Israeli and Jewish officials denounce Russian strike that hit Babi Yar memorial complex – The Australian Jewish News


Israeli and Jewish officials have strongly denounced a Russian missile attack on a Ukrainian television transmitter in Kiev that killed five people and also hit the city’s Babi Yar Holocaust memorial site on Tuesday.

“As we watch images emerging from Ukraine showing innocent civilians fleeing their homes in danger and images of the deadly Russian attack on the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Site, Yad Vashem expresses its vehement condemnation,” said the Israel Holocaust Museum said in a statement. .

The Russian airstrike appears to have targeted Kiev’s main television tower, which is directly adjacent to the Babi Yar memorial. The Russian attack knocked out some state broadcasts, but left the tower intact.

At least five people were killed and five others were injured in the missile attack, Ukraine’s emergency service said. Footage from the scene showed charred bodies and damaged cars in the apparent Russian attack.

At least one missile hit a group of buildings in a Jewish cemetery located in the Babi Yar compound. The missile strike started a fire in the building, which local firefighters were called to put out. There does not appear to have been any direct damage to the Babi Yar monument itself, a spokesperson for the site told The Times of Israel.

Photographs and video footage of the Babi Yar complex, which was shared by Ukrainian emergency services, showed the extensive damage to buildings and surrounding areas.

The attack triggered a wave of outrage and denunciations from Israel and international Jewish organizations.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Israel would help repair damage to the site. In a statement, Lapid said Israel “denounced the damage” to the Babi Yar memorial and Jewish cemetery, but pointedly refrained from identifying Russia as causing it. “We call for the sacred site to be protected and honored,” Lapid said.

“On the instruction of Foreign Minister Lapid, the ambassador in Kyiv is in contact with those responsible for the site and, when possible, we will help repair the damage,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai also refrained from blaming Russia for the attack, saying only that he was “saddened by this unnecessary war, by the injuries inflicted on innocent civilians and the damage to civilian facilities, including Jewish sites such as the important Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center. .”

Yad Vashem, which used markedly softer language in its initial comments about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine the day before, was much harsher and more pointed in its statement on Tuesday. He explicitly blamed Moscow for the strike, describing it as a “deadly Russian attack”.

Ukrainian firefighters work to put out a fire at a building in the Jewish cemetery at the Babi Yar Holocaust memorial site in Kiev on March 1, 2022. Photo: State Emergency Service of Ukraine

“We continue to follow with deep concern the outrageous acts of aggression perpetrated against civilian targets in Ukraine,” the museum said in a statement.

“We call on the international community to take concerted action to safeguard civilian lives as well as these historic sites because of their irreplaceable value for Holocaust research, education and remembrance. Rather than being subjected to blatant violence, sacred sites like Babi Yar must be protected,” he said, adding, “Of course, the safety and well-being of civilians must be universally and absolutely respected. .

The Babi Yar memorial sits atop a mass grave containing some 34,000 Jews who were massacred there over a two-day period in 1941.

“This was done within the framework of the genocide ideology perpetrated by the German Nazis and their collaborators. History must be accurately remembered and its moral lessons must be implemented honestly by all,” Yad Vashem said.

Natan Sharansky, president of the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center and former head of the Jewish Agency, said in a statement: “[Russian President Vladimir] Putin seeking to distort and manipulate the Holocaust to justify an illegal invasion of a sovereign democratic country is utterly abhorrent. It is symbolic that he begins to attack Kiev by bombarding the site of Babi Yar, the greatest of the Nazi massacres.

Ukrainian firefighters work to put out a fire at a building in the Jewish cemetery at the Babi Yar Holocaust memorial site in Kiev on March 1, 2022. Photo: State Emergency Service of Ukraine

Sharansky was referring to Putin’s claims before the Russian invasion of Ukraine that he was doing so, in part, to “denazify” the country, which has a democratically elected Jewish president.

“We at the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, built over Europe’s largest Holocaust mass grave, work to preserve historical memory after decades of Soviet suppression of historical truth, so that the evils of the past cannot never repeat itself. We must not let the truth – once again – become the victim of war,” said Sharansky, who was born in Ukraine.

Earlier in the day, before the airstrike, the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center also released a statement, strongly criticizing Putin and the invasion and calling for him to be investigated by the International Criminal Court. for war crimes.

The U.S. National Jewish Women’s Council called the strike that hit Babi Yar ‘unconscionable’ and said it ‘only underscores false ‘denazification’ pretexts to justify Russia’s attack on Ukraine. “.

The organization added: “We condemn these Russian attacks in the strongest possible terms.”

The Jewish Federations of North America also denounced the Russian attack, noting that among Ukrainian citizens affected by the invasion “there are Holocaust survivors who have already experienced the horror of war.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish and whose family members died in the Holocaust, also strongly criticized the damage to Babi Yar and tacitly compared Russians to Nazis.

In a phone call with Zelensky, US President Joe Biden discussed escalating attacks from Russia, including the Babi Yar attack, according to a White House reading. Biden offered “continued U.S. support for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russian aggression,” the statement said.

The strike followed the Russian Defense Ministry’s warning that Russian troops would carry out an attack on what they said was Ukrainian intelligence infrastructure in Kyiv and urged residents living nearby to leave.

“In order to suppress information attacks against Russia, the technological infrastructure of the SBU (Ukrainian Security Service) and the 72nd main center of the PSO (Psychological Operations Unit) in Kyiv will be hit with high-precision weapons” said Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov. noted.

“We call on… Kyiv residents living near relay nodes to leave their homes,” Konashenkov added.

Ukrainian firefighters stand under a television broadcast tower in the Jewish cemetery located at the Babi Yar Holocaust memorial site in Kiev on March 1, 2022. Photo: State Emergency Service of Ukraine

The statement came as Russian troops stepped up efforts to take Kiev, with a 40-mile convoy of hundreds of Russian tanks and other vehicles advancing towards the capital in what the West feared was an attempt to overthrow the Ukrainian government and install a regime favorable to the Kremlin. .

Ukrainian authorities have accused the Russian military of carrying out strikes against residential areas in several cities, including the country’s second city, Kharkiv, where heavy fighting is taking place.

According to Ukraine, up to 350 civilians have been killed since the Russian invasion.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said earlier this week that he planned to open an investigation into possible war crimes.

Initial talks on Monday between Ukraine and Russia failed to stop the fighting, although the two sides agreed to another meeting in the coming days.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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