A Paradigm-Changing Day: Jews, Ukrainians, and the 25th Anniversary of the Babyn Yar


Wednesday, March 10, 2021, 12:00pm to 1:30pm



Petryshyn Memorial Lecture
Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, 
Crown Family Professor of Jewish Studies and Professor of History, History Department, Northwestern University

Moderated by: Serhii PlokhiiMykhailo S. Hrushevs'kyi Professor of Ukrainian History, Department of History and Director, Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard University 

Watch live on YouTube

Cover image for Petrovsky-Shtern event


On September 29, 1966, a group of Ukrainian writers, including Ivan Dziuba, Viktor Nekrasov, and Borys Antonenko-Davydovych, joined an unauthorized rally at the Babyn Yar. Together with several thousand Jews, the Ukrainian writers came to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the execution of 33,771 Kyivan Jews by the Nazis at that ravine. The Ukrainian literati addressed the participants with improvised speeches but only Dziuba’s speech was recorded and circulated widely among the dissidents and Ukrainian intelligentsia. Heavily drawing on the national-democratic discourse and defying the Soviet ideological approach to WWI victimhood, Dziuba’s speech turned into a manifesto of Ukrainian-Jewish relations for more than half a century to come.   

This  talk will consider the September 29, 1966, event from various vantage points of its witnesses and Dziuba’s speech from various perspectives of its readers. By widely circulating Dziuba’s speech, Ukrainian dissidents and human right activists created a brand-new vision of the Jews in Ukrainian socio-political thought. By joining the Jewish rally, Ukrainian public figures cemented a long-lasting conceptualization of the shared tragedy, that, in turn, fostered the uninterrupted participation of the Ukrainian dissidents in the Babyn Yar unofficial rallies. For the communist party authorities, that day marked the rise of the new official ceremonies at the Babyn Yar, and for the KGB officials that day became an unpleasant discovery of the genuine solidarity between those whom the security organs dubbed the “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalists” and those whom they considered the “Jewish militant nationalists,” or simply “Zionists.” 

About the Speaker

Yohanan Petrovsky-ShternYohanan Petrovsky-Shtern is the Crown Family Professor of Jewish Studies and a Professor of Jewish History in History Department at Northwestern University. He teaches a variety of courses that include early modern and modern Jewish history; Jewish material culture; history and culture of Ukraine; and Slavic-Jewish literary encounters. The mother and sister of his grandmother were shot in the Babyn Yar on September 29, 1941.

His research was supported by the DAAD Foundation, Rothschild Foundation, Fulbright Foundation, Davis Center at Harvard University, Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Toronto, the Kosciuszko Foundation, Memorial Foundation of Jewish Culture, National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter, the Lady Davis Foundation, and the Institute for Advanced Studies at Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

He has published more than a hundred articles and seven books and edited volumes, including The Jews in the Russian Army: Drafted into Modernity (2008, 2nd ed. 2014); The Anti-Imperial Choice: the Making of the Ukrainian Jew (2009); Lenin’s Jewish Question (2010); Jews and Ukrainians: Polin, vol. 26 (2011, co-edited with Antony Polonsky); Cultural Interference of Jews and Ukrainians: a Field in the Making (2014); The Golden-Age Shtetl: a New History of Jewish Life in East Europe, 2014, 2nd ed. 2015); Jews and Ukrainians: a millennium of coexistence (2016, co-authored with Paul Robert Magocsi; 2nd ed. 2018).


Learn more about The Petryshyn Memorial Lecture in Ukrainian Studies.

Persons with disabilities who wish to request accommodations or who have questions about access, please contact Megan Duncan Smith, HURI Programs Coordinator, at duncansmith@fas.harvard.edu in advance of the session (at least two weeks prior, if possible).

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