The Ukrainian Cultural and Academic Community’s Appeal about the Commemoration of Babyn Yar
Representatives of the Ukrainian cultural and academic community have appealed to President Volodymyr Zelensky, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, and Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko with the demand for the state to take full responsibility for the creation of the Babyn Yar National Memorial Complex.
This appeal is a response to the scandal around the activities of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (BYHMC), founded in 2016 through the initiative and funding of Russian businessmen Mikhail Fridman, Pavel Fuks, and German Khan. From the start, this project elicited substantive complaints from representatives of the Ukrainian academic community and the Jewish community about the unacceptable ideology imposed on the project by its sponsors and the chosen building site, located on the territory of former cemeteries.
The authors of the appeal are convinced that the question of the commemoration of the victims of Babyn Yar and the creation of a memorial there should be exclusively the prerogative of and under the control of the Ukrainian state and Ukrainian civil society and should not be placed in the hands of foreign citizens or private structures.
The appeal’s authors emphasize that all Ukrainians, as a political nation, bear responsibility for preserving the memory of the tragedies that have taken place on Ukraine’s territories. Ukrainians’ ability to carry out the task of commemorating these sites is a global challenge and a contemporary test of their national and political maturity, and concurrently a test of whether they have liberated themselves from a post-colonial mindset, an inferiority complex, and a dependence on other countries and groups, which attempt to shape their historical memory in their stead or project their own commemorative practices onto Ukrainians, the appeal underscores.
As of the evening of May 22, 2020 over 700 signatories joined the appeal, including:
Current and Former Members of the “December 1st” Initiative Group Viacheslav Briukhovetsky, Ola Hnatiuk, Volodymyr Yermolenko, Yevhen Zakharov, Yosyf Zisels, Ihor Kozlovsky, Myroslav Marynovych, Vsevolod Rechytskyi, Ihor Yukhnovs’kyi, Yaroslav Yatskiv;
Ukrainian human rights activists and former political prisoners Mykola Horbal’ and Inna Cherniavska-Naboka;
Archbishop Ihor Isichenko;
Members of the Ukrainian Parliament Volodymyr Viatrovych, Mustafa Dzhemilev, and Mykola Kniazhytskyi;
Head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People Refat Chubarov;
Ukrainian writers Mark Belorusets, Natalka Bilotserkivets, Andrii Bondar, Nadiya Herbish, Oksana Zabuzhko, Irena Karpa, Marianna Kiyanovska, Andrii Kurkov, Tymur Lytovchenko, Andrii Liubka, Bohdana Matiyash, Vasyl Makhno, Katja Petrowskaja, Petro Rykhlo, Mykola Riabchuk, and Ostap Slyvynsky
Ukrainian historians Alla Atamanenko, Oleh Bazhan, Polina Barvinska, Volodymyr Birchak, Hennadii Boriak, Viktor Danylenko, Petro Dolhanov, Kateryna Dysa, Oleksii Haran, Yakiv Hershkovych, Maksym Hon, Oleksandr Honcharov, Yaroslav Hrytsak, Ihor Hyrych, Oksana Kis, Vasyl Kmet, Kateryna Kobchenko, Olha Koliastruk, Serhii Kot, Stanislav Kulchytsky, Oleksandr Kucheruk, Oleksandr Lysenko, Vitalii Masnenko, Volodymyr Melamed, Yefym Melamed, Mykhailo Mitsel, Ivan Monolatii, Alexander Motyl, Nadia Myronets, Vitalii Nakhmanovych, Tetiana Pastushenko, Ivan Patryliak, Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, Anatolii Podolsky, Yana Prymachenko, Kateryna Smahlii, Olena Stiazhkina, Yuri Shapoval, Natalia Shlikhta, Viktoria Venherska, Tamara Vronska, Leonid Zashkilniak, Larysa Yakubova, Oleksii Yas, and Hennadii Yefymenko;
Diplomats Danylo Lubkivsky, Volodymyr Ohryzko, and Volodymyr Pyzurko;
Ukrainian journalists and public intellectuals Leonid Goldberg, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Zoya Kazanzhi, Yuri Makarov, Vitali Portnikov, Olha Skorokhod, Tetiana Teren, and Serhii Tykhyi;
Ukrainian philosophers Yevhen Bystrytskyi, Liudmyla Filipovych, Serhiy Hrabovsky, Vakhtang Kebuladze, Natalia Kryvda, Taras Liutyi, Zoya Shved, Kostiantyn Sihov, and Viktor Yelensky;
Ukrainian editors and publishers Leonid Finberg, Oksana Forostyna, Tetiana Khorunzha, Oleksandra Koval, Andrii Mokrousov, Rostyslav Semkiv, and Taras Voznyak;
Ukrainian educators and researchers Oleh Beley, Leonid Bilyansky, Yuri Chekan, Taras Dobko, Volodymyr Dubrovsky, Serhiy Entis, Maria Fedurko, Yaroslav Harasym, Oleksandr Hladun, Pavlo Hol'din, Yuri Ilyin, Volodymyr Kazarin, Borys Khersonsky, Pavlo Khobzei, Leonid Khrystoforov, Nataliya Klymovska, Serhii Kvit, Volodymyr Kulyk, Yulia Ladygina, Yevhen Mahda, Svitlana Petrovska, Myron Petrovsky, Henad Poberezhny, Rev. Bohdan Prakh, Iryna Prelovska, Yurko Prokhasko, Serhii Rendziniak, Serhiy Riabchenko, Maria Rudakevych, Liudmyla Sholokhova, Ihor Skochylias, Eleonora Solovei, Ihor Soliar, Oleksandr Sushko, Liubomyr Tarnovsky, Oleh Turii, and Serhiy Utyevsky;
Ukrainian architects Oleksandr Antonets and Mykhailo Hershenzon;
Ukrainian artists Iryna Klymova, Oleksandra Krypyakevych, Vira Vaisberg, and Matviy Vaisberg;
Ukrainian museum specialists Olha Druh, Olha Honchar, Olena Honcharuk, Liudmyla Hubianuri, Ivan Kozlenko, Mykola Kushnir, Tetiana Liuta, Iryna Meleshkina, Olha Melnyk, Danylo Nikitin, Svitlana Ostapova, Vladyslav Pioro, Nadia Polianska, Ihor Poshyvailo, Oles Poshyvailo, Kateryna Romanova, Pavlo Skavronsky, and Ihor Tymets;
Ukrainian and Jewish-Ukrainian activists Mykhailo Basarab, Dmytro Bilan, Bohdan Chervak, Halya Coynash, Marta Farion, Yuri Honcharenko, Iza Chruślińska, Olha Kobets, Mykola Kocherha, Andrii Levus, Oleksandra Matviichuk, Serhiy Melnychuk, Yaroslav Rushchyshyn, Roman Spektor, Oleksandr Stepanenko, Orest Stetsiv, Taras Stetskiv, Oleksandra Supriazhenko, Meilakh Sheikhet, Yevhen Yasinsky, and Bohdan Yatsun.
The full text of the appeal is below. The gathering of signatures continues—an exhaustive list of all signatories is available underneath the Ukrainian version of the appeal here, and you may add your signature via this link.
The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky
The Prime Minister of Ukraine Dmytro Shmyhal
Mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko
We, representatives of Ukraine’s cultural and academic community, appeal to the President of Ukraine, the Prime Minister and Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, the Mayor of Kyiv and the Kyiv City Council with the demand to take effective responsibility for and direct control over the creation of the memorial center at Babyn Yar, while closely cooperating in this with Ukraine’s civil society. This would close off the possibility of foreign manipulation and malign influence on the process. Only an all-Ukrainian memorial with the national status should exist on the territory of Babyn Yar. This institution must be the only one to implement Ukraine’s memory politics on this site of both a crime and a tragedy.
Recently, there has been a heated public discussion within Ukrainian society about the activities of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (hereafter the BYHMC). Initiated and financed by the Russian businessmen Mikhail Fridman, Pavlo Fuks, and German Khan, this institution began to design a large-scale private project on the territory of Babyn Yar in 2016, amid Russia’s undeclared hybrid war against Ukraine.
From the start, this project elicited substantial opposition from representatives of Ukraine’s academic community and the Jewish community, due to the unacceptable ideology imposed on it by its sponsors as well as their chosen construction site, located on the site of former Jewish, Christian Orthodox, and Karaite cemeteries.
The polemics around the memorial have now taken on a new urgency with the appointment of the Russian film director Ilya Khrzhanovsky as artistic director of the BYHMC. The creative methods and practices that he proposed for the future memorial space provoked deep unease on the part of a substantial section of the Ukrainian society. This appointment was accompanied by a significant turnover within the BYHMC and harsh public statements from its former staffers, including prominent foreign academics. All of this has thrown into sharp relief a fatal flaw in the activities of the BYHMC: the absolute opacity and arbitrariness of key decisions, over which neither the Ukrainian state nor Ukrainian society has any influence.
All of this, however, is merely a symptom of underlying problems:
– what should the Babyn Yar memorial look like?
– should it be a private or a public memorial?
– how should the Ukrainian state, Ukrainian civil society, and the Ukrainian academic community influence the decision-making process of—and thus take responsibility for—the museum’s design and its operation?
We believe that the complete dependence of the BYHMC on foreign investors completely subordinates the memorial design to foreign interests; it also robs Ukrainian society of the means to influence it.
The leadership of the BYHMC publicly declares its readiness to include representatives of Ukraine’s government in its Supervisory Board. But this gets it exactly backwards: it is Ukraine’s state institutions, having taken responsibility for the memorial’s design, that ought to be inviting foreign experts to participate. Responsibility for commemorating Babyn Yar’s victims and creating a memorial center on the site should rest exclusively in the hands of the Ukrainian state and Ukrainian civil society. It should not be placed in the hands of foreign citizens or private interests.
The charity of the benefactors is praiseworthy and deserves gratitude, but it should not serve as a justification for a small group of people making decisions of national importance. This not only devalues the idea of charity as disinterested support, but can also provide a cover for voluntarism and authoritarianism.
We share the conviction that Babyn Yar is one of the key sites in the national memory of Ukrainians as members of a modern political nation, that is, to Ukrainian citizens of all ethnicities. We remember the Holocaust, as well as the Holodomor and the Great Terror, the genocide of the Roma, and the deportation of the Crimean Tatars. The tragedy of Ukraine’s Jewish community is an integral part of the history of Ukraine; it is the tragedy of the whole of the Ukrainian people. Commemorating the victims of the Holocaust, of which Babyn Yar is a symbol, alongside the latter’s other victims—the Roma, the mentally ill, hostages, prisoners of war, and participants of the Ukrainian national and Soviet resistance movements—is an important matter of state. Creating a national memorial should be an undertaking for all of society, financed by and receiving the systematic support of the highest state institutions.
The Ukrainian state itself should be the main initiator, organizer, and guarantor of national interests (i.e. national security) in questions of historical memory. The state’s inaction and its insufficient support of civil society initiatives and those of the expert community has led to accusations of insufficient attention to commemorating the victims of Babyn Yar, one of the greatest tragedies of World War II and one of the most prominent symbols of the Holocaust in the world. It also enables dubious experiments not only with the memory of the victims, but also on the living bearers of that memory.
We believe that memorial sites of national importance should be operated by state institutions and controlled by Ukrainian society in the form of supervisory boards. They ought to be administered by state institutions in such well-tested formats as national memorial museums, complexes, and conservation areas. The process should, of course, take into account the experience of other countries and include international experts and patrons. It is our strong conviction that a dignified memorialization of Babyn Yar will serve as an example of how to commemorate the Holocaust and World War II to cities and villages across Ukraine.
We demand that the President of Ukraine, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, and the municipal authorities of Kyiv take urgent measures to resolve the problems mentioned above and affirm the memory politics of the Ukrainian state:
- To facilitate, as quickly as possible, the completion of work on and a widespread public discussion of the Comprehensive Babyn Yar Memorial Design Concept, which has been prepared by a working group of academics from the Institute of the History of Ukraine of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, commissioned by the Ministry of Culture and the Babyn Yar National Historical Memorial Park.
- To submit the finalized Comprehensive Design Concept to the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine for official adoption. Only this document, which has been peer reviewed by Ukrainian academics and is currently being reviewed by foreign experts, should become the basis for the state commemoration of Babyn Yar.
- To designate the Babyn Yar National Historical Memorial Park as the official state institution responsible for implementing the approved design. To carry out a complete structural overhaul of the Memorial Park, to create a Supervisory Board, in which representatives of Ukrainian civil society, state institutions, the academic community, and the project’s donors would be on equal footing.
- To subordinate the Babyn Yar National Historical Memorial Park to the Ukrainian Institute of National Rememberance (UINR) and to designate the UINR as the state institution responsible for commemorating Babyn Yar, in accordance with the Comprehensive Design Concept approved by the Cabinet of Ministers.
- To allocate the funds necessary to complete the Comprehensive Babyn Yar Memorial Design Concept from the state budget for 2021 and onward.
- To create a special fund at the Babyn Yar National Historical Memorial Park, to which donations can be made to financially support the state commemoration of Babyn Yar.
- To review the legal status of the decisions made to allocate land to the BYHMC and to implement a moratorium on any new construction in Babyn Yar and the immediate vicinity, including cemeteries and other protected areas.
- To widely publicize all steps taken in the creation of the National Memorial Complex at Babyn Yar.
We, Ukrainians, as a political nation, bear responsibility for preserving the memory of tragedies that took place on our territories. Our ability to carry out the task of commemorating these sites is a global challenge and a contemporary test of our national and political maturity, and simultaneously a test of whether we have liberated ourselves from a post-colonial mindset, an inferiority complex, and a dependence on other countries and groups, which attempt to shape our historical memory in our stead, or project their own commemorative practices onto us.
Signatures under this appeal are still being collected—you may add your name by following this link.
The full list of all signatories is available on the page of the Ukrainian version of the appeal here.
Krytyka is grateful to Markian Dobczansky for translating this text from Ukrainian to English.