A man stands at the ‘Crystal Wall of Crying,’ at the Babyn Yar memorial, 2021

Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty Images

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Babyn Yar

A response to Vladislav Davidzon

Natan Sharansky
September 12, 2023
A man stands at the ‘Crystal Wall of Crying,’ at the Babyn Yar memorial, 2021

Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty Images

I was extremely surprised to see in your magazine, which I deeply respect, an article with the title “Chaos Comes to Babyn Yar,” by Vladislav Davidzon. The article states that with the resignation of artistic director Ilya Khrazhanovsky “this whole unhappy and theatrical saga with the BYMF [Babyn Yar Memorial Foundation] concludes as it began ... and with the future of the memorial remaining an open question.”

One could quote Mark Twain: ”The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” But it is much more than exaggeration; it is a twisting of the reality. Not only is the project not falling apart in chaos, it is enjoying its high point of recognition.

On the day the article was published, there was a very special ceremony in Babyn Yar dedicated to the inclusion of the Babyn Yar archives in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. Representatives of the Ukrainian government, heads of the National Archives of Ukraine, diplomats, and representatives of the Jewish community came to celebrate this unique event and to learn more about our work.

In the following 24 hours, I had important meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. Naturally the meetings were about Russian aggression, but both the president and the foreign minister emphasized their full support for the project and stated that, in their opinion, our work has additional meaning and importance in the context of the war.

The projects that were erected in Babyn Yar in the last years, such as the synagogue, mirror field, crying wall, and other installations, not only receive international recognition and awards but also thousands of visitors daily, even in these days of war and air attacks on Kyiv. The Ukrainian government brings its international guests and delegations to the site to see our work. The attractiveness of these projects is to a great extent due to the unique vision and creative approach of Ilya Khrazhanovsky. Naturally, the war stopped the development of the physical part of the project, but online activity is growing with every month.

As to Ilya’s resignation, that is a decision that he took a few months ago. I tried to convince him not to resign, understanding his great role in the project. But he believes that in these tragic days for Ukraine, the person who does this work should live there and physically share the suffering and pain with the Ukrainian people.

The author of this article was in Kyiv in these days and could easily have visited the site, talked to people who are involved in the project, and checked the facts.

Natan Sharansky is a former political prisoner in the Soviet Union, former minister in Israeli governments, former Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Chair of the Advisory Board of ISGAP (Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy) and CAM (Combat Antisemitism Movement), and founder and Chair of the Adelson Shlihut Institute of the Jewish Agency.

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