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Babyn Yar A Ukrainian Grave (Andrii Pysachenko's eyewitness account)
Below can be found a translation by Lesya Jones, Myroslaw Prytulak, and Lubomyr Prytulak of Andrii Pysachenko's eyewitness account of events at the time of Babyn Yar, as published in the Kyiv newspaper Vechirnii Kyiv.  Before presenting Pysachenko's account itself, I wish to make the following observations:

(1) "Babyn Yar" is the Ukrainian rendering of the Russian "Babi Yar," which is the spelling most typically used in English up until recent times.  "Yar" means "ravine" and "Babyn Yar" means "the old woman's ravine."  The story commonly connected with Babyn Yar and which is challenged in Pysachenko's account is that in three days starting on September 29, 1941, the occupying Germans executed and buried 33,771 Jews at Babyn Yar.  Other estimates of the number of Jews killed at Babyn Yar vary widely, sometimes venturing as high as 300,000 for the total number of Jews killed at Babyn Yar over the course of the war.  Pysachenko's account contradicts this story by affirming that most of Kyiv's Jews had been evacuated eastward prior to the arrival of the Germans, and that the Jews killed at Babyn Yar were from the small number that had not been evacuated mainly the old.

(2) Andrii Pysachenko was an "eyewitness" in the sense that he was a resident of Kyiv at the time of the Babyn Yar events, and therefore witnessed many things relevant to our understanding of those events.  He did not, however, personally witness any executions.

(3) When Pysachenko estimates that the Jewish population of Kyiv prior to the German invasion was 160-180 thousand, he is offering an interval estimate of the upper limit only.  To arrive at an estimate of the lower limit, we would multiply his two lowest values (15% Jews times 800,000 total population) to give 120 thousand Jews.  Thus, Pysachenko's estimate of the total number of Jews in Kyiv prior to the arrival of the Germans would possibly be 120-180 thousand.

(4) It would appear from Pysachenko's account that no mass graves were dug at Babyn Yar, but rather that the natural steepness and depth of the ravine was used as a receptacle to contain the bodies.  When the bodies needed to be covered as there was no earth from any previous excavation at hand the Germans set off explosions in the sloping walls of the ravine, which succeeded in covering the bodies with only a thin layer of earth.

(5) Pysachenko's account reinforces the conclusion echoed by numerous other sources that the vast majority of Jews had been evacuated from Kyiv prior to the arrival of the Germans, and so that the notion that some 33,000 Jews remained behind and were executed by the Germans at Babyn Yar is implausible.  Although Pysachenko ventures no estimate of the number of Jews killed at Babyn Yar, he thinks that the correct value is low, and that the proportion of Babyn Yar victims that are Jewish to be "very insignificant."  Pysachenko reinforces this view with the evidence that immediately following the war, Kyiv's evacuated Jews returned and (because of Ukrainian losses during the war) quickly constituted a greater percentage of the Kyiv population than they did before the war.

(6) Pysachenko affirms that the Ukrainian police could not have assisted in Babyn Yar killings, as the Ukrainian police did not exist at the time the individuals who eventually formed the Ukrainian police were at that time still Soviet soldiers who had not as yet been captured by the Germans.

(7) Pysachenko's account helps explain the oft-noted docility of the Jews in the face of their own slaughter.  That is, the Jews who were left behind and who were executed by the Germans were not a representative sample, but rather were predominantly the old, the infirm, and the economically insignificant who had been abandoned by the young, the active, and the enterprising.

(8) I find that Pysachenko's credibility is enhanced by his unwillingness to venture figures where none exist as, for example, with respect to the actual number of Jews who convened in response to the German posters, the number of Jews buried at Babyn Yar, or the total number of victims in Babyn Yar.  These are not things that an eyewitness would know, and it is to Pysachenko's credit that he does not pretend to know them.  Also to Pysachenko's credit is his willingness to admit to an occasionally imperfect memory, and to acknowledge what aids he is using to refresh his memory even when that aid might be a novel, although one supposes that this is a historically-faithful novel.


Vechirnii Kyiv, December 18, 1996

In memory of the victims of famines and repressions


Testimony of eyewitness, Andrii Pysachenko, pensioner-veteran


Non-Fictional Pages from the History of Babyn Yar.


It is not only from the pages of Vechirnii Kyiv [The Evening Kyiv] that I have discovered that there exists in New York, USA the newspaper Novoye Russkoye Slovo [New Russian Word] which frequently pours filth over Ukrainians, accusing them of being the greatest haters of Jews.  As evidence it cites the unsubstantiated collaboration of Ukrainians with the Nazis in the killing of Jews during World War II, especially at Babyn Yar.  Allegedly 300 thousand Jews were shot there.  I would like to recount a few facts about the events of those times, of which I happened to be an involuntary witness.  Perhaps these facts will help Jewish emigrants from Ukraine, most particularly former Kyivans, O. Burakovsky and V. Korotych to recognize the truth and to renounce the unsubstantiated implication of Ukrainians in imaginary crimes.

To begin, before the war there simply were not that many Jews in Kyiv.  Yes, Kyiv is a large city .  Having been made the capital of Ukraine in 1934, Kyiv expanded rapidly.  As the number of institutions and industries grew, so did the population.  By 1959 the city's population reached 1 million 104 thousand, and by 1965 1 million 332 thousand.  (These statistics are taken from the Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia).  But before the war, the population of Kyiv was considerably smaller.  Unfortunately, I can't cite exact figures because the results of the 1939 census were not published, nor are they to be found in the Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia.  I estimate that it was 800,000 to 900,000.  The percentage of Jews was significant approximately 15-20 per cent so that in Kyiv there couldn't have been more than 160-180 thousand Jews.

The Germans entered an evacuated Kyiv on September 19, 1941 that is, 3 months (89 days) after the outbreak of the War.  What went on in Kyiv during those three months?  Besides the mobilization and the preparation of the city to resist the Germans, the city was being evacuated, a fact typically overlooked by people like Burakovsky and Korotych.  This evacuation clarifies a number of issues.  The evacuation was conducted by means of specially-assigned vouchers.  These vouchers were given out at work to managers, engineering and technical personnel, skilled workers, and office workers not only for themselves but also for their families.  These people, then, were evacuated together with the factories and institutions themselves.  Jews and their families were evacuated to the East together with all the others.  Moreover, Jews were given preference in receiving evacuation vouchers because rumors were circulating throughout the city that the Germans were exterminating Jews.  The Jews, therefore, made every effort to procure these privileged vouchers.

In addition to the official evacuation there was also an unofficial one.  People with money were able to buy the evacuation vouchers without having been selected officially, and so could move East at their own expense.  As a matter of fact, being selected for evacuation produced the side effect of deferring one's mobilization.  In any case, by the 19th of September, Kyiv contained few Jews.  This was the conclusion of the Kyivans who were left behind.  This was my conclusion as well, because at Factory No. 300 where I worked, not a single Jew remained they had all fled.  The chief engineer of the factory Y. M. Liubarsky, of Jewish nationality, ordered me to oversee meticulously the removal of the electrical equipment and what could not be removed, to destroy.  He left Kyiv early in order to be on hand to receive somewhere in Zelenodolsk the equipment as it arrived and to supervise the resettlement of the workers who had been evacuated from Kyiv.

I was in possession of an exemption which freed me from mobilization during the period of evacuation of the electrical equipment of factory No. 300, and had an embarkation ticket covering myself and my family, and was in fact preparing to evacuate upon the completion of my assignment.  Unfortunately, the troop train in which I was supposed to depart on September 15 never left the station the rail line to the East had been cut by the Germans.

And so I couldn't go anywhere and ended up in Hitlerite-occupied Kyiv.  Remnants of the Jewish population, it turned out, also remained in Kyiv.  Soon afterwards, the Germans posted on the streets of Kyiv announcements, written in German, Russian, and Ukrainian.  I don't recall the exact wording, but the gist is conveyed in the words quoted by I. Erenberg in his novel The Storm: "Jews of Kyiv and vicinity.  On Monday, September 29, at seven a.m. you are to appear with belongings, documents, and warm clothing on Dorohozhytsk street, beside the Jewish cemetery.  The penalty for failing to appear death."

Presumably the Germans were aware of the evacuation and therefore knew that few Jews remained in the city, and for this reason the German military command planned to deal with the Jews within a single day.  And so on the 29th of September began the heart-rending movement of Jews to Dorohozhytsk street.

But the Germans had miscalculated, for the arrival of Jews lasted not one day, but three whole days.  For three days the Jews streamed towards the assembly point.  They were, for the most part, old people, with sidelocks, wearing yarmulkes [skullcaps] and long coats [of the sort worn by Jews in Central and Eastern Europe].  They walked spread apart, singly, and also in small groups, carrying their meager belongings or pushing them in baby carriages.  No one patrolled them.  No one hurried them on.  No one accompanied them.  They walked down the streets towards the assembly point specified in the announcements.  The other Kyivans who had remained in the city looked at them and sadly shook their heads.  Some of them spoke contemptuously of the young, healthy Jews who had been evacuated, taking with them all valuable property, and leaving behind these old, infirm parents, grandfathers and grandmothers to take care of their empty apartments.  Finding themselves in such difficult circumstances (in the city there was neither electricity, nor bread, nor water), these old people, not seeing any other way out of their predicament (and, perhaps no other way existed) obediently walked towards the assembly point, and to whatever fate had in store for them there....

Among them happened to be also some younger families.  These were people who had found themselves unable to evacuate.  They were few in number.

How many gathered at the assembly point, I don't know, but during these three days the number was not great, considering that it was primarily the old and the infirm who, on their own, had gathered to walk into the unknown.

I suppose that the Germans were unable to collect much gold and valuables from them, and were not prepared to take care of these old people.  Probably the Germans didn't take them anywhere, but killed them on the spot, as described by I. Erenberg who gathered his information shortly after the events.

Did the "Ukrainian police" help the Germans execute Jews, as Korotych assures us?  No!  He can read to the contrary in I. Erenburg's novel The Storm, and I would like to add that at that time there were no "Ukrainian Police" in Kyiv.  Members of the future "Ukrainian Police" were at that time still soldiers in the Red Army who were breaking through toward the East before they were captured and imprisoned behind barbed wire.

Moreover, the Germans didn't need help, but rather used their own special commandos, which on the order of the Commandant's office and with the help of the military police of Kyiv, in order "not to feed the parasites," were shooting people near Babyn Yar.  There were no mass graves, as such, in that Yar [ravine].  After the liberation of Kyiv from the German occupation it was said that the bodies of the shot victims in the ditches were thinly covered with earth by means of explosions.  And these special German commandos, for whom the execution of old Jews was just one episode, later carried out round-ups, kidnaped hostages, hunted down all whom they regarded as dangerous, delivered them to the Gestapo, tortured them, then shot them at Babyn Yar.

Among those shot were members of the underground and partisans who fell into German hands, hostages swept up in the streets of Kyiv in retaliation for setting fire to the Duma building on Duma Square (today Independence Square) and for explosions and fires on Khreshchatyk Street.

At Babyn Yar were shot sailors of the Dnipro fleet and other prisoners of war.  There, evidently, they killed Ukrainian nationalists on the editorial staff of the newspaper "Ukrains'ke Slovo" [Ukrainian Word], as well as its editor-in-chief, Ivan Rohach.  There they also shot [the Ukrainian poetess] Olena Teliha.  Some believe that she is buried under one of the pillars of the Syrets television tower.  Such was the tragedy of Babyn Yar: tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of people were shot there, mostly Ukrainians.  The percentage of Jews shot at Babyn Yar, in comparison with the victims of other nationalities, is highly insignificant.

This conclusion is supported also by the fact that after the liberation of Kyiv from the German occupiers, the Jewish evacuees began to return, at first singly, and later in an avalanche.  And in such an avalanche that it forced the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, head of the Radnarkom of Ukraine, N. Khrushchev to issue an order temporarily halting the return to Kyiv of the evacuees who had not been explicitly recalled, because in a city devastated and burned down by war there was no place to house them, and those who had stayed behind offered for the time being enough hands to rebuild the city.

But the appearance in Kyiv of [the Jew] L. Kaganovich as the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine replacing N. Khrushchev, accelerated the return of the evacuated Jews, even those without any explicit recall instructions.

So now the Jews with whom Kyivans had lived and worked before the War returned safely to Kyiv.  The percentage of the population that was Jewish not only reached the pre-war level, but also increased as a result of Ukrainian losses under the German occupation to all kinds of shootings, famine, and deportation to Germany for slave labor.

P.S. During recent years in Kyiv, the percentage of the population that is Jewish has decreased on account of the emigration of Jews to the West, especially to the US and Israel.  Therefore Burakovsky and Korotych have ample opportunity to find out directly from those who came to America from Kyiv, by asking them by what miracle it was that their parents with their families managed to avoid the fate of being herded to Babyn Yar, and there allegedly being shot by the "Ukrainian police"?


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