War memorials are heartbreaking places. Genocide memorials are scary. But the most frightening are the ones residing on the places of atrocities, like the Drobitsky Yar memorial.

Construction History Timeline

For many decades the Drobitsky Yar tragedy was concealed from the public.  A small sign, dating back to 1956, was the lone identifier of the Yar. The sign read: “Here lay victims of fascist terror” (“Здесь покоятся жертвы фашистского террора”). It did not mention mass killings of Jews.  Some sources name Alexander Kagan, a man brave enough to petition authorities for the construction of a small obelisk in 1974.

In 1988, after years of silence, there was another push to recognize victims. An article by a journalist Victoria Lebedeva about Drobitsky Yar was published in Kharkov city newspaper (Вечерний Харьков). Later that year, under the leadership of activists Evgeniy Lisenko and Victor Bojko, a group of volunteers began gathering pictures, letters, and names of victims.

original_picture_by_lejbfreidaIn 1991, the fall of the Soviet Union allowed for a more open discussion of previously taboo subjects.  A committee of enthusiasts organized a contest for a monument designs.  A prominent native Kharkov architect, Alexander Lejbfrejd, together with a well-known artist Victor Savenkov won the contest and started to work on the memorial design.From 1992 to 1994 donations for the memorial were collected and construction began. Donations came primarily from private donors.  Ukraine lacked sufficient funds to help finance the memorial, especially due to the turbulent transitional post-Soviet era.  There were no municipal funds and soon, private donations dried up. Shortly after the concrete foundation was poured the work stopped and did not restart for several years.In 2001, with Kharkov’s municipal support, in addition to support from various Jewish organizations and private donors, construction resumed under the supervision of S. I. Ishenko, the Righteous among the Nations (праведник мира).  In December of 2002, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma officially opened the Drobitsky Yar memorial.

In August of 2005 the memorial hall (the Room of Tragedy) was added.

Two years later, in 2007, during a construction of an apartment complex at the site of old Jewish ghetto, remains of 150 bodies were discovered.  The victims’ bodies were moved and buried at the Drobitsky Yar.  It took two years to finance a burial headstone.

Memorial Today

main_memorialThe Drobitsky Yar memorial is built on the site of nine mass graves and occupies over 7 hectares.  The memorial starts with a large menorah. From there a narrow winding road (the Road to Eternity) leads to a tall main monument. The Room of Tragedy constructed below the main monument lists names of the victims on every wall. The list, however, is only partially complete and volunteers continue their work in identifying victims’ names. There are a few small signs on the memorial grounds to indicate burial places and a headstone where the victims from the ghetto were recently reburied.

Although a significant amount of work has been done, but a future progress is restricted by a small annual budget.  The memorial budget depends almost entirely on municipal funding. There are insufficient funds to maintain the memorial and there is a long list of unfinished work.

memorial_in_danger_1Without the required funds, recently memorial’s condition had begun to severely deteriorate.