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Memorial to Ukraine massacre erected


A person, center, stands in front of the newly dedicated memorial to the victims of Drobitsky Yar in Kharkov, Ukraine, on Dec. 14. (Daniel MacIsaac)

A person, center, stands in front of the newly dedicated memorial to the victims of Drobitsky Yar in Kharkov, Ukraine, on Dec. 14. (Daniel MacIsaac)

KHARKOV, Ukraine, Dec. 19 (JTA) — Four thousand people endured the biting cold of a Ukrainian winter to attend the opening of a memorial to a World War II massacre. The significance of the Dec. 13 dedication outweighed the discomfort at the ceremony near the site of the killings at Drobitsky Yar. In December 1941, Nazi troops invading the Soviet Union began a killing spree that lasted into the following year and claimed the lives of some 30,000 people, mainly Jews. Members of the Kharkov Jewish community had been lobbying for a memorial for a dozen years, since the breakup of the Soviet Union and the establishment of an independent Ukraine. During the Soviet era, memorials failed to mention that Jews and others were singled out for death during World War II. “The idea for a memorial originated with the Jewish community and we helped raise money for it, but it took years before everything came together and we were granted permission to build on the site,” said Irina Chemerovska, executive director of the Jewish House cultural center in Kharkov. The result of their efforts is impressive. A 9-foot-tall menorah stands beside the highway at Drobitsky Yar and above the valley below. To one side, a tree-lined road winds to a massive white arch with the years “1941-1942″ framed in a circle on the outside and bright blue Stars of David within. Below the arch is a sculpture depicting the tablets of the Ten Commandments — with “Thou Shall Not Kill” engraved in several languages, including Yiddish and Ukrainian. Inside the base of the arch is the Drobitsky Yar memorial museum, scheduled to open next year. Chemerovska and her colleagues thank a variety of people for funding the $700,000 memorial complex. Local businessman and philanthropist Oleksandr Feldman and his AVEK fund were responsible for the menorah portion of the project. But Yevhen Kushnaryov, Kharkov’s governor and a former presidential chief of staff, was the one who made the project possible, Jewish leaders say. “Without him it wouldn’t have been built,” said Grigory Shoikhet, chairman of the Kharkov Jewish community and principal of a local Jewish day school. “It’s an example of personality affecting history.” Shoikhet and other Kharkov Jews also credit Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. Kuchma has been criticized recently for alleged involvement in a murder of a journalist and for sales of radar systems to Iraq in violation of U.N. sanctions, but he maintains a good relationship with Ukraine’s Jewish communities. The government contributed approximately $100,000 to the Drobitsky Yar project. On Dec. 13, Kuchma was received at the entrance to the memorial site at the grand menorah by Rabbi Moishe Moskovitz, the chief rabbi of Kharkov; Israeli Ambassador Anna Azari; Kushnaryov; and Mayor Vladimir Shumilkin. Together they walked the half-mile-long road to the memorial arch, recreating the tragic walk of the victims 60 years earlier. Children held candles, a military detachment laid floral wreaths and the thousands of participants listened as Kuchma spoke of Drobitsky Yar and the Holocaust, telling those in attendance that it must never be repeated and that communities must live and work together. Chemerovska said she expects the new memorial to serve as a constant reminder of the past, and to help guide the present and future. “It will have the same status as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Kharkov,” she said. “And it will serve as a destination point for everyone visiting our city.” □