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Presidents Of Ukraine, Israel, Germany Mark 80 Years Since Slaughter At Babyn Yar

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks at a ceremony honoring the victims of Babyn Yar.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks at a ceremony honoring the victims of Babyn Yar.

The presidents of Ukraine, Israel, and Germany have inaugurated a memorial center for the victims of the Babyn Yar massacre in Ukraine, 80 years after the infamous mass slaughter by the Nazis.

About 34,000 Jewish men, women, and children were killed at the Babyn Yar ravine on the outskirts of Kyiv on September 29-30, 1941, soon after the Nazis occupied the city.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the massacre a "black, ugly page in world history" and a "common tragedy of the Jewish and Ukrainian people."

Himself of Jewish heritage, Zelenskiy has said he had family members who perished in the Holocaust.

Speaking at the ceremony on October 6, he recalled the thousands of children who "took their last breath here" and said it was hard to stand where "thousands of bullets knocked people down here in Babyn Yar."

Israeli President Isaac Herzog began his speech with a prayer for the victims.

"Commemoration and remembrance are vital for the whole of humanity, against evil, cruelty, and apathy," he said, while German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the fight against anti-Semitism must go on.

Zelenskiy, Herzog, and Steinmeier inaugurated a memorial center, which is still under construction. It is dedicated to the stories of Eastern European Jews who were killed and buried in mass graves during the Holocaust.

As part of the ceremony, Ukrainian authorities also unveiled an installation created by performance artist Marina Abramovic.

Located at the Babyn Yar memorial complex, the Crystal Wall of Crying -- an allusion to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem -- consists of 75 large quartz crystals embedded in a 40-meter-long wall of black anthracite.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also paid tribute to the anniversary in a video on Twitter in which he quoted from a report by a member of the Babyn Yar killing squad.

"The killers worked in shifts. Some took breaks around a bonfire to talk and drink coffee," he said. "Not everyone who was shot died immediately. Some suffocated under the weight of the bodies.

"Survivors later said that the earth around the ravine moved and moaned for days after the mass killings, as if the land itself were rebelling against what it had been asked to hold," Blinken said.

He said that the Nazis destroyed evidence in an attempt to ensure that the world would not know or remember what happened at Babyn Yar, and he said for years Soviet history omitted that the tens of thousands of people initially killed there were Jews.

In the months following the massacre, German authorities killed thousands more Jews and non-Jews at the site, including Roma, communist officials, Soviet prisoners of war, and Soviet civilians.

The Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial center on October 6 revealed 159 names of hundreds of Nazi troops who took part in the massacre.

The center said despite confessions, evidence, and testimonies submitted in the postwar years by some of the Nazi soldiers who carried out the murders, only a few of those involved ever faced justice for their crimes.

With reporting by AP and AFP
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