Kiev mayor halts hotel plan at Babi Yar massacre site
Kiev — The mayor of Ukraine’s capital Kiev has blocked a plan that could have seen a hotel built at the site of the memorial to the largest Nazi massacre of Jews in the Soviet Union, reports said on Saturday.
A plan adopted by Kiev’s municipal council to build a range of new hotels in preparation for the European football championships in 2012 included a scheme for a complex at the site of the Babi Yar memorial in the Kiev suburbs.
The plan prompted outrage from Jewish groups, who accused Ukraine of insulting the memory of those killed under Nazi occupation in World War II.
But Kiev Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky has used his veto to block the plan for hotels and "in particular the hotel complex at 52-54 Melnikova Street," the municipal newspaper Khreshchatik quoted his press service as saying.
That address lies right next to the Babi Yar memorial. The Interfax Ukraine news agency said members of the municipal council had voted for the hotel completely unaware of its location.
Israel’s President Shimon Peres, in a statement, hailed the mayor "for having taken this just and important decision which preserves the memory of the Shoah as an education for future generations."
The Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem for the Holocaust, also swiftly welcomed the reports from Kiev.
"I welcome the decision of the mayor of Kiev who must have taken into account the protests of Jewish associations including Yad Vashem," its committee president, Avner Shalev, told AFP.
"Babi Yar is a memorial site not only for Jews but for the whole of Europe … It would have been inconceivable to turn it into a commercial centre."
Chernovetsky described the reports that Kiev had already approved the construction of a hotel on the site as a "crude provocation." He said the vote by municipal authorities in no way meant land had been granted for the hotel.
The memorial complex at Babi Yar (Woman’s Ravine) marks the place where on September 29-30, 1941, nearly 34,000 Jews were shot by occupying German forces and their local collaborators in the largest shooting massacre of the Holocaust.
Up to 60,000 more people were killed at Babi Yar up to 1943, among them Jews, Roma, resistance fighters and Soviet prisoners of war.
The solemn ceremonies in commemoration of the Babi Yar victims are conducted in Ukraine every year, and some anti-fascist and Jewish organisations are planning to organise a meeting-requiem on the occasion of the 68th anniversary of the Nazi massacre on Sunday.
The massacre was the subject of the revered 13th Symphony of Soviet composer Dmitry Shostakovich who set to music the poem "Babi Yar" by Yevgeny Yevtushenko.
The massacre was played down by the post-war Soviet Union and the authorities only allowed a memorial to the murdered Jews to be built in 1991.
Ukraine is under enormous pressure to improve its facilities ahead of its joint hosting of Euro 2012 with Poland after being repeatedly criticised by UEFA for its slack preparations.