Babyn Yar (or Babi Yar)
At the end of September of 1941, the Nazi occupiers of Kiev in the Ukraine put up notices to say that all Jewish residents of the city were to report at 08h00 on 29 September with their papers, valuables and basic clothing.
“Translation of the document: All Jews of the city of Kiev and its environs must appear on Monday, September 29, 1941, by 8:00 AM on the corner of Melnіkov and Dokterivsky streets (near the cemetery). You are to take your documents, money, valuables, warm clothes, linen etc. Whoever of the Jews does not fulfill this order and is found in another place, shall be shot. Any citizen who enters the apartments that have been left and takes ownership of items will be shot.”
Most of them will have thought that they were being deported, and were readying themselves for a long train ride. Others might have expected worse, but I doubt that any actually thought it would be as bad as it actually turned out.
By the end of the following day over 33’000 of these residents would be dead. Shot at the edge of a ravine.
At the appointed time there were masses of people at the appointed spot. Within a relatively short time they found themselves at the front of the long queue at a checkpoint where they were asked to leave their bags (“how will I find it again?” must have gone through their heads). After being guided further along in groups of about 10 at a time, they were ordered to take off their clothes. By this time they will probably have heard the gun-fire and feared the worst.
But there is nothing they could have done.
In groups of 10 they were told to stand to the edge of the ravine, surrounded by Nazi soldiers to prevent their escape. And here they were shot with machine guns, and fell in to the ravine. On top of those that were shot only moments earlier.
Over 33’000 would be murdered into this ravine over these 2 days. They would be joined by at least 40’000 more – Roma, partisans, homosexuals and other “undesirables”.
When the Germans had to retreat 2 years later, they tried to cover up these atrocities by forcing 300 shackled prisoners to systematically dig out, drag up and stack these bodies and skeletons. Each pyre of 2000 people and wood was burned – and any remaining pieces of bone were crushed by hand.
This ravine was called Babyn Yar.
I read about this, and other atrocities in Kiev and the Ukraine, in the book, ”Dynamo: Defending the Honour of Kiev” by Andy Dougan. It is ostensibly about a the Dynamo Kiev football club, but that is only one part of the story. It describes a dreadful period in the history of the Ukraine.
There was, therefore, no question that I would want to visit Babi Yar when we were in Kiev. I wanted to see this place where the mere description of the atrocities filled me with disbelief and despondency.
I wrote this in my journal after our visit to the 2 sites linked with Babyn Yar: A large soviet memorial in a park, and then the actual ravine and a menorah nearby.
“The first is near the Metro in a park. A large black statue of people being pushed over the edge of a cliff into a ravine. The park has a C-shaped ravine-like depression in the ground, with the statue at the innermost part of the curve. A very moving depiction of the horror I had read about.”
There were a few people that visited the memorial, while others played with their dogs in the grassy depression, which I actually like. Yet others were using it as a sketch motive.
“Then we walked in the other part of the park to a large menorah – and about 50m behind it the actual ravine.
It was surreal and sad to stand there knowing what happened. Picturing the 10-at-a-time naked people lined up about to get shot. Not able to do anything. Seeing their friends and family and others in the ravine below.
Picturing the soldiers carrying out those orders – probably youngsters, brainwashed. Following orders.”
The ravine has lots of slim trees growing in it, all along it’s slopes and sides. And covered in the attractive yellow shades of autumn. My first thought was that the ravine cannot possibly be big enough to hold over 70’000 bodies. But as we strolled along the side, along the top, the true size became apparent. And the horror became even clearer.
“Makes me sad, incredulous, angry, feel a little guilty, and despondent at being human, German. That we can do these things to each other.
I know it has happened in many countries around the world, including my own – but the sheer brutality, efficiency and calculated-ness really struck me here.
One positive out of this was that almost immediately I noticed the sense of life at the ravine as well though. Birds twittering and flying through the trees, a red squirrel scurrying through the leaves, and lots of women with children and grandchildren in the park and near the menorah.
Similarly to our experience at Chernobyl – it was good to see nature reclaiming her damaged space.
Directions to get to Babi Yar / Babyn Yar / Babin Yar – thanks to pattayainsider on tripadvisor:
There are two memorials in completely different places. The larger one is the Soviet one, which incidentally, is NOT in the spot where the mass murders took place. But it’s still an imposing monument, worth seeing.
Some reviews have given overly simplistic directions to get there like “just ask anyone”, and that isn’t going to work.
If using the Metro, get off at the Dorohozhychi station, north of the city. As you exit the metro station, while still underground, turn to the left, and walk under the big street as far as you can go. Go up the steps on the left. As you exit at the top, you will see a path going off to the right into the park, just follow it, sort of straight and towards the left a bit, for about 5 minutes. You will see the very large Soviet-style monument, depicting people being pushed into a ravine/pit.
To get to the other monument and the ravine, where the Jewish menorah monument is, which is in the correct location of where the atrocities took place, walk back to the Metro station. Face yourself as if you just exited the metro. Go to the right, while still staying underground. Don’t use any stairs. This will take you past some booths and directly into a park and a small statue in honour of the children murdered at the ravine. Follow the wide avenue-like path sort of going straight, which is parallel to the big street. Take it for about 8 minutes. The path gradually goes a little away from the main street, but you are always within eye and ear shot of that main street. Eventually, you will get to a very large wide cross-path. Don’t get off at any of the earlier paths, wait for the very large wide path that also has two side lanes, separated by a wide green grass median in between. Make a 90 degree right turn here, and walk up this straight path, all the way to the end. This path is completely straight. This will take about 4 minutes. Then the path changes, where is a big tree, and at this point, continue on the path, veering slightly uphill, on the left side, for about 2 more minutes. You will see the Jewish menorah monument in front of you.
If you are facing the menorah, walk past it about 50 metres, into the park forest area directly behind it. You will see a large and very deep ravine/pit. This is the exact location of where the atrocities took place.
If you want to pay your respects, Jewish tradition is to leave a small stone/rock somewhere on the menorah. People of any faith or even non believers can do this to pay respects to the victims.
There will be no signs to get to either monument, and it’s unlikely people will be able to help direct you there.