On the first night of Rosh Hashanah in Kiev, Ukraine, the brass menorah erected over the slope of the Babi Yar ravine was torched. The menorah was installed in 1991, one month after Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union. It serves as a memorial to Kiev’s 34,000 Jews—at the time about 20 percent of Kiev’s Jewish population—who were shot dead by German SS troops over two days in September of 1941, in what was one of  the largest single massacres of the Holocaust.

The burnt Babi Yar menorah memorial; Courtesy of Vladislav Davidzon

Last Sunday night, unidentified assailants threw old tires doused in flammable liquid around the monument before lighting the conflagration. The blaze was initially so intense that it charred and even melted parts of the menorah’s bronze and stone facade. Luckily, the flames were noticed and extinguished by the night guard watching over a neighboring Ukrainian Orthodox Church. On Tuesday, I accompanied leaders of Kiev’s Jewish community who visited the church to offer him a sum in gratitude.

No one has yet stepped forward to claim responsibility for the monument’s desecration.

This egregious act comes on the heels of a half dozen other anti-Semitic incidents this year, including swastikas being drawn on the two memorial stone’s adjacent to the Menorah and the torching of another memorial for Holocaust Victims, this time in Melitopol on August 27. 

The burning of the Babi Yar memorial took place as 30,000 Hasidim made their annual pilgrimage to Uman, Ukraine, and as Poroshenko’s government works with local and international Jewish and Ukrainian organizations to plan for next year’s 75th anniversary commemoration ceremonies of the massacres at Babi Yar. This promises to be a major pomp-filled event for Ukrainian-Jewish relations.

Rostyslav Pavlenko, the deputy head of Ukraine’s Presidential Administration, told me: “We react to such barbaric acts with great concern and are appalled by this act of vandalism. The President of Ukraine is closely monitoring the progress of the investigation. In lieu of upcoming important international negotiations as well as local elections, we have seen a number of criminal and security incidents arising. There are external and internal forces interested in destabilizing the situation in Ukraine. The president has urged law enforcement agencies to be especially vigilant and on high alert, protecting the Memorial and other monuments of our heritage’.”

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