Kontakt TV: Volodymyr Viatrovych, Director of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, on the History of Babyn Yar

Volodymyr Viatrovych, the director of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, outlines the events in Kyiv in the early days of the German occupation during the Second World War. The German army entered Kyiv on September 19, 1941 and instituted a racial regime where Slavs were to be assigned a sub-human role and Jews were to be destroyed. Shortly after the German arrival, Soviet saboteurs destroyed over three hundred buildings in central Kyiv with remote-controlled explosives and thousands of people were left homeless. The German authorities used this as a pretext to blame the Jews. The first executions in Babyn Yar occurred on September 27, 1941 but the most intensive killings took place on September 29-30, 1941.

German documents dated October 2, 1941 reveal that over thirty-three thousand Kyivan Jews were killed on those two days. A German document dated October 12, 1941 cites over fifty-one thousand Jews already executed at Babyn Yar, illustrating the accelerated tempo of the massacres. Babyn Yar then continued to serve as a killing ground for all other enemies of the German occupiers, including Soviet prisoners-of-war, the Roma, patients from Kyiv psychiatric hospitals, and members of the Soviet as well as the Ukrainian nationalist underground movements.

In 1966 dissidents, including the writer Ivan Dziuba, held one of the first public commemorations during Soviet rule that cited the Jewish victims at Babyn Yar. Soviet authorities, despite their use of the anti-Nazi struggle during the war to build a Soviet identity, always suppressed discussion of the Jewish victims of Babyn Yar. Only after Ukrainian independence in 1991 did the Holocaust, and the crimes of the Soviet system, emerge as themes for public discussion. And now, at the 25th anniversary of its independence, Ukraine is moving away from the Soviet models of memory of the war and recognizing the Holocaust as a part of Ukrainian history, as well as acknowledging that Ukraine was the arena of two genocides by two criminal systems—the Holocaust and the Famine instituted by the Soviet regime in 1932-33.