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Herzog lands in Ukraine ahead of Babi Yar massacre memorial ceremony

‘Never forget terrible’ 1941 slaughter of 33,000 Jews, president urges as he embarks on first official overseas visit since taking office

President Isaac Herzog is greeted at a  welcoming ceremony as he arrives in Ukraine for an official visit, October 5, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog is greeted at a welcoming ceremony as he arrives in Ukraine for an official visit, October 5, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog landed in Ukraine on Tuesday, where he will attend a ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre, one of the largest mass murders of Jews in the Holocaust.

“The Jewish People have a glorious past here but also a tragic and painful history,” Herzog tweeted after arriving in Kyiv where he was received with a welcoming ceremony on the tarmac.

On September 29-30, 1941, more than 33,000 people, most of them Jews, were killed at the Babi Yar ravine outside then Nazi-occupied Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.

The trip is Herzog’s first state visit since he took over as president in July, though he has quietly visited neighboring Jordan for talks with King Abdullah II. He is accompanied by Housing and Construction Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who oversees ties with Ukraine.

MKs Moshe Arbel and Michael Malchiel, both of the Shas party, and Evgeny Sova of Yisrael Beytneu, also joined the delegation.

Before departing, Herzog said people should “never forget the terrible massacre at Babi Yar, in which 33,000 Jews were massacred, shot dead into pits, naked, in the terrible cold — men, children, the elderly and women,” according to a statement from his office.

President Isaac Herzog (left) arrives in Ukraine for an official visit, October 5, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)Haim Zach (GPO)

“The only way to build a present and future in which atrocities and crimes against humanity find no foothold is only to study the past, including the Holocaust of the Jewish People and their persecution,” Herzog said.

The ravine, also known as Babyn Yar, was the scene of mass executions until 1943.

Up to 100,000 people were killed there, including Jews, Roma, and Soviet prisoners of war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, will participate in the memorial ceremony on Wednesday along with other dignitaries.

Herzog expressed thanks to Zelensky and the Ukrainian parliament for recently passing “a tough law against antisemitism” and adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, which is widely seen as an international standard.

In Kyiv, Herzog will also lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the start of a series of diplomatic ceremonies and events during his visit. In addition to holding talks with Zelensky, Herzog will meet with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal before returning to Israel on Thursday.

Zelensky, who is of Jewish descent and invited Herzog to the ceremony, said during a visit to Babi Yar last week that the tragedy there “should never be repeated.”

“Not in Ukraine. Not anywhere else in Europe. Nowhere in the world.”

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