Russia Bombs Babyn Yar, Site Of Nazi Massacre, To 'Save' Ukraine's Jews

Russia Bombs Babyn Yar, Site Of Nazi Massacre, To 'Save' Ukraine's Jews

Last week, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia was invading Ukraine to protect its people from Nazis and drug addicts. It would be a "special military operation," he promised, with the "goal to protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide… for the last eight years. And for this we will strive for the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine."

It was always preposterous, not least because Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish. Which is not to say that there's no anti-semitism problem in Ukraine, or even among the militants fighting off the Russian invasion. There is a reason my great grandfather left that place in 1899, and it wasn't because the name of his hometown Rozhyshche was hard to pronounce. But, as my rabbi said this weekend, none of our grandparents could possibly have predicted that the country would pass a law criminalizing anti-semitism, much less elect a Jewish president. Things change.

Putin has consistently justified his land grabs in Ukraine by claiming to be protecting that country's Jews. Haaretz reporter Sam Sokol has a terrific book documenting likely false flag operations in 2014 against Jews in Crimea, which Putin pointed to as reason for Russia to seize territory. In reality, upwards of 30,000 Ukrainians with Jewish ancestry fled to Israel. You've probably forgotten all about that time Rudy Giuliani was serenading some guy named Moshe about Anatevka, the fictional town in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. The real Anatevka is a refugee camp for internally displaced Jewish Ukrainians 20 miles outside Kyiv, and Rudy Giuliani is — or was — the honorary mayor. The world is a weird place.

Back in 2022, it's no surprise that Putin is running the same playbook he did eight years ago, pretending to race in as the savior of Ukrainian Jewry. But it does make it doubly appalling that his army just bombed Babyn Yar, a mass grave and the site of one of the most horrendous Nazi massacres in Europe.

On September 28, 1941, the Nazis posted this order:

"All the Yids of the city of Kiev and its vicinity must appear on Monday September 29, 1941 by 8 a.m. at the corner of Melnikova and Dokhterivskaya streets (next to the cemetery). Bring documents, money and valuables, and also warm clothing, bed linen etc. Any Yids who do not follow this order and are found elsewhere will be shot. Any civilians who enter the dwellings left by Yids and appropriate the things in them will be shot".

Over the next two days, the German army killed all of Kyiv's remaining Jews, shooting 33,731 people and throwing their bodies into a ravine. When there were no more Jews to slaughter, the Nazis added 70,000 more bodies, of all ethnic groups, to the pile, and then raided a Jewish cemetery, building pyres of gravestones and wood to burn the bodies to cover up their crimes before retreating. The site is now a museum and a monument, and it matters to Jews.

To call it "ironic" that Putin claims to be protecting Ukrainian Jewry by bombing Babyn Yar and an adjacent TV tower is to offend by understatement. Because there were 2.7 million Jews in modern-day Ukraine before the war, and now there are perhaps 43,000. And bombing the site of a Jewish massacre will not save them.

"To the world: what is the point of saying 'never again' for 80 years, if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site of Babyn Yar? At least 5 killed. History repeating…" tweeted President Zelenskyy.

"Russia has launched a missile attack on the territory where the Babyn Yar memorial complex is located," his top aide Andriy Yermak agreed. "These villains are killing Holocaust victims for the second time."

And yeah, it does feel like that. Because Putin is no one's savior — not the Russian speakers of Kharkiv whom he's bombing mercilessly to "protect their right to speak Russian," not the supposed separatists in the Donbas, and certainly not Ukraine's Jews.

[Daily Beast / Yad Vashem]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.


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