UCCA COMMEMORATES 80TH ANNIVERSARY OF BABYN YAR WITH VIRTUAL PROGRAM
Eighty years ago, during the Nazi occupation of Kyiv, the gruesome slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children began at Babyn Yar (which means “old women’s ravine” in Ukrainian). To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Massacres at Babyn Yar, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA), the nation’s largest representative body of Americans of Ukrainian descent, hosted a virtual forum on October 26th, to join the chorus of voices in speaking the truth about one of the darkest chapters in the history of genocide.*|IFNOT:ARCHIVE_PAGE|*
*|END:IF|* *|IF:ARCHIVE_PAGE|*Beginning on September 29, 1941, more than 30,000 Jews were mercilessly massacred within a 36-hour period, as part of Hitler’s Final Solution to rid Europe of the Jewish people. Following this first mass execution, a restricted zone around Babyn Yar was sealed off with barbed wire. The killings, however, did not end. Over the next several years, this ravine became a veritable killing field, where an estimated 170,000 victims – among them Jews, Ukrainians, Poles, Roma, political opponents, clergy, UPA members and Soviet prisoners of war – were ruthlessly murdered. It wasn’t until Nazi Germany retreated from Kyiv that the killings at the ravine finally ceased. In the decades that followed, the truth about the atrocities committed was kept hidden by Soviet authorities.
In his remarks opening the virtual conversation between representatives of the Ukrainian and Jewish American Diasporas, UCCA’s President, Andriy Futey, provided a brief historical account of the Massacres at Babyn Yar. This began with the acknowledgement that until Ukraine regained its independence in 1991, those in Ukraine were not allowed to speak to the truth and openly mourn the innocent victims of Babyn Yar. Following the restoration of Ukraine’s independence, survivors of persecution began to publicly commemorate this painful page in history, “ending a 50-year long Soviet silence about the mass killings and beginning a new chapter in Ukrainian-Jewish relations.” Mr. Futey also underscored that alongside the incredible cruelty of the Massacres at Babyn Yar, it is now understood that manifestations of the highest mercy and courage took place as well, stating that “Ukraine ranks fourth among the countries of the world in the number of people who hold the title of ‘Righteous Among the Nations.’” This title is awarded by the State of Israel to those outside of the Jewish faith or ethnicity who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. “As of today, 2,673 people from Ukraine” have received such an honor, stated UCCA’s President.
Mr. Futey concluded his remarks by announcing that this year the Ukrainian government officially marked the 80th anniversary with several commemorative events that took place at the National Historical Memorial Preserve “Babyn Yar,” in Kyiv, adding, “a few of our distinguished presenters participated in this year’s events and I hope they can reflect upon this solemn commemoration and share their thoughts.”
David Harris, Chief Executive Officer of the American Jewish Congress (AJC), the world’s leading global Jewish advocacy organization, spoke next, and focused on bringing a human touch to the tragedy by relaying a personal story: he had originally heard Babyn Yar mentioned in 1961 from a poem. Many years later, in 1981, he would travel to Kyiv to pay his respects to the victims, only to encounter stonewalling by Soviet authorities in Ukraine. “I came to understand that under the Soviet regime there was largely a conspiracy of silence,” said AJC’s CEO, adding that if it wasn’t for the events of 1991 with Ukraine’s independence, which AJC strongly endorsed, the Soviets might have succeeded in silencing the tragedy forever. Mr. Harris went on to expound about his recent trip to participate in the official 80th anniversary commemorations, where he stood alongside a multitude of world leaders. Reflecting the feelings he felt in that moment, Mr. Harris came to understand that in the midst of this tragedy and sadness, he needed to find hope, “and maybe that is the lesson of this occasion as we commemorate together.” Mr. Harris saw hope that President Zelenskyy, representing a free and independent Ukraine, was joined by the President of Germany, the President of Israel and (virtually) the US Secretary of State, stating that “as we mourn this evening together, we also can point to a certain progress over the last 80 years that should give us some hope. Some hope of Ukraine today, the Germany of today, the Israel of today, the United States of today, the Jewish people of today; and this program itself illustrates the close friendship and partnership between Ukrainian Americans and American Jews.”
Ukraine’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya, was the next to speak, about what he described as “one of Europe’s largest murder sites.” Ambassador Kyslytsya underscored the fact that following the second World War, due to the rigid ideological demands of the Communist authorities, it was absolutely forbidden to commemorate the Massacres at Babyn Yar. The ambassador proceeded to relayed a few stories of when Soviet Jews would gather at the site for protests and commemorations, including on the 25th anniversary of the tragedy in 1966. But it wasn’t until Ukraine regained its independence in 1991 that the ideological restrictions imposed by the communist regime were lifted. “The soviet version of Babyn Yar tragedy was openly confronted and reviewed from the perspectives of different memory projects. Babyn Yar was turned into a new battlefield but this time for competing memory projects.”
Adrian Karatnycky, founder and co-Director of the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter (UJE), spoke more broadly about the mutual history the Ukrainian and Jewish people share, reflected in UJE’s motto “our stories are incomplete without each other.” He underscored the importance of an independent Ukraine with regard to bettering Ukrainian-Jewish relations, stating, “the dark hole of history created by Soviet totalitarianism prevented the normal evolution of a dialogue and understanding of the two communities both the positive and the dark moments. And I think that with the revival of an independent Ukraine and the emergence of an independent Jewish state, we see this opportunity of two states to cooperate and the two communities to cooperate.”
Sam Kliger, the Director of Eurasian Affairs at the American Jewish Committee (AJC), was the last to speak in the forum. He began by reflecting on his recent participation in the major events in Kyiv, stating that the commemoration has given him hope seeing the active participation of both the Ukrainian and Jewish organizations honoring victims of Babyn Yar. “What also gives us hope is our cooperation between our communities, between AJC and UCCA”, underscoring that this started long before the Revolution of Dignity, but 2014 was especially important. Mr. Kliger mentioned that AJC sent him to Ukraine during the Maidan to show the American Jewish organization’s moral support for Ukraine. This year’s commemoration of Babyn Yar, in Mr. Kliger’s view, “gives us all hope.”
Mr. Kliger also touched upon the new study AJC just released regarding Anti-Semitism in America, of which the findings are quite shocking. In comparison to the statistics in Ukraine, the findings give Mr. Kliger optimism: when you compare contemporary attitudes in the U.S. and Germany with Ukraine – in Ukraine anti-Semitism “almost does not exist.” This is important because relations between Ukrainian and Jewish people goes back ages – “some good and some black pages,” as Mr. Kliger states – but today relations between the two communities in Ukraine are based on respect. Returning to the earlier discussion about Ukrainian and Jewish American Diasporas, Mr. Kliger underscored that AJC values its relationships with the Ukrainian American community, with UCCA and UJE, because this relationship is based on common values of respect. “Even as we mourn the victims, we still have hope for the future – the hope is friendship between the Ukrainian and Jewish people.”
Thanking all the participants, UCCA’s President concluded the virtual conversation, with the words, “May the tragedy at Babyn Yar, a dark page in history shared by both the Jewish and Ukrainian people, serve as a reminder to us all of the immeasurable value of human life. May it also remind us of the need to show honor and dignity to our fellow man, regardless of our differences, or perhaps, because of them, as we are all unique and valuable members of the human race.”*|END:IF|*
Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood, Roundtable XXII, took place at from the University Club of DC on October 21, 2021. The proceedings were streamed live, however due to a series of repeated internet interruptions, some presentations did not make it to the livestream in full. The archived livestreams are included below, separated into the morning and afternoon sessions.
The program was also livestreamed on Facebook and can be shared directly from there as well:
This year’s Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable was entitled "Forging A Strong Yet Forbearing National Identity – Past Endeavors," the first in a new critically important trilogy of Roundtables (2021-23) essentially dedicated to exploring and evaluating Ukraine’s efforts to establish a distinctive but broadminded national identity. The proceedings also looked at the various DEZINFORM campaigns that were launched to deform the process, including Putin’s recent ‘Memory Wars’ campaign.
Український Конгресовий Комітет Америки, відділ в Іллінойс, запрошує громаду на зустріч з відомим українським істориком, д-ром Володимиром В’ятровичем, в Українському Культурному Осередку, при парафії Свв. Володимира та Ольги. Зустріч відбудеться 14 листопада о 13:00, на якій він вперше буде презентувати книгу "Нотатки з кухні "переписування історії" та Історичний Серіал "10 Днів незалежності України".
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Each year, UCCA solemnly commemorates the Holodomor Genocide of 1932-1933 – one of the darkest pages of our people’s history. Marking the solemn anniversary of the Holodomor remains an essential component to educating our youth and raising awareness of Stalin’s Famine-Genocide of Ukrainians.
UCCA is grateful to our branches and members who not only actively engage their local governments in marking this historic anniversary with local and statewide Proclamations, but also help garner support for Holodomor statements from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. In 2018, Congress recognized the Holodomor as Genocide, with language emphasizing the deliberate and premediated atrocities committed by the Soviet government against the Ukrainian nation.