtushenko was a dissident as anything else.

When we arrived in Kiev we didn't have Babi Yar in mind. Jan, of course, knew of Yevtushenko's poem from her Russian studies, but didn't realize it was located near Kiev. Gerry did know, but would have guessed that it was much further than 5 km from the center of the city. Thus it came as a surprise in examining the map to find it so close and, furthermore, to find it was just a few hundred meters from a Metro station -- the city had grown so that a once remote spot is now within easy reach of its heart. We decided at once to visit, but in fact did not do so until after we had made our excursion to Korosten - Narodichi .

There is little to remind one today of the atrocities that took place over sixty years ago. This, in spite of the large monument to the dead. The ravine has been mostly filled in. The busy avenue not so far away prevents there being any sense of solemnity. One is left to one's own resources to contemplate these horrible crimes..

Updated September 21, 2002