Visiting Ukrainian Leader Disclaims Country’s Blame for Babi Yar Killings

Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk said this week that the Ukrainian people should not be blamed for the Babi Yar massacre of Jews during World War II.

Speaking toward the close of a three-day state visit, he said it was a “historical error” to blame the Nazi killings on the people of the Ukraine.

He said Communist rulers had tried to conceal the Jewish identity of most of the victims. But, he said, thousands of Ukrainians had been slain at Babi Yar alongside the Jews.

Kravchuk’s reference to the wartime mass killing came during a meeting with Simcha Dinitz, chairman of the Jewish Agency, and other officials of the agency, which plays a key role in immigration of Jews to Israel.

The Ukrainian president underlined his commitment to the right of Jews to leave his country and settle in Israel.

He recalled that back in 1985, as a responsible official in the region, he had permitted a Ukrainian Jewish poet to place a Hebrew inscription at the site of the Babi Yar massacre, for which he was rebuked by the Soviet authorities in Moscow.

Dinitz’s reply was carefully worded.

“It is possible to correct the historical error of silence,” he said. “But the massacre cannot be corrected.”

Dinitz dwelt on the importance of stressing that most of the victims were Jews. He referred in this context to the worrying resurgence of racism and anti-Semitism in European countries at this time.

A VISIT TO YAD VASHEM

Regarding the aviation accord signed by Israel and Ukraine this week, Dinitz said he hoped the flights would carry not only immigrants but many Israelis whose families came from Ukraine, as did Dinitz’s own.

He said he spoke both for Israel and for the Jewish people in voicing his appreciation to Kravchuk for Ukraine’s cooperative attitude regarding Jewish aliyah, and thanked the president for the recent accreditation of five Jewish Agency offices in Ukraine.

In a speech to the Knesset earlier this week, Kravchuk referred to “dark pages” in the common history of the two peoples, and said “we must ensure that history does not repeat itself.”

He expressed similar sentiments after a moving visit to the Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem, where seven Ukrainian peasants in his group were honored as Righteous Gentiles for saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust.

“We, citizens of free Ukraine, will do all in our power to ensure that such things never happen again,” Kravchuk wrote in the visitors’ book at Yad Vashem.

In comments to reporters in Tel Aviv before his departure Wednesday evening, Kravchuk said his visit to Israel had been “very successful” and represented “a new page” in relations between the two nations.

He said he would set up a special committee to review the cases of 12 Ukrainian Jews being denied exit visas on the grounds that they held secret or sensitive national information in the context of their work.

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