French Holocaust researcher and Babyn Yar memorial center to investigate alleged Russian war crimes

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(JTA) — A French Holocaust researcher said he would investigate alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine with the help of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center in Kyiv.

Patrick Desbois, a Catholic priest who coined the phrase “Holocaust by bullets” in his writings about the murder of Jews in Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe by Nazis and local collaborators, announced plans Wednesday to document alleged Russian war crimes on Wednesday in a joint conference. statement with the center of Babyn Yar, who said he would help him.

Desbois won France’s highest national honor for his work leading Yahad-In Unum, which investigates the sites of Nazi murders of Jews. His group has also been called upon to investigate mass crimes in Guatemala, Iraq and Syria.

“I never thought that in 2022 I would have to investigate war crimes again in these same hollow lands, Desbois said in the joint statement about the work he plans to do in Ukraine.

There, his group and the Babyn Yar Center will embark on “uncovering the horrors of large-scale crimes being committed, day after day, against the Ukrainian civilian population” across Ukraine, according to their statement. They will submit their findings to the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, and to European countries carrying out their own investigations into whether Russia has committed war crimes since the February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

The announcement comes amid mounting evidence of large numbers of civilian casualties in Ukraine, including in cases where Russia appears to have targeted civilians, such as the bombing of a theater in Mariupol that housed children. (Russia has said it does not target civilians, a war crime, although Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said civilian deaths are an unfortunate cost of war.)

The announcement also comes amid efforts by Ukrainian leaders to use the memory of the Holocaust, in which the Nazis and their local collaborators killed 1.5 million Jews on Ukrainian territory, to galvanize support for their causes. They invoked the Holocaust by asking Israeli leaders for military aid and drew attention to a bombing early in the war near Babyn Yar, the site of a 1941 massacre of Jews near kyiv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends the memorial ceremony for the victims of Babyn Yar in Kyiv, Ukraine, September 29, 2021. (Ukrainian Presidency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, which opened a long-planned memorial last year, describes itself as an independent research organization. The Ukrainian government has pledged at least $2 million in funding for the museum, according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited what he says are Nazis in the Ukrainian government to justify his invasion. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, and regional pundits and world leaders have all derided the rationale as groundless cover for Putin’s territorial ambitions.

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