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Belarus and Ukraine today

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22.12.2016

It would have been natural, given that I've just travelled to these two relatively unvisited countries, to write a travel piece about them. About the safe streets of Minsk, for instance (the poshest of which is named after Karl Marx) where the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky (founder of the Cheka) rubs shoulders with Apple outlets and luxury jewellers'; or about the deliciousness of kvas (a soft drink made from bread). And in Kiev I could have gone on (and on) about the beauty of its buildings, the stunningness of the views over the Dnieper, and the glory of its vereniki (sumptuously stuffed dumplings). Etcetera. But highly appreciable though all these things (and many others) are, I went to the aforementioned countries for another reason: to see some of the places I've been reading about for the last 40 years due to an abiding interest in genocide in general and the Shoah in particular. Places like The Pit in Minsk, in which 5000 Jews - including 200 orphans - were shot in one day in March of 1942 (the monument there shows a huddled, terrified crowd clambering down the slope that leads to the killing site). In the course of World War II, Belarus lost a quarter of its population (including the near entirety of its Jewish component), and monuments to this loss are everywhere to be seen. As for Ukraine, its first mass atrocity took.....