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TRAVEL YOUR OWN HISTORY
Maksym Chornyi

WAR-DOCUMENTARY.info

TRAVEL YOUR OWN HISTORY BEYOND BABI YAR: HISTORY IN THE VICINITY

BEYOND BABI YAR: HISTORY IN THE VICINITY

by Maksym Chornyi
26 декабря 2020
50 minutes read

THE ‘ROAD OF DEATH’ SIGN

On June 29, 1941, exactly one week since the outbreak of the war, the radio sets across the Soviet Union heated the hearts of the 195 million citizenry with a new patriotic song: ‘On June twenty-two, at four o’clock in the morning, the Kiev was bombed, and we were announced that the war had begun’. Sticking with the facts, the very first air bombs graveled the major city of Ukraine just beyond 7 a.m. On the following day (June 23) nothing less than 200 000 male-Kievans were ordered for mobilization. The mass exodus from Kyiv would be soon (September 29, the premier day of the ‘June 22’ song) advanced with an order for the evacuation of the strategic enterprises to the heartlands and as a result the departure of dozens of thousands of citizens Eastward. All while the actual siege of Kyiv would be enacted as soon as July 11, the very first June week of the war witnessed the massive defensive measures on a never-before-seen scale. Boundless groups of women, rare men, elderlies, and adolescents were now called to dig kilometers of ditches manually: an elusive obstacle of slowing down the unprecedented war machine of the Third Reich on its way to Kyiv. 

Among the kilometers of such anti-tank ditches outside and inside the city, the one perpendicular to Melnikova street (opposite the modern INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS) looked like a barricade of the times of the French revolution: with bags of sand and barbed wire next to a trench. From early hours of September 29, 1941 thousands of Kyiv Jews had a few alternatives rather than to follow the order, had been previously put on the walls and fences across the city and stimulated with the well-advised rumors about evacuation: a phantom hope for the future. In these early hours, the streets of the historical neighborhood of LUKYANIVKA (traditionally Ukrainian-spelled) next to Artem factory and the local market were crowded with people. A woeful procession of women, elderlies, children, and sick people was on its move lengthwise Melnikova street in the North-West direction. The unknown authors of the published banners (produced at the printed works of the Wehrmacht 6th army two days before) mishandled the topography of Kyiv by referring to an assembly point as a site close to the cemeteries, in fact, Apr. 2 kilometers distanced. 

Babi yar tragedy, Jews in the streets of Kiev Septermber 1941
A column of Jews makes their way lengthwise Melnikova, September 29, 1941

Albeit the fact that the printed order had prescribed 8 a.m., a vast number of people reached the site anteriorly. The onward movement of the endless column toward the cemeteries was snail-paced considering the crowded Melnikova street, the carriages, and a great number of old and sick people. Approximately 1300 meters further to the North-West (regarding an assembly point next to Artem plant and the Lukyanivka market) Melnikova street is crossed (indeed, it originates here to the East) by Yemelyan Pugachev street. It was named after Don Cossack of the XVIII century, a leader of the peasant rebellion of his times, who failed to conquer Tsaritsyn, later named as Stalingrad, the upcoming grave of the German 6th army, who was now conquerors of Kyiv. Yemelyan Pugachev street would preserve some of the historical buildings after the war. For example, №12 (today: National Academy for public administration under the president of Ukraine) would accommodate the orphanage for children, who lost their parents at war or were liberated from the concentration and work camps. 

The death road of the Jews towards Babi yar

To the immediate rear of this crossing with Yemelyan Pugachev street, a few dozens of meters further, the woebegone column of fated people could now witness the armed soldiers. The Germans made advantage of the never used anti-tank ditch, bags with sands, and a barbed wire as an improvised barrier and enclosure. In the first instance, people were ordered to leave the carriages and those not Jewish were abandoned to cross the enclosure. From the accounts of the eyewitnesses, the absolute majority of the people, who crossed this barrier perpendicular to Melnikova street, would not be allowed to go back. From this point, large groups of people were escorted further ahead Melnikova up to the next enclosure in the intersection with Kagatna (modern Hohlov family street), short of the entrance to the Jewish Cemetery. The cross-examining of the eyewitness accounts represent the fact that the first barrier next to Yemelyan Pugachev street would be used by the Germans until October 2, well beyond the conventional September 29-30 dates. The procedure would remain the same: the barrier separated the doomed persons from the on-goers. 

The modern 'Road of Death' sign in Kiev in the vicinity of Babi yar ravine

On October 3, 2011, seventy years after the dramatic events in the spurs of Babi yar ravine in Kyiv, thousands of people, both Kievans and guests of the capital of now independent state of Ukraine, reunited to commemorate the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. This year was distinguished by the inauguration of a memorial, known at present as the ‘ROAD OF DEATH’ sign. Approximately at 11 a.m. the granite stone of 2.5-meter height was unveiled within a concrete patch of land inside a service trolley bus traffic circle and became a part of the history of the Babi yar tragedy. The memorial was put apr, 150 distanced from the first SS enclosure on Melnikova (modern Yuri Illenko). All while the direct passage lengthwise Dorogozhitska street is the shortest way to Babi yar, the Germans orchestrated an alternative route further ahead of Melnikova street. The face side of the monument is covered with symbolic squeezes of human feet, commemorating the final path for the victims of the Babi yar massacre. A separate plate of black marble includes an inscription:  

“Here starts the “Road of Death”, along which the fascist occupiers drove the Jews to be shot at Babi Yar on September 29, 1941”

The inscription at the 'Road of Death' sign

 

THE OLD JEWISH CEMETERY

Project of the Jewish Cemetery in Kyiv, 1892
The project of the administrative building, main gate, and fence, 1892

In 1886 Evsey Avraamovich Tsukerman, the rabbi of Kyiv (who would be re-elected in the course of the four decades) addressed the city authorities with an appeal to allot land for a new Jewish cemetery. As the initially prescribed plot of land next to Zverinets cemetery (originated from the XVIII century) was appreciated as two small, as soon as in 1888 the city council allocated a new larger one. This new plot of land, initially authorized as 3 to 5 hectares, was chosen in Syrets, geographically squeezed between two existing cemeteries: Kirilovske of the XVIII century and Lukyanivske Orthodox (officially dating from 1878). The same written resolution allocated another spot for land nearby for the creation of Karaim cemetery, which would be included in the maps of Kyiv as soon as 1902 along the western border of the Jewish cemetery. A decision to establish a Jewish cemetery in this very part of Kyiv was in fact dictated the historical demography of the city. The surrounding neighborhoods had been historically a place of residents of the great majority of the Kyiv Jews. 

Main entrance to the Jewish Cemtery in Kyiv, Ukraine
The main entrance to the Jewish cemetery at the beginning of the XX century

The time was passing by, yet a masterminded project of the cemetery, including the building of the funeral parlor (preserved until today) was not materialized without a patronship on behalf of the Jewish community of Kyiv. A new Lukyanivske Jewish cemetery was officially inaugurated as soon as 1894. By the early XX century, the territory of a new-established burial place substantially expanded and amounted to nearly 25 hectares in 1937, a year it was closed for burial. By the time of the German occupation of Kyiv in September 1941, the Jewish Cemetery was neighbored by the overgrown Karaim cemetery with its territory of 2 hectares. Father to the West, beyond Karaim cemetery and next to the spurs of Babi yar, the ‘Mohammedan’ or ‘Muslim’ or Tataric’ cemetery of another two hectares had used to shape the area. It was from this place that several eyewitnesses bore testimonies, among other viewpoints around Babi yar, about the mass executions of Jews within the upper spurs of the ravine. 

The New Lukyanivske Jewish Cemetery would come in the dramatic eyewitness accounts of those who survived as well as the locals and ongoers within the Babi yar area. On September 27, two days before the mass action, several lorries used to pass beside the Jewish cemetery to deliver Soviet prisoners of war, male Jews in particular, to the upper spurs of the Babi yar ravine. As the mass action of September 29-30 materialized (in fact the route and the SS barricades would be used until October 2 with the same organizational agenda), the ‘death road’ included a section of Melnikova street beside the Southern wall of the Jewish cemetery. The Germans set the second (the first one was located at the intersection with Yemelyan Pugachev street) improvised enclosure perpendicular to Melnikova between the corner of Kagatna (modern Hohlov family) and the main entrance to the now-closed Jewish cemetery. 

The map of the Jewish cemetery near Babi yar, Kiev

As late as August-September 1943 during the infamous ‘Aktion 1005’ (am euphemism for removing traces of mass murder), the Germans would force the inmates of the Syrets concentration camp to demolish many gravestones and sections of a metal fence of the Jewish cemetery to set on the improvised furnaces for burning corpses (buried within Babi yar ravine) open air. These weeks marked the beginning of the liquidation of the Lukyanivske Jewish cemetery, which had been closed for burial since 1937 after forty-three years of operation. Along with that, the burials would be resumed with the liberation of Kyiv and would take place until the end of the 1940s. A new general plan of the city development of Kyiv implicated the liquidation of the territory of all three cemeteries (Jewish/Karaim/Mohammedan) and reshaping the area into a recreation park: yet the final judgment would be authorized as late as 1962. 

Melnikova street near the Jewish cemetery, Kyiv
Melnikova street beside the Jewish cemetery and the administrative building at the far right

The final prescription on the urban development of the area integrated two separate cemeteries into one Jewish-Karaim, the one to be liquidated. The 1962 document included a passage that the major part of the burials had already been annihilated during the German occupation of Kyiv: in fact only the half-truth, yet a satisfactory argument to liquidate the burial grounds. The combined territory of two cemeteries was evaluated as 26.9 hectares (including Apr. 25 for Jewish and 2 for Karaim), the condition as ‘a a wasteland’, overgrown with bushes and trees. Regardless of the mass slaughtering of the Jewish population of Kyiv (those, who were not evacuated upon German arrival) between 1941 and 1943, the after-war returnees resumed their visiting of the burials of the relatives within the Jewish cemetery. Admittedly, the practice of annihilation of the cemeteries, Jewish ones, in particular, was a common practice throughout the Soviet Union up until the fall of Communism. On the heels of the official document, the former final resting place for dozens of thousands of people was ‘entrusted’ to the competency of the ‘Department of urban garden’ of Kyiv

The main entrance to the Jewish cemetery in Kiev

While the inks on the documents were still warm, the same 1962 witnessed an established project for a new Broadcasting complex, signed to occupy a part of the territory of the still existing Jewish cemetery to the North of Melnikova street. Another plot of land was demarcated for the sake of a planned sports complex with a swimming pool. The document included a passage on ‘high density of the burials’ within the territory of the upcoming building up, an ‘interference’ authorized to be liquidated. The following decade witnessed a progressive annihilation of the Jewish, Karaim, and the remnants of the Islamic cemeteries. The former green spaces are subjected to slashing, old erection for demolition, and the tombstones for leveling with the ground. A new sports complex incrementally dominates the area and the territory of the old war cemetery (to the west of the modern one) is leveled to free space for a new TV tower of 385 meters high: the tallest erection in Ukraine. 

TV broadcasting center near Babi yar ravine
Building-up of the Broadcasting complex on the exact site of the Jewish cemetery

Bypassing the all but complete annihilation of the Lukyanivske cemetery in the course of 1960-1970-s, one erection survived both Nazis and Communists. The former administration building of the cemetery has been preserved until today with Yuri Illenko 44 (former Melnikova) address. The construction blueprint of the building, accompanied by the cemetery itself, the fence, and the main gate, was submitted for approval as far back in history as 1892. The greater part of the construction works demanded another two years. Half a century from that time, in August-September 1943 the building was accommodated by the operational staff of the sadly remembered ‘1005’ unit, in charge of eliminating the traces of mass crimes in Babi yar. All while the involved inmates of the Syrets concentration camp were kept in locked dig-outs in the ravine and inside another dig-outs in Syrets camp, the Germans from among the ‘Ordnungspolizei (Order police)’ made themselves comfortable inside the former cemetery administration building. After the war, the Kyiv city authorities shied away from wasting the property and the building was turned into a dormitory for the players of the ‘Sokol’ hockey team

The administrative building of the former Cemetery

As decades passed by, the memory of the Babi yar victims has been gradually making headway into the public perception of a new independent Ukrainian state. As soon as 2016, three-quarters of a century after the German occupation and mass executions in Babi yar and Syrets camp, the Lukyanivske Kewish cemetery made its history felt once again. A ‘ROAD OF SORROW’ was erected on the place of the former cemetery alley with recently excavated tombstones, brought here from the spurs of ‘Repyahov’ ravine nearby, cleaned, and partially repaired. At the same time, Melnikova 44 (modern Yuri Illenko)) building was transferred back into city ownership: initiated repair works now aimed to reshape the historical landmark into a memorial museum, devoted to the memory of those killed in Babi yar.

The Alley of sorrow: Jewish cemetery in Kyiv

The tombstones from the former cemetery

A shortlist of the preserved historical sights from the era includes a section of the authentic cemetery fence, as well as a tiny plot with burials, Apr. 100 meters distanced from the Menorah memorial to the East. In the years to come it is the territory of the former Jewish cemetery, which will make space for the construction of a grandiose Memorial center. 

The preserved section of the former Jewish cemetery, Babi yar

The preseerved tombstones of the Jewish Cemetery

 

LUKYANIVSKE ORTHODOX CEMETERY

One of the oldest cemeteries in Kyiv (Cyrilivske cemetery was set on as far back as XVIII, yet almost completely annihilated today) originates from the last quarter of the XIX century. Toward the year 1878, when the Kyiv city officials assigned a plot of land of 3 hectares, squeezed in between two historical districts: Kurenivka and Lukyanivka, not abundant burials had been carried in the course of the previous seven years. That pioneer resting places were made for the deceased patients of Cyril’s hospital, afterward named Pavlov Mental Clinic and sadly remembered as part of the tragedy in Babi Yar. The very first decade of the cemetery operation witnessed an erection of a cozy wooden chapel, later followed by a stone church as a main place for the liturgy. The terrain of the site would be steadily expanded towards the fall of the Tsarist monarchy and numbered as much as 30 000 burials and 20 hectares on the heels of the Great War. 

All while the Lukyanisvke cemetery was initially established as an orthodox resting place, at varying times, the representatives of many religions and nationalities found their tombs here. The year 1915 witnessed a separation of a stand-alone section for Catholics. Regardless of the existence of the ever-growing Jewish cemetery nearby, some Jews found their last resting place within this Christian one. 

As far back as the Tsarist era, another section of land was assigned for the burials of inmates from Cyril’s prison, a historical detention center, which had been expanding since the 1860s next to the Lukyanivka market (both to the West of the September 29 assembly point). As late as 1918 the Bolsheviks carried tortures and mass executions of their political enemies within Cyril’s prison and used to bury bodies in mass graves at the Lukyanivske cemetery, later neighbored to the victims of ‘Holodomor’, a 1932-1933 man-made famine orchestrated by the Communist regime. The years of ‘The Great Terror’ or ‘Red Terror’ in 1937-1938 witnessed another dramatic chapter of history with mass executions on a never-before-seen scale in Kyiv and unmarked burials, at the Lukyanisvke cemetery in particular. At that time, the personnel of the cemetery was put under the supervision of the infamous Soviet NKVD and the locals would later testify on the existence of the mass graves within the spurs on the periphery. 

LUKYANIVSKE ORTHODOX CEMETERY in Kyiv, Ukraine

LUKYANIVSKE ORTHODOX CEMETERY near Babyn yar

In the course of the infamous mass killing action on September 29-30, 1941, and within the subsequent days (the first wave of executions lasted until October 2-3) the route of the doomed Jews actually besided the Northern burden of the Lukyanivske orthodox cemetery. Next to an intersection with Kagatna (modern Hohlov family), the columns of people were forced to move forward lengthwise Dorogozhitska street toward the upper spurs of the Babi yar ravine. Proximately to the North-East corner of the cemetery, Germans used an open site next to the former tank repair garages to take possession and valuables, overclothes and documents from their victims. At this very place an intersection with Kagatna (modern Hohlov family) further South was barricaded with another enclosure with German soldiers. A number of eyewitnesses watched the mass killings in Babi yar ravine straightforwardly from the territory of Orthodox cemetery, from the windows of a gatehouse in particular. The Western border of the cemetery at that time neighbored an anti-tank ditch, another site for mass executions in the course of the German occupation of Kyiv in 1941-1943. The cemetery itself witnessed mass executions. An episode of the killing of 400 people would be later investigated by the Special State Commission. The modern cemetery bears the status of a memorial: THE LUKYANIVKA STATE HISTORICAL AND MEMORIAL RESERVE

THE LUKYANIVKA STATE HISTORICAL AND MEMORIAL RESERVE

 

ANTI-TANK DITCH

As far as Kyiv experienced a wide-sweeping exodus of its population both to the East and to the ranks of the Red Army, the greater majority of the remaining civilians were occupied with the defensive measures to make the Ukrainian capital into a fortress. The period between June 22 (the outbreak of war) and September 19 (the start of the German occupation) witnessed a dig out of roughly 30 kilometers of anti-tank ditches in the immediate vicinity and within the city borders. The exhaustive manual work was intensified after July 11 during the siege of Kyiv. The streets of the city now allocated hundreds of improvised barricades, very similar to those of the times of the European revolutions of the XVIII-XIX centuries. Apart from the ditches, conventionally up to three meters in width and depth, Kievans used sandbags, barbed wire (30 kilometers in total), anti-tank hedgehog, wood boards, barrels, and even furniture. The defensive act of bravery would be a ‘Sisyphean labor’, as the Germans would enter Kyiv with all but resistance. The civilians would be forced to demolish the barricades, which had been erected in the course of the previous three months. 

Kievans forced to demolish the previously dug barricades 1941
Kievans forced to demolish the previously dug barricades, September 1941

One among such anti-tank ditches dug out in parallel to Lagerna (modern Dorogozhitska)  street originating from the North-West corner of the Lukyanivske Orthodox Cemetery and going out to the Syrets military camps (in 1942 the Germans would set on a concentration camp within the site). A wide range of the testimonies about Babi yar and Syrets concentration camp, including the ones voiced at the Nuremberg trials, included recollections about this very anti-tank ditch as a mass execution and burial site. In wider means, a defensive erection, set on to defend the civilian population from the advancing enemy army, would become a place for mass killings and a large mass grave for the Soviet POWs and civilians. 

All while the upper spurs of the Babi yar ravine, including a large sand quarry: more than half a kilometer in total, were to become the primary site of the mass executions in September-October 1941, the two years to come brought several local sites of the same origin. Whereas the shootings and gassing of the patients of the Pavlov Mental Clinic were local in its dramatic nature, the anti-tank ditch lengthwise Lagerna (modern Dorogozhitska) was to become the major killing site in 1941-1943. The very first winter of occupation witnessed the bringing, thus execution and burial on mass) of the inmates of SD prison at Korolenko 33 (modern Volodymyrska street), set by the Germans in the former NKVD building, a mass execution site under the Communists. As late as February 1942 the ditch would become the last resting place of a number of Soviet marines, captured by the Germans in September 1941. With the putting in operation of the Syrets concentration camp, an anti-tank ditch close to its borders would become the primary site for executions apart from Babi yar itself. 

An anti-tank ditch near Babi yar

The key testimonies regarding the anti-tank ditch lengthwise Lagerna (modern Dorogozhitska) conventionally render three sources. 1) after war accounts of the former inmates of the Syrets concentration camp; 2) the German wardens on the site 3) the documents of the Special State Commission on Investigating the Crimes. In the course of two years of occupation, this anti-tank ditch will ‘absorb’ the Soviet POWs, the members of the Communist Party and Jews, in particular, the members of the Ukrainian patriotic nationalistic formations, the members of underground and partisans, the inmates of the prisons and civilians on mass. During the infamous ‘Aktion 1005’ on exhumation and burning the corpses in 1943 the ditch was to become one of two main sites of the ‘works’, the one apart from the upper spurs of the Babi yar ravine itself. The eyewitnesses testified on the exhumation of up to 20 000 corpses, some of which still retained military insignia. The State Commission would later document 25 000 dead, summing up the ditch itself and the victims of the Syrets concentration camp to the North-West. 

The exhumated mass of corpses included wounded Soviet POWs, some of them with pairs of crutches. A share of the victims was identified as male Jews and political officers: two categories of prisoners, assigned to immediate execution. Apart from the military men, the investigation factualized a great number of civilians, including women and children. As for the exact dimensions of the anti-tank ditch, the eyewitnesses testified a variety of figures from 200 to 300 meters in length and 3 to 5 meters in width and depth. As late as August 1943, some SYRETS CAMP inmates, groups up to 80 men, were taken from the camp daily to perform an exhumation of corpses, in parallel with the same process in Babi yar ravine itself. One of the improvised furnaces for burning corpses was erected close to the anti-tank ditch itself and the German officers supervised both locations. After the escapade of the inmates, engaged in ‘Aktion 1005’, the remaining 300 men would be shot on the site of their recent work and committed to the flames, they had set themselves. 

Melnikova street, Kyiv, Ukraine
The five-story building mirrors the direction of the war-time anti-tank ditch

 

MEMORIAL SIGN TO SYRETS CONCENTRATION CAMP PRISONERS

Back in spring 1941, at the time when ‘Weisung Nr. 21’ (directive on Operation Barbarossa) was being updated with vivid writing inks on refining documents, the Germans authorized a blueprint for setting up a system of camps within the still to be conquered territories of the Soviet Union. This new detention chain was expected to perform custody for the POWs and their families as well as ‘political suspects’, an upcoming euphemism with almost never-ceasing interpretations. The Syrets concentration camp, set on by Germans in Spring 1942 on the site of the former ‘Syrets military camps’, was to become such a ‘detention center’. Similar to the old Polish military camps in the city of Oswiecim, the Germans took advantage of the existing site and infrastructure, yet widely expanded in the course of operation. Some erections dating back to the XIX century were demolished to make room for new watchtowers, wooden barracks, and dig-out barracks. The vast territory to the West of the Babi yar ravine was now fenced with two rows of barbed wire, including the electrified enclosure. The camp was divided into a working area and a residential zone: the latter divided into a ‘men’s’ and ‘women’s’ camp. 

The map of the vicinity of the Babi yar

Territory of the Syrets concentration camp
PERIPHERY OF THE SYRETS CAMP, FENCED WITH BARBED WIRE

The daily working routine of the inmates of the Syrets concentration camp was deadly exhaustive and mirrored the Nazi approach for such kind of facilities and the mass exploitation of human lives within the conquered ‘Lebensraum’ (‘Living space’ in violent Nazi worldview). Alongside hard work from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. and malnutrition, the prisoners were exposed to beatings and constant humiliation and any insubordination meant punishment: conventionally death. The investigation of the operation of the Syrets camps soon after the liberation of Kyiv in 1943, including the exhumation of corpses, would allow to factualize the fact that predominantly the death of the inmates stemmed from violence. Toward the end of the 1940s, the former German concentration camp would be reshaped to hold in detention the German POWS, captured during the liberation of Ukraine. A number of them were buried nearby, within a small German military cemetery, next to the modern Syretz metro station to the West. As soon as the 1960s, along with the liquidation of the Jewish cemetery and fundamental reshaping of the area, the remnants of the former camp were annihilated to make space for a new residential quarter predominantly with five-story buildings. It was not until 1991 that a ‘Memorial sign to Syrets concentration camp prisoners’ would be erected in the crossroad of the former Lagerna (modern Dorogozhitska) and Shamrylo (modern Parkovo-Syretska) to the South of the actual site of the former concentration camp. The shadow-figures of the prisoners and a metal bar are accompanied by a metal plate:

«On this spot during the German-fascist occupation behind lattices of Syrets camp, tens of thousands Soviet patriots were tortured to death»

MEMORIAL SIGN TO SYRETS CONCENTRATION CAMP PRISONERS

MEMORIAL SIGN TO SYRETS CONCENTRATION CAMP PRISONERS Kyiv

 

PAVLOV MENTAL CLINIC

The history of the area at the weald above Dnipro river, the location of the ‘Kyiv City Mental Clinic №1 after Pavlov’, harks back to the XII century. Nearly 1140, Cyril’s monastery was founded here to give life to a brick church, the future tombs of the Kievan sovereign, dominating the landscape. It would take another hundred years until the area of ‘Syrets’, including the monastery, would be mentioned on paper as a gift to Kyivo-Pecherska Lavra in Kyiv, the iconic Christian adamant of the Slavic world. The same year of 1240 Kyiv was captured, looted, and partially destroyed by the Mongolian tribes: the fate dramatically implied Cyril’s monastery. Three more centuries will pass until Syrets would be incorporated to the city limits of Kyiv (as a suburb in fact) and vast territories would be added to the area of the monastery on the hill over Dnipro. Along with that, an area over Babi yar ravine and a river-valley would be a rarely populated exurban periphery of the city. 

In 1784 the six-century history of Cyril’s monastery and the church verged to a close. At one time with the setting up of Cyril’s cemetery to the South (does not exist today), in 1786 the former prayer place and a cradle of Kievan princes was turned into a disabled person’s home for war veterans. The inspiration came from different corners of Europe, including of course Paris with its famous Hôtel des Invalides, which had been operating since the XVII century. As soon as 1803 the newly-build wooden bulks on the territory were accommodated (moved here from the so-called ‘House of Petr I’ in Podol area of Kyiv) by the so-called ‘house of correction’: a euphemism for a home for mental disabilities and drunkards. Initially supposed to allocate only 25 patients, this new division was destined to be expanded: with new wooden and bricks buildings of one and two stories. 

Pavlov Mental clinic during Great War 1914
Military hospital in Cyril’s clinic during the WWI

In 1891 Cyril’s hospital (called at that time), which had overpassed the status of a hospital for war veterans (disabled person’s home had been closed in 1835 and its facilities entrusted to a hospital) long ago, witnessed the building-up of a two-story therapeutic unit for 32 beds and another one in six years. As soon as in 1902 the hospital had a full right to boast of a new infectious disease department for 60 beds: the event soon followed by an erection of several new brick buildings. In the course of the Great War (WWI) the clinic was converted into a military hospital. Already in 1920 Cyril’s clinic was fated to bear the name of the iconic-like Taras Shevchenko, a Ukrainian poet of the XIX century, until 1936 and named as ‘Pavlov Mental Clinic’. The Soviet physiologist, the awardee of the Nobel prize and the pioneer researcher of the higher nervous system, passed away in February of 1936 at the age of 86. Toward the German occupation of Kyiv in 1941, the territory of the Pavlov Mental clinic was enlarged up to 20 hectares. 

Pavlov Mental Clinic, Cyril's church from the perspective of the Repyhov ravine
Pavlov Mental Clinic, Cyril’s church from the perspective of the Repyhov ravine, the 1930s

The Pavlov Clinic had become a part of the tragic history of Babi yar on October 13, 1941. Three days before this date, the Germans informed the medical personnel of the planned evacuation of the Jewish patients supposedly to an appropriate institution for mental disabilities in the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia. The ‘evacuation’ naming kept in the dark the ‘Aktion’ on the annihilation of the mentally sick Jews. The two trucks brought 25 members of the SS as well as 30 soldiers of the ‘Ordnungspolizei’ (Order police) to the territory of the medical center above the spurs of Babi yar. The Jewish patients were flushed out of the brick building unit and then hastened with sticks toward the cliff of the ravine and a pit. The following procedure of the massacre mirrored the September 29-30 blueprint. The doomed people were forced to lie in the pit, layer by layer to be shot. The action demanded the lives of 308 mentally deceased persons that October day. In the following month, a German report on the ‘Aktion’ would include a passage on severe ‘emotional load’, had been experienced by the executioners of the ‘evacuation’ in Pavlov clinic on 13.10.1941. 

Pavlov Mental Clinic, Cyril's church map Babi yar

On January 8, 1942, the German punitive units resumed their presence in the medical center: this time to annihilate the remaining patients, regardless of their nationality, thus non-Jews. The executioners brought the infamous ‘Gaswagen’, which had been tested within the death camp Chelmno in Poland. The patients were now driven into a lorry with an enclosed body and a subsequent operation of the engine asphyxiated people inside to death. On that January day, the Germans initially planned to bring two ‘gaswagens’ to the Pavlov Mental Clinic, yet the snowdrifts made it possible to deliver only one mobile killing facility to the site, which took the lives of Apr. 300 patients. The asphyxiated bodies were initially bulked within one of the premises until another lorry took them to the mass graves in the Babi yar ravine the next day. The Nazi mobile killing factory would visit the site two more times: in March and October 1942 to annihilate all remaining sick people. Along with these actions, an unnumbered number of Soviet POWs were executed in bushes on the periphery of the medical center during the German occupation. 

The cloughs of the Babi yar ravine

The modern building of the Pavlov Mental Clinic
One of the units, built in the 1960s

In August -September 1943 in the course of the infamous ‘Aktion 1005’ the Germans recalled the mass graves next to a mental clinic to include the site into the liquidation of the traces of crimes. Among other locations in Babi yar, the prisoners of the SYrets concentration camp were taken to the territory of the Clinic and the nearby spurs. They exhumated up to 800 corpses, which would be taken and burned in the giant-like furnaces in Babi yar. As the war ended, the Clinic resumed its specialized operation and the 1960s witnessed the building-up of most of the buildings, preserved until today. It was not until 2003 the memory of the victims would be commemorated in a few memorial installations on the territory of the Medical center. The inscription on one of these signs commemorated the figure of 752 killed patients, all while the exact figure is still to be factualized. The inscription points out only the year 1941, yet the majority of the patients were killed in 1942.  

“In 1941 by the hands of Hitler occupiers 752 patients of psychiatric hospital were killed. We remember the innocent victims”

Memorial sign to the victims in Pavlov Mental clinic, Kyiv

Memorial signs at the Pavlov Mental clinic near Babi yar

 

MEMORIAL SIGN TO FOOTBALL PLAYERS

The house-to-house drafting in the Red Army in June 1941 provided no immunity to Soviet sportsmen, including the football players. As the guns around Kyiv went silent in September, a great proportion of the pre-war ‘DYNAMO’ team players were now descended to routine physical labor. As soon as May 1942 the recently minted heedie of bread-baking production, a privileged Moravian ‘Volksdeutsche’, took on a number of the former football players and formed a team less than a month later. That summer the new-born ‘Start’ team shared the grass with German and Hungarian soldiers, German railmen, and the most prominent matches were arranged against the ‘Flakelf’ team on August 6 and 9, 1942. One named after the legendary 88-mm air defense gun, the German team miserably lost 1:5 and 3:5 retrospectively. ‘Start team’ won every game of that summer series. 

It was this August 9, 1942 game, that would come into Soviet national reception as the ‘Death match’. The forged legend cultivated an idea that Ukrainian football players had decided to win the match regardless of the direct death threat. The issue of intimidation toward the ‘Start’ players is debateful as the surviving players later denied such precondition. Along with that, the Ukrainian team participated in only one match after the ‘Death’ one, against a local team and the subsequent games with German teams were suspended. In the course of the following month the larger half of the ‘Start’ team was arrested, interrogated in local Gestapo prison and some of them relieved. Relatedly several players were to become inmates of the Syrets concentration camp next to the Babi yar ravine. 

MEMORIAL SIGN TO FOOTBALL PLAYERS map

From amongst the players, who had been kept in confinement in Syrets camp, three were fated to share the dramatic nature of the site. The post-war investigations, including the thirty-years-long court examination in Hamburg (conducted from 1972 to 2005) and the cross-examination of the testimonies of the surviving players as well as other inmates of the camp: all these finally found no direct correlation between the results of the football games and the execution. The shooting of three players: Nikolai Trusevich, Ivan Kuzmenko, and Olexi Klimenko took place on February 24, 1943, more than six months after the August match with the ‘Flakelf’ team, on a personal commission of Sturmbannfuhrer Paul Radomski, the commandant of the camp. The warden, who had been known for his cruelty and excessive drinking, was relieved from his post on the same day because of unsuitable behavior and threats towards his German subordinates.

MEMORIAL SIGN TO FOOTBALL PLAYERS near Babi yar

Towards the 1960s, when the territory of the former Syrets concentration camps was leveled to the ground to make space for a new residential quarter, construction workers used to reveal mass graves with the corpses of the former prisoners. One of such graves was disclosed to the North of the actual campsite at the midst of a building-up of a residential building within Grekova street. The revealed collective grave included the remains of a man with soccer cleats: later identified as one among three killed football players of the ‘Start’. It was not until 1999, almost sixty years after the tragedy, that a small monument would commemorate the memory of the sportsmen. The inscription says: 

“On this place during the German fascist occupation of Kyiv in 1941-1943 were executed war prisoners, the footballers of Kyiv «Dynamo» and Ukrainian civilians. Eternal Memory and Glory”

Memorial sign to Dynamo players

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