Video exclusive to The Washington Post shows a chaotic scene as firefighters rush to extinguish the flames and civilians try to clear the area. [Yuri Gruzinovand, Sergi Mykhalchuk, Luis Velarde/The Washington Post]
A Russian missile strike that appeared to target a TV tower in Ukraine’s capital Tuesday struck in the vicinity of the Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial, the site of a World War II massacre, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said via Twitter on Tuesday. Five people were killed in the strike, according to Ukrainian officials.
The extent of the damage was not immediately clear. The TV tower, built by the Soviets, was constructed on part of the land where the massacre occurred. Two memorials commemorating the dead stand nearby, one of which opened last year.
Israeli journalist Ron Ben-Yishai, a veteran war correspondent, visited the site after Tuesday’s attack and reported Wednesday that the recently opened memorial did not appear to have been hit, contrary to some initial reports. He reported that the closest damage was to a TV tower complex less than 1,000 feet away, which itself is on the overall site.
Moscow has said it is targeting only military infrastructure, but missiles and artillery shells have struck residential areas in Kyiv, Kharkiv and elsewhere across Ukraine.
The strike on the site of the massacre carried particular symbolic weight.
“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 …” Zelensky tweeted.
The Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem in a statement denounced the strike and called on the international community “to safeguard civilian lives as well as these historical sites because of their irreplaceable value.”
“We continue to follow with grave concern the outrageous acts of aggression being perpetrated against civilian targets in Ukraine,” it said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement Tuesday that Israel would help to repair any damage to the site. He condemned the attack, but did not mention Russia’s role in it. Israel, while supporting Ukraine, has avoided publicly criticizing Russia.
Babyn Yar, or Babi Yar, is a ravine on the outskirts of Kyiv where, over two days in September 1941, more than 33,000 Jews were shot to death by Nazi-led killing squads in a campaign against the Soviet Union.
The Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial opened last year after repeated delays. The center’s chairman, Natan Sharansky, was born in Ukraine and was one of the most famous “refuseniks” — Jews in the Soviet Union who openly opposed bans on Jewish emigration.
News of the strike also resonated in Jewish communities worldwide after Putin’s claim that he invaded Ukraine to “denazify” its government and stop a “genocide,” an assertion with no factual basis and which analysts say is aimed at discrediting Zelensky and other Ukrainian nationalists opposed to Russian control.
“Putin seeks to distort and manipulate the Holocaust to justify an illegal invasion of a sovereign democratic country is utterly abhorrent,” Sharansky said in a statement Tuesday. “It is symbolic that he starts attacking Kyiv by bombing the site of the Babyn Yar, the biggest of Nazi massacre.”
Zelensky also is Jewish, and some of his family members died in the Holocaust. While his grandfather survived, three of Zelensky’s great-uncles were executed as part of the German-led genocide of European Jews during the war. About 1.5 million of the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust were Ukrainian.
There are several Ukrainian nationalist paramilitary groups, such as the Azov movement and Right Sector, and a far-right party, Svoboda, which holds one seat in parliament. But they have little public support.
Putin’s rhetoric is aimed at selling the war to Russians back home, for whom talk of fighting fascism still resonates deeply, said Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale University.
Critics of Putin’s rhetoric, including Zelensky, say he is exploiting the trauma of World War II and twisting its history for his own interests.
Practicing Judaism and Jewish rituals was effectively banned in the Soviet Union. Zelensky in a 2020 interview said he grew up in an “ordinary Soviet Jewish family” that like “most Jewish families in the Soviet Union were not religious. You know religion didn’t exist in the Soviet state as such.”
When Putin invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, there were at least an estimated 43,000 Jews living in Ukraine. Like other Ukrainians, since the war began, some have fled their homes for other cities or other countries, and some have stayed in Ukraine.
The Washington Post verified videos of the Kyiv TV tower strike Tuesday that appeared to show that the structure and the area immediately surrounding it were hit at least twice.
In one video, a man stopped at an intersection is filming the TV tower from about a quarter-mile away. A few seconds into the video, a ball of fire explodes at the site. It takes a few moments for the sound of the blast to reach the onlookers.
“Everyone get down,” a man yells as he exits the car. “Closer to the ground, further away from the glass. There may be one more strike.”
From another vantage point, the bomb appears to hit close to the Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial site, which is just west of the tower.
The frame of the TV tower was still standing after the strike. The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said the strike on the tower interrupted service adding that backup channels would be accessible soon.
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