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Thursday, August 1: Day 101 – Babi Yar

We rode the subway to the outskirts of Kiev. Kiev has the deepest subway station in the world which in turn makes for some long escalators.

They move faster than regular escalators so you need to “run” when you get on and off. The ride takes a while so there is lots of time to spend however you choose.

Babi Yar means Old Woman Ravine

The Battle of Kiev lasted 14 months which took much longer than Hitler had anticipated. Previously, German and Soviet armies had been partners in carving up Eastern Europe. Now Hitler turned on Stalin. When the Soviets retreated, they put time bombs in the walls so when the Germans occupied the buildings for headquarters, the bombs were detonated killing many Germans.

Hitler was furious and was further impetus to the start of the massacres at Babi Yar. He conveniently blamed the Jews. On September 30, 1941, all yids (derogatory for Jews) were to report to various points for deportation. The Nazis were so good at controlling information that the Jews thought that they were headed to Palestine and their non-Jewish neighbors came to see them off and were shot as well. The Jews were unaware of Nazi anti-Semitism.

The first to be lined up and shot were the children. They did not aim to kill as they didn’t have this “skill” perfected. One survivor’s account said that the screams and crying were indescribable.

This ravine remained a killing place. Soviet POWs, gypsies, and patients of the nearby Pavlov Mental Hospital were added to the list of the murdered.

In 1943, the Germans had 300 prisoners from the nearby concentration camp dig up and build pyres to burn all the bodies. One could see the burning pyres in Kiev.

It took a day and a half for each pile to burn. Ashes from the fires and bone crushers were spread over the farmlands.

When the prisoners were building the last wooden pyre, they talked among themselves noting that there were no more bodies to burn. Sensing their future, two dozen prisoners were able to escape before being shot and burned.

The facts of Babi Yar are only now being discussed after years of Soviet suppression.

Babi Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel by Anatoly Kuznetsov. His flight to the West with this information is a great backstory of how this critically acclaimed book came to be.

Babi Yar is a stark contrast to Auschwitz. Today it is a peaceful park where families are picnicing, children are laughing and riding bikes, and adults are reading books. One even had to look hard to find this infamous ravine.

A memorial museum is planned and will be completed in 2021. There is a HUGE difference as West Germany had a 45 year start on the Soviet controlled nations in bringing facts to the world.

It was time to go back to the hotel. We experienced rush hour.

Our hotel had a beautiful swimming pool that we took advantage of each day after many miles of walking. It felt great to soak our sore feet and use different muscles.

We flew from Kiev to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. Always remember to use you airline frequent flyer number. The frequent flyer programs have affiliations and Turkish Airlines is affiliated with United. So we get triple points for charging our flight on my Chase Sapphire Reserve card that can be used to purchase future flights AND then rewarded points on the frequent flyer program for future flights as well. Sweet!!

The landing was uneventful but there was happy applause. We were taken to our hotel called The Vault. This hotel used to be a bank and we stayed in one of the bank offices. There is even a money vault on the ground floor.

They have repurposed the vault to a “locked” wine cellar.

We proceeded to the nearby busy Galata Bridge that crosses over the Golden Horn waterway. There are restaurants under the bridge. We were told that it is a must to get a fish sandwich there…so we did!! It was a lot of bread and a little fish.

Our dinner was on the rooftop away from the chaotic streets below. We heard the Muslim call to prayer. (It serves to remind me to pray as well.) We have crossed over into another world of new sight, smells and language.

Ever ready Rob said that we needed to drag our tired selves over to the Galata Tower as it will be lit up at night. (He failed to mention that it was uphill.)

The tower was built in 1348. In 1632, Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi built a glider, jumped from the tower and sailed two miles across the Bosporus River from Asia to Europe making it the first transcontinental flight!!

Our arrival to the tower was aptly timed as we got to witness a sweet wedding proposal complete with sparklers, flares and tossing of rose petals on the bride to be. Good timing, Rob, as it made the journey even more memorable.

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