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What is Babyn Yar? Why is it symbolic to Ukraine and Zelenskyy?

On Tuesday, a Russian missile hit Babyn Yar - a memorial to the thousands of Jews exterminated by the Nazis. It holds a special significance for Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

What is Babyn Yar? Why is it symbolic to Ukraine and Zelenskyy?

On Tuesday, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy was delivered the grim news that Russian forces had started bombing Babyn Yar - a memorial site in west Kyiv. Zelenskyy had been giving an interview to UK broadcaster Channel 4 when he was interrupted by his Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak, who told him, "I'd like to inform just now, they're bombing Babyn Yar".

The Ukraine president was so astonished, that he had to repeat what he had just heard back to get confirmation. "That is Russia... " Zelenskyy sighed in complete disbelief, before adding ironically, "My congratulations..." At least five people, including TV camera man Yevhenii Sakun, were killed after a Russian missile struck Babyn Yar on 1 March during an operation to destroy Kyiv TV tower on Oranzhereina Street. Authorities explained that most of the damage to was to buildings in the Jewish cemetery while the TV tower remained intact.

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Babyn Yar, site of one of the largest massacres in World War II

Babyn Yar is a ravine in central Kyiv, it was here that almost all of the capital city's Jewish population, between 70,000 and 100,000 people, were brutally exterminated by Nazi forces over two years during World War II. The area marks one of the largest and most barbaric massacres at one single location during the entire war. On 26 September, all Kyivan Jews were summoned to an assembly point close to the Viis'kove cemetery the following Monday, 29 September. Anyone who failed to report would be shot. A total of 33,771 Jews, mostly women, children and the elderly, were rounded up and taken to nearby Babyn Yar where they were slaughtered in groups of 10 by the Waffen SS and German Police units

Mass killings continued at Babyn Yar for the next two years, only finally coming to an end in late 1943 when the Soviet Army recaptured Kyiv. Among the Nazis' other victims at Babyn Yar were Roma gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war and mentally ill patients from the nearby Pavlov psychiatric hospital.

Zelenskyy's ancestors perished at the hands of the Nazis

Babyn Var also holds a special significance for Zelenskyy. His grandfather was one of four brothers - and was the only member of the family to survive the second world war, his three brothers, together with their parents and relatives were shot by the Nazis.

Before the Russian invasion, plans were underway to build a museum at Babyn Yar, the centrepiece of the Holocaust Memorial Center.

Find out more about the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center here