Jews and others at a Kiev ravine called Babi Yar, with President Viktor Yushchenko vowing to promote tolerance and stem xenophobia.
The Babi Yar massacre has come to epitomize the decimation of Ukraine's Jews and be seen as a precursor to the gas chambers of the Holocaust.
War veteran at Babi Yar monument (Photo: AP)
The Nazis began the killings on September 29, 1941, and in the course of just two days they machine-gunned at least 33,771 people, according to their own records. Bodies of victims choked the ravine. In the ensuing months, the number of people killed at Babi Yar grew to more than 100,000, and included Roma, or Gypsies, as well as other Kiev residents and Red Army prisoners.
A somber Yushchenko, flanked by other senior officials, laid a bouquet of scarlet roses at the foot of a massive bronze monument commemorating the victims.
"Ukraine will forever preserve the memory of the Babi Yar tragedy," Yushchenko said in an address posted on his website. "In our country there is not and will not be a place for ethnic intolerance and enmity, and the lawlessness of totalitarian regimes will never be repeated."
Babi Yar was also a symbol of Soviet-enforced silence. For decades the Soviet Union kept quiet about what happened, and a monument put up after poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko drew international attention to the massacre with his 1961 poem "Babi Yar" Made no mention of Jews. It was not until 1991, as the Soviet Union began to crumble, that Jews were allowed to erect a memorial at the ravine.
Ukraine was once home to a thriving Jewish community; about 20% of Kiev's population of 875,000 was Jewish before the war. Today, there are 103,000 Jews in all of Ukraine, according to official data, although the number is believed to be several times higher.