Ukraine is under siege following a full-scale military invasion by Russia on 24 February 2022

Opening of the Ukrainian exhibition Ground Shadows at the Holocaust Museum in Belgium

In Belgium, the Ukrainian exhibition Ground Shadows opened at the Holocaust Museum. On September 8, the Kazerne Dossin Holocaust Museum in Mechelen, Belgium, opened an exhibition of the works of Ukrainian artist Anna Zvyagintseva Ground Shadows

The project is dedicated to the memory of the Babyn Yar tragedy and its reinterpretation in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian war. In particular, the representative of the Embassy of Ukraine in Belgium, Kateryna Bilotil, and the historian Karel Berkhoff, a well-known expert on the history of Eastern Europe, Ukraine, and the Holocaust, took part in the event. The exhibition will last until October 24.


As early as 2021, the platform of memory culture Past / Future / Art, together with the IZOLYATSIA Foundation and with the support of the Chancellery and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Flanders, planned an art exhibition about the memory of the Babyn Yar tragedy at the Kazerne Dossin museum. However, on March 1, 2022, during the Russian attack on Kyiv, a rocket hit Babyn Yar, killing five people. Curators Kateryna Semenyuk, Oksana Dovgopolova, and Kateryna Filyuk decided to change the statement because now it could not only touch the memory of the events of the Second World War In dialogue with the artist Anna Zvyagintseva, the team developed a project that, in the language of art, tells about the terrible crimes of various political regimes in Babyn Yar and in Ukraine — in the past and the present. 

Kazerne Dossin is the only Holocaust museum in Belgium. The institution also includes a Holocaust and Human Rights Memorial and Research Center. The museum is located on the territory of the Nazi concentration camp, where the trains to Auschwitz-Birkenau were formed. 

It was important for the Ukrainian team to show an art project in Kazerne Dossin, which reflects the tragic events of different years in Babyn Yar. One thousand nine hundred forty-one, one of the most terrible actions of the "Holocaust by Bullets" occurred here. With this term, the French researcher Patrick Debois defined the mass murders committed by the Nazis in Eastern Europe even before the creation of the death industry in Auschwitz, when the victims were killed not far from their homes. Other totalitarian and authoritarian regimes committed crimes in Babyn Yar, united by the refusal to recognize the dignity of specific categories of people. The Soviet authorities tried to erase the memory of the victims of Babyn Yar and the Kurin tragedy that happened in 1961. The modern Russian regime has once again made Babin Yar a target of attack. 

Especially for the Kazerne Dossin location, Anna Zvyagintseva created a series of drawings and sculptures that are united by the image of a tree cut by bullets and shells. Looking at the trees of Babyn Yar, the artist reflects on those who could not save themselves from the Holocaust and modern war. "During the war in Ukraine, people began to pay attention to trees damaged by shelling - in cities and villages, in forests, on the battlefield. You look and physically feel the resemblance of a tree to a human body: branches and arms, roots and legs, bark and skin," says Anna Zvyagintseva. In contrast to dry statistics and counting victims, it focuses on the uniqueness of each individual living being. 

During the exhibition's opening, Kateryna Bilotil, the first secretary for cultural affairs of the Embassy of Ukraine in the Kingdom of Belgium, said, "Art can tell about what people in Ukraine feel. Anna says that Russia is killing the nation and every Ukrainian, which is a separate universe. We are losing many universes every day.

In turn, Karel Berkhof, a Dutch historian, senior researcher at the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam, one of the directors of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI) project, introduced the guests of the event to the historical context of the Babi Yar tragedy. In particular, he emphasized the importance of respect for Ukraine and the Ukrainian language: "For a long time, we used to say "Babiy Yar" instead of "Babyn Yar." I was somewhat stubborn, but in the end, I took this step for good reasons: Babyn Yar is a Ukrainian name.

The co-curator of the exhibition, Oksana Dovgopolova, concluded: "We are used to working with tragedies distant from us in time, like the Holocaust, but after the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war, we realized that our memory changes due to the experience of war. Today, we can no longer talk about Babyn Yar as before. Since February 24, 2022, all human and non-human beings in Ukraine have suffered from Russian weapons, and very often, the chopped tree trunks remain silent witnesses of the crimes committed. In this project, Babyn Yar becomes a starting point that prompts reflection on violence and allows us to see the kinship of all living beings within war.


Ground Shadows is a joint project of the memory culture platform Past / Future / Art and the ISOLATION foundation with the support of the Chancellery and the Foreign Office of Flanders.