(JTA) – Ukraine marked the 70th anniversary of the massacre at Babi Yar, one of the deadliest of the Holocaust.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman presided over Monday’s ceremony at the Babi Yar ravine in Kiev. Some 33,771 Jews were murdered there on the last two days of September in 1941.
Hundreds of descendants of the victims, as well as survivors, participated in the ceremony.
"It is difficult to fully comprehend the events that occurred in Babi Yar. It is difficult to find the words to express all the depth of our condolences and sorrow," Yanukovych said at the ceremony, according to a speech released to the French news agency AFP before the event. "More and more, time is increasing our distance from these horrible events. But the memory is alive."
U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), whose grandparents immigrated to the United States from Ukraine before World War II, attended the commemoration. Engel said the explicit reference to Jewish victims marked how much Ukraine had progressed since its Soviet days, when the older memorial at the site noted only the victims without mentioning their religion or ethnicity.
"There is an acknowledgment of what happened," Engel told JTA. "I would imagine some of this acknowledgement seeps into Ukraine society."
The Jews had assembled at the Babi Yar ravine in 1941, shortly after the Nazi forces pushed the Soviet authorities out of Kiev, because they believed they were being resettled.
Between September 1941 and 1943, some 150,000 people were executed by Nazi troops in wooded areas on the outskirts of Kiev. Most were Jews, but the total also included ethnic Ukrainians, Russians, Poles and Roma, or gypsies.