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Babyn Yar announces creation of Russian war crimes investigation unit

The Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center announced Tuesday that they will begin a joint investigation into allegations of Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

BYHMC has paired with Yahad In Unum (meaning “together” in Hebrew and Latin) — a French non-governmental organization that has been identifying and documenting mass crimes like the Holocaust and other genocides around the world since 2004 — to document firsthand accounts of alleged war crimes committed by Russia in its war on Ukraine, a conflict now entering a fourth week.

“Everybody knows that for justice an eyewitness is key to confront denial by Putin and his helpers,” said Father Patrick Desbois, president of Yahad In Unum, in the announcement of the investigation. “The voices of the witnesses must be saved to confront crimes committed by Russians.”

In 2004, when Yahad In Unum was founded, Desbois and his team set out to document the voices of living witnesses to the mass shootings of Jews by Nazis in Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe during World War II. To investigate what they described as “Holocaust by bullets” crimes, representatives of the organization, including Desbois, travelled to Ukraine, interviewed more than 8,000 living witnesses to and survivors of the crimes of the Holocaust and located nearly 1,500 unmarked mass grave sites.

Desbois documented this detailed process in his book “The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews.”

The goal of the investigation was to preserve the memory of those who were killed and to give witnesses and survivors an opportunity to properly bury their loved ones. Desbois, speaking on a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum podcast in 2007, said that he saw his job as being to “establish definitively the proof so that nobody can discuss and say, ‘It didn’t happen.’”

Per Tuesday’s announcement, the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center and Yahad-In Unum’s goal in Ukraine is similar — to discover “the horrors of the crimes committed on a massive scale, day after day, against the Ukrainian civilian population in Mariupil, Kharkiv, Mikolayiv and more widely on the whole territory of Ukraine.”

The new investigation will seek to collect filmed testimonies to back up specific allegations that Russian forces are targeting women, children, the elderly and other unarmed civilians, with the intention of introducing that evidence to the International Criminal Court and to the German government, which began investigating allegations of war crimes just days after Russia’s initial attacks.

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