Kyiv

Jewish Kyiv

02 Mar 2022
There has been a significant Jewish community in Kyiv for more than a thousand years. At the turn of the 20th Century, Kyiv was one of the most important centers of Jewish culture in Eastern Europe. Jewish synagogues, schools, businesses and markets were prominently represented in a city where Jewish businessmen, engineers, scientists, teachers, doctors, lawyers, writers, artists and tailors all lived and prospered. Israeli political leaders Golda Meier and Ephraim Katzir, as well as the Soviet poet Ilya Ehrenburg were born in Kyiv. The famous Jewish writers Sholem Aleichem and Isaac Babel and poet Osip Mandelstam lived for long periods in the city. The construction of many beautiful buildings, such as Bessarabs’kyi Market and the Kyiv Oblast Hospital, was financed by wealthy Jewish patrons.
Kyiv in the late 19th century

With the beginning of Perestroika in 1985, Jewish communities that had suffered under the Communist regime began to be become more active. Jewish leaders from all over the world came to Ukraine to restore religious structures and revive the formerly oppressed communities. Brodsky Shul, the centre of Jewish religious and cultural life, is located in what used to be the Jewish quarter near Palats Sportu. Across the street is the Great Kyiv Synagogue Community Centre, a multifunctional institution that unites the activities of the synagogue, humanitarian aid projects, cultural and language education.

Since the Bolshevik Revolution, Jewish Ukrainians were oppressed in both their public and private lives. During the Great Patriotic War, as World war II is referred to here, Ukrainian Jews were executed by the thousands in western villages and cities. The worst slaughter in Kyiv occurred at the Baba Yar, meaning the “Ravine of Women”, named so after the women who would visit soldiers stationed at this former lonely outpost of the Kyiv Russ. In 1943, 32,000 Jews were taken here by Nazi soldiers, shot, and pushed by a bulldozer into the shallow ravine. The number of people killed there equals approximately one-third of the entire Jewish community of Kyiv today, and the park is located within the city where the victims lived.

The largest of the two memorials at the site is actually in the wrong place. After its construction, the sculptor built a small memorial where the people had actually been shot. There are plans to create a museum and larger monument at Baba Yar, funded by various Jewish organisations from around the world.

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