Soviet prisoners of war cover up the mass grave at the Babyn Yar site in 1941. (Wikimedia Commons)

What Is Babi Yar?

Over 33,000 Jews were murdered at this ravine in Kyiv in September, 1941.

Babi Yar (sometimes spelled Babyn Yar) is a ravine in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv where tens of thousands of Jews were shot and killed by Nazi forces in a matter of days in September, 1941. The Babi Yar massacre is considered one of the largest massacres perpetrated during the Holocaust. 

Some 160,000 Jews resided in Kyiv — roughly 20 percent of the city’s population — prior to the Nazi invasion of Ukraine in the summer of 1941. By the time the Germans reached Kyiv on September 19, 1941, only 60,000 were left. 

Using the bombing of several buildings occupied by the Germans as a pretext, Nazi forces issued an order demanding that the city’s Jews assemble on the morning of Sept. 29. The order instructed the Jews to bring money, documents and valuables, which may have led them to believe they were being resettled. Instead, they were marched to Babi Yar, where they were shot to death in groups. Over the next several days, 33,771 Jews were killed at the site. 

The site continued to be used as an execution site for years. Over 100,000 people are believed to have been murdered there. 

After the war, several of the perpetrators were tried by tribunals set up by the Allies. Paul Blobel, who oversaw the killings at Babi Yar, was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death in 1948. 

In the ensuing decades, efforts to memorialize the victims of Babi Yar were undertaken, but failed to materialize. Only in 2021 did the Ukrainian government inaugurate a memorial at the site as part of a planned $100 million memorial intended to include a museum and monuments to those killed. 

“The time for memory has come,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said at the inauguration ceremony, which was also attended by the president of Israel and the German chancellor. 

Want to learn more about the Jews of Ukraine, past and present? Sign up for My Jewish Learning and JTA News’ email series to learn more about the complicated Jewish history of Ukraine and how the past sheds light on the battles unfolding today.

Discover More

Auschwitz-Birkenau

The largest Nazi extermination camp.

Secular Jewish Literature in Ukraine

Jewish literature flourished in Ukraine in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Synagogues of Ukraine, Past and Present

Photos and illustrations of Ukraine's historic synagogues provide a glimpse into Eastern European Jewish life throughout the last 500 years.