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Ukraine scraps hotel plans on Nazi killing field

Kiev authorities, facing withering criticism, have reversed a decision to build a hotel on a killing field used by Nazis during the infamous 1941 Babi Yar massacre.
Image: A man mourns at Minora Monument in Kiev
A man attends a mourning ceremony near Minora Monument on Babi Yar ravine in Kiev on Sunday, marking the 68th anniversary of the beginning of mass execution of Jews there.Sergei Supinsky / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

Kiev authorities, facing withering criticism, have reversed a decision to build a hotel on a killing field used by Nazis during the infamous 1941 Babi Yar massacre, officials said Monday.

Still, Jewish groups worldwide were bitter that a hotel was even suggested for an area where more than 30,000 Jews were murdered.

Rights advocates and scholars praised the decision by Kiev mayor Leonid Chernovetsky to veto the proposal. But they urged Ukrainian authorities to do more to honor the victims of one of the most tragic chapters of the Holocaust.

The massacre began 68 years ago Tuesday. The controversy called into question how fully Ukraine wants to face its past, even after so many years.

The plan for the three-star hotel, which would have been called Babi Yar, was approved by the City Council this month.

Jewish groups and human-rights groups said the very idea mocked the dead. The hotel would have been built in the middle of the main killing site, said Vitaliy Nakhmanovich, a leading Ukrainian Babi Yar scholar.

Decision reversed
Legislators loyal to Chernovetsky said the Ukrainian capital needed more hotels to host the 2012 European soccer championship, and to develop tourism afterward. They said the hotel would not disturb the remains.

On Saturday, Chernovetsky reversed the City Council's decision, saying the hotel would not be built. On Monday, his spokeswoman attempted to downplay the significance of the earlier approval.

"It was just a proposal," Marta Hrymska told The Associated Press. "Nobody has allocated any land, there are no investors, no hotel is being built."

More than 33,700 Jews were shot at Babi Yar over 48 hours beginning Sept. 29, 1941. In the ensuing months, the ravine was filled with an estimated 100,000 bodies, among them those of non-Jewish residents of Kiev and Red Army prisoners of the Nazis.

Experts said the proposal demonstrated the need to create a government-sponsored memorial complex to properly honor the tragedy.

'Not just Jewish history'
Babi Yar today has the air of a forgotten memorial.

The killings took place in a huge ravine in central Kiev that stretched for several miles; the area as of now is neither fenced nor properly marked.

Seven different monuments are there, but experts say they are not linked into a coherent memorial of remembrance.

Children play in a park where one monument stands. Across the street, commuters rush past a busy metro station.

"People don't know how to behave themselves, because they don't understand that they are on the territory of a memorial complex," said Anatoly Podolsky, head of the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies. "Babi Yar is not just Jewish history, it's also the history of Ukraine."

Government plans to create a more comprehensive memorial around Babi Yar are still on the drawing board, experts say. Officials at the State Remembrance Institute, which oversees the planned memorial, were not available for comment Monday.

Alexei Kuznetsov — the son of Soviet writer Anatoly Kuznetsov, who authored "Babi Yar," a book documenting the massacre — said the hotel plan showed Ukrainian authorities' reluctance to honor the tragedy after decades of silence under Soviet rule.

The location went officially unmarked for many years under anti-Semitic Soviet authorities who did not want to single out Babi Yar as a Jewish tragedy.

"It's that Soviet delayed-action mine that is exploding only now," Kuznetsov told The Associated Press. "If the Babi Yar tragedy hadn't been kept secret ... there would be no talk about this (hotel) now."

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